Getting really clear on what you WANT to do.

Life is really strange.  There's a lot of stuff that sounds like good ideas.  But then you try it on for size and realize that while it might be a good idea for someone else it's not necessarily a good idea for you.  Take social networking for example.  One of my friends insisted, a couple of years ago, that I would be left behind unless I embraced Facebook. According to him all social information would essentially migrate there and  if I didn't have presence and lots of "friends" I'd probably never get another invitation to........anything.

You may be having a different experience but I think most of the stuff that makes it to Facebook is pretty lame.  And since I never check the mail there I'm probably missing out on incredible parties I'll never know about.  But interestingly enough we still get lots and lots of invitations from Evite and we actually have friends who still know how to use e-mail and even the U.S. Postal Service to get in touch with us and tell us about upcoming actual (face to face in the same room) social networking activities.  We just don't call them "social networking activities" we generally call them "dinner parties."  Some of the functions we call, "Cocktail parties."  Those functions  have more alcohol than most of the dinner parties but much less food.  We talk to each other instead of sitting around "tweeting" about sitting around.....

I tried Tweeting but it makes me feel like......a twit.  I don't have a lot to say to people on Twitter except, "Go and read my blog!!!!"  Or the always popular (with me), "Go buy my books!"  And people get tired of reading that over and over again, even if I do it in only 140 characters.

Most of Twitter is different now.  A year ago it was all, "I'm Mike and I'm watching a train wreck here in North L.A."  but now it's mostly retweets of links that refer to something like:  "Ten ways to be a better photographer."  Or "Don't make the mistake of charging for your work when you can easily give it away for free."  Or,  "Tune in tonight for my Podcast of how to edit Podcasts."  And, of course, my favorites,  "Come to my workshop."  "Here's a link about my workshop."  "Here are ten things I learned at Bob's workshop." "365 ways to use social netwhoring to build new business."

It's basically become a clearing house for corporations that used to write press releases but  can no longer afford stamps, or lone photographers, writers, and IT people who want or need attention.  And who doesn't need a little attention?  But really, at some point "Give me Attention" Fatigue (GMAF) settles in and we realize it's mostly marketing messages disguised as "useful???" information.  Shouldn't there be "social" pressure to limit "Tweets" to ten a day?  Or fewer?  And please,  stop texting while you drive.

So what does this have to do with photography?  Well, we have a  tendency to believe we should be doing what everyone else is doing when it comes to marketing and even the kinds of photographs we should be taking.  We assume that the people who got there before us are more steeped in the magic and lure of the latest "social marketing" thang and that, if we only work at it hard enough and diligently enough, it will make us successful too, and clients will beat a path to our doors.

But does it work?  Does it ever work?  One could bring up the examples of Chase Jarvis or David Hobby.  They've made social networking pay.  But chase is talented, and driven, and connected enough to have made it anyway so we'll never know how critical tweeting was for him.  David needed a new gig and he did a great job of inventing it.  But he did it early, and often, and established himself before the big crush.  And, to his credit, he brought together a depth of understanding about lighting and a different set of tools about blogging, the combination of which propelled his Strobist.com to stardom.  Could he do it today?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  We'll never know.

But here's the real question:  If you wanted to be a photographer,  were passionate about actually taking photographs,  felt the greatest satisfaction when in the process of making photographic art,  would it make sense to re-launch a new career doing something totally different because the tides of marketing made it sound like a great business idea?  To wit, giving up shooting to stand on a stage, or tinkle a keyboard "teaching" other people to light or shoot, and growing older by the day?

All the time you spend tweeting and holding workshops in the icky ballrooms of "second tier" hotels in secondary markets is time you'll never get back.  All the time you spend "loading" more stuff into Facebook and the countless other supposed social marketing media are days and weeks that you'll never get to spend working on the stuff you love.

When money managers talk about one thing displacing the other they talk about "opportunity loss."  If you spend $50,000 on a new BMW you end up with a depreciating product but you lose the opportunity to make money with that $50,000.  When you decide to monetize your social network the very act skews you to aim toward whatever market you think you have prayer of hitting and dilutes both your spirit and your creative "true nature."

And it's easier to justify that the money you bring in will pay for shooting trips and opportunities of time but there's only so much time to go around.  If you sell your art you sell your art.  But I'm beginning to think that when you try to leverage social media into a money making machine you sell a little bit of your soul.  (Apple doesn't make money by giving stuff away.  Or wasting time on Twitter.  They charge for everything they do.  They are old economy kicking new economy's ass.)

