We live in a difficult time. A time of superfluous likes and favs. A time of shallow critiques. A time of stifled growth and innovation. A time of the Digital High Five. Like a plague of undead zombies, the Digital High Five is slowly but surely spreading its virus into every crack and crevice of the internet. It cannot continue. We must fight back.
You see, back in my day I had to walk five miles uphill just to get to my sunrise location. Wait… that's not right. You see, I come from a better time. I come from a time when in-depth discussion of images occurred regularly. It was just the way things were. As I posted images to various online forums, I received thoughtful critiques. In turn, I made a point of giving back to the community by giving my two cents. It did not matter that I was relatively inexperienced, it only mattered that I formed an opinion and wrote it down for others to read. Things operate quite differently now. Quick “likes”, “favs”, and short comments such as “Nice contrast.” are the norm. They are the dreaded Digital High Five, and ultimately, shallow and useless.
Just like high fives alone don’t foster deep relationships, likes, favs, and brainless comments don’t foster growth for an artist. Whether on the receiving or giving end of the Digital High Five, nobody wins. When we succumb to the Digital High Five we are nothing more than junkies looking for the next quick fix without a single thought towards our future. We post and post away. We boost our saturation and contrast to eke out a few more likes. We hope to reach the front page of 500px for a few hours of fame, only to be forgotten the next day when a new set of images take the top spots. And all for what? Nothing. The race to online popularity is, in my opinion, the greatest hindrance to growth in the photography community today. Like a horse with blinders on, we focus only on the finish line and lose track of everything and everyone around us.
“But, Chris!” you say, “Why not just embrace the new way of doing things?” To which I must reply, “I’m sorry, Kathy, but my old soul just refuses to believe that the new way of doing things is any good for the photography community, or our attention spans, for that matter.” In fact, I wonder where I would be as a photographer if I had to begin my career in today’s environment. Would I have become, excuse my French, yet another attention whore? Would my images be created solely for others instead of for myself? Would their saturation be turned up to 11? I’d like to think not, but it’s an interesting, if scary, idea.
So what can we do? Is it hopeless? Are we all just traveling towards our own version of Terminus? If I’m honest (Momma didn’t raise no liar), it’s an unbelievably, impossibly, crushingly difficult task to change the way the system works. The sharing of media and how we connect with others is going to continue down the path that it has already forged. But, there may be a way. All you need to do is help yourself, which in turn, helps others. Here’s the plan, so listen up, alright? Put some effort into commenting on other’s images. The more effort you put in, the more you learn yourself. Think about what you like and dislike about an image. Think about the composition. Visualize how the lines, patterns, and shapes within the image interact with each other. Take note of the color, contrast, sharpness, and exposure. Think about how it makes you feel, and what it must have felt like to be there. Whatever you do, think! That wasn’t so hard, was it? Now, type it out so that others can view it and benefit from your unique point of view.
In the end, we may not be able to “break the internet” Kim Kardashian style, but if even a small change comes from this article, that feels good enough to me. Photographers have enough road blocks to deal with as it is, so let’s not hamper ourselves any more than we have to. For yourself, for the photography community, and for all who get to view our inspiring images, let’s all summon our inner Rick Grimes and do our part to defeat the plague that is the Digital High Five. We owe it ourselves.