Monday, 14 November 2016

My Instagram process - five things I do every day

There are now over 600 daily images on Instagram @paulcliffordartist. I use it to keep me motivated to produce artwork, and help me think about my photography, how it represents me and what it might mean to other people.

Talking to a few photographers lately, especially during my recent London Instagram show, I've been surprised at the range of opinions about the platform, and all the different ways it's used and viewed. So I thought I'd run through my own process here - you can see what you think.

Before we go on, I should let you know that I keep myself pretty ignorant about hashtags and their effects, and how Instagram chooses to share my work or create my news feed - and I know it's not straighforward. I just do my process and leave it at that. Any more, and I can see it falling behind or not being fun any more.

Once a day, every day
600 daily images
It's important to me that I post an image every day, with a title and instructive and relevant hashtags. For a while, before I started on Instagram, days or even a week would go by without me indulging my art photography. With my commercial photography keeping me busy, sometimes thinking about art photography as well could be a struggle.

Now, with my daily posts, which I've kept up since March 2015, I know I'll be thinking about creative work for a few minutes every day, at least. Very important.

I don't take a picture every day, I tend to take a bunch and then ration them out over the next few days. That means I end up with a pool of images. The ones I like best tend to go on first, and as some get older and haven't been put on, it's time to admit that maybe those ones aren't so good and can be forgotten about.

I usually either post first thing in the morning or at lunch time (UK time). If I'm away it can depend on when I can get online at all - but I haven't missed a day yet!

Titles and hashtags

Sometimes a challenge and sometimes easy. Titles that come to me straight away, sometimes even while taking the photograph, tend to be the ones I like best. They might give a clue as to why I shot that image, they might be a line from a song, or they might tell you something about the subject of the image.

Along with the title I add 7 hashtags. These elaborate a bit on the picture, to add another level of interpretation to the visual image. I started with 7 because a friend who works in social media once told me that was the optimal number. Since then, I've found it a good way to briefly add context, so I've stuck with it.

Lately, I've started adding a further 15-20 hashtags as a comment. These may be in the same vein as the 7 'headline' tags, or they may be relevant feeds and keywords to try and extend the reach of my image. They're always appropriate to the image, not just irrelevant bait to get the image seen.

Designing the feed

The promo image for my show framed nicely a few weeks ago
Some of the Instagram photographers I admire are really good at managing and planning their feed, so that when it's seen as a whole it looks great. Now and again I'll choose and post 3 images that go well together so they make a nice row of 3 across the screen.

Posting daily means that kind of thing will only line up every 3 days anyway, so I'm not too fussed. I have had some images working nicely around each other by chance, and I do enjoy that!

There are also occasional noticable 'phases', such as a set of mountainside and nature pictures from Wales a month ago. I kept these discrete from the rest of my pictures, rather than mix rural and urban too disjointedly.

Checking new likes and followers

Keeping up...
I keep an eye on my notifications, and I look at the profile of everyone who has commented, liked a picture or followed me. I have a quick scroll down their feed and like any pictures I like, and if I find myself liking a lot, I'll follow them.

Like everyone, I get a lot of brands and shops liking and following me, plus the odd 'get more followers' junk, but in the main they are fellow photographers. Some are up my street, some not.

I think I feel a responsibility to those who have responded, a bit like replying to every fan letter maybe (I appreciate that finger tapping a heart is nothing at all like writing a letter by the way!).

Viewing my own personally curated collection 

Every time I follow an account, their pictures flow into my news feed.

I've spoken to Instagrammers who will tactically follow accounts, and I get plenty of 'follow me and I'll follow you' comments, but personally I only follow people whose pictures I want to see in my image feed, simple as that.

That creates a unique set of flowing images every day that brings me a lot of pleasure. I feel an affinity with these photographers - like me, they're not headline names, but they do what they like to do and are kind enough to share it.

There are a handful of photographers I communicate with regularly, and I even met some at the events at my print show. Conversely, others post in foreign languages and characters that mean nothing to me, so their images literally speak for themselves.

I follow over 200 accounts - keeping up with all the pictures can be time consuming, especially as Instagram doesn't remember where you left off, so I have to scroll down to find the last one I saw. But I love to see all these very different and unique images from around the world.


I think that's pretty much what I do on a daily basis - what do you do that's different?

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Small Selection at the Clerkenwell Gallery, October 2016

My new London exhibition is opening on Tuesday next week - 

Rooftop Collective Edition 5
25th - 30th October 2016
Clerkenwell Gallery, 20 Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DP

Full details, with all the events, times etc. are on a lovely PDF linked here.

