Note: this post has been edited a few times. Being featured on a channel with over 250k viewers puts some pressure and – while I felt the urge to write a reply soon – I needed more time to process the whole thing.

When you casually drop a line on the Facebook page of one of the most popular YouTube channels about photography, you don’t expect to be particularly noticed. Even less you expect half an episode to be focused on your question, but this is more or less what happened last week.

On his page, Ted Forbes opened a Q&A thread and his follower Robert Kennedy asked:

How do you know when you’re creating work that matters? Can we judge a photograph by the amount of interaction it gets on social media? What merits a truly exceptional photo? I want to keep pushing myself and my photography but to do it in a constructive way that will help me grow as an artist and perhaps inspire some other people along the way. Thanks for all you do.

Since Forbes is a creative guy with an interesting perspective on things, and since I’m struggling to find the right balance between a relevant online presence and the need to keep my focus on what’s important, I endorsed his question adding what follows:

+1 on this one. It’s hard to escape the equivalence “more likes = better picture” but it’s also hard to get valuable feedback outside of this logic.

This was of course a rhetorical question: I’m strongly against this equivalence (likes=value) and similar ones that in my views are worth the same (money=value). So the core of my question wasn’t “are likes a proof of value” but “how can I find a valuable feedback” considering that all we get is usually likes (or binary submission results: accepted/rejected). And, yes, I think feedback can be valuable.

What followed is a ten-minutes-long essay on art and creativity so dense, so complete and so clear that there’s no need for comments. I’d like to emphasise just few points.

  1. Social media is important”. This is an wise thing to say because it dodges the dichotomy “social media = likes”. Social media are often demonised, which is a silly thing to do. The problem is not if the phone is good or evil, is what you say and whom you talk to.
  2. Social media is important because “it’s a way to create conversations”. I particularly like the choice of the word “conversation” here, because it reminds me of the noblest meaning of lògos. We are not used to this approach because most people we admire are at the same time apparently reachable (on social media) and factually unreachable (because they have thousands or millions of followers). Getting a reply in this situation proves me deeply wrong. In retrospective, during my first month back on Instagram (and having dropped almost immediately out of the race for likes), I find myself slowly developing (weak) relationships.
  3. What Ted said is more or less what I already think and sometimes wrote, even here. So, why did I ask? Why was I surprised by the intensity of his answer? Because the lure of an objective evaluation is tempting and the idea that someone you trust tells you “this is ok” is extremely reassuring. I don’t think this is wrong, I think it is just human: but it’s important to get back to what is crucial during the periods of uncertainty or confusion and get the difference between the life belt we need sometimes and the shore we aim to.

Update: I recently joined a Workshop in London organised by the Street Photography International Collective. I discovered them through Instagram and it was an amazing experience. This is what Ted meant, I guess, and what I was looking for without exactly knowing.