I used to worry about the business of photography. But the more I visit social media sites and read what a handful of photographers are expressing, I’m actually becoming more worried about the business of psychotherapy than photography. While the therapist’s couch used to be the place to go to privately work things out, the keyboard now seems to be the place to go to publicly let it all hang out.
Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Instagram, and various websites and message boards about photography can be fantastic resources for information, insights, and inspiration from some of the thought leaders of the photography realm. But some of the commenters on those sites seem hell-bent on filling the electronic ether with harsh comments, sarcastic remarks, personal attacks, and even rants about their own clients that seem rooted in a personal affliction rather than a conversation about photography. These vocal few don’t seem to realize that through their keyboards they are becoming demolition experts in the destruction of their reputation and career.
New York Times columnist Nick Bilton—an accomplished photographer himself—wrote about his experience with the nastiness of some photographers in a piece called A Lesson Learned About the Intensity of Camera Enthusiasts on the New York Times Bits technology site. He’d written a story about Leica digital cameras and was astonished by the level of vitriol leveled against him in the comments by other photographers simply because of his opinions in the article.
This sort of nasty online behavior is clearly not new. But what does seem new is the reckless disregard for the damage that the comments have the potential to cause one’s own career and reputation. The words that are being freely shared in Tweets, Facebook updates, or comment threads are being read by people who may not only be photography colleagues, but also those who have the power to hire, recommend, refer, or influence the career path of the person doing the writing—today or in the future. It’s one thing for someone with the screen name of “Winky” to post a particularly caustic opinion simply because they feel like it. It’s quite another to get on Twitter or go to a site like The Photo Brigade, SportsShooter, or Photoshelter and make a spectactle of yourself using your own name in front of the very people who you might someday like to work for. That’s career suicide, plain and simple.
What these photographers fail to realize is that there are many people who consume social media but don’t contribute to it. They will check Twitter, scroll through Facebook, read blogs and message boards, and explore Instagram. But only occasionally, if ever, will they post something themselves. They are there to consume information but not necessarily contribute to what’s there. Thus, some of these serial antagonists seem lulled into believing that the circle of readers is much smaller than it really is. This larger “quiet” circle might be made up of other photographers, picture editors, gallery owners, workshop organizers, educators, art directors, or potential clients. And while they are reading, they are all diligently making note of the photographers they never want to work with.
Brilliant photographer and director Vincent Laforet once commented that, “biting your tongue is a discipline.” In a very competitive and connected business landscape, it’s worth considering his wise counsel and how following it might benefit both your relationships and your career. Undoubtedly, your pictures are what ultimately will get you noticed. But it’s those pictures combined with solid character that will sustain your career over the long term.
Joey Terrill is a Los Angeles-based photographer with clients that include American Express, Coca-Cola, Disney, Golf Digest, Major League Baseball, Red Bull, and Sports Illustrated. He teaches workshops and speaks at seminars including the Summit Series Workshops, WPPI, Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar, UPAA Symposium, World in Focus, and Nikon School.