There’s a LOT of talk in the social media world about being authentic and being open and personal when trying to build an audience.  For the longest time, I just could NOT figure out why I was resisting this message.  Every attempt I made to share even a little bit of my inner world just felt so WRONG.  And, if I know anything about myself, I know I’d better honor these strong intuitive messages.  Ignoring them always gets me into trouble! 

But I wasn’t just content to honor this inner guidance.  I wanted to know why I was feeling this way.  So, I took some time to reflect and do a bit of research and this is what I discovered about myself and about how I can use social media in a way that feels authentic.

  1. I believe influencers have something in common. When I look at the people delivering the “authenticity = sharing EVERY bit of your life” message, I see that they are probably extremely extroverted people, or have created an extremely extroverted persona.  And, guess what?  I’m not and I haven’t.  I’m an introvert who values my privacy.  I easily get overwhelmed by the thought of sharing intimate details in the public sphere.  In fact, last week I installed my first ever photo exhibition on Wednesday and it took me some days to recover.  Just the thought of having my work exposed to so many critical eyes – and the prints are HUGE – is stretching me uncomfortably. Although it seems that influencers are sharing every detail of their lives, if you look closely you can see that they are sharing personal information, but not private details (well, some people do but that’s a discussion for another time) and their social media persona is highly curated. Once I figured this out, I could begin to pass my messaging through the filter of PERSONAL vs PRIVATE in order to maintain my boundaries and not create unnecessary stress and the desire to run away. Bonus – I do think that I am connecting with my audience in a whole new way!
  2. The social media world moves too fast for me.  My pace is S L O W.  If you see (for example) holiday images in my feed before the holiday, you can bet they are from last year.  This is an example only because I’m not even fast enough to post holiday-related images before the holiday. Moving too fast causes stress and a flight response for me.  So if you are that woman who gets married on Friday and posts her self-portraits taken on her wedding day on Saturday, more power to you.  If you aren’t, keep going at your pace.  Take your time. My normal photography routine is to shoot every day, but only edit once a week.  It’s all my schedule and psyche can handle.  In between shooting and editing, I need to leave the images alone.  I have always been this way and have always communicated this to clients.  I need time.
  3. My visual boundaries are important.  As a social worker and mother, my family life has always been sacred to me and I hold my kids’ privacy and safety even above my own.  Even though they aren’t babies anymore, my kids do not have the agency to consent to images of themselves being shared on the internet.  As their mother, I need to make this determination for them.  Of course when we become parents, we are inspired by our kids’ presence in our lives and want to record it all.  Being the family historian is a very important job and can help us grow as artists.  Many mothers especially begin their photography careers as a result of taking pictures of their own children. But for me, these memories are in large part a private family record.  When I share a photo of one of my kids, I have to think hard about my motivation and I have to discuss it with them.  I really do think this is worthy of lots and lots of reflection.  In the past few years, there have been photographers who have been involved with child protective services over images they have shared of intimate family moments.  I would hate for that to happen to anyone.  There are many ways to take images of our children that are more anonymous and protect their privacy.  I will write about this soon.
  4. I shoot in the cracks of time.  I recently read that one of my favorite nature photographers waited in the same spot for two hours for the light to be right to capture her shot!  If ONLY I had the time to do that! Because I am a full time mother and the person who does ALL THE THINGS (capitalization essential) for my family, my life is essentially a series of interruptions and I am at the mercy of every one else’s schedule.  I am not exaggerating when I say I NEVER have time to sit outside at either golden or blue hour waiting for the perfect light.  That’s OK.  I shoot what is in front of me and I seize any opportunity to shoot in any condition.  This has made me very adept at using available light and experimenting with motion, freelensing, low light and harsh light.  Despite using lots of different shooting methods in lots of different conditions, I have been able to develop a uniform aesthetic.  I consider that a big achievement!

seagulls flying off a dock on Lake Geneva Switzerland

What about you?  What are your thoughts on authenticity in the age of social media?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

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