Sticking it to the Man (but generally not)

I began following somebody on Instagram years ago, when she was a college kid who bought cute outfits and took photos of herself wearing them with a budget camera. The quality was variable but pretty much they were worth looking at and you could sense the fun. Now years later she’s an Instagrammer (I think it’s her only source of income) and churns out photos several times a week of her wearing something she’s been gifted, or sponsored to wear, or in somewhere she’s sponsored to visit. She’s got a much better camera now and the photos are technically slicker, but the sense fun is missing from a lot of them. She’s now a woman being paid to be a human billboard by companies rather than somebody producing work for fun.

I’ve been racking my brains to find an alternative to the phrase ‘selling out’ for this sort of Instagramming, but, really I can’t. She, like loads of other Instagrammers, are like a band who after their interesting first album, and the hard to produce second, have settled into churning out albums with a direction decided by the P&R and marketing departments who are really opposed to them changing direction with new material. You can see it in the ones who post requests in their caption of ‘what sort of weather do you guys like?’ when you know full well they don’t really want to know what several thousand people enjoy climatologically, but they do know Instagram likes to prioritise ‘engagement’. I saw somebody a while back posting a stories request for action because their last photo got less engagement than usual and they wanted to know what was wrong. There was nothing wrong with it, I thought it was quite good (so did a metric shit tonne of other people, just not as many as normally like their images). But they need engagement in the form of comments and likes to get advertisng revenue and post priority and sponsorship and alarmingly I think self validation. They’re following all the Youtube (and youtube is just as bad for engagement chasing) videos, and blog posts on how to increase your follower count and how to double your engagement. Then they start saying they’re thinking of quitting because their numbers are dropping (though they never do).

Ultimately, they’re in thrall to THE MAN. And in the shape of Instagram it’s a seriously big and influential THE MAN

Now I’m going to draw a distinction here between Instagramming and commercial photography. Commercial photographers are being paid to do jobs; they get paid to photograph ball gowns, or houses, or food or whatever. They take the job, they deliver the photos, they send the invoice, they go home. It’s not the same thing. They’re not selling what used to be their lives as a crafted advert under the guise of it being their lives. I think it’s interesting that so many of them never try to translate this into commercial photography, to rather than photographing themselves in a hotel ‘having a super amazing time’ to offering to do a photoshoot for the hotel, for a fixed price and with paid models. As an aside, I fail to understand the people who suffer from InstaEnvy or whatever it’s called now, who the hell thinks any of this stuff is real and people live like that?

For what it’s worth, I think they’d be better off working filling shelves in Tesco four days a week and then spend the rest producing work that matters, without a time framework of posting three times a week to maximise engagement. Though I stress I’m not necessarily advocating the W Eugene Smith model of spending years in quest of perfection (though that mightn’t be a bad thing). It would be entirely their own vision (like it used to be) and they can change direction if they liked without getting on the wrong end of ‘consistent feed appearence’, and it wouldn’t matter a damn how many people liked or engaged with it.

They’d be artists. They’d be sticking it to THE MAN

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