Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A few thoughts on social media and rejections

In the world we live in today, social media has become a valid tool for us photographers. No, let me broaden it. To us people in general. And the sooner you agree with this, the more information you will be able to gather quickly.

Take for instance, superstorm Sandy. The social media attention this thing got was and is unprecedented. From millions of tweets and live updates by diverse distaster teams and weather forecast centers, to people uploading their millions of pics to Instagram (now we have a whole collection of blurry, yellowish and square images of the storm's effect to drape the pages in our future history books, yeaaah! uuuh).

As many of you know I am on Google Plus. And over there, I curate a nice little 'niche' theme that I 'invented' (invented is a big word but I started it). The #minimalmonday theme. It is all about minimalistic landscape photography. Something that I enjoy doing myself.

Yesterday a fellow photographer approached me with a personal message. It went something like this:

"This week I contributed a picture – for a second time – for your minimalmonday. I commented a couple of times on your posts too. I wonder if there´s any particular reason that you didn´t spend the time to even notice. If my pictures are not good enough to be mentioned in your wrap up (note, that's what I do the day after the theme is active. I curated all the shots that I liked and call it a 'wrap up') ... is one thing... but not even take the time to +1 or thank people spending time to comment on your posts (not only me) annoys me massively. Maybe you could take 5 seconds of your time to think about it."

When I first read that, I was NOT very happy. But the message got me thinking. This is what I concluded.

Social media does go a long way. And it goes both ways. Tooting your own horn all the time is something that is frowned upon. But then again, if you want to play the social media game correctly, it will absorb a lot of you and consume a lot of your time. Be prepared and anticipate this. It is easy to keep track of 5 people. It's another thing to sift trough 50,000 posts. But sometimes, when we lack the time to do it right, it boils down to just putting our own content online. And that's ok too... Social media is a tool that everyone uses in their own personal way.

Social media can (and eventually will) become a catch 22. My life is NOT based on an online presence  nor am I glued to a computer 24/7. Ultimately I'd like to be out more, enjoying life, do photography every single day. And that's where the catch 22 comes in. Do I want to promote myself and other artists on social media (playing it out to the max so to speak) or do I want to be out there and photograph (doing the bare minimum) ...
In the end that is something for you to decide. Don't jump into social media without a battle plan. I see it all the time in my business. Companies open a Twitter and Facebook account hoping this will put their product out there. Social media is not a shop window. Social media is interactive. You need to approach it differently than your website (that's the shop window). Have a plan. And execute it. 

When somebody tells you 'you are doing it wrong', listen. It shows you your battle plan can be tweaked. Apparently this person thought 'I was doing it wrong'. I respectfully disagreed. I comment, +1 and share as much as I personally can with my circles. But I was unaware of that person's work, which happens. You don't expect me to know every photographer's work now do you? I share, without ignoring my main goal. Which is, I am there to promote myself. My own work. That sounds selfish but it is the truth. But with the theme I am trying to do something else. To change the landscape a bit. With the theme I am trying to promote other people's work. Photographers that I really like. A lot of photographers who I have struck a friendship with too by the way.
Telling me 'I don't take the time to look at all the submissions', is wrong (because I do). But it is very naive of that artist to tell me I should ad his/her work to the wrap up. That's just NOT how it works.

The other thing that I started thinking about was the underlying message this person was trying to tell me. The person though I did not see the photograph in question, I did. But there's an interesting lesson that photographer needs to learn. That lesson is called:


Rejection will happen. And it will happen a lot. If you send your work out to galleries, magazines etc you need to be prepared to get rejected. It is NOT something that has to be taken personally.
Every gallery or magazine or whatever has their own vision of what they want to show in the end. If a curator is asked to prepare an exposition they will try and tell a story. Or have a common theme or genre in the exposition. They are not 'just gonna hang Joe Schmo on the walls because it's the second time he has sent something in'. Joe Schmo his work could be very good. But maybe it is not compatible with any other work or the vision the curator had for this expo. Knowing this, rejection does NOT mean your work is bad. That's why you should not take it personal.

