the Purge and the Lull

I have gone silent again, and it might be awhile before anything new surfaces in both art and speech. The reason? Overload and burnout. First, the overload…

We all know social media can be a useful tool for advertising and for raising your profile, and for photographers, it gets your work out there and hopefully your audience will grow. So you join photography or art groups on Facebook, you follow people, you hope they will follow you, and you post your work on all these groups and pages. The result? Over the last three years, I have done these things and I am now so sick of Facebook I don't even want to promote myself on it. I am literally inundated with notifications to the point where I can't even work on something without a constant barrage of interruptions. Notifications, private messages, conversations between groups of people. I have been tagged in things I didn't create, I have had people tag themselves in my work that they are not even in, I have unwittingly been added to groups that I didn't join or know about, and then assaulted with constant notifications from those groups. I have had to remove myself from dozens of them, and shut off notifications to more of them, and amend my settings to restrict people from adding me back into groups I didn't want to join in the first place. I get invites from people to like their pages when they have not done so to mine…it's maddening, it's exhausting, it's overload.

Another part of the game is getting press, getting your work published, and winning contests. Contributing to my current overload and burnout was a recent invite from some online magazine that wanted to do a piece on me, so I wrote my answers to their questions, and they created an absurd, almost insulting headline to go along with the piece. Before that, I had an interview scheduled with some startup online magazine/page/whatever, which was supposed to be conducted via Skype, and the interviewer never showed. Instead, she called me 15 minutes later and conducted a horrible interview in what could only be described as a college cafeteria or quad, with noisy banter and loud music braying throughout. The result of that fiasco was an interview where nothing was quoted correctly, names were mangled, and me asking for the piece to be taken off their page entirely. I also entered an annual photo competition which I won last year, and since the deadline for submissions was February 1st, 2014, there has been no updates about the winner. I then learned that the magazine is on "hiatus" for 2014. Okay, so does that mean that there is no competition this year? If not, what about the money you collected from all the submissions for this competition? Disreputable and inexcusable.

The point is, while this tool can be helpful to raising your profile and getting your work out there, it is also quite horrible and ugly at times. There is more than a little aggression, posturing, and star fucking going on amongst my peers, and I would rather not be part of this clamor, this madness, this garish display of king of the mountain mentality. Enough already. 

On the burnout side, I have been producing a new image once a week or so nonstop for three years now, which means constant, almost daily work, given that they take time. I became so plugged into the machine, so desperate to keep up with the rising stars of these sites and pages, that the work itself started to feel like work, like a requirement, and I was creating things whether I felt like it or not. With each piece, the social media part of promoting it became more and more a drag, and I started to feel chained to this promotional effort, just to get the work out there.

As your profile rises, as you become more and more popular, so does your daily critiques from both the qualified and the deliriously unqualified. I find little value and little humanity in the internet stalkers out there who disparage work and have none of their own on display, and their assaults on my efforts were not appreciated and not easy to shrug off. I finally reached a point where I started working on a new piece and just stopped and looked at it and said 'this means nothing to me, I don't care about this at all" and I knew it was time for a break. I decided to stop everything for a time, cancel upcoming shoots, and just STOP. What I was doing this for, my reason for wanting it, was lost amidst the chaos of this social networking and self-promotion. It became mostly joyless and a drudgery.

The moral of the story is, if there is one, is that it's okay to stop, to rest, to unplug from it. It feel like I am detoxifying, drying out from a harmful binge. It's okay to not have a constant stream of new product if it means that the next one will be better for it. I don't want to produce bad results, and I feel strongly now that it's better to stop and get off this highway if it means the work will be stronger for it. I am sure it will not be a long hiatus - I like what I do too much to just quit, but it will resume only when the joy in it is back, when the excitement returns, and hopefully it will be seen by more who may appreciate and find some value in it, and not by those looking to exchange views for the sake of climbing some social media ladder to nowhere.

Signing off, for now…

Michael Bilotta
June 7, 2014