Sunday, February 19, 2012

Litmus Test

Testing 1-2-3. Ashley Chung. D3/50mm f/1.8D. 1/200th, f/4.0, ISO500

It's important for every photographer to periodically reconcile the inevitable discrepancy between the way he/she perceives his/her work and the way the world perceives his/her work.

For my own purposes, I use tumblr and Facebook to better understand whether or not a particular image (or set of images) resonate(s) with the masses. These social networks put my images in front of a large audience and allow me to quickly obtain a rough indication of whether or not I'm "appealing to the masses". Usually I don't put any weight on the written feedback but instead I look at the metrics behind the responses such as the number of positive responses, likes, notes, reblogs on any specific image(s).

Here's where I should put the disclaimer: This test is entirely unscientific.


Because you're first of all subjecting yourself to the subjective audiences of Facebook (your friends) and tumblr (your followers). Demographically speaking that's a very narrow and specific audience. Most of my Facebook friends are involved in the photography or fashion industry in one form or another, whether they are aspiring models, photographers, makeup artists, agents, etc. Tumblr is a similar demographic (surprisingly since I assumed it'd be more artistic, graphics-oriented, boho, etc.). With both audiences, most of the demographic skews young and hip.

Unlike you old farts that are reading this blog LOL :) Talk about night and day differences, IQ, disposable income, education, etc. pretty much in every possible way.

Anyhow, it's also important to understand that the responses to the pictures are often dependent upon many variables. On tumblr if someone with a lot of followers reblogs the post, the response could be viral. When Ashley Sky reblogged my picture of her, I immediately got 365 "notes" on that post (I average 30-50 notes). Time of day is a variable that makes a difference. If I post something at 10AM before any of the models are even awake, that picture gets no attention. Nudity is another variable because it affects whether or not I can post the image on Facebook. If I can't post it on Facebook, I can't effectively gauge mass appeal of those images and I certainly can't compare them to the images without nudity.

Overall, this litmus test is weak, unpredictable, and often inconsistent indicators of mass appeal. Any attempt at quantitative analysis of these results would be totally foolish and inconclusive.

But with that being said, I find that the Facebook and tumblr responses can reveal discrepancies in my own understanding of certain images. For example on Facebook, the above images of Ashley attracted significantly more attention than comparable images of Kate Compton and Bekka Gunther. For the life of me however, I don't see why. I mean, I see two pretty pictures, neither of which is "print-worthy" (that's my personal litmus test, whether or not I like it enough to print it...). Hell, I only uploaded them onto Facebook because them to promote the upcoming workshop. So I'm still racking my brain to see it the way the rest of the world sees it. But regardless, the reality is that the public identifies with these images so there obviously exists a discrepancy between my personal perception and the public's perception of these images.

And public opinion is a dangerous thing to ignore because I could go off into the wrong direction and produce a lot of work that the public doesn't care for and ruin my own reputation. As a fashion photographer and as Charles LUCIMA, it detracts from my public image to produce esoteric art that only a few might appreciate. Besides, I'm not enough on the bleeding edge of photography or fashion to have the license to go willy-nilly and disregard public opinion. Instead it's much more beneficial to my business to produce images that resonates with the masses.

Of course each time I look at these public polls, I can't help but supplement with a significant serving of salt. Maybe people really liked the pictures or maybe it was just a slow day on Facebook/tumblr. Who knows? But when the numbers are astronomically high I'll argue, "1,025 people can't be wrong". For the record, I think that picture of Brittany is a winner. The public is right on the money with this one.

And at the end of the day you'll still need a personal appreciation for your own images. Your "photographic eye" is what makes you unique and what provides you the perspective to differentiate yourself from the masses. So it's important to cultivate those differences and not conform. But at the same time, you should cultivate a good eye for what appeals to the masses.

So do yourself a favor and occasionally get feedback from the masses and see if they agree with you. You might be surprised ;)

1 comment:

  1. Kinda obvious to me, Charles.
    First of all, Kate and Bekka are both blonds & we have seen them over and over. Ashley is a 'new face' to the readers and she has a slightly 'exotic' look (at least to the average American).

    Variety is the spice of life. People respond to something different.