By Tonte Spiff
Photography as an industry is not a new concept, as the idea of photography dates all the way back to the time of the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle, with Joseph Niepce creating the first photograph in 1827. The contemporary forms of photography that we’re all familiar with came about in the form of instant photography in 1948, when the Polaroid camera was introduced to the world. Since the mid-to-late 1980s, the pronounced growth and advancements in technology has further changed the photography industry. Digital photography was introduced during the late 1990s, and cellphones have also evolved to feature digital photography and videography capabilities.
The distinct growth and advancements in technology since the 1980s have not only been in the form of hardware upgrades to photographic technology. These advancements also come in the form of new software such as programs geared towards editing (Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop, Affinity Photo, etc.) and new photo-based social media platforms.
The popularity of photo-based social media platforms such as Instagram, VSCO and Snapchat have increased greatly over the past decade, with mixed opinions regarding their effect on the photography industry as a whole. At the Photo Plus Expo, which is the largest annual photography event in the U.S., there were competing arguments within many discussions focusing on the role and value of social media in photography.
In these discussions, many individuals mentioned that an aspect of social media, which they dislike, is the fact that the role played by most platforms in regards to connecting people is simply the by-product of a system designed to collect user-generated content. In turn, this then provides more than enough of an incentive, in the form of likes and comments, for users to become addicted. On the other hand, an undeniable positive aspect of social media is the direct line of communication that has been created, which renders the importance of traditional gatekeepers such as art critics or galleries.
Toronto-based agent and photographer Maggie Stephenson gave her insight on the intersection between photography and social media. Maggie has been involved in the photography industry for the past four years, with a focus on live events such as hip-hop shows and music festivals. In her experience, she found Instagram to be more important than just an avenue to display her work. Maggie explains: “I wasn’t even in that world of being an agent, although I was shooting at the time, but they checked out my Instagram first and liked my eye. I’m an agent for cinematographers so that was one of the reasons that led them to reach out to me for a meeting, which is kind of crazy. To say that I got my job through Instagram sounds so ridiculous, but it’s true when it boils down to it.”
Maggie found that during her early stages, prior to purchasing her own DSLR camera, her interest in photography began with using her iPhone to take photos and post them on Instagram. Although, as great as iPhone cameras have become, they’re still no match to the quality in photographic content produced by a DSLR, and a good eye for editing photos, after the fact.
During her time in the industry, Maggie has run into issues unique to being a female photographer. However, these issues don’t deter her due to her strong personality and positive attitude, which allows her to show that she belongs. Just recently, she had to deal with one of these issues as she mentioned: “When International Women’s Day comes around, I get asked to shoot so many more gigs than I normally do. Which I find personally very frustrating because it’s like they’re looking for that token women to shoot this one day, and then they’re going to go back to their usual person.”
An issue that Maggie finds all photographers face in the age of social media is having their work posted by someone else, without any accreditation. In the case for her, working closely with recording artists and media outlets can lead to this issue arising rather often. Although, there are ways to combat the issue as Maggie mentioned: “If I really wanted to avoid it I would watermark my photos, but I just hate how that makes them look so I just take the risk.”
Fortunately, Maggie has found that the issue is trending in the right direction as photographers and videographers alike are receiving credit for their work in the form of captions and tags.
It’s clear to see that daily interactions with social media platforms have become the new norm, so it will be interesting to see where the intersection between photography and social media goes from here. The most interesting aspect to consider is whether it will be considered as a positive or negative impact, as increased numbers of prosumers involve themselves.