Photography is in a weird spot. For generations, you'd shoot a photo, have your film processed, decide what to make prints of, and that was that. Maybe you'd make a photo book, or contact a gallery to host your works. For most, you'd get your prints back from the lab, and chronicle them away in an album, to show to someone when they came to your home. Since the advent of digital photography, us photographers have looked for a comparable home for our new works. Without your photos needing to be printed, there's no obvious method for sharing the photos you've taken.
Many different services have been created to fill this gap, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and each missing the purpose and enjoyment found in sharing your photos with those who care to see them.
Perhaps the most widely used of these platforms is Instagram. Instagram became the defacto photography social network around mid-2013, after having launching on Android after having been available on iOS for about a year and a half. The concept was simple. Posting photos with an optional caption to your timeline, which could be found via tags or seen by those who followed you. They also launched with a suite of tools for editing and altering the photos you posted on it, via filters, and for cropping them to squares, which was required for posting at the time the app launched.
I was slow to jump on the Instagram bandwagon, avoiding signing up for a long time, fearing that the focus on filters, sharing, and likes would compromise my work. Of course, this became harder to avoid as time went on, and now Instagram is all but required for serious or aspiring photographers.
I'm very interested in how our vocabulary shapes our ideas, and how the language we use to discuss, interact with, and categorize our worlds change the lens with which we view them. Similarly, systems like Instagram have their own vocabulary, their own toolsets for interacting with the works encountered, which has been revised and updated as the platform has evolved.
Now, the app called Instagram is a stark place. To me, it's clear the sort of work that Instagram and the community it has cultivated flocks to, the sort of photography that meshes well with the unseen curatorial eye of the Algorithm.
There's even a shared stylistic language between these, harboring similar sorts of color palettes, compositions, editing choices, lensing, etc etc. The account Insta_Repeat is a prime showcase of this, collecting photos of the same subjects to make collages of un-originality.
Still, I posted. I posted photos of mine too simply have something to share. I delighted in watching the metrics, my follower count approaching and then surpassing 600, checking in on how many likes each photo garnered. I did not stop to think about why I was posting. I just posted; it was what I was supposed to do.
I hate to admit it was only recently I had the realization about my Instagram habits: I wasn't even having fun. Long had passed the time when I was getting enjoyment out of sharing my photos, or even on the simple accolades my socialite peers paid to me (sick tones, dope, *praying hands emoji x3*...)
I stopped writing this to post a photo. I found an image I was proud of, sent it into the void, carrying its tags on its back. I click the button to share it. I see it on the timeline. I feel nothing in particular.
It's an idea that once occurred to me has lingered like a bad taste in my mouth. I'm not such a hedonist that I think everything should be fun or enjoyable, but perhaps voluntary social networks should be. If it wasn't sparking joy, why repeat the same patterns?
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I'd like to have a place that feels like a natural extension of my photographic process to share my works. Something as common sense as the postcard-sized prints you got back from the drugstore off your disposable camera when you were a kid. Something that values the photo and not the snapshot, that gives the user the tools and vocabulary to interact with a piece in the method it deserves. For that, something new has to be created.
Recently, a few of my friends and those whose work I admire shared similar sentiments, which has gotten me thinking about what this next step might look like, or what its philosophy would be. Here are some early thoughts:
It would be a place that makes it easy and fun to share your photography; both the casual cellphone photos, and the formal professional photos.
It would value your work, allowing it to be seen in the intended quality and resolution with minimal if any compression.
It would showcase work in the order it was shared.
It would not insert advertisements or sell the data of its users.
It would give the users the tools to interact with others and share their passion in a meaningful way.
It would not hurt anyone, or seek to do anything besides foster community and connections and spread wholesomeness and joy.
I'd like to build a social network that felt like sharing a postcard with a friend in your living room, or with a friend across the globe. It would not be a portfolio or a dump of every photo on your camera roll. It would be a series of intentional, thoughtful moments, pairing a photo with a few sentences, shared to the people you want to see it, only for the joy of sharing something important to you.
I don't have the ability to build something like this, at least not yet, or not alone. However, photography is more ubiquitous in our world than ever before, and we need a good way to share the photos we care about with the people we care about. Let's build the world we'd like to see.
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