Photographers on Facebook | A Brave New Medium

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I was discussing Facebook with a friend in the marketing business who had never signed on to the service. "You're in marketing" I said, "you might want to understand how the dynamics of the social media work. Facebook, or something like it, will be a large part of the future of marketing…plus it's fun to post photos of your dog."

Mark Meyer Photography now has a facebook page as part of a casual exploration of the photographic potential of the social media. I am interested in exploring how the medium of the internet in general and social internet sites in particular are different from the various media in which photography has traditionally lived.

A few things that are immediately clear concerning images on social media services:

  • They are transitory: they quickly grab the user's attention and are just as quickly discarded.
  • They are small: Facebook allows a maximum dimension of about 600 pixels.
  • They require a gestalt approach: while a large print in a gallery may encourage the viewer to look closely and chew on the details, these images don't, you swallow them whole.
  • They are shared: people post images to their profiles or comment on them.
  • They are fun: there is no hand wringing over matters of high art, simply a window into the experience of the photographer.
  • They reflect everyday experience: not necessarily because of the medium, but conventional use of the medium looks at slice-of-life experience.

These features, diametrically opposed to those of traditional 'fine-art' photography with its large prints, heavily hung in private residences where they reside day after day, are often considered liabilities but need not be. Part of this experiment is to take the medium as it is and produce work well suited to it. There is a tool that is matched almost feature for feature with the medium of the Facebook gallery: the phone camera. The social nature of the medium begs for quick and dirty images from a camera whose ubiquitous presence in the pockets of millions of people promises the ultimate in candid, slice-of-life images. It strikes me as a particularly interesting area once you let go of some conventional hang ups.

Here's a sample: iPhone Gallery.
This gallery will only appear on Facebook and will have images that represent a significant departure from the kind of images available on this site.

A new medium is fertile ground for creative people. Although photography is often treated like a medium in and of itself, like the novel, cinema, or television, when one considers the different uses for photography, the places it appears, spanning from entertainment gossip to serious journalism to abstract art, one begins to appreciate that photography itself is not the medium but rather a technique used by various media, all demanding a different approach by both artist and audience. The history of media is filled with examples of people who don't understand this: early television, which simply broadcast images of people reading radio scripts or early cinema, which didn't understand that it wasn't simply the stage on film. Newspapers are currently working through a torturous process of coming to terms with a new medium represented by professional bloggers who pose a significant challenge to the traditional methods of distributing information. Understanding the medium in which one works, its limits as well as its unique assets, is fundamental to art and as a medium begins to mature we often see bursts of creativity as the art evolves in unexpected ways to fill the space cleared by a new medium. And it's irresistible to share photos of you dog.