Sometimes (if you are lucky) they will sent you a rejection letter. Most of the time, they do not.
When you get rejected, take a minute to think about WHY you submitted any of your work to this magazine or gallery in the first place. What was your reason? Do you want people to – in this case +1 – everything you produce? And if they don't, you feel like a bad photographer? Or was it something else...

It's funny right? When I look at my own work, I don't give anything about 'other people's opinions'. Those opinions should not dictate the way you feel about your own work. Nor should YOU force your opinions onto someone else's art. Here's the thing though. I enjoy when people like my work, but I don't NEED the compliments to feel good about what I do. My work comes from a more personal level (read the previous blog post about 'why I photograph').

Also rejection can learn you something else far more valuable. When you are entering your work into competitions or for magazines and art shows, keep the following in mind.

Curators love artists with a unique vision. 

It sounds logical right? But it is not. And when I go back to the theme, I see it every single week. There's maybe 3-5 artists that have their own vision. I will recognize their work from a far. Other – less experienced – artists will copy particular looks and feels. There's nothing wrong with that of course because that is a natural step in someones career, right? But think about it when you enter your work into competitions. Is your work that unique? Do you have your own vision. Step back and be honest about that...

Also keep in mind that curators do like 'emotion and feeling' far better than 'technical excellence'. They look at the big picture of an exposition for example. If your 'crappy' image is a better fit in the overal picture than that 'technically perfect' picture by one of your peers, then you'll get a show. Curators don't care about how you photographed a scene using an 8x10 camera and film or a little point and shoot. The thing about being an artist is that you have to be able to tell a story with your work. Not produce lifeless work without a soul after lifeless work without a soul. The faster you see this, the better your work will become.

I can go on and on and give you reason after reason to why work is selected or not but that would make it a really really long post but I won't. The only thing I can say is – and I've said it before – believe in what you do, continue to work hard, try to improve and fine tune your vision, your skills and persevere.  That's what I've been doing year after year. Everyone gets rejected. But the ones that keep going at it and look at 'rejection' as not something personal, will eventually make it.

Rejection is part of what we do. Just embrace it. There is so much you can learn from it.


  1. That quote made me smile. But also consider that some people also just subscribe to the idea of leaving positive comments on anything and everything to show support. I see this on Facebook as well. The same group of people will exchange one-word comments of encouragement regardless of the quality. It comes with the you like my work and I'll like your work too mentality.

    But maybe in this case, there is that feeling of being left out and not included. That one person on the side line last to be picked for a sports team.

    1. You hit the nail in the head Stephen.

      It reminded me of this.

  2. Awesome post Oli. Social media has definitely "magnified" issues associated with rejection and more than ever one needs to embrace the fact that it's just not possible to please everyone. I am thankful for that as that is what makes art interesting.

    No doubt many artists have fragile self-esteem to start with and are desperate for attention, which social media now provides overnight. Folks start getting really worried about "likes" and "shares" and the endless quest for validation gets in the way of the vision.

    Now you'd better comment on my next post. ;-)

    1. But it can open up so many doors too right? And that's the thing you can not ignore.

      I will be reading that post with all of my attention buddy!

  3. Great article Olivier. Sometimes a rush of likes on an image can surprise me and make me look closer as to why it might have evoked this response. I'm only an amateur but I am sure this might assist pros from sorting their personal faves to what might be a good seller.

    1. It is definitely a good indicator. But not required at all.
      My favs are not YOUR favs and vise versa. And there's another lesson in there we need to learn for ourselves. And that is being our own critics. It's hard to step away and look at our art in a neutral fashion.

  4. There are a few themes on G+ in which I regularly participate. Some reply to every single post. That's nice, I suppose. Very neighborly...but they can't possibly be that enthused about each and every photograph I post. Frankly, I think the way you curate MinimalMonday is the model others should consider. Well, except when you don't feature my contribution. ;-) Seriously, you do a great job with the theme. Lincoln was right on - you can't please all of the people all of the time.

