Is Perennial Photography Possible in the Age of Instagram?
Another entry to my blog series containing various nerdings and musings about the visual world. You can check out last week’s about leaving “the bubble” and then one I did about wedding photography and A Star is Born.
If you haven’t seen my relentless updates on Instagram about this; me and my friend Kelsey are trying to see who can read the most books in 2019. I also have a side goal of reading 70 books by the end of the year. Currently, I’m finishing up book 10 of the challenge (and I’m winning btw), which I think is higher than the amount of books I’ve ever read in a year, period (at least in my adult life).
The Great Book Competition of 2019 has really been life enriching. It’s a similar feeling to when you start eating healthy and exercise, you just feel good. Mentally, it’s like when I gave up soda back in 2010 (I still don’t drink any), my mind instantly feels 10 lbs lighter and less sluggish.
One of the authors I’ve experienced during this challenge is Ryan Holiday. I’ve heard of him, but I had never actually read anything he’s written. I’m a fan of how he writes: his work contains a greater depth than what’s typically found in “self-help” books (dare I even consider his books to be in that genre).
First, I read Ego is the Enemy, which I recommend to anyone. It’s just a good book with stories about how ego can ruin lives if you let it, but also great examples of humble men and women throughout history. A generally obvious topic, yet still important and worth getting reminders.
This past week, I read his book Perennial Seller, which was about making work that lasts, and it contains examples of work we all know and love from music to books to products that have stuck around for a while.
I was happy to find this book, because I think about it a lot. It’s a struggle, I think for many of us: How do you make work that lasts as a photographer who uses Instagram?
Does anything on Instagram last? Can much of it even exist outside Instagram?
Instagram the company may be around for a while, but every time we post something, it’s gone into the photographic void in a flash. (Pun intended? The world may never know.)
This is why I question the work of many popular Youtube Photographers these days, not because they are unskilled or anything (they’ve managed to monetize photography to a level I haven’t), but because the work they are encouraging everyone to make tends to fall within the bounds of what will be popular on Instagram.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s technically sound and impressive stuff from time to time, but could you see it hanging in a gallery? Will you remember these shots years from now, or do they just fit too snuggly into Instagram’s trendy parameters so they’ll be forgotten forever?
I’ll be honest and say that I don’t really spend all that much time on Youtube, so I could easily be missing something. I’ve some watched videos from the top photography influencers, however, and I get the same vibe from all of them. I hear the advice “Don’t follow trends.” From some of the trendiest photographers working today.
(By the way, the point of this post is not to call anyone out, but rather question what Perennial Photography even is today, if it’s even possible)
I leaked out some of my thoughts about this on Instagram Stories this past week when gathering prompts for my next 365 project. Someone submitted the prompt “Prisms and Copper Pipes”, which, if you’re into photography today, you’ve probably heard of this technique (no offense to the person who submitted it). Why? Because these are techniques that photography influencers encourage beginners to try because it’s a way to look different on the cheap. It may have been original when the first person tried putting a prism in front of their lens or a did whatever you’re supposed to do with a copper pipe, but the first photographer to make popular such techniques has since been consumed by a title wave of other Instagrammers, which sucked the perennial aspect out of such a discovery. Do you even know who started developing the method? Probably not, which furthers begs the question: Is it possible to make something perennial in the Instagram age???
They may have stumbled upon a perennial technique, but they won’t be remembered for it. Not like Iron Maiden or Salinger (both examples in the book).
Let me answer my own question by saying, yes, I believe it is possible to make something perennial during the age of Instagram as a photographer or filmmaker, but it’s beyond difficult. Also, it’s hard to identify what is perennial while it’s happening (one could argue the whole thesis of this post is flawed for that very reason).
Two examples of work that is happening today that I think is potentially going to last? Probably the early chunk of Casey Niestat’s work, as well as filmmaking techniques he popularized during his vlogging career (I’m referring to his camera setup, which I see everywhere all the time). I also believe as far as Instagram goes, the Brenizer Method, a portrait technique that I will think will last almost entirely due to the fact that it has managed to retain a name. You may forget the person that created it, but the technique itself (hard to describe with a simple word) will probably always be named after the wedding photographers that popularized the technique.
I believe Instagram to be important. Despite its importance, I never want to live to serve Instagram itself, but Instagram be simply a tool of distribution. The second we make what we believe the machine wants, I think our chances of perennial photography is over.
Same goes for any distribution tool, not just social media. I think in order to make something that dares be perennial, we have to look outside of the parameters of where we are putting it. Say you’re shooting a series to be put into a gallery, I would want it to be successful in a gallery, a book, Instagram, and wherever else, so it can survive wherever that work may end up over time, and maybe even forever.