In the middle of 2011 I started my career as a war photojournalist. That year the (misnamed) Arab Springs gave many young people the opportunity to start a career in this trade. The same year social networks also broke into my life. At first it seemed like a wonderful way to show my work to editors, people around me, etc. A tool that over time has shown its double edge. I would be lying if I said that they didn't help me at first. Without Facebook in 2011, I might not have been able to take the plunge, or possibly publish. However over the years that sharp saw has dulled. I explain.
The revolutionary of social networks has given way to a machine in which the effort to stand out often becomes a useless waste of time. Facebook went from encouraging you to have a fan page where a post could have around 10% of the likes of your total followers to having a couple of dozen likes. I did several tests where I compared the reach of two posts: one with a link from me to a massacre in Mosul and another with a photo at a concert with such superfluous text that I don't want to reproduce it here. The first one had "1 like" (my aunt) and several editors who followed me even assured me that if they entered my page the first one would not appear by default, but rather the photo (taken with a Nokia with a 2 megapixel camera) with the hashtags #party, #happyday, etc. Facebook did not want to show my content. It was difficult to put advertising on my page and the algorithm penalized. Without a doubt it was not my space and I left closing a page with 7500 followers. Since most of what I published did not appear (views and likes dropped by 99%), no one noticed my escape.
Twitter was filled with anonymous people who not only did not contribute but made it difficult for me to get information about what I liked. I had a couple of attacks from haters and I unceremoniously deleted the “great tool” for journalists.
And thus we arrived at 2021. Only Instagram was still installed on my iPhone. Seeing the sudden change that this year has had (I am writing this in 2022, but I am afraid that it will continue to be relevant even if the years go by) I began to test the same as I did with Facebook. In 2019 and 2020 I rose like foam in this social network "for photographers", until I reached 14k followers. From having a ratio of likes and views of stories of almost 20% (good numbers) I went down to 3-4%. On top of that, even having few followers, out of every 2 photos in my feed, one was a suggestion from Instagram and the other a paid promotion. Come on, my mobile became a marathon of videos of funny kittens and people falling in front of someone who was recording with his mobile at that time. I had a harder time following those I cared about. In these the "stories" appeared and like a gambler in Las Vegas and full of endorphins I spent hours and hours watching videos that did not necessarily meet my interests. Various war photographers sharing beers with friends or taking pictures of their slim legs on the beach was not what interested me. There was some interesting video but it didn't justify the time that passed until it appeared in front of me. The dictatorship of the algorithm had taken over a previously useful tool.
But the note that made my alarms go off were two specific conversations. Both kept with war photographers just like me. “And what are you going to do without Instagram?” was one of the questions they asked me. I saw the fear on their faces. One of my colleagues assured me that my work would not be seen by anyone, that they would forget about me and that I would not receive commissions and attention. My response was “Instagram is not the place to attract attention, there is too much noise and it is a paper fame. If you need Instagram to have a job or improve your conditions, it will be bad for you in the future”. The addiction and mirage that Instagram has created in photographers is as pernicious for our future as fake news. I have seen photographers get angry because they have less likes than their “friend”. I have seen photographers copy photos from a photo that got a lot of likes in a war zone like Ukraine. I have seen photographers say that one is better than another because they have more followers. I have seen photographers work on an Instagram aesthetic to get attention since they had to sell a book.
Instagram is nothing more than a private space in which a dictatorship of the algorithm reigns. Everything is ephemeral and it is not a place to be if your gaze is set on the medium or long term.
For this reason, this year 2023, I will not use more than one social network: Telegram. Making calls from abroad without paying and from anywhere is a huge advantage in my job. But I won't even have WhatsApp (another day we talked about data capitalism that also affects us and photographers a lot).
I will return to what my companions call “the cave”. To the email of (almost) a lifetime and to the phone call. To introduce myself to a publisher. To flee from being "famous out of necessity within an algorithm" because otherwise you cannot be a professional photographer. I hope not only not to be wrong, but to improve my work in all aspects. To have a clearer mind and not see myself involuntarily reflected in another and fill me with frustration. I will tell you about it in this blog during this year.