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Viewing Photography Online: The Perspectives

The photograph and the internet are a beautiful pairing.  More than any other medium, photography is perfectly suited to be viewed online.  Over the past ten years, and especially in the last three years, venues for viewing photography online have cropped up everywhere and have flourished.  From blogs to online magazines to purchasing sites, the opportunity to get exposure to fine art photography on the internet has skyrocketed.

As a gallery owner and general photography lover and collector, I look at a lot of images both in print and online.  From exhibitions to portfolio reviews to my daily trolling through websites and blogs, I see photographs all day long, but most of them are online. I often purchase photographs and select photographers for gallery shows without ever seeing a printed image.  It’s easy and powerful and personal to sit in front of my large computer screen and get transfixed by an image.

Not that viewing photography online should replace the experience of seeing a beautiful image printed, framed and hung on a wall.  To me it is a supplement.  But I was curious to hear some other perspectives on this trend.  How do photographers, bloggers, editors and curators experience photography online?

Laura Griffin, photographer

When I finished graduate school with an MFA in 2001, I left with big dreams. I was encouraged to want recognition, attention, a solo show – just to see my name in print somewhere.  It feels great to be that ambitious, to acknowledge you want it, and have your  mentors tell you to go for it.  Except...the art world doesn't always work that way.

Back then, the hope was to make a connection with someone important that may want to help you.  There are a lucky few for which this worked.  For me, sending out slides (!) was an ultimately fruitless endeavor.  I wasn’t able to get my work in front of the right gallery at the right time.  So, I continued to make work for myself.  And that needed to be enough, or I would just quit altogether out of frustration.

Today there is an opportunity to view an endless frontier of photographs online from photographers working all over the world.  The strict gallery model is no longer the sole goal for me and a lot of other artists.  While it's still important to be making connections, there is some freedom and possibility that wasn't there a decade ago.  There are countless shows and online forums to submit to, and the choice is really up to the artist whether to participate in that way.

Looking at images online and being a part of that dialogue is crucial today.  And although the gallery model did not work for me right out of school, I was able to continue making work and ultimately have found an outlet for that work online.  Showing my work online has given me a wider audience and has brought back all of the original ambition and excitement I had towards forging an artistic career.

David Bram, photographer and creator/editor of Fraction Magazine

Because Fraction is an exclusively online photography venue, the representation of a photograph on a screen is paramount to me.  As important as a well-printed image is, if it cannot translate well online, I cannot feature it.  Both online and printed material should match and be excellent.

That said, online media should just be an introduction to the work.  The ultimate goal of a viewer should be to connect to work and want to explore it further, either in person at an exhibition or as a collector who purchases a photograph for themselves.

We are fortunate to be involved with a medium that can be exposed so widely online.  The internet makes art generally and photography specifically so much more accessible.  You don’t need to live in a major city with access to museums and galleries to love and appreciate photography and to see images from all over the world.

Amy Stein, photographer, teacher and blogger

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sharing My Work Online (posted 7/25 on her blog, reposted with permission)

Blake Andrew's post about the unauthorized proliferation of Melanie Einzig's photograph of a man knitting on the subway highlights an all too familiar tension between content producers and content sharers in the age of social networks. The reality is that if you live and work as an artist on the web you are choosing to both exist in a constant grey area between copyright law and Fair Use and participate in a vast frontier of wobbly ethics that vacillate depending on the network, community or individual. Einzig's desire to maintain full control over the use of her images is admirable, as is Blake's call to the blogosphere to help remove all unauthorized uses of the photograph in question, but it does seem a bit like spitting into the social wind.

Don't get me wrong, I fully support the proper attribution of images and have done so on my blog since day one. In the age of Google Image Search, there is absolutely no excuse for not crediting an artist. But, I'm also a realist and long ago I fully embraced the idea that my images will travel and that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it's mostly a very good thing. If someone is moved to share my work or inspired to use it to create something new, that's kind of cool. I know the free flow of my images has certainly helped my career and I often tell my students to swim with the current and make their work as shareable as possible.

I have found my images in every nook of the Internet, mostly attributed and not altered in any way, but often unattributed, remixed, appropriated as paintings or drawings and cropped in ways that offend me to no end. Every time I come across my work presented like this, I cringe a little, but most of the efforts are benign and nobody is profiting off my intellectual property. When someone is profiting, I shut that shit down.

I understand the photographer's desire to manage use of her images online, but that became damn near impossible once the web evolved from a destination medium to a networked medium. You can't stop the flow of information. You basically have two options: don't post your work online or do so with the knowledge that interesting images will inspire people to share and alter them in ways both good and bad.

I believe it's important for the arts community to lead by ethical example on this issue, so to that end I solute Blake's efforts. However, in the spirit of not clogging the flow and respecting the talents and value of artists, I propose a slight modification to Blake's call to activism. Instead of stripping the images from the web, let's reach out to the offending posters and ask them to credit Melanie Einzig as well as any and all works they include on their sites in the future. Let's create a kind of attribution Neighborhood Watch where we confront site owners, editors and publishers that post images without crediting the artist and kindly ask them to get with the program. If we all have each others back on this our little photo community may be able to bring attention to the work of otherwise nameless artists and bring some ethical order to the wild frontier of the social web.

Lauren Henkin, photographer, bookmaker, founder of Photo Radio

Whether looking at photography online is a true or rewarding experience of viewing imagery is certainly a point up for debate. I think that for some photographers, their chosen medium for presentation is online or through some form of electronic distribution.  Others photograph with an intent to show their work through traditional prints.  Others still choose to show their photographs in book format.

I am writing this from a hotel after spending five straight days with printmaker Tyler Boley in Seattle who helped me print some large images for an upcoming show, and we talked about this topic at length.  We both have felt for some time that the experience of viewing a printed photograph far surpasses that of a digital viewing experience for many reasons.  I’ve never looked at an image on my monitor and been blown away by it.  I remember seeing in person George Tice’s Petit's Mobile Station, or a Harry Callahan Cape Cod, or a Caponigro Sunflower.  Those were ‘a-ha’ moments.  Never, have I felt that way looking at an image on screen.  It was seeing these prints that made me want to become a photographer.

So, while I understand the necessity of showing images online, do I find it rewarding? No.

However, I do think it has had a huge impact on how photographers widen their audiences, and I would count myself included in that group.  The wide influence of blogs, online publications, websites (which now are becoming obsolete), and of course, social media outlets like Facebook has afforded photographers a quick, easy, and inexpensive way of distributing their work to an eager and global audience.

While I am a fan of these new opportunities and have benefited from them, I also think there are downsides that are rarely acknowledged.  I think there is more pressure to produce.  The expectation for continually putting out new work in order to keep the attention of this newly gained audience which might include gallerists, dealers, and collectors has made five or even ten-year bodies of work more challenging. I think most artists would benefit from time away from looking at imagery and engaging in these outlets to gain perspective on their own work and the freedom to not be influenced by others.

Andy Adams, Editor, Producer, Publisher,

A big part of my mission is to help artists get their work seen and my contributors are always updating me with news about exhibitions and publication opportunities that have come out of their pictures being discovered on the site. Web 2.0 technology has played a huge role in expanding Flak Photo’s reach and the site’s readers are web-savvy people who use social media on a daily basis, so that’s really inspired me to explore how those tools can encourage online audiences to communicate with each other about contemporary photography. In addition to the website, I publish a Facebook page and