Issue Twenty

BEYOND INSTANT

Defining Success In A Social Media World

WORDS & PHOTOS x Krystle Wright

2 May 2017
Part One

A revolving discussion

It’s a revolving conversation amongst friends on what amounts to success as an artist and surviving the freelance world. Over the course of 10 years as a professional photographer, I’ve already witnessed so much change in the photography world particularly when it comes to social media.

Originally, I began my career in the editorial world working as a sports photographer for agencies like Agence France Presse and The Sunday Telegraph in Sydney, Australia. Over time though I found my passion shifting from main-stream sports into the adventure realm. I lost the drive and passion as a sports photographer because I felt it was all about immediacy, and creativity wasn’t encouraged or appreciated. Shifting my focus into the adventure photography was like a breath of fresh air without the need to publish content immediately. Nor did I need to directly compete with 20 other photographers hustling the sidelines at a stadium to see who could upload content the fastest. After a chance phone call in late 2011 inviting me to work as a guide in Antarctica, I made the leap and became a full time adventure photographer.

Part Two

Pressure to perform

With the recent rise of social media, I’ve suddenly found myself returning to the world that I was once so jaded with. I felt this overwhelming pressure and need to be uploading content regularly, almost daily sometimes, in order to have a presence online. The immediacy had crept back into my life and I didn’t enjoy that feeling at all. I can’t argue with the fact that social media is an incredible platform making it easier than ever to stay in touch with friends across the globe. It’s also phenomenal to think that with a click of a button, I have the ability to share my work to a potential global audience. As a freelancer, there are probably more opportunities than ever before.

During a recent conversation with a friend, I started down the dangerous rabbit hole of comparing my work to others. I started with, “Why don’t I have as many followers?” and “Why does it feel like everyone else was getting work and I’m not?” As much as I love to see the success of friends and fellow artists, it can also be overwhelming as it feels like everyone is successful all the time and that in turn creates this sense of pressure that I too have to maintain.

It wasn’t too long in my rant that my friend stopped me and asked why was I comparing myself to others? More importantly, why did I think that having a large number of followers indicated success as an artist? What I had failed to see was the other side of the coin. My friend asked me whether I really wanted to maintain such a high pace of momentum and my immediate response without a second’s hesitation was no.

Part Three

Long Term

Being a freelance photographer is a tough gig in multi-tasking. I run my own business and spend countless hours emailing, editing, traveling, keeping on top of my taxes, making phone calls – as well as taking photos. It’s tough to find the balance between creating new work, spending quality time with friends and loved ones, running the business and not losing my mind. The thought of hiring and managing a team to expand the business purely to have a stronger presence online does not interest me at all.

Work that I particularly admire are those long-term projects where the photography produced has the ability to showcase investigative work and engage on a deeper level. This typically means the artist is throwing themselves into projects with a fiery passion that borders on obsession, and so often brings challenges into their personal lives that we don’t see. If I think of the artists that inspire me most, I think of Sebastian Salgado in creating Genesis. A 7-year project that resulted in an amazing body of work that filled the entire New York International Centre of Photography Gallery. There are many others and you only have to look towards the photo essays like Paul Nicklen’s Arctic and Antarctic work in National Geographic, Daniel Berehulak’s recent Philippine Reportage New York Times, winning essays in World Press Photo and appreciate the many weeks, months, if not years a photographer has invested into a story.

The business model of producing such work is near impossible for most of us because who would fund such lengthy projects? I believe that to survive as a photographer, one must know how to adapt and evolve. Though to play with a concept, what if social media collapsed tomorrow?  The first question that comes to mind is, “Would you still be doing the same thing or be motivated to do the same activities without the ability to immediately share online?” I feel a great satisfaction knowing that for me personally, I would still be chasing adventures and expeditions around the world and documenting them with my camera in hand.

Part Four

Reality

I am certainly aware that my Instagram feed may give a false sense of reality. There is no way that I am able to produce content every day to maintain a furious pace in order to post an incredible new shot everyday. Honestly, I feel lucky that I have 10 years as a professional behind me which allows me to tap into my library to fill days where I have no new content to post. There are multiple reasons for this method and I certainly don’t want to claim that every day is perfect for me. Firstly, I want to keep some privacy about my life and typically I will rarely post where I actually am at the time. Also, I refuse to post too much about my personal life as I don’t want everyone, (including strangers), to know these unnecessary details. I use Instagram and social media more like an extension of my portfolio and business that hopefully feels like an extended conversation one would like to engage with me.

The troubling thing I find though is that many make an assumption that my life is romantic, with me gallivanting around the world living the easy life of being paid to take pretty photos. I can’t tell you the number of emails I get each week, typically from young people, who ask the question, “How do I get to be paid to travel the world and take photos?” This particular lifestyle that I have created for myself carries many challenges that often don’t get talked about. I recall the time when Australian Customs rejected my water damaged passport which forced me to buy a new passport and new airplane ticket; or the time the bank came in and repossessed the family home because of actions of others that were out of my control; or that time I walked into a supermarket with my last $20 to buy groceries to last me a week until the next invoice of $200 came into my account because I had maxed out all my accounts and credit card chasing this career?

It’s tough to decide on what to share on social media because if one shares the hardships then it can be seen as a cry for attention and lead to potential criticism, whereas posting beautiful pictures and happy times is easier for a general audience to digest. I feel a great sense of discomfort when sharing difficult times online as I feel like I am burdening others with my problems when so many others are going through equally, if not worse times. I much prefer to share these moments with close friends and family for the support I need. But in all honesty, I do enjoy posting photos of my work as I seek to be a storyteller, and social media is one of many audiences I can tap into to share my work.

Part Five

Staying True

I will keep a presence online as I do enjoy the interaction it can bring. But I won’t let myself fall into that dangerous trap of comparing my work to others and making the shallow assumptions that seeing big numbers indicates success as I’ll never really know what is going on behind closed doors. Art is a subjective medium and if the work I’m producing is not even resonating with myself then I’ve ultimately failed my own ethics and morals. I entered the photography world with an incredibly stubborn attitude to pursue the photos I’ve always wanted to take.

From early on, I met many skeptics (one even told me to give up on being a sports photographer because I would never make it). These interactions only fuelled my desire to prove my worth and capture unique imagery that would help me establish myself amongst the highly regarded. So why with the social media world would I change my ways to only please others and obtain numbers. I feel incredibly lucky in my career so far and when I look back, I’ve always opened new doors thanks to the stubbornness of sticking true to my vision. Occasionally we all need a little reset to find clarity in our craft and our purpose as an artist.

Thanks
Issue Twenty
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We normally offset the carbon produced by travel in the production of our Issues however this one would be just to expansive to measure accurately. Instead, we're going to make a $50 donation the Eskapee Carbon Fund.

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