Who is your audience seems a rather silly question to be asking. Obviously if you’re posting your photos to social media your audience is your followers. Two years ago I wrote a post called An Audience of One. This was a post reaffirming that the most important person that I’m taking photos for is me.
In that post, I also gave a passing nod to my followers who enjoy my photos and comment on them. But honestly, I would not have considered the reactions or needs of these fans when I set up my photos. Recent events have made me reconsider this position.
After reading Roland Barthes Camera Lucida I understand that photography is a triangular relationship. This relationship is composed of the creator, the image and the viewer. When I create an image I have something in mind, but when I put it out into the world, the viewer can bring a completely new experience, thought process and expectation to that image. And if I’m honest with myself, the viewer’s opinion and reaction is more important than my own.
This change in thinking has come about as a result of my recent attempts at selling my work. But it doesn’t matter if you’re creating works solely for social media, to sell at local cons and festivals or you’re building a portfolio to establish yourself as a commercial photographer. Your audience reaction is important to consider. They will ultimately decide if your work is good enough for a like or comment, good enough to buy or good enough to hire for a commercial assignment.
Are you Connecting?
Recently Tobias, one of our regular guest authors, asked me what I saw in his upcoming six-image narrative. He wanted to make sure his images read as a complete, albeit enigmatic, story. When I told him what I saw, it seems it was a very different interpretation than what he saw. After he rearranged the images, the story was much more successful. This is an example of creator / viewer disconnect.
This disconnect with you audience can also happen when you sell your work. When I create images for selling I have a certain idea I want to convey, or at the very least, images I want to display. But I’m finding that my audience has different needs. They’re asking for images I had not considered creating. Lucky for me these requests are not too far outside my own interests. I simply need to point my lens in a slightly new direction. Without these interactions I wouldn’t understand that I wasn’t connecting with my intended audience .
Who is your Audience?
Being a toy photographer is easy; we have a built-in audience of fellow toy photographers. Even the newest toy photographer can find a supportive audience within our community. The question of “who is your audience?” gets more complicated as you move outside of this community.
Are you creating work to be noticed on social media? Maybe you’re creating work for your kids and family to enjoy? Maybe you’re like me and you’re creating work to sell? Or maybe you’re like a few ambitious folks who aspire to becoming professional photographers? Or maybe you simply want to tell a story.
However you answer these questions, the only real question you have to answer next is: Are you connecting?
Who is your audience and are you connecting with them?
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Excellent post, Shelly. This is something I’ve actually been thinking a lot about lately with my own photography. In today’s social media age, it can be tricky to figure out exactly “who” you’re posting for, or why you’re posting a particular photo at the time and on the platform that you’re posting it.
I love that you’re taking recent experiences and learning from them, then approaching your photos in a different way because of the results. I’ve dipped my toes into selling my work, but appreciate that you’re sharing your own lessons with us. I hope your new methods pay off, because your work definitely deserves to get seen and make the big bucks 😉
Thanks you James for your kind comment. I almost wonder if this one isnt too far outside of our community needs. Where I am pushing is not a place most people want or need to go. In this day and age of ‘everyone is a photographer’ I wouldn’t recommend giving up your day job to pursue the sales end. But if you want to dabble and actually connect with fans in person (similar to what Sunny and Jason are doing) I would highly recommend it. It is so much fun to connect with like minded people in person!
Yes, excellently put! I’ve sold prints through Redbubble for several years now (though they’re slowly flagging my pics as copyright infringement and deleting them) and definitely learned that it’ll never be enough to live off of! I figure that if I can spend some of my spoils on another LEGO set (or more realistically, a minifig or two!) then that’s good enough for me.
I definitely think connecting in person is a great way to go. I experienced that a bit when I showed my work at BricksCascade last year, and will definitely be seeking opportunities to do so again.
Shelly, this is a very thought provoking post. First off, I absolutely see your point when I look at the topic from your angle – which I understand to be defined, among other things, by the desire to build an audience and sell pictures. It all makes perfect sense to me.
