In the 21st century, pictures are worth more than a thousand words and everyone has the opportunity to become “famous.” As a visual art form, photography plays a positive role in social media but social media has an adverse effect on photography.
YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are photo-heavy social media platforms that garner billions of views each day. Social media is used for a wide variety of reasons, one being as a form of communication.
With Instagram, photography has become the actual medium of social communication.Elise Lévêque In her article entitled “Is Social Media Destroying the Art of Photography?”
A global reach of this magnitude is both a blessing and a curse for professional and aspiring photographers alike. The pervasive use of photographs on social media platforms has resulted in photography being a heavily saturated business with trillions of photos taken worldwide each year.
How has it come to this?
The rise of smartphone cameras and more affordable options for camera equipment certainly play a role but social media plays an even bigger one.
Finding new content by refreshing social media feeds is damaging because there’s a pressure to constantly create in order to stay relevant. This has led to trillions of photos taken by professional and amateur photographers which are disseminated at a rate that isn’t sustainable.
Photographers have felt the effects of this inundation more than anyone else. It’s no longer about how you do a job anymore but how many “followers” and “likes” one has.
Anyone, especially now, can learn the skills they need to be considered for a photography gig and it is becoming harder for professional photographers to distinguish themselves from social media influencers.
One of the reasons photographers are forced to set themselves apart from amateurs is because social media influencers are offered professional jobs that traditional photographers aren’t based off those influencers’ social media rankings.
Social media’s thirst for new content is insatiable.Christopher Malcom from his article entitled “Making a Living in Photography in the Age of Social Media”
Thanks to social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube, brands speak to influencers directly and offer them trips to help advertise for them.
According to Influence Marketing Hub, an influencer “is an individual who has the power to affect purchase decisions of others because of his/her authority, knowledge, position or relationship with his/her audience.”
Influencers Kianna Naomi and Lisette were invited to go on a brand trip to Fiji with a bunch of other influencers. A brand paid for the entire trip and in return, they expected the influencers to share their trip and the brand on their social media platforms. Months after this trip, both Naomi and Lisette made videos discussing what really went down on the Fiji trip.
In their videos, they discuss that they were the only two people of color on the trip and were treated differently than all the other models by the photographers.
The whole point of brand trips like this is for influencers to share and advertise the trip and brand through taking and sharing photos so it was strange for the influencers who are women of color not to be photographed (especially when their white counterparts had hundreds of photos to share).
Both Naomi and Lisette pointed out the unfair treatment to the brand while on the trip, and in response the photographers set up one of the quickest photo shots Lisette has ever been a part of. Those photos were never shared with the influencers. The professional photographers had to be told to take pictures of all of the women on the trip and even when they did it was done in a way that was disingenuous.
Both the brand and the photographers are responsible for the discrimination these women faced and social media was the catalyst.
Why should you care about how photographers and brands treat social media influencers?
Because brands are using discriminatory practices in their marketing campaigns while claiming a narrative of inclusivity and diversity. Social media has the ability to uplift photographers while simultaneously putting down subjects of photographs.
It’s important to include visual diversity in the right way and in Naomi’s video she claims that the brand clearly misunderstands what that diversity looks like.
This type of trip isn’t the first — it happens to influencers all over the world and nothing will change as long as photography remains a white, Western-dominated field where brands get to decide a person’s worth based off of arbitrary likes.
Change will come when problems like these are addressed by people who hold both hidden identities and visual diversity and subsequently handled in a positive and respectful way.
It’s not all negative!
Social media has caused problems by creating a platform where influencers and photographers clash in their respective professions, but it isn’t all negative.
It allows you to bypass more traditional methods that are less inclusive, which provides a wide range of opportunities for diverse people around the world.
It gives people the opportunity to be self-made professionals in photography while not conforming to brands. On the surface, social media also allows for easier dialogue on the topic of photography.
Social media has had a profound impact on photography and photography has given these platforms a medium through which to succeed, but they aren’t mutually beneficial in all cases.