The numbers are well known -billions of photos shared every day- and the habits well-entrenched- checking social media 40 times a day-. Every concert, every street performance, every incident, accident, spill, fall, weird dance, every anything that is out of the ordinary is filmed and photographed and immediately shared via a myriad of networked channels linked together by varying shades of relationships. As individuals, we do not see them all. Instead, we receive a filtered version, selected in part by manipulated social media algorithms and in part by whom we have chosen to connect with. This is the new reality of visual content.
Our addiction to emptiness
We are far past the few daily images we saw who were either made to inform or to communicate a brand message. Images that either reflected an existing or depicted a yearned reality. Today, it’s a blur between the two. And only when a photograph challenges our beliefs do we questioned them. Otherwise, it is all the same: An endless flow of unrelated content where images of real violence are jumbled with vacation landscapes and occasional reminders. Photos of our presidents are mixed with those of our cousins, handbags or miracle gadgets, images of floods and devastation appear before ( or after) cute cats, more handbags and some street demonstrations. An endless scroll of content that leaves us unfulfilled enough to keep us scrolling down, endlessly, expecting one will act as a period, making us stop and put down our phones. But that image never appears.
Our relationship with images has changed from being a source of gratification to a forever unsatiated sentiment for more. The few news pictures in a newspaper or magazine were enough to provide us with all the information we needed, as were our tightly edited photo albums. No more. Major news events are accompanied by a torrent of images, mostly uninformative and family lives are now an endless flow of pictures and videos. All this complemented by promotional photos created by brands who have bought space in our addiction to emptiness.
Photos have become so common, so undifferentiated, so leveled, that they have become meaningless. They can barely replace one word, let alone a thousand. They tell us nothing, besides misleading self-promotion, brand promotion, and website promotion (clickbait). Because all of them want to grab your attention, none of them do.
Social media has killed photography. It has killed the very foundation on which it was built. In the senseless competition to make each image grab more attention than the previous one, it has destroyed photography’s uniqueness. Everyone is a photographer, yes, but no one cares anymore. It is no longer an art, a passion, a career; it’s just a function. We photograph like we sneeze, motivated by an uncontrollable, irrational urge to share what we are seeing. We don’t know why we do it; we just do it. In turn, we don’t know why we look at pictures through Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter; we just do it. Like an itch. Open Instagram, scratch, and we are done. Until the next itch.
In order to break the monotony, most social media platform have added a flurry of filters, stickers, AR, scribbles, like more bells and whistle. With each layer of artifacts, they bury photography even deeper. They become a background to kindergarten like sketches.
Free Time killers
Waiting in line ? open Instagram and scroll, waiting for commercials to end? Open Facebook and scroll. Waiting for your wife who is shopping? Open Twitter and scroll. Lots of photographs, none of which will make any impact, let along ever be remembered. Yet we shoot, we share, endlessly. Photography as a time killer.
Professionals keep on giving each other awards, publish photo books and go to photo festivals, obviously completely unaware that no one cares anymore. No one buys magazines or newspapers, hardly anyone reads news websites ( unless if it is to confirm their existing bias) and no one goes to photo exhibits or buy photo books. Why would they? It’s all free on Instagram, or Flickr or Unsplash. Or any website. If it is important, it will be on Reddit. Or shared on one of their feeds.
Numbers confirm this. The stock photo industry has been overtaken by successive waves of price decline, the latest, microstock, offering images below the $1 dollar mark. Yet, it is still too much. As the chart below exposes, top stock photo agencies are being overwhelmed by free photos websites.
Freepik has already overtaken Shutterstock while Unsplash and Pixabay are on their way. It is not a surprise. How can anyone sustain the perception of value when the market is overflowed with free alternatives? Would anyone by bananas if they could get them for free elsewhere?
The ultimate photography killer
And then there is fine art photography. The ultimate photography killer. With images of supermarket selling in the millions of dollars, and pictures of toilet boils exhibited in high-end museums. The summit of irony, full of pomp and hidden messages, for a few initiates who have made a business out of perception. A world of speculation, reputation, and pseudo-intellectualism where con artists and bored millionaires connect via self-proclaimed experts. Photography here is just a tool, but it could be pretty much anything else. The most boring, plain and large, the more it is valued. Nothing to do content or popularity. Just the perceived value of the photographer.
McPhotography is here to stay, fueled by ever more efficient camera phones and smarter social media algorithms ( hello A.I.). The putrefaction of photography is inevitable unless we find other ways to entertain our visual cortex. Its significance is already severely damaged, destroyed by the masses of addicted consumers. No signs, no trends, no predictions for a change in path.