Photography Twitter And British Hill Walking Friday November 15, 2013

Twitter and the Internet

There was a recent internet debate about the authenticity of mountain photography in which I participated. I’m going to comment on what happened addressing the following points: social media, what authenticity means to me, and what it means for photography.

It started at Twitter and I’ve since read this perceptive essay by writer Kathryn Schulz whose book Being Wrong is worth reading. She talks about her experience of the internet and “social media” with particular reference to Twitter. Her attitude is literary because she’s a writer. It doesn’t translate well onto the internet but you see it nonetheless. My attitude is literary too because of my background. Words do things. They can do great, powerful and beautiful things or you can write merely ROFL as a response to such a remark. Take your choice.

What you often find on the internet is a snipe game with little connection to topics under discussion. Deride and undermine what they say rather than address it: they are nothing but a this, that, or something else. Everything gets dumbed down. A little of this started to appear in the debate: you are doing this, and you are this, that, a twat. I suggested accountability was important but wasn’t being addressed.

“It’s mad” a friend said to me about the internet, “like the Wild West, I love it.” I don’t like this aspect to it. It leaves me feeling enervated and vaguely damaged. I’m extrapolating now to other scenarios – not the photography debate which was quite mild – and to wider issues. When you try to suggest some intellectual point, refer back to a previous point which has got lost, you lose the game because the game is now: your post, my post, you are this, no you are that, you twat! The more you struggle the more damaged you feel because of two unequal and contrary directions: coherence and reasonable argument one way and the internet mode of communication the other way towards which you are bound.

What I like about Twitter, confirming what Schulz says, is the constraints which deny the above. If children won’t behave don’t give them water pistols. If adults seek to win an internet game irrespective of topic like hecklers at a lecture only give them 140 characters. The subtle part of what you are thinking, feeling, arguing, literally has no place at Twitter. You don’t share it because you can’t. Twitter is, as Schulz says, exchanging (harmless short) sentences and nothing more. With friends or enemies if you wish, but I imagine those so inclined won’t find 140 characters does the job. The poisonous proceedings of expanded internet agora rest on the fact that it’s uncontrolled. YouTube comments used to be a notably foul experience if a video dealt with politics and religion in particular. Recent changes will correct this now it’s merged with Google+ and accountability is established.

You want to express yourself but when it becomes a fight you realise how difficult it is and how fighting back makes it worse. A mere 140 characters provokes very little. It is a mere Tweet from a bird with no great effect: you cannot engage in a fight with such a limited tool. The rules of the game are different and inclined towards happy stuff, fun stuff, banter, in my experience, amongst fellow Tweeters with whatever common interest you may have. Such as the group I’m collating here, 316 British hill walkers and growing:


I won’t say too much about authenticity in photography here, because I’ve already said it It’s a spectrum: I said this twice in the debate. But I was still accused of proselytising the notion that photography equals “truth.”

At one end of the spectrum you have harsh Photoshop alteration – too green grass, unnaturally coloured skies – at the other end you have, typically, a RAW or JPEG file which is slightly soft, not composed quite as you wish, significantly improved with adjustments to saturation, contrast and so on. I do it all the time. I work on a picture with anything from a few minutes work, occasionally none at all except for some sharpening, to thirty minutes work or more.

I introduced my ideas in relation to the aesthetic limits of film photography. I refer to this again and why it’s important: because with no experience of what those parameters are (or were) or no instinctive sense of this in Photoshop your photography might move (I suggest) too far along the spectrum to obvious falsehood: and take that word in context which means in relation to the hills. One reason why I walk the hills is because I like their sensory reality. Your thoughts are not controlled as you wander freely: your perceptions are neither mediated nor confined by the city.

I will say more about mountain photography and manipulation in my next article.

I wrote some of the following a long time ago and would edit and modify it if I were writing it now. It doesn’t necessarily represent my current ideas and my writing style has also changed. Use the Google search bar to find more.

Pursuing Mountain Photography

Teaching Photography

Street Photography

Wilderness Photography

Street Photography And Conflict