Are words necessary when showing photographs, or do they just get in the way?
This is a tough one for me, because I love words as well as images. We all have our own thoughts about what an image means, or if we think it means anything at all. Some images trigger certain thoughts or feelings because they are archetypal in nature, and others are more abstract. The more abstract the image is, the harder I think it is to develop any kind of an audience for your work. While some people really like abstract thought and imagery, most people don’t have time to deal with it. They’ve only got a few minutes while on their break to scroll through and see what’s out there. They’ve got bills to pay and kids to feed. They’re simply scrolling through their feed taking in as much information as they can as fast as they can. They don’t have much time to contemplate what’s going on in a particular image and make any judgments about it. They can tell whether they think it’s pretty, or whether it appeals to them or not, but other than that, it’s just mindless scrolling.
I’m guilty of this myself.
When I first got into digital photography and started posting pictures on the internet, I really didn’t post much by way of words. I figured the images spoke for themselves. Well, they did for some people, but maybe not for most people. In those days though, you could also get a wider audience because the algorithms allowed your posts to go further. Now they’ve got it locked down tightly, so that your post only goes out to a few people and only expands incrementally depending on how many “likes” you get from the first few viewers. On Facebook, for instance, if you have a business page for your photography, the only way you can get any views is if you pay to “boost your post.” This means that, if you don’t boost your post, it will go out to 2 or 3 people, and if they happen to click the like button, it will go out to 2 or 3 more people and so on. The post may be seen by more than 2 people, but if they’re just scrolling, and don’t click “like” nothing happens. Part of the fun of posting pictures is so people will see them, but you could go broke trying to make sure they do. I gave up doing that a while back.
Many people post their photos on group pages. That is another way to build an audience, but only a few of those people who enjoy seeing your images on a group page, will become followers of your personal or business photography page, and truth be told, most of the people on those pages are other photographers, not people looking to buy prints.
And of course, one of the biggest problems with posting on social media in general, is that you don’t hold ownership of your list, and in fact, you really don’t have a list. The list belongs to the social media company. So, it depends on what you want. If you’re looking for immediate gratification, social media is the way to go. Images float past and people click the like button, and the image is forgotten nearly immediately. If what you’re trying to accomplish is building a business, so that you can sell prints or workshops or something, then your list is your bread and butter.
In the intervening years I have found that including words with my images does up the level of engagement with my photography. Most people want to know where a photo was taken, and a little something about it. Once again, they don’t have the time or the energy to interpret any meaning from the image, or to think of areas where they live in which they might make similar images. Some people do, but a majority don’t. Looking at photos on social media has become the new form of armchair traveling.
Oddly, most of the images I’ve sold, I’ve sold to people I know in the 3D world, who see my posts and photos on the internet and would like a copy. Some, but not all, of my images make good wall art and are suitable for framing and look great printed out on canvas or metal or acrylic. Most of my social media followers are not people I know though. Many of them are surprised to learn they can’t have the image for $10, so they right click and save it on their hard drive for free. They may or may not print it out. By posting my photos on social media or most internet platforms, I give my implied permission for them to do this, and I have no control over whether they do it or not. I can only say that I have seen my images turn up in odd places. Yes, I recognize them when I see them, and most have my watermark on them. So far, it hasn’t been cost effective to sue anyone for it and I’m not sure who I would sue. This is the same problem that has most musicians up in arms because they are losing millions of dollars to people who download music for free. They may have found a way to prevent this by now, but I haven’t been following it that closely, so I don’t know.
The more traditional way to build an audience for your art is to print it up and have it shown in galleries or businesses or public places. People can admire it from there, but they can’t copy it unless they take a picture of it with their cellphone camera. This could happen, and probably does. I’ve taken photos of artwork in galleries and museums, but I always make sure that the resulting image is not an exact copy of the artist’s original work. This is important when photographing the work of famous artists but holds true for anyone’s artwork. Using the artwork as a background for a selfie or pictures of your friends is not likely to cause a problem.
I often photograph public wall murals for my own personal use, and sometimes I post those images on social media. I don’t sell them. Public wall art is public, and presumably the artist has been paid by the city or an organization or business who has hired them to create the mural. I have a fairly large collection of pictures of these works that I like to look at personally and occasionally post on social media. If I’ve taken a picture of a significant portion of the image, I try to include the artist’s signature, so they at least get credit.
The frustrating part of anything we do – and photography is no exception in my experience – is that we put so much love and energy into something and seemingly get so little response. We live in a world in which about another 8 billion people also live. A fair number of those people are going to want to do the same thing you’re doing, or something similar. Some people have a great social network, or have been doing it longer than you have, or have very deep pockets for one reason or another. Some people have reached the top of their professions because they worked really hard for a long time to get there, and other people seem to be overnight successes, because of someone they know, or because they were born into the right family or something. There’s no accounting for this and it just is what it is. It doesn’t mean to give up.
One of the most rewarding things to me is when people make comments or send messages telling me how much they appreciate my posts, because they can’t get out anymore for one reason or another and they enjoy the scenes of natural beauty my photos inspire. There’s no amount of money or acclaim that can improve on that. The satisfaction of knowing that I’ve created something that has brought peace or joy to someone who is housebound cannot be over emphasized. I’m glad I can still get out and do it.
Is it possible that, in our desire to make a living doing
what we love, we have put too much pressure on the very thing we love by trying to monetize it?
I love going out to photograph the beauty of nature, whether wild or cultivated. Most of the images shown in this post were taken right in my hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado and in the outlying desert areas. I will do this whether I get paid for it or not, but if you see something you like and would like to have a copy of it for your walls, the appropriate thing to do for me or anyone is to support that by working with the artist for appropriate compensation.
I’ve written a book! You can find it on my author page on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/stores/Debby-Powell/author/B0B8KY7J41?ref=ap_rdr&store_ref=ap_rdr&isDramIntegrated=true&shoppingPortalEnabled=true
To see more of my photography, please visit https://www.debrapowellphotography.com/
or my FLICKR page at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hlake4949/with/51948832318/