Posted in The Magic

The Price of Being an Instagramer

I’ve seen many phases of how the digital and internet revolutions have changed the value of images. So I want to speak up. It’s a controversial subject, but I wanted to share my point of view to the new (and young) people coming into the fold.

What is the value of images in today’s world? If you want to create image-based content, Here is a breakdown of the image making equation from the past to today. I think it’s good to know the past, to make the future different.

The old model was based on elitism– where a few had the secrets of making images (an elite) and they charged exceptionally high amounts for their knowledge. Through this elitism, a few were able to control the price of the market based on the rarity of their talent and experience. The fact that images were produced on film made this equation possible. You had to have acquired, either through experience, or through apprenticeship, the knowledge to light a scene and to expose film. At a time when there were no screens to see what you were doing. You also had to have the talent to capture something interesting in a short amount of time. These people were gods, because they had mastered a craft that was quite difficult.

When digital cameras arrived, I remember that most photographers didn’t want to use them… because they knew that it would devalue their work on all levels. But big companies saw the opportunity to remove “film” from the photographic equation, and to bring down the price of the market. With digital technology you can reflect back on what is being captured. You can decide if you like  how the subject is translating onto the image. This eliminates the need to have specialized individuals in the technical aspects of film. But it also made it possible to everyone that could point a camera and push on a button, to create images. 

On the timeline of our digital revolution, here is the birth of the image-editor or retoucher. A person who edits the flat images of the digital camera to make them look like film. The other advantage of the digital image is post-editing. You can now afford to make certain mistakes because the retoucher will “fix” them. You don’t need to work with experienced hair and makeup, or set-designers, or even models. Post editing can fix a lot.

The grand finale of the revolution was the cell phone with a camera. Now you don’t even need to buy a camera–you have one on your hand held device. You also have a new app to share these images. You have filters and editing programs on your phone. You can turn yourself into a star, in fact, with the selfie you don’t need a photographer. You can take pictures anywhere, anytime.

All of this led to images becoming cheap. “Cheap” is not a word I use lightly here. Cheap and plentiful–to be more precise. This is in direct relation to how the market works: supply and demand. In the past, the demand was great but the supply was short and expensive. Now it’s the opposite: the supply is overwhelming. According to the rules of the market, the price of images has to go down. And it did. 

Yet people are still creating images in the hopes of becoming the next big thing by getting published. Although traditional paper magazines are off limits. A whole new slew of internet “magazines” has cropped up to feed on the talent of people who are willing. Let’s make this clear: today, there is no top. This leads to many who copy the images of the “popular” artists in the hopes of rising and taking their place. 

You see, the bottom of the chain has changed, but the top still remains the same. In fact a new “top” tier has evolved. The market has always worked on the appeal of prestige. Even today, it’s an important part of the value that some people have created for their work. But the hope of attaining it by being diffused by a media (that is not mass anymore) is what makes the bottom of this machine churn out new images. You see, prestige is a fabrication. By letting a few in at the top, a sense of exclusivity is maintained. Now how do we change the system from within? We make prestige obsolete.

Why are you producing images? Are you trying to get to the top? Are you trying to be prestigious by getting Chanel and Gucci clothing in fashion pictures? Why not work on expressing your ideas. Copy if you must learn, but if you have already acquired the knowledge and skill, then try to make something authentic. The good thing about this revolution, is that we all have equal access to this medium. So instead of competing for an obsolete top, or to compete with other people… let’s make it about our  individual points of view. Let’s enjoy the stories each and everyone of us can weave. Let’s show what we would like to see, let’s dare wanting to see something else that what we are shown, because we really have the power.