The trend towards vertical video leaves still photographers in the dark, and street photography has suffered more than most. Preetam Kaushik explores whether web3 is providing a new home for the niche, and whether their artists can find the recognition they deserve.
Imagine that you are a photographer in 2019. You just uploaded your favourite photo in months on Instagram. As the hours pass by, your post garners the attention of your community. Your work is recognised and you gain valuable feedback from the comments. More people show interest in your exploits and start to follow your photography account. Now, fast forward to today.
In 2023, most of the exposure on Instagram is directed towards short-form video content. Art forms like still photography are beginning to diminish in popularity and engagement simply because that is how the platform chose, or was forced, to evolve.
Instagram used to be the go-to community for photographers to share their work, gain feedback, earn clients, and grow as artists. The same platform now rewards video clip creators, put under pressure by TikTok, whose short-form vertical video innovation shocked Instagram, YouTube, and others into following suit, as well as helping the Chinese-made app to displace Google as the most visited website in the world.
Today, Instagram’s algorithm-driven feeds incentivise video content, and the creators who make it, over everything else. As Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, put it: “We are no longer a photo-sharing app.” Instagram today is focusing on four things, he explains: creators, video, shopping, and messaging.
While this has allowed other genres of photography — such as product, lifestyle, and fashion — to thrive, this shift in the algorithm has alienated a significant portion of the photography community. Photos only get a fraction of the exposure that the platform has to offer, which has prompted photographers to seek alternative mediums for them to share their work and make a living.
“Street photography has never been rewarding enough when it comes to the commercial aspect.”
— Sammya Brata
Not surprisingly, some of them have turned to web3. Their adoption of blockchain technology as the medium for digital art is beginning to paint the photographic landscape in a new light. Street photographer Sammya Brata cautions, “I won’t necessarily say that web3 is the new Instagram,” but he is highly optimistic about how it may evolve in the future. “It is already a very powerful photo-sharing platform in spite of the fact that we are still very early,” Sammya adds.
By minting their art as NFTs, photographers can, for the first time, verify the authenticity of their work, receive resale royalties, and manage the supply of their digital products, all while not compromising their creative vision. In serving as a certificate of authenticity, NFTs make it easy to sell digital products, without having to layer a watermark over them to distinguish fakes from the real thing. More deeply, web3 envisions a future where every photographer gets compensated for any and every usage of their work. For an internet culture as image-driven as ours, web3 finally empowers the artists behind the images to thrive.
Sammya hopes that the NFT space can empower photographers to showcase their best work and get paid for it. He explains that web3 platforms encourage people to share their art, in whatever form they please, so that the artists themselves can “build a niche audience”. By removing the middlemen that often lie between an artist and their customers (with web3, artists can go directly to the market), artists are able to reach the entire world.
And this global market is designed to reward artists for finding their niche and community. “Public forums are essentially turning out to be an artist’s portfolio,” Sammya explains, but this is a portfolio that actively attracts the right audience, as well as passively delighting it. That presents huge opportunities for street photographers, who have always found it difficult to compete in the global photography market.
“Web3 is already a very powerful photo-sharing platform, in spite of the fact that we are still very early.”
— Sammya Brata
“In spite of its inherent charm, street photography has never been rewarding enough when it comes to the commercial aspect,” Sammya explains, noting that, whilst commercial photos emphasise the visual aesthetic, street photographers have always focused on drawing beauty out of images that are not necessarily the most eye-catching.
“We will see more iconic street photographers entering this space.”
— Sammya Brata
“The beauty of street photography is in its potential to unveil astonishing perspectives and interpretations of an otherwise drab and mundane scenario,” Sammya continues. But, despite the talent needed to turn something ordinary into something extraordinary, this means that the best street photography may not necessarily look as conventionally attractive as, say, regular fashion photography, and, therefore, has not been as lucrative for its creators.
In web3, Sammya has been able to find his niche. “We see collectors taking active interest in this form of photography,” he says, noting that, from it, he hopes, street photographers could find a route to a sustainable livelihood without compromising on their artistry. “I am sure we will see more iconic street photographers entering this space.”
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