Photographers, the Internet desperately needs what you have to offer.
I write to you today, because there is something important that I would like to share with you, that I want you to know. And it's not about product updates or developing features, it's not about selling software or promoting The Turning Gate. Today, I bring you a message of positivity. I want to talk about you. Yes, YOU.
YOU are the Internet's most vital resource.
Well, who are you? Why do I think so, and why am I pointing my figurative finger at you? Settle in. This one gets long.
You are self-hosting your own website, rather than swelling the pustule of social or crowdsourced media. You're more interested in carving out your own space and identity, than you are in piling onto the landfills of Facebook, Buzzfeed, or Medium. You may get fewer hits overall, but the hits you do get will probably mean more.
You've chosen to utilize The Turning Gate's tools, likely because of the diversity of the feature set and our plugins' malleable design, which pertains to your wanting your website to be an extension of your expressive self. You want to do things in your own way, and we give you a lot of options to define your individual path.
You are photographers, which implies so many important things. Among them, ...
... You are personally and financially invested in your acts of self-expression. You have put time and effort into honing your craft, and have perhaps made sacrifices for it.
... Photography does not get made at a desk, behind a computer, and you know it. You get up and get out, and the farther afield you go, the more you return with. By its very nature, photography broadens your horizons, invites you into experiences outside of yourself, involves you in the stories of other places, in the lives of other people, and in the forge of these experiences, you are constantly reshaped into something new.
... You create original visual content, and do so in a modern era where originality is in such short supply. On the other side of that coin, it is incredibly unlikely that you would turn to generic stock content to promote or adorn yourself or your expressions.
And it's these attributes that are at the core of this discussion.
I've lately been working on CE4 Theme for WordPress, our WordPress theme creation utility for Lightroom. Blogs and blogging are much on my mind at the moment.
There's no dearth of WordPress themes to be had, free or premium. You might pick the white one with the headlines in the fancy script. Or maybe the black one with the yellow accents. It's a lovely shade of yellow, you think, and sits nicely on that nearly black, but not quite fully devoid-of-tonality background. And it's a thought likely shared by the 150 people who purchased and installed that theme before you, and the 150 people who will do so after. And probably 95% of them won't personalize that theme at all, beyond typing their names into WordPress' required boxes.
You don't want to run a website identical to 300 others. By and large, photographers are nonconformists. If that were not the case, then we'd all be fully sated with office jobs and cubicles, and would have no use for photographic machinations or malleable Web frameworks.
You put a lot of yourself into your photography, into your stories, and as much as we're able, we want you to be able to showcase your work according to your own preferences. We've built our business on personalization features.
CE4 Theme for WordPress is good, and given time I can make it better. I can give you new and better ways to tell your stories, to show your photos, to share your experiences with the rest of us. And I really, really want you to share. I've built the sound-system; you setup the mic, then spill yourself into it for all the world to hear; we facilitate, you go crazy. That's the deal. And I say again:
YOU, photographers, are the Internet's most vital resource.
Your horizons are wide, your experiences run deep, and you don't make things up. Photographers live, feel, record and share their worldliness with others. Through photography, we know our past, and those things which lie beyond our personal boundaries and experience. We live vicariously through the lens, non-photographers through photographers, and photographers through our friends and peers in other places.
You might be wondering, why do I think that the Internet hinges upon YOU in particular?
The short answer I've already stated, that you are a creator of original visual content and a purveyor of genuine experiences, many of which are probably worth sharing.
Social and crowdsourced media are conformity, a steady, unending drip of blandness. We should all make social media a part of our outreach strategy, but that doesn't mean we need to live there, and we certainly don't have to like it. There's still space on the Web for individuals to produce standout content. One of my favorite things to read on the entire Internet is the blog of Canadian photographer Patrick la Roque, because he's brilliant, takes wonderful photos, and always tells the truth. I don't follow him on social media, because I don't want him to become just one more dude on my wall. I make a point of visiting his blog regularly, and every time feels like a refreshing break from routine.
