Not only do these practices mean photographs are more likely to be distributed within networks of like-minded people, but also they may never be seen beyond the audience an algorithm defines. Despite the constraints, I still meet photographers who, upon being asked who their intended audien…
The very meaning of documentary photography implies a subjective focus — literally — on one topic a photographer has isolated for illustration—something of deep personal importance to that one photographer and, by implication, to the world at large. The greater the reputation of the photographer, the stronger the implication. Not to be pejorative at all, but it’s a narrower focus. I’m afraid it signals right off the bat to potential audiences that they are about to be subjected to a social-justice, let’s-change-the-world issue. Sorry to say, most people don’t want to deliberately see something that will either make them feel sad, powerless, or guilty. That’s not to say documentaries cannot make us feel happy, empowered, and guileless; but most still-photo documentaries emphasize the former, in my experience. So, how else can audiences be cajoled to look and see.
Certainly, it’s important to bring the attention of new audiences to information that one photographer or another—with the authority to say so—thinks should be widely seen. But the very term documentary photography contributes to the silo effect. And we know what social media has done to the concept of authority.
This presents a problem for some innovative publishing entrepreneur to work out. Success in such a venture, I think, is as much of a marketing problem as any other kind. There should be a way to bring disparate groups, self-segregated by subject matter as they are, together under the rubric of a common interest in photography—not just documentary photography. After all, photography is more popular than ever; and not just because everyone has a camera. In fact, there are the same number of photographers earning a living with a camera today as there were in the heyday of film. Not a very big number at that: about 150,000 (not counting the Social Event market; e.g., Wedding & Portrait, headshots, amateur sports, etc.). But there is a far bigger audience, today, for photography in general.
I think it’s possible to create a new venue for photography—a kind of online LIFE. And I would love to discuss how to do that with anyone who is like-minded.