Let me clear up one more misconception. So-called “influencers” on social media platforms like Instagram play, at best, a tangential role in the business of photography.

Don’t let that surprise you. Influencers are not photographers per se, in the sense of getting paid to provide photographic services, but for how many “followers” they attract, given their respective talents for garnering “fifteen minutes of fame” (as per Andy Warhol’s timeless dictum). Of course, real celebrities can be influencers too: athletes, musicians, movies stars, etc. They all get paid to guilefully display or deliberately pose with name-brand products, thus making tacit commercial endorsements to their followers.

It’s called “product placement,” of course. You already know it’s a successful way to advertise. But it gets more interesting. Influencers with large followings are often financially supported by advertising agencies who employ “ringers” to shoot pictures that merely look like user-generated content. But it is not UGC. Many of these photos are created by professionals, hired for their ability to reliably produce an “amateur-looking aesthetic.” Attribution of the resulting pictures is, shall we say, disingenuous. The point is, social media is just another medium for advertisers who pay professional photographers to create content the traditional way.

The vast preponderance of so-called “content creators,” people who enjoy illustrating what they ate for breakfast to their online “friends,” are not influencers per se. Real influencers consider it a vocation, a job description. It earns them income. They work hard to market themselves. I’m not trying to disparage any porridge paparazzi, but millions of social media snapshots cannot accomplish what one commercial photographic illustrator can do, just pretending to be an influencer, to get you to buy any given brand of breakfast cereal.

I’ve coined a word for the use of photographic technology on social media: pixting.

Pixting is to photography as texting is to literature. It means engaging in perfunctory conversation by utilizing pictures instead of words across a digital medium. It’s visual smalltalk; the appropriation of a one hundred and seventy-year-old technology called photography for visual chitchat.

Do professional photographers use social media? Sure they do. But it’s a means of self-promotion (marketing) for the most part, to get the attention of clients who will pay them real money to shoot real jobs — including for publication on social media itself. Can an image first published on Instagram be picked up for use in a commercial ad? Sure, why not?

Photographs are not widgets. They have no monolithic utility. Collectively, their use is infinitely variable and, yet, each one is subjectively unique. That fact holds true despite the gazillions of images made every day using photographic technology. But while the technology makes these images photographic by definition, they cannot be considered useful in any kind of photo-illustration context, and, therefore have little commercial value. They’re hardly photographs in the conventional sense. They have little to no value as original works of art either.

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