As part of a group show, I'm showing a series under the title 'Small Selection'. These are all pictures taken on my phone and drawn from my Instagram feed @paulcliffordartist. This is certainly a departure for me - in the past I may have thought it impossible to show images from a phone. But, by shooting carefully and choosing a phone at my last upgrade pretty much solely based on camera quality, I am able to get pictures I'm not only happy with, but very proud of.

This is the first time those pictures will be off the screen and on the gallery wall. They'll be sitting amongst some powerful imagery from analogue and experimental photographers, and I think the combination of the 7 photographers will benefit all the images and make for a great show.

Although it's the 5th annual exhibition I've had with this group of photographers from the Rooftop Collective, it's the first one where the hang has been handed over to an independent curator, Amy Caiger of Caiger Contemporary. Whilst the selection of my work has been left to me, how it interacts over the 2 floors with the other 6 photographers will be left to Amy. That's very exciting as I'll be experiencing the show for the first time the same as everyone else.

So, as I'm now approaching my 600th daily image on Instagram, how did I make the selection for the show? In some ways I had a head start on this, as I had created a one-off book of thirty favourite images to mark my 500th image post. However, that was a personal selection, and I wanted the sense of community and interaction with the circle of photographers that have sprung up around my Instagram gallery to feed into the show.

I made a shortlist of 25 images - some of those personal favourites mixed in with some of the most popular images, based on 'likes' with my followers on Instagram. I then took that selection to my Facebook friends - which includes all kinds of people who are by no means 'arty'. I asked them to 'vote' on their own favourites, and had a great response. I also printed them out and showed them to friends and family for more opinions.

Combining all these reactions and votes with my own feelings I came up with the final 8 you'll see if you come to the show. It's always painful deciding what to leave out, and whilst the 8 were by no means the most 'popular' in the process, the votes did give me a bit of guidance about which ones could be dropped most easily.

I've written elsewhere on the blog about how Instagram has revitalised my photography, so it's great to have this show to validate that, and kind of put a line under my first 18 months or so on the platform. I'm really excited to see how these new pieces mix with the group, and I hope some of you are too.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Do you like it?

Since I started using a camera about 30 years ago, I've always taken pictures to please myself. I love putting things together in a composition within the frame, creating an image that I can take away and look at whenever I want.

And it still pleases me to look at my pictures - I'm not saying this because I think I'm a brilliant photographer, it's more that I like the pictures I take, or perhaps more precisely, I like the things I take pictures of, and the way I take pictures of them.

Showing in galleries lets me get an idea of whether people new to my work like the pictures. Or at least, find out what they think about them, and what they make them think about. That's one of the great pleasures of a private view for me, being able to talk about my work in a non self-conscious way. Here are people who have come to look at my work, and even if they don't like it, or have no interest in it, they might tell me why not.

In that kind of situation, with an audience of one or many that haven't seen my work before, I'm always a bit self aware and maybe defensive too. My pictures aren't necessarily 'normal', they're not flowers or fun images of my children, generally they're of things that are nothing special at all. Consequently, a few people just don't get it, I can tell they think it's all a bit of a waste of time.

Those people aren't wrong of course, art and taste is all completely subjective. I've been teaching photography in schools over the last couple of years, and one thing I try and get across is pleasing yourself, then no one can tell you their image is better or worse than anyone else's. I sometimes show them some of the most hailed, 'great' photographs that mean nothing to me.

Now I'm posting daily on Instagram, I have the immediate feedback of comments and likes on each and every picture. It can be interesting to see which images take off with Likes, and which ones you might call 'duds' in that context. And it's also interesting when people I know personally or photographers I follow like my pictures, as I can try to imagine why they liked that particular one.

So if you see me at my upcoming exhibition in London (Clerkenwell Gallery, 25-30 October 2016 - for full details click here), remember the answer to the question 'do you like it?' is one that has no wrong answer. Whatever you say, I'm interested to hear it!

Monday, 3 October 2016

Another proto-Instagram feed - markets and more

Last time I wrote about my photo books and how they came about, and ended up comparing them to an analogue version of my Instagram feed.

It's a fair comparison, but one of the most fun and insightful parts of my Instagram experience is watching the Likes and comments come in, finding out which images are chiming with my followers and the Instagram community at large. While the books look very nice sitting on a shelf here at home, they're definitely not putting images out there for viewing around the world 24/7. However, there is another experience I had in the years before I started on Instagram that does compare nicely with those Likes.

Once I started showing again in 2011, I had some great exhibition opportunities and gallery shows. All these came with private views, which offer a fleeting chance to discuss your photography with art lovers who have never met you or your work before. It's an exciting and interesting experience, but it is fleeting, and only limited to what's on the wall. I've always been fairly prolific as a photographer and found it somewhat frustrating to only be able to show a small amount of images each time. 

