Nobody gives a shit about your photos (except yourself).
Sometimes I get frustrated and confused why I take photos.
I think ultimately I take photos because I want my photos to influence, affect, and perhaps inspire my viewers (and other photographers). This sometimes gives me anxiety because it puts a lot of pressure on me to “perform” by making really strong images for my audience.
But it has recently dawned on me that the only person who really cares about my work is myself. Nobody else really cares or gives a shit.
Of course I have people who like my work, follow it on social media, and give me likes, favorites, or comments. But ultimately they just “like” my work– they aren’t deeply enamored by it, or passionate about it.
The only person out there that has the amount of love, dedication, and passion for my work is myself.
How to shoot for yourself
I sometimes have a hard time just “shooting for myself”. In terms of personality, I am the total opposite of Vivian Maier. Whereas she only shot for herself (and never shred her work with anybody), I want to share my work with everybody.
Therefore I have a hard time shooting for myself. But there have been several things which has given me more serenity in terms of shooting for myself:
1. Shooting film
I find that shooting film has helped me shoot more for myself. This is because I often let my shots “marinate” a long time before even processing or publishing them online.
For example, I usually wait around 6 months before processing my of my film. Part of this reason is because I’m always traveling and don’t have to get my film processed. Another reason is because I want to emotionally disconnect myself from the photos I took, and judge them more objectively (after I forget taking the photos).
This helps me enjoy more or the process of taking photos. When I shoot a photo on film, I know I will eventually look at the image when I get it processed. But by shooting film, I try to savor the moment more. I take more pleasure in the framing, the click of the shutter, and the soft rewind of the film advance lever. Because I know I can’t see the photo instantaneously (like an LCD screen of a digital camera), I try to commit the image to memory.
Shooting film has also helped me work on longer term projects, as I focus on my projects in two phases: the shooting phase and the editing phase. I do all the shooting over a year or two, then all the editing and sequencing afterwards.
2. Imagining myself on my deathbed
When I am 90–100 years old (hopefully) and on my deathbed, I want to be satisfied with the photos I took in my life. I don’t want to simply pander to the masses, and photograph photos that will get a lot of “likes” on social media. I want to make photos that are personally meaningful.
I wrote in a recent post how Josh White taught me the importance of documenting friends and loved ones. They’re the ones we really care about. Nobody cares about our snapshots of those closest to us– but we do. So make photos that are personally meaningful.
I want to make photos during my lifetime that I “gave a shit about”.
3. Photographers are mostly self-centered
When I started social media in photography, the main reason I would give likes, comments, and favorites on other photographers images (or blog posts) were to receive them in return.
What do I mean by this? It was like, “I scratch your back, and you scratch my back”.
I think by giving someone a like, favorite, or comment on their photos, you secretly want to get it in return. It is like a mutual “circle jerk” in some regards. Or in less crude terms, “reciprocity”.
So sometimes I think you should be suspicious why others follow your work, and like your work. Many people might just genuinely like your work. But others might secretly hope that you like their work (and follow them in return). This is like how on Twitter, there are some spammers who follow a lot of people (hoping they will get a “follow back”).
So what I am trying to get at is this: undervalue how much people appreciate your work, and how much it influences them. By undervaluing other peoples opinion of our work, we give more credence (or weight) to our own opinion of our work.
Pleasing others vs yourself
Have you ever had a photo that you didn’t think was that great get tons of favorites and likes on social media?
Have you ever had a photo that you thought was amazing, yet it got little to no likes on social media?
This happens to me a lot.
Sometimes people are right. They don’t know the “backstory” behind the photos I take– and judge it more “objectively” – whether it is a strong shot or not. Sometimes I am too emotionally attached to my “bad” photos.
But really at the end of the day, you always want to ask yourself: “Why do I take photos? Am I trying to please myself, or please my audience?”
Of course you can do both: please yourself and please your audience. But if there is ever a point in which you only have the decision to please yourself (or please others)– I recommend trying to aim to please yourself.
In conclusion, realize that nobody will ever care about your photos as much as you care about your own photos. Who cares about how many little pink stars you get on your images, little red hearts, or blue thumbs-ups you get on your images. When you’re 80 years old and on your deathbed, will you be happy that you had tons of followers on social media? Or will you be glad that you dedicated your life to making art that pleased yourself, and brought meaning to your life?
Choose wisely. Life is short. Nobody gives a shit about your photos, but yourself.
Give a shit about your own photos. Now go out there and create art! :)