And, I'm not pointing the finger at anyone else.  I'm as guilty as all the rest.  I write this blog because I hope it will help me sell books I've written in the past and books that I'll write in the future.  I hope that people click thru to Amazon from time to time and buy diapers, or mail order wine, or a car and that I get a small percentage of that.  And it's true that I'll never get the half hour a day that I devote to writing a blog back.  When you multiple that lost half hour by all the other half hours that you dribble away because it's "expected" of you, or because you think you are participating in the "new economy" they start to add up.

How does it help me do my art?  How does it help me connect with clients?  How does it free up my time to print or find new subjects?  The answer......it doesn't.  It helps sell books. But even though we all do it let's try to be honest with ourselves,  and by extension, to our potential clients.  We all wish we had the courage to say, "Screw it." to everything else and spend our time doing the projects we love.  We don't live and breathe just because we're sooo excited about the next workshop or, even for that matter, the next unexciting headshot.  Some of what we accept is because of our fear that no more money will come in if we don't  but mostly it is because we believe the current of information that ricochets around the web and tells us how important it is to be.......there.  Enmeshed.  Engaged.  Connected.

What if being un-engaged and productive with real (non-virtual) projects is even more important?

In case you haven't guessed......I've finished writing the LED book and I'm sending it off on Monday.  I'm going to read it one more time to see if I can catch any errors.  Then,  I'm getting in the car and going off for a long weekend to shoot some stuff that I like.  Even if no one in the entire webspace likes it or even cares.  Because I want to be really clear about what I like.  For me.  You might think of doing the same.

To wrap up, the photo of Jana, above, was done for the new book.


Rick said...

And, of course, I got here via your tweet....

But, I wouldn't have come if I didn't already know and admire your writing. The tweet just let me know that "hey, an author I like just wrote something new."

I just signed up for "the Twitter Machine" recently, and it works fairly well for *that* purpose -- just a glorified update notice. I am, just like you, entirely unsure whether or not there will ever be any more value in it than that. I made fun of it mercilessly when I first heard about it from my nephew, who was in the process of letting the world know what he was ordering for lunch at the time.

Now, I'm still not entirely sure what to make of it, but I can at least see that there might be some limited value to it, as long as I don't get hung up on it. I'm @CrayonPhotos, now, in case anyone cares.

Frank Grygier said...

Growing up I listened to Paul Harvey on the radio. "Standby for news" became a familiar refrain we looked forward to each day at noon. Paul had a way of making the news of the day sound relevant to things happening in our daily lives. The Visual Science Lab is a place I come to read commentary about life, business and photography. It has become a daily stop for me and somehow knowing how Kirk Tuck is doing today adds something to my day. I'm not sure how much that is worth to you but it sounded like you needed to hear that what you are doing means something.

Unknown said...

As a teacher, social networking allows me to keep in touch with former students who amaze me with their success. That's all. Other than that, it seems a bit odd to post some of the things I have seen posted. Oh well, I still like film. Just ordered you book (Mimimalist Lighting on Location) on the Amazon link on your page. I think I will enjoy it as much as your blog.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Aubrey and Frank. Thank you each. Nice tidings at the end of a long day.

Tyson said...

I spend a fair amount of time on the social network round-about. That said, I try to make sure that I'm still "doing my thing." I make sure I'm always available for the family, and coming up I've planned a little 1 or 2 day trip to another Montana town for a photo project. Just me, a couple of cameras and some film. See what happens. I think it's good to disconnect on a regular basis. I took the entire month of January off to do just that and found that I didn't miss it much.
I missed the information that's useful to me, but not much of the garbage.
There's enough of that in the real world ;)

christopheru said...

I'm getting in the car and going off for a long weekend to shoot some stuff that I like. Even if no one in the entire webspace likes it or even cares. Because I want to be really clear about what I like. For me. You might think of doing the same.

Thanks for that:) It is so easy to get caught up in the "look at me look at me I can do it too" culture that attention seeking social media embraces, that it is possible for a person to lose the individual creativity or vision that brought them to create pictures in the first place.
I like to photograph what I see in a manner that works for me. In this I am lucky as I don't have to shoot to a client's needs, or to meet the expectations of anyone but me. And sometimes, a project that I take on for myself gets a lot of attention, and sometimes, it gets ignored. And I am ok with either, because the only person who has to like it is me.
I think this makes me lucky.

Dave said...

In the 70's there was a talent show called the "Gong Show" and one of the acts was a guy who each week would come out and sing about how he was going to play his xylophone. But he never did. The entire act was about something he never did.

