Social Media & Photography: Observations Part 4 – Blogging & Tumblr


Courtesy of Ferlinka Borzoi

By now, most photographers who have a website probably also have a blog of some sort. And I think I’ve covered my thoughts on the formats for photography blogs and zines sufficiently enough by now, so I’ll try to cover a few different angles here.  My one confession is that I actually don’t subscribe or follow too many photographer blogs.  I’m not sure why.  I suppose too many are simply comprised of updates about new projects, shows and accolades.  That’s fine, and necessary, but not really that interesting to me.

Of the few photographer blogs that I do follow, there’s one that stands out. Emily Shur.  I’d come to know her work through the photography grapevine and at first I didn’t pay too much attention to her work because commercial and celebrity photography are not necessarily of much interest to me. But I followed her anyway because she seemed interesting.  Then over the course of time she started to post her personal work which I think is exceptional.  But that wasn’t what really drew me in.  Her blog posts are always thoughtful and have a feeling of necessity, like she’s posting because if she doesn’t she won’t be able to get whatever it is she’s thinking off her mind.

The tone of her blog posts are typically conversational, like she’s talking to friends. She doesn’t reveal too many details about her life, but just enough for you to understand a bit more about her and what drives her to make photographs. Through her blogging I’ve come to admire her and her work much more, and feel like I have an insider perspective on the challenges professional photographers face these days.

I think there are lots of opportunities for photographers to do interesting things with their blogs, but I get the sense that for the vast majority, they’re simply an after thought, and at worst, a burden.  Blogs are certainly challenging as well because you need to be comfortable writing, and from my experience the majority of photographers really want very little to do with writing.

The Separation of Self-Promotion and ‘Curating’

When photographers started blogging, they started ‘curating’ as well, or editing as I prefer to call it. One of the main components of many early blogs was to feature the work of peers the photographer felt deserved wider recognition.  This was the norm, and you still see it today. I understand the impulse. We’re all influenced by other photographers, and that influence plays a big role in our own work, so why not share the work that resonates with us?

Indeed, we should. I’m a huge proponent of ‘sharing’ as you can see by virtue of this fiefdom to all the work ‘I think is great and everyone should know about.’ But awhile back, I developed a personal code of conduct. There should be a separation between self-promotion and editing.

I know this can be a touchy subject and I believe there were debates about it in 2006, 2007, and 2008, so I’ll just throw in my two cents. Naturally, in the grand scheme of things it’s not a huge deal

I much prefer when the photographer uses the work of a peer to demonstrate something they’re thinking about in relation to their own work.  This can very interesting when done well.  But if you’re going to really promote and share the work of your peers seriously, then start a separate blog, or a Tumblr, which is great exactly for those purposes.  I know there will be plenty of people that disagree with me, and I’m sort of going against a social media axiom, but I think photographer blogs are more interesting when they focus on their craft, insights and philosophy rather than specifically promoting the work of their peers.

Again, I’m obviously not opposed to sharing and promoting the work of others, but for me I think if you’re going to do that seriously, you should keep somewhat of separation between that and promoting your own work.  These days it doesn’t take much to grab a few photographs from someone’s portfolio and say something like, “This is great you should check it out.”  In essence, a blog is a marketing and self-promotion tool, so I think it can a be a bit opportunistic if you primarily use others work to bring people to your website.

Besides, there a lots and lots of places to find new work, but there aren’t too many photographers who take the time and effort to share insights about their practice and philosophy.  I hope to see more in the near future though.

[Please note: certainly if you dig hard enough you'll find times where I've perhaps blurred the lines too much]

The Tumblr Community

I don’t follow many photographer blogs, but I do follow plenty of photographers on Tumblr.  Tumblr is the great web scrapbook for me. The platform makes blogging/Tumbling so easy it’s no wonder why it has become popular. But that’s only a small part of why Tumblr rocks.  What makes it thrive and what makes it interesting is the community.  It takes the ‘follow’ principle of Twitter and enhances it.  Through reblogging it becomes incredibly simple to share and respond to posts you find interesting.  Because of this, content organically spreads through the community.

When you use Tumblr, you’re mostly working from inside the dashboard, and because of this you rarely see the design of most blogs you follow.  For some, this might be an issue, but I mostly view standard blogs via Google Reader so I’m accustom to it.

My personal Tumblr is basically a photoblog. I post photographs, that’s it.  For those who don’t like Flickr or want a really simple photoblog, you might want to try Tumblr. There aren’t many organization tools but if you’re savvy with tags you can parse your content effectively, but it’s not really about that for me. It’s more about the daily flow of content, images and ideas.