Of course, my Instagram account @paulcliffordartist has helped me to solve that problem of late, but back then I wanted to free more of my images from those books, get them seen by the outside world. I wanted to sell them too, not to make money (although that is nice) or get the self-validation that comes from someone else enjoying your work (nice too). What was most exciting to me when I sold from a gallery show was that the image was leaving me to go and have an existence somewhere else, hopefully to be loved and looked at by lots of new eyes.

The cost and process of producing larger prints, plus the nice frames I felt they needed to go in, plus gallery commission, meant the prices for my work were prohibitively high for some. I knew from talking to people at the shows that if the work was more affordable they would love to take one home.

So I got to thinking how I could resolve this. An opportunity arose at the London Photomonth Photofair, where I had some framed gallery prints on show, but I also brought over 100 different images for sale as postcard sized prints in small white frames, racked in boxes and arrayed on the tabletop. I wrote a blog post about it at the time - here.

At an exhibition I had early the next year, I was able to leave a box of the small framed images, and over the next few years I took them to various photographic fairs and art and craft markets. Sales of these little affordable items went well, getting hundreds of my images out into the world, and I kept a note of which ones sold each time. And that's where the Likes came from back then.

So, by that standard, to finish with a picture, here is the best Liked image from all those stalls, fairs and markets combined - from Venice in 2009 - my best seller!

3183 - Venice, Italy, 2009

Sunday, 25 September 2016

My first proto-Instagram feed - the books

Let me take you back to 1996. I was finishing up my art degree and putting on the end of year show. The main part of this was a self contained documentary photo project, but throughout my course I'd been taking photos of things that interested me, like I always had done in the years before. I wanted to include these too, so I made a book and showed it as 'supporting work'. 

There was a company called Tripleprint back then, you'd send them your films in the post, and they'd come back as one large print and two smaller ones.

I would slice out one of these smaller ones, about business card sized, and glue it into an off the shelf hardback sketchbook, together with a catalogue number, location, date and the film it was from.

As well as showing the images; it's clear that this book was also for my own future reference, so I could find the negative for that image again, and also recall where and when it was taken. The book was never intended as a piece of work in itself, just as an index and to show the examiners what else I'd been up to over those 3 years. I certainly didn't imagine it would be first in a line of books over 20 years chronicling thousands of images.

Off the back of that degree show there followed a handful of exhibitions, and after that I stopped showing for a while. But I continued the books. Glue, paper, a nice pen, locations noted on scraps of paper in a box. Somewhere along the way I moved over to digital, making it much easier to produce and control my own tiny prints for the books - I was still chopping them up and putting them in. 

I did find it immensely pleasing to collate the work in this way, and whilst I was under no illusions that every picture was a world-beater, it was good to have this complete index of when and where the picture was shot, and which film or folder it could be found in.

But it took time. Cutting up the prints, gluing them carefully in and writing the details is quite a process, and one that seems far removed from the freedom of the loose, creative mindset that I'm in when I take the pictures. The process started to fall behind a few years ago, probably around the time I started a family and other things became more important. Besides, all the pictures that hadn't entered the books were still there, I still had notes on where they were taken - I could catch up whenever I found the time.

Well, I'm ready to confess that time never came, and the last shot put in as I write was number 4765 from early 2012.

The good thing is that that backlog is still there, and that's exciting to me in some ways, as it's been long enough now for me to forget the images. I like to think I'll get back on it sometime and slowly get up to date, rediscovering my work along the way.

The bad thing? I think that daunting backlog might have been stopping me take new photographs. When there's already a big queue, why add to it?

There may be an argument for creating the books on screen then sending them to print, especially as I now shoot exclusively on digital. But, perversely, though I don't particularly cherish the book creation process, I do enjoy the space and time it gives me with the images, each one getting its due in my fingertips and on my eyes. After all, I am my own target audience, I only ever took pictures to please myself, to remember a bit of visual beauty and take it home to look at later.

Looking at it that way, my books are a set of coffee table photo books tailored just for me, and I love looking through them. Of course, the various destinations and even changing styles down the years also interest me on a very personal level.

The situation I find myself in now is very different to the one I was in when I inadvertently started the series. As I write, in 2016, I am now primarily a phone photographer feeding Instagram @paulcliffordartist, rather than an SLR one feeding the books. Thinking about this, it's easy see the books as my own private primitive Instagram feed in analogue form. The pictures are in a constant stream way back to 1993. They even come in sets of three! The only thing missing is the Likes.

In the years after 2010 when I was showing my pictures a lot, I did find another way to create a kind of Instagram feed in the real world - and this one did allow for Likes - it was the first time the pictures had been subjected to judgement by a large audience that could essentially 'vote' for their favourites. More about that next time!