At the other end of the spectrum ...
Maybe two weeks ago, a friend from photography school shared a link on Facebook. I clicked and was swept off to Medium, an unmoderated publishing platform populated by crowdsourced, self-styled bloggers with more asperations than substance. The article in question quickly lost its own plot, but there were three or four images embedded and I took notice of the photography. The image leading the article was this one:
Not something I'd hang on my wall, but it evokes a certain feeling and was appropriately matched to the article's gist, which was something about setting yourself adrift from the mundane life and chasing your dreams. You know, the sort of pseudo-inspirational fluff that people like to share on Facebook. Whatever. I finished the article, felt disappointed by its ending, then went about my business, probably returning to my text-editor to work on TTG development.
A few days later, I clicked another thing on my wall, read another article, and there was the very same photo. "Well, that's the Internet for you," I thought, and carried on with my day.
Days after that, I landed on another article, with this image:
... which had also appeared in that first article I'd read, along with the other. I began to scratch my head ...
The third time I ran across the underwater image, I ran it through a Google Image Search:
Cutting to the chase, the source of both of these images is the same: Unsplash.com, a site promising free high-resolution stock photos, at a rate of 10 new images every 10 days. From what I can tell, the content is crowdsourced. Photographers can submit their work through a link on their website.
UNSPLASH LEGAL STUFF
All photos published on Unsplash are licensed under Creative Commons Zero which means you can can copy, modify, distribute and use the photos, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.
For giving up the rights to their photos, contributing photographers are compensated with momentary viral glory.
From my perspective, Unsplash.com is contributing to the homogenization of the Internet, the flatlining of the Internet's peaks and valleys, giving self-styled bloggers access to reasonably compelling imagery, at no cost and with very little effort, with which to buoy their typically unconvincing blather.
The upshot might be that if more bloggers are pulling freely licensed imagery from sites such as this, it may result in fewer bloggers pulling work from photographers' websites for illegitimate use. But that is perhaps a tangential conversation.
In less than two weeks, I've seen the two images above at least three or four times each, in different places. Just this afternoon, I ran across that second image yet again. I now close these sites immediately. Because how authentic a message can these people possibly be providing, if they're cherry-picking widely spread stock imagery from a free website that barfs crowdsourced images at 10-day intervals? Are they really even trying?
At that time, in that place, they were not there; what they're showing and what they're telling are disconnected things, thinly tied together by strands of the World Wide Web. Rubbish.
And that's why the Internet needs YOU. You were there, you photographed it, and you can tell us about it with the sort of authority and authenticity that most social bloggers simply cannot muster.
I am proud to say that the vast majority of the images I use here on The Turning Gate are my own work. Occasionally, I borrow images with permission, such as when I need a nice panorama for a demonstration, because Rod Barbee's panoramas are nicer than mine, and because he's a friend.
The image leading this article is one of my own. And you know why I'm using it? Because it's mine, and because I can. That's more than most bloggers can say. We should aspire to be the fascinating old lady in the awesome, incredibly functional hat, peaking out from amongst the clutter.
I'm working on CE4 Theme for WordPress because I know that you have stories to tell, and I'd really like you to tell them. If I can create a tool to make the telling easier for you to do, then I want to create that tool. But whether you use my tools or not, please tell your stories. The Internet needs more of you, more of the original, compelling, authentic content that you create, and less of the crowdsourced garbage that it's got in spades.
You know who crowdsources material? Fox News. And now we all turn to comedians to get real world perspective.
Now, because I am a photographer and not Average Joe Blogger; because I can, I leave you with another original image.
Are you a photographer who already blogs? Drop your link in the comments, because we'd love to read you.
You're a photographer and not blogging, but would like to get started? We'd like to help. Ask us your questions.
Or comment below to let us know your thoughts on the matter.
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