When was the last time you took a photo and printed it?
Yes, printed it.
I did it last week, for the first time in more or less ten years. Before, I used to get a disposable camera, take 27 photos and hope for the best (since I was the world's worst photographer). I would anxiously wait for them to develop and then study each one thoroughly.
Now, I'm an Instagram addict. I post pictures almost on a daily basis. I use my iPhone to take them, I run them through Camera+ before adding the finishing touches on Instagram. When I have a lot of time on my hands, I even upload my GoPro photos.
I used to hashtag like a madwoman, but then I wanted to see how my photos would do 'organically.' The results were quite disappointing and baffling. My most liked photo, without hashtags, is a photo of me, with over 60 likes. If we disregard that, the themes that have proved to be most likeable are animals, clouds and sea. So what I think is good, no one else thinks is good. And what everyone else thinks is good, I think it an easy shot.
This is an easy shot, that generated 46 likes.
So why do we take photos in this day and age? And how does it differ from why people took photos, say 20 years ago?
Well, in both instances the reason is to capture an experience. The only difference is that now every experience is worth capturing -- from mundane things like eating breakfast, reading or resting, to milestones like weddings and birthdays. Before, the price and the effort related to taking photos meant that we were a lot more selective about occasions that we chose to commemorate with a photographic image.
Another reason is to show off. Only that showing off is different now than it was before. It is much easier to show off in 2013, as it's only a click or a tap away. Twenty years ago, you had to physically meet people in order to show off your holiday snaps. Now you can show off to people you don't even know. Marvelous, isn't it?
What about likes and hashtags? I believe likes give many people an adrenaline rush - the more likes, the more excited you get. Hashtags are a way of generating those in an artificial manner, and relating your photo to a desired topic. This is a great improvement from the old days, when the best a photo could do was to get framed or sit in a dusty album no one ever looked at.
With the great advancement of mobile phones and cameras, photography has become a massive way of expressing creativity for many people. The social activity that goes with it has greatly added to its visibility. Just like we saw the rise of YouTube stars, we are now seeing the rise of the social photographers. Only recently we saw Maroon 5 discover the photographer for their latest album cover on flickr. A very popular Instagram profile that has gotten a lot of web press coverage consists of pug shots only.
Is this democratization of art or the demise of it? Are various apps, filters and followers making us delusional about our talents? Or do these things precisely satisfy the hunger for new talent and things that stand out from everything that we know?
Either way, there is definitely such a thing as a visual overload and oversharing. Photo sharing platforms have moved the boundaries in terms of too much information. Capturing and sharing moments has become more important than enjoying them.
Next time you feel like taking and sharing a photo, try resisting the urge and see what happens. Who knows, you might even enjoy the moment a little longer. It might even be a lot better than your filter could make it. Or you might just realize it wasn't worth capturing after all. Because there is (still) no filter for life.