However, I look at the question of possible audiences from a totally different perspective – from the other side, so to speak. I attempt this reply because your post resonates with (and clarifies) some things I have been pondering lately …
I suggest that our photos not only imply an audience but also say something about the way we see photography in general. They might even be a way of saying “that’s what photography is supposed to be.” And due to my (mis)understanding of Sontag’s essays, I try to figure out ways in which a photo can transcend the object it immediately shows because I think that’s what a photo-as-a-work-of-art should do – in sort of a radical way.
I am not at all sure about this but at the moment the step from this mindset towards considering an actual audience seems quite huge: How can I be “radical” and at the same time consider an audience? Of course I hope for someone to be interested in what I am doing, and I’ve always been fortunate enough to find somebody who enjoyed (some of) my pictures.
I have no idea if the two positions I am trying to outline here are mutually exclusive, but your writing helps me realise there is something in the bushes. Something I have to deal with!
Have you ever read Kundera’s book “immortality”? If not I would recommend it because its beautiful and thought provoking. One of those rare books I re-read from time to time. Its premiss is about our immortality, our legacy, what do we leave behind when we die. As artists once the work leaves our hands, through publishing, giving away, whatever …, we no longer have a say in how the viewer will react to the work. The viewer has their own relationship, one that we can start, but that they have to complete. The viewer brings their own experiences and agenda to the work. We often see famous artists trying to control their legacy, but ultimately it is the public that decides how we are remembered. Or in the case of artists, how are work is perceived.
Sure, no matter what you create, you will find the ‘right’ audience. That is a given. Look, we found each other and Im one of your biggest fans. But as we both know, how I perceive your art is different than how you do. Does that take away from my enjoyment? No. Will that change how you pursue your own vision? I don’t know, that is for you to decide.
Each of us has to make that decision when we create art, we don’t do it in a vacuum. Our personal sincerity isn’t enough. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing for likes, comments, followers or money – we all make decisions to place our work in the most favorable light. I don’t think we would be honest with ourselves if we didn’t say that our success or failure on these fronts didn’t effect our work going forward.
Did I respond to your comment, or did I take us down another rabbit hole? 🙂
Shelly, this is a great response! Some aspects you mention: I was aware of them but kind of forgot in the heat of the moment. One of the most satisfying aspects of exhibiting work is finding out what people see in your work. And since many of my pictures have something enigmatic (as you call it) to them, I feel it is absolutely rewarding to hear interpretations that deviate from my own. These instances also show me the pictures are ‘rich’ with meaning, which is something I aspire.
And then you say: “Our personal sincerity isn’t enough. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing for likes, comments, followers or money – we all make decisions to place our work in the most favorable light.” – Good point! I was thinking about a concept from literary theory, the implicit reader, and wondering if there is also an ‘implicit viewer.’ Your lines suggest there is – and in the very least it for them that we want to put our pictures in the most favourable light (and even presenting them sloppily might be a strategy to do exactly that).
Thanks for this enlightening dialogue! (Again!)
Great post Shelly. This is a question I often ask myself. And often the audiences we acquire are not precisely the audiences we desire – something I’ve been learning and attempting to adjust for personally. An ongoing learning process for sure.
Jennifer it is surely an ongoing process. Who we reach today will not be the same people we reach tomorrow. It’s the rare fan that can adjust and grow at the same pace and rate as the artist. Its hard to get an honest reaction from the folks on social media since we are ultimately only talking to our friends. It is only when we reach outside that audience that we can start getting some interesting feedback. I know that G+ is full of spam, but the comments are invaluable because these are not my friends or a part of the toy photography community. A comment of “I don’t get this” is as important as “I love your work”. It makes me think about how my work is being perceived across cultures and experiences. More food for thought 🙂
Very deep article!Thank you for inspiring ones like me!!!
+1000. One of my pictures that interests most the viewers, is simple, made with three times nothing and in a few seconds. I had made it to keep in mind to rework the idea, and finally, that’s how everyone prefers it. The simple and clean side, was like a Zen koan, without needing anything more. But if no one had told me, I would never have kept it that way.
A great read, Shelly. Read it twice actually!
From a hobby point of view, I like to think that I am my own audience and I produce the image for my enjoyment first. Hopefully, whoever views it connects with the image enough to trigger a respond. Preferably a positive one!