  5. I agree with you Oli. Recently I have also been curating a theme on Google+ called #WayWednesday and I would love to see work from you Oli. But the fact of the matter is that much of the work I see on Google+ is several steps below professional. I go out of my way to compliment people when I like a submission, but I also have made a decision to ignore work that I do not like. I could make constructive criticism in some cases but I choose not to do so. My mother always taught me not to say anything if you cannot say anything nice. I also have chosen not to make political statements on social media because I think there is no upside. I think there are just some things that are better left unsaid especially on social media.

    1. YOU CURATE A THEME!!!Gosh where have I been...
      I will start photographing paths and roads now. At least, I'll keep my eyes open if I see anything spectacular.
      The fact of the matter is that a lot of photographers that show promise (and I do believe I am still one of them) to make it in this world, get fooled by how popular they are on social media outlets. It's not that you have 1.000.000 followers on G+ that you are a good photographer.
      I see a lot of people that want INSTANT success. And success (or whatever you wanna call it) is NOT an overnight thing. It comes steadily and it is a long and gentle path. Sure the path can and will have it's ups and downs and sometimes have a few S-curves or speed bumps in it but it's not a straight path to the top. They forget that. I blame a lot of things. Mainly the unwillingness of those individuals to start with the beginning. Nobody becomes a master at something overnight.
      I am like you. I don't bother commenting or +1'ing or whatever on work that is not compelling. But you can bet your ass that I will say something when it does work. I will boost those persons to become even better at what they do in those cases. And critique their work in a very constructive way.
      I believe in sharing knowledge and treating persons equal. If I can help someone's career out by retweeting or reposting a photo of theirs, I will do that. Selfishness is wrong.

  6. Well, I am not surprised you've had complaints like that - I've had several over the past year that made me shake my head. These have ranged from accusations of only choosing photos from photographers in "my clique" for the weekly recap to pointing at my jealously of the complainants skills as a reason for failing to sufficiently comment on their work. Thankfully the vast majority of comments are congratulatory in terms of the theme, and I try to concentrate on those.

    I have always thought of theme participation as an opportunity to gain a wider audience with the hashtags, not something I'm posting for the curator/host to show approval for. I like it when a host comments on one of my photos of course, but its not my goal in participating. For some people it clearly is, and if they don't get a curator's "approval" they start to think they are doing something wrong, or more commonly the curator is doing something wrong. There can be a lot of work involved in a theme, and I think many of the participants fail to think about this before they complain. For a very large theme it just isn't possible for a curator to view all the posts. When a theme trends (as Mountain Monday does maybe 1/3 of the time) there are so many posts there is little way of even viewing them all. A hashtag search is also problematic, in that sometimes a post gets lost in a sea of reshares and other participant's posts - and sometimes the whole system glitches. It is unlikely that a curator would be able to view all the posts in this situation.

    This being said I've started commenting less on participating posts - on purpose. I have recently comment mostly on the photos that I thought were really special or where some manner of question was posed. I think this sort of interaction means a lot more than a simple "great shot" ever will. Of course, this is social media so some are looking for instant gratification when they post. I do hand out a lot of +1s, though this is often as a way to bookmark my viewing progress throughout the day, so I don't waste time scrolling back over posts I've already viewed.

    I completely agree that one has to be prepared for rejection in photography and to realize that it is not personal in any way. However, I think probably the majority of "photographers" on social media such as Google Plus are not necessarily looking to improve their skills. The many who are inundated with extremely positive comments for mundane or simply bad photography are not likely to be motivated to attempt improvement as a consequence. Failure to offer a comment of any kind can then be seen as a negative, and taken personally. Unfortunate that they are failing to realize that negative (constructive) commentary, or a lack of vapid applause, can actually be far more useful to them in the long run. True only for those willing to grow I guess.

