Weak Bird Week

Themes are useful for when you want to promote something specific, presumably something you enjoy.  With this understanding, I’m experimenting with a hashtag on Instagram this week.  #BirdWeek is exactly what you think it would be: all bird pictures all week.  I love birds, and I usually receive a decent amount of feedback on my pictures, so why not try to start a trend this week?  We’re all photographers or people who can take a picture, birds are all around us, and every decent human being loves animals.  Plus, I’ve seen people start ongoing weekly hashtags before, so surely I could do it too, right?

Wrong. #BirdWeek isn’t flying.

The first post of the week was well received; a picture of a sparrow against a blurred backdrop of the Big Mac Bridge.  That was a reassuring sign that #BirdWeek going to soar.  The second picture received less feedback, third less than that, and fourth even less than that.  The pictures, in my opinion, aren’t any less equal to the first one, but it’s clear that interest in #BirdWeek was following the law of diminishing returns to a T.  As I write this, the fifth picture has significantly less feedback than even the fourth.  There are a couple of others who have graciously posted birds with the hashtag, and that makes me happy, but largely the theme is ignored.  I feel like a right dodo.

There are several logical possibilities for why #BirdWeek is failing.  For one, birds are tricky to photograph.  Their movements are quick and erratic, they normally don’t land too close to humans (and when they do, they don’t stay very long), they fly high and fast which makes it difficult to snap them in action, and they hide in trees and other camouflaging areas to avoid predators.  Secondly, most of the people I follow photograph architecture and urban scenes, not animals.  Thirdly, a lot people are flat out terrified of birds.  I spoke to one of my friends about starting the hashtag and she admitted that she didn’t have any pictures of birds because they scare her.

All of those seem like plausible explanations for why #BirdWeek is failing to garner interest with more than myself and a few others.  But let’s be honest, there’s a fourth culprit and it’s the one holding the smoking gun: I’m too small to start a trend.  Who am I on social media?  I’m simply another guy doing the same thing as every other person.  I’m not special, I’m not popular, I don’t start trends, I don’t have authority in this realm.  I have to laugh at myself because that website gave me (and admittedly still gives me) a skewed impression of my influence within that domain, one manifested by opening the app and having it disappear as soon as it’s minimized again.  Ego is just the negative word for self-esteem; having positive feedback every day raises both in equal measures and, for me, social media is the conduit for that dopamine release.  My ego inflated too far, popped, and #BirdWeek is readjusting my self-esteem to normal levels.  And, to be quite frank, I probably needed it.

You’re probably thinking “Oh boo hoo, your dumb bird pictures aren’t getting the amount of ‘likes’ you normally get and you’re butt-hurt about it.”  And I don’t blame you; I’d most likely think the same thing if someone else wrote this about their mediocre attempt to start a trend on something as trivial as social media.  But the only thing keeping me from completely writing this off is because when someone takes the time to share something on a website and it doesn’t receive the feedback they normally do, they can’t help but consider it a personal failure on some level.  That little failure is more resonant to the author than anyone else because it’s their little failure.  The whole point of social media, for me, is to share stuff I like that others may also like.  If I’m the only one enjoying these things, I don’t need to share them.  I can keep them to myself and enjoy them privately.

I’m undecided on whether or not send #BirdWeek the way of the Carrier Pigeon half way through or not.  It’s embarrassing to me, but also I feel compelled to stand up for my original idea.  Do I cater to my social media crowd bearing in mind the whole point of sharing things on the Internet is to reach for the interest of the people seeing it or do I keep posting bird pictures that only a few others and myself seemingly enjoy?

The Cinstameet

I went on the Cinstameet walk with many other local photographers Sunday morning to explore our Covington neighbor.  I’ve been to meet ups before, but this one was different; there were a ton of people, more than I’d ever seen at one of these gatherings, walking and socializing with one another.  I saw familiar faces while also meeting new people with whom I either wasn’t familiar or I knew but had never previously met outside of the Internet.  I’m a rather socially anxious and awkward person in reality, focusing my attention to those I know well and actively avoiding strangers, but at the Cinstameet I felt more at ease because the people there were the ones I see online every day and we share a common interest that sort of absolves the awkwardness of not knowing which conversation you should have with them.  It also helps that there wasn’t an unfriendly face among them.

As we walked around, I spent most of my time observing the behaviors of the other photographers.  I normally shoot alone so it was fascinating to see other people crouching and twisting their bodies to get the perfect angle on something most people would otherwise overlook.  With their varying degrees of expensive equipment in hand, they were continuously analyzed by confused Covington bystanders and myself alike.   Photographers were lying in the street to get the gritty detail of a double yellow much to the chagrin of approaching vehicles, propped themselves up on stone walls to see over a bush, scaled muddy hills for a wider view of the land around them, and found little alleys in which to capture the minute details of a forgotten series of bricks and fire escapes that an architect long ago placed there to facilitate daily life.

The thing I love about these walks isn’t the chance to do photography but rather how social they are.  In fact, I didn’t take too many quality pictures in Covington that day because I was so focused on the dynamic element of the situation: those people aren’t always in that same location at that same time and I took advantage of that opportunity to actually speak to them instead of focusing on me and my photography.  The buildings, graffiti, landscape, and everything else would be there tomorrow.  Cinstameet, for me, wasn’t so much about the art I love so dearly; it was about the people behind the art I see on a daily basis and the camaraderie therein.  I could converse with these people normally instead of through small comments and “like” buttons for a change.  It gave me a chance to be a human around other humans instead of just a 2D avatar.  That’s important in today’s increasingly digital world. 

And that’s the thing that sort of struck me the most.  While everyone’s art is shared throughout the internet, it’s important to remember that the only reason it even exists in this digital space is because of an analog source.  None of this photography would be possible without a human in the actual, physical world taking the time to craft it.  It’s that person that makes the art truly matter.  Sure, a photograph or painting or other piece of art can make you feel something and you can easily disassociate it from the artist, but I think it’s important to remember that behind every work that makes you feel something is a person pulling the strings to make you feel.  It’s because of them you experience nostalgia or dread or some other emotion while observing and interacting with that piece.  It’s something they’ve done, a relic of themselves in that moment in time, and a reflection of their creativity that makes you exercise the muscle that defines your species.  It’s all because of them.  A meeting of people who create this art on a daily basis is important because you’re forced to remember that behind every blue sky Roebling bridge, sunset city skyline, Over the Rhine 19th century Italianate façade, and Carew Tower observation deck shot is a photographer with a vision and a desire to capture that moment for a reason and purpose personal to them.