The online forums remind me of that to a T. Very little actual photography going on.

David Hobby met with success because he had a vision and something he did/does. The Internet was simply a way to deliver it. Funny thing about success like that is people will blindly try to copy it without realizing what made it possible in the first place.

I like your blog because even a post about your car or clothing relates to helping make someone's photography more successful.

Anonymous said...

First, let me say I have never commented but I love your blog. It's really helped me a lot, not just in technical aspects of photography but I love your attitude towards photography and I try to keep that in mind as I learn more.

I am not a fan of Facebook...I tried it and also twitter, I like new technology, so I try all new things. But, after giving them a go I quickly realized they aren't for me. I have a lot of great friends, mostly because I'm NOT on facebook. Everyone knows to text me if some party is going on, etc. My friends on FB have 100's of "friends" on facebook but they still call me for a beer and to hangout. I have seen many friendships and relationships ruined because someone saw a picture or post on facebook and assumed WAYYY too much.

I like to tell people...."I like REAL friends" and "Facebook is a relationship killer" If I haven't called my friend Bobby back in Texas since High School then him finding me now on FB 20 years later just ain't a big deal....jaknow.

Thanks again for the AWESOME blog!


Tim Roy said...

I spent an hour discussing social media with a client yesterday. She had just finished being interviewed by the New York Times via Twitter. We came to the conclusion that social media is NOT a new food source, planet, or dimension. It is, at its heart, nothing more than communication, albeit at a much faster pace and in a far less controllable form. People tend to lose sight of this and believe that it will change the world.

In my mind, good communication will change the world. I reference your blog on a semi-regular basis as part of my exploration of information design and the fundamental principles of visual narrative. Be it illustration, animation, or a still image, the logic and discipline are what matters in the end. Not that it was done in 140 characters or received 10,000 "likes."

Keep up the excellent work.

MO said...

I don't like facebook for keeping in touch. But i use it for getting a message out to large groups of people. I am not twitting.

your blog puts a smile on my face. Even in your more Con stuff inputs. You have a great way of joggling new stuff. Picking what "you" like and dropping what "you" dislike. Not Always with logic arguments. But afterall with well written ones with real insight and nerve, maby thats why i like them:)

I enjoy reading your blog, because it reeks of you liking to write them. And i hope you keep writing them Inspite of its nonprofit nature.
For me thats the essens of Art. Maby it will even tempt me to buy your books:)

excuse me for joggeling the English grammar, spelling and language in a alternative way. I am( a ) Danish.

As long as you like writing them i will enjoy reading them.


MyVintageCameras said...

I keep busy enough with my blog and my REAL LIFE! I've deicded that anything I'm mising on Facebook, Twitter, etc I'm really not missing and don't need. Businesses that require me to use Twitter and Facebook do not get my business.

Kelly the little black dog said...

Good for you! Everyone seems to be deathly afraid to step back and question the value of social media I've noticed with the recent crises that twitter and Facebook have value for communicating during disasters, but what about the rest of the time. What really is the point! Who is really that interesting?

Damen Stephens said...

Actually Apple is probably not the best example for you to use as they DO give stuff away for "free" (but notice the quotation marks) - they are just very smart about ensuring their free stuff makes their paid stuff more desirable. At the moment both iTunes AND the App Store are run as essentially break-even endeavours for Apple (they don't make much of a profit at all - and given how many APPS are free, they are actually LOSING money on large parts of the app store, and making that back with their 30% commission on paid Apps). There is also a strong possibility that their "Mobile Me" service, for which they currently charge, will become a free service within the next year. The reason they do this is that having active and vibrant Music and App. stores increases the desirability of their hardware - which is where they DO make money ... and lots of it. This is not really "old economy". It is a mix of the best of the Old with an intelligent (and increasing) application of the New to channel a greater customer base into the Old. In fact, the more I think about it, the more Apple appears to be the ANITHESIS of a company which could be used in an argument against supplying services for free, increasing customer base through use of a particular microcosm (Social network site, iTunes, App store etc.), or even in focussing entirely upon what you want to do; Apple view themselves as being primarily a hardware company (though I think they shortchange themselves a bit in saying this - their software is excellent), however they have become probably the largest single "content supply" company in the world - not because they believe this is their Forte, not because they WANT to (in fact it detracts from their hardware/software focus), and not because it makes them any money directly - it's because this content supply (or "social networking" if you will) supports and aids their primary endeavour of selling high-margin hardware.