Is social media detrimental to photography?

With social media such as Instagram ever-growing in popularity, Emily Howard offers her thoughts on what this means to photography as an art form. Is everyone a photographer nowadays? Or are our aims different when we take a selfie? 

Whether it be the selfie, snapchat, or Instagram; social media is becoming flooded by photography. Although the meaning is intended to be fun and harmless, this mass of snap-happy appers generates numerous questions about the value of photography in our increasingly online society.

First of all, does taking a quick snap of a cup of coffee on your iPhone, overlaying it with a pre-programmed filter and uploading it with a sentimental caption (not to mention the inevitable #hipster hashtag) count as real photography? If so, then the number of photographers around has dramatically increased. But this could be seen as degrading to professional photographers, whose work is rather more time-consuming, rigorous and creative. Photography could become an underrated profession, seeing as everyone can do it themselves anyway. As most types of mobile phones and tablets come with a camera function these days – which can be instantly connected to social media – cameras may no longer be a necessity for ‘photographers’.

On the other hand, many professional photographers can now use social media to their advantage: to promote their work. With so many people so keen on looking at photos all of a sudden, photographers can use the multiple platforms available to sell their work. Social media can be a dynamic and productive way for photographers to engage with their audience and spread their work to a larger demographic, as well as interact with others in the field.

The most niggling question, however, is what photography in social media is used for. Is it an art form, or just a way of recording memories? The latter answer would resolve the entire issue at stake here. As primarily a record of events and memories, photography in social media can be separated from the art and profession of photography; much like how a personal notebook is different from a published novel. But if the goal of photography in social media is to be presented as art, the solution is not so clear.

I am not going to fully enter the debate about whether social media photographs can be classed as art or not, as this leads into the rather complex and philosophical question at the heart of the matter: what we define as being art. It is understandable why some professional photographers may be condescending of teenagers taking photos on their phones, editing them from a list of programmed options, and then calling it ‘photography’. But ultimately, isn’t one of the main reasons for photography to be creative, try new things, and be meaningful for the photographer? Like all art forms, photography is subjective. It is all about perspective.

Finally, in a society which is increasingly concerned with regulations and budgets, science and technology, at least the use of photography in social media gives everybody the opportunity to express themselves creatively.



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