The LPV Tumblr is where I aggregate all the photography/art content that I find worthy of passing along on a daily basis, primarily quotes and photographs from other blogs.  Naturally, I post all the LPV content as well, but typically only excerpts that link back to the blog.  We’ve gained a modest following by Tumblr standards, but I’m certain there are followers of LPV that only know about what we’re doing through Tumblr.  For bloggers and publishers it’s a great way to reach another audience, and the Tumblr audience tends to be media savvy early adopters, as well as very design and art oriented.

Spreading Your Work Through Blogging

Whether you use a blog, Tumblr, Flickr or all three, if your objective is to build an audience on the web, it’s important to spread your work on a consistent basis, and reach people on the platforms they use.  Blogging is also a great way to show work in progress and discuss your objectives and intent with the work. The web tends to be single image oriented which I know is problematic for project oriented photographers, but if you’re thoughtful, and creative I think there are opportunities to use blogging platforms to present your work in a way that emphasis the serial nature of your work.

If you know of any interesting photographer blogs, please let me know.

  • http://boyghost.tumblr.com boyghost

    Some of my favorite photographers on tumblr are Patrick Joust (http://patrickjoust.tumblr.com), Lauren Lyon (http://laurenlyon.tumblr.com) and Bryan Vana (http://badgerdash.tumblr.com). And now I will do the absolutely web 2.0 thing and self-promote my own tumblr (http://www.boyghost.com).

  • Bryan Formhals

    Thanks Elizabeth. FYI, Photographs on the Brain is the Tumblr outpost of this blog :)

  • elizabethcatherine

    I think photographers are a bit fearful with the direction the medium is taking given the unpredictable nature of the internet, the proliferation of amateurs, and a growing lack of regard for personal privacy and intellectual property.

    And while those fears are sound and worth acknowledging, I think it would be incredibly harmful to ignore the potential for sites like Tumblr and Flickr. I read a brilliant quote recently from Photographs on the Brian via Tumblr and it basically pointed out that the work you see online is not the actual work but a reproduction of it, often a poor one at that. Anyone who shifts from RAW files to web-friendly jpegs quietly sighs at the tragic loss of information, the fuzzy edges, and flat colours. Web-friendly jpegs are not the final result. They are not the fine art print. The advertisement. The gallery space. They are a nod and an intention and a flag for the artist to wave to market themselves and their work. There is no greater compliment than a reblog or a follow.

    You could watermark your work too (though I think that’s kind of ugly) but honestly the throwaway nature of a jpeg and its rapid degradation is protection enough in my mind.

    As an aside, I think it’s more tasteful to copyright in the metadata. I don’t know, I really have a thing against watermarks.

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  • http://www.erikleungphoto.com/ erik

    I have a blog, but I use it mostly as a repository for personal images, daily snaps, and other memories. It’s a scrapbook, a smorgasborg of photographs, and when put in context of what I like to shoot, not necessarily representative. But I think there is some value in sharing these images, though every day I think my certainty in this value fades. Is it better to tightly control what you publish on the web, or does the more is better rule apply? I’m not sure.

    Thanks for sharing Emily Shur. Her blog is excellent and she has a lot of very good things to say.

  • http://www.kpraslowicz.com K. Praslowicz

    Amen. I just started using Tumblr less than a month ago and I want nothing more then 1000s of reblogs of any of my images I post. Anyone can see the same image on my website, so what if they see it elsewhere for the same price of free? Tumblr users seem to be pretty good at attributing the source and preserving the click-though url, so I’m not worried at all.

  • Bryan Formhals

    Do you think it’d be in Tumblr’s best interest to exploit and screw over photographers? This is social media. They depend on transparency. Basically the terms of service are for when they make recommendations and suggestions.

    What exactly are they going to do with photographs online? Use them in ads? It’s just not worth it for them to screw over their members. That’s not their game, that’s not their business model.

    Photographers get way too bent out of shape about protecting their work online and completely over estimate it’s value. The only time it becomes a problem is if a large newspaper or magazine grabs photos and doesn’t pay for them. Or if some company tried to do it, but stock photography is so cheap these days, it’s simple not worth the trouble to screw people over.

    In terms of reblogging, why wouldn’t you want people spreading your work? There are so many photographs and photographers on the web, for anyone to get really bent out of shape of protecting their work seems a bit foolish.

    If attribution is an issue, then just put a small watermark with the copyright in the lower right corner, like Clayton Cubitt does. He and Noah Kalina both post work on Tumblr and Flickr and don’t seem overly concerned about protecting their work that much…and both are incredibly successful pros.

    http://claytoncubitt.tumblr.com/

  • Guest

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on Tumblr’s Terms of Service. You basically give them a royalty free license to use your work, modify it, create derivative works, etc. As well, if someone has reblogged your work, Tumblr does not necessarily delete the content. It doesn’t strike me as a particularily healthy environment for photographers who post their own work.