    1. Michael. Thank you so much for your elaboration on this – let's call it – problem. I appreciate you took the time to write this all down. You are the best.

      There's nothing really I can add to it because I fully agree. And the more photography (or anything else for that matter) will be available, readily, for the masses to consume, the bigger this 'problem' or issue is going to become.
      It's like me. I am no mechanic. But I can do an oil change. And I understand when visually stuff underneath my car doesn't look right and needs to be addressed. That doesn't mean, I am a master mechanic.

      The thing is, if I was a mechanic I would certainly LISTEN to what my head mechanic had to say. To improve what I was doing. If nothing was said, it can mean two things:

      - either my work as a mechanic sucks
      - or I am doing well and he want's me to spread my wings

      EXACTLY the same is happening online. I usually don't comment on the theme photos for a two fold reason.

      - I don't want to ruin the surprise of somebody included in the wrap up
      - The work isn't resonating with me and I don't have anything constructive to say

      Also, the underlying reason why I do the wrap up is that Google Search values LINKS to posts and RESHARES as more valuable than +1's and comments. So I am doing everyone a huge favour in the end. ;)

      And that is the whole point of my little 'niche' theme. Get work out there that would not get seen by the masses.

      Cheerio. Glad I can call you a friend Michael!

    2. I think that is certainly a good goal of your theme - and I think the subject matter lends itself to that aim as well. I think my theme is a bit more general and populist in terms of its content - though I do try to show a good variety, and not just the same people all the time. There are a few photographers that I do list many weeks in a row. Sometimes though I'll have 6 really great photos of Half Dome in one week, and I'll show just one, and often not one of the "big names". I like listing people whose names I do not recognize right along side those that are well known.

      Someday I'll post some more photos for #minimalmonday myself!

  7. GREAT post Oli.... Very well summed up! I would also add that along with rejection being an important and natural part of an artists journey.... so is insecurity. Learning to embrace and learn to deal with both is valuable and a necessity!

    From personal experience I can totally confirm that when choosing an artist to represent -curators absolutely want someone with their own unique vision..... though for me, another big factor and maybe more important was I had to feel that the art was 'real' and coming from an honest place..... from the artists heart. That it wasn't forced, copied, soulless and 'fake'... That often meant I took on artists that were a lot less polished than others and were usually still in the throws of their journey - and had the passion to conquer the fear of rejection and insecurity and see that often from the 'hits', disappointment and perceived failure .... success rides on the back of all that!

    Again..... awesome post!


    1. Thanks Leah! Glad to hear 'the other team' comment on this with their views too. Very insightful.
      I love galleries that are willing to take the risk of promoting non established artists or artists that are still a little rough around the edges. Most of the times those are the people that will still react positively on criticism too. Sadly galleries like that have become an exception. And moneymaking is now far more important. Which totally goes against what art really is all about.

    2. Thanks Oli!

      For sure galleries like that are few and far between...SAD to say ... I step into many 'established' galleries and find the atmosphere sour, staid, hostile and soulless...... like you say, ALL about the money which I agree is totally against what art is all about. I hadn't realized that my approach was 'different' in so many ways until quite a while into my business. I was just doing what came naturally to me :) Maybe, perhaps because I am an artist at heart and have always been doing something creative, it aloud me to come at things froma different perspective?

      The biggest advice that I have always given to artists is..... forget what you feel you SHOULD be doing.... do what you want and need to be doing. And by following that rule - the passion, persistence and hard work with flow through your art...... You can't please everyone all of the time - but if your art is coming from the heart (and that is truly the only way real and good art CAN be produced) then eventually the success WILL come - to what degree is an unknown and also relies on the sacrifices willing to be made! If you are in it for the pat on the backs only (the 'likes' the +1's, the excited comments) then you are out of luck..... They are in the bigger scheme of things 0- few and far between! And if you are in it for the money.... then forget it!! That doesn't come for a long time for most ;)

      It is not an easy life as an artists we choose for ourselves......

