The YouTube-ization of Photography

Everything ends up on YouTube these days. Politics, private lives, even funerals. And, of course, photography. Once we used our cameras exclusively for stills. A camera without video function can’t be sold anymore these days — even though many photographers could live happily ever after without 1080p et al. The mechanisms behind this trend away from stills towards living pictures are simple: videos are like photographs on steroids. They move, they sound, they tell stories and attract attention — qualities that should be inherent to good photography. But videos make it so much easier. And the wilder and more intimate a video is, well, the more attention it attracts. This move away from stills is an unfortunate trend:

Spend some time on YouTube. It’s mostly about endless variations of the “I, me and myself” theme. People doing this, saying that, thinking what. Well we live in a highly confessional culture wanting to share everything. Social networking fatigue? You wish! People seem to be endlessly fascinated by others’ triumphs and failures. And that’s where the vernacular YouTube-ization of everything and anything comes in: to better visualize, to better promote one’s self. Don’t get me wrong, there is amazingly creative stuff on YouTube. Much of the YouTube-ized material is preposterous self-promotion for the sake of attracting attention. And that’s not only a silly trend. It’s downright dangerous.

Broadcast thyself... much of YouTube is about the "I, me and myself" theme. That's not without dangers.
Broadcast thyself… much of YouTube is about the “I, me and myself” theme. That’s not without dangers.
Because it takes more and more to be seen on YouTube. More than 1 billion unique users visit the video portal each month. Each and every minute 100 hours of video are uploaded. Over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month… that’s almost an hour for every person on earth! How to stand out from that crowd?

We’d be better off if people would still be using their cameras as cameras, and not as self-promotional tools. Today’s über-functional cameras are not only pushing photographers away from photography. One could theorize that camera makers force us to become videographers — look at all these buttons and movie functions! And because there’s such an inundating flood of videos these days, people have to produce ever wilder, more drastic and even crazier videos for the sole sake of being seen.

Some are willing to pay a high price for this YouTube-ization of society as a whole. They’re either willing to make complete fools of themselves — just search for “dumbest” or “stupid” on YouTube, you’ll get a ton of hits. Or take Mark Sutton, the British stuntman from the London Olympics in 2012 who recently died in a wingsuit jump. He crashed into a rocky ridge in the Swiss alps. The speed of 250 km/h wiped him out beyond recognition. All that was left were pieces of flesh — and video footage of the jump that’s analyzed by police.

Sutton was wearing three of those GoPro kind of action cameras that film everything everywhere, with the footage mostly intended for YouTube. Sutton liked thrills. And wanted to share and be seen doing what he loved to do.

Sutton may have thought of Jeb Corliss with his as legendary as insane Grinding the Crack base jump video. Absolute madness! But hey, 24 million views so far are not shabby and maybe worth the risk, ‘Nuff said…

Sutton wasn’t as lucky. As weren’t many others trying to capture the ultimate adrenaline kicks.

Nothing against creative video work. By all means, make use of today’s technology, and YouTube’s big plus is it doesn’t seek to control. It seeks to accelerate sharing. Just don’t be driven to madness by a camera and the urge to share. For chrissakes, it’s just a camera.

Question is, would many of these fearless do all this stuff if it wouldn’t be for action cam footage?

A good photograph can tell the whole story.