I started my photography journey on Flickr, back when it was the behemoth of the photo-centered social media scene. I started posting odd, creepy, uncomfortable self-portraits and that triggered some conversation. And then, without understanding, I started to see comments on my pictures that said “congrats on explore!” When I first saw this I had no idea what it meant. “Explore what?” I thought. I quickly came to learn that somehow, for whatever reason (and these things always seem to be vaguely explained), my pictures fit the then-algorithm of Flickr. I was being promoted for free in a place where thousands and thousands of people looked.
I got used to my pictures being in Explore, and, for that matter, the same few photographers constantly being there. I watched careers blossom, including my own, in large part due to that algorithm. And then one day, it stopped. Without explanation, without understanding (and really, it is too vague to nail down), I stopped getting promoted. I was very fortunate for my career to have been started and to have a client base that was feeling secure, but it was confusing at the time.
I have never mastered social media. I choose, very intentionally, not to dive deep into the depths and utter emptiness that is the rat race. So, I took it with a grain of salt and moved on, ever confident (whether I should have been or not) in my ability to self-actualize my dreams.
A few days ago I uploaded a video to Flickr and I woke up the next morning to see those familiar words: Congrats on Explore.
It was like an explosion of memories to the beginning of my photography passion. I assumed I’d never be chosen again. I remember fiercely adhering to my expectation of creating something personal, but still feeling a sense of pride at being chosen. How wrong I was to think that way, at least in my opinion. We can continue to chase the newest algorithm or we can ignore it, and, likely experience similar results.
I hear a lot of complaining these days about algorithms being changed so that you have to pay for your posts. It. Sucks. I agree completely. I have done my share of grumbling that I need to pay X amount of money to reach even a fraction of my “followers”. But I like to go at it with this attitude:
Things will change.
You have to keep creating what is true to you.
It is the way that it is. Roll with it.
Reach those who are looking with the greatest intent and passion.
I won’t lie – I am really proud of the community I’ve tried to build. Here, on Instagram, on Facebook. Social media changes, but the connections we make do not. They grow and are cultivated and are the true, real stuff that the Internet is made of.
You may be thinking that it doesn’t matter what I say on the subject because “Congrats on Explore” used to pop up on my Flickr site, and because my numbers are big enough, and because my career is strong enough. I have been told many times that it is all luck, that it’s random chance that someone builds a career online, that I probably got featured by some entity or fit the algorithm or tricked the system. Luck is always at play, random chance works in both ways, and all of that might be true. But another thing is certain – nothing is certain. My career is not certain, my community, my long road to big dreams. None of it.
This is why I have to actively choose not to focus my energies on what has been. I can only do my very best to cultivate community and shape my future (and indeed this present moment) into what matters most to me. Those things, unequivocally, are kindness and passion. You might say I have an unrealistic, naive sense of my situation, but I believe that authenticity and genuine concern for others is the basis on which our lives and careers are built – in the “real world” and on the Internet, too. It is the algorithm that never changes. It is the currency I trade with exclusively. It is, in my perhaps innocent views, what launched my career and community. And I believe in it, more than you know.