      Sadly I had to close the doors on my gallery at a time when it was just beginning to gain momentum - and the excitement of how we approached things was spreading.... In some way shape or form though I plan to continue to support and encourage the passionate artists out there that don't want the pomp, snobbery and elitism that sometimes plagues the art world

    3. Preaching to the choir Leah!
      I fully agree.

      Can I hug you now? ;)

    4. ABSOLUTELY you can hug me now!! ;)

  8. Great blog Olivier... And some great comments from so many to follow. I think we all get caught up at times looking for "approval and acceptance", perhaps incorrectly in a lot of cases, as we try to share what we have seen as a "magnificent moment" or an image that we have striven towards and painstakingly pursued and finally captured - only to be disappointed when our vision isn't met with the same enthusiasm by "the masses". I agree with you completely in that our images, our art, needs to satisfy us internally first and foremost, with the goal of seeing our mistakes or shortcomings as opportunities to learn and improve...

    I was/am one of those "others still in the throws of their journey" that Leah mentions and took a chance on when she welcomed my images into her gallery. I owe her a tremendous amount for enabling me to get "my stuff" out there for some of the masses to see and decide for themselves what they like. I found it a very interesting dynamic, as some of the images that we chose, together in many cases, to display in the gallery were met with high enthusiasm, while others were met with relative indifference. As you say, watching an image that you are incredibly proud of be met with disinterest in a public forum such as the walls of a gallery is a true test of your ability to deal with rejection! To not take it personally goes against every instinct initially, but reason has to step in at some point to account for different tastes, different interests and simply what attracts someone's eye.

    Again, a great blog Olivier - Well done, and thank you for putting it out there.


    1. Kerry - you ARE still on that journey........ it's just had a little quiet time. Time to buckle up and continue on the path you should be travelling........


  9. interesting read, Olivier!

    Michael Russell directed me over here, and we had a bit of a conversation earlier this week about theme days.

    I mentioned that I rarely participate, because there are not many that I can remember as I'm rushing to get something posted, and there have been times when there are multiple curators, and I've forgotten to mention one of them. I've gotten my hand slapped for this a few times, and so I don't participate very much any more.

    On the flip side, if I DO participate, I hope that the curators see it, but I'm not going to worry about it if they don't comment, plus or reshare it. If I post to a theme, I don't do it JUST for the theme, but maybe because I happened to have something that I was going to post anyway, and it seemed to fit the theme.

    A lot of people seem to think that just because someone curates a theme, that they are experts in that field. While some are, many are not - they are just average photographers like most of the rest of us, and so expecting them to give critique or waiting on their favour doesn't always make a lot of sense.

    Plus, not every one will take critque as it's meant. People get upset and take it as a personal attack on them and their work, the same as they do rejection.

    I know from my days in publishing that you have to grow a tough skin and accept both critique and rejection, even if you don't want it. It takes practice to get better at it, and even after you think you've got it down, it can sting. But like you say - it's out there - so it's a good idea to get used to it, try not to be emotional, and see if you can learn something from it!

    I've thought about curating a theme.. but honestly.... it seems like so much work for you guys - I'd rather just sit back and appreciate all the work you do and occasionally play along ;)

  10. btw - I don't know why my comment posted under that name.. it's Sandra Parlow from G+.... I told it to post under my G+ name...

    I suck at blogging stuff.. *sigh*

    Maybe this time it will work better....

  11. yup. although it worked for me to threaten you and force you to include my work. reading this and thinking of how MM and you have become popular it occurred to me that like the more you're loved the more you're hated! the price of popularity. :"the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about" and all. also the more I hear you rail on Instagram the more I want to fly in the face of it all and make that my main tool! starting Monday all the coming MM submissions will be Nashville filter! Sucka!
    oh and happy holidays to you and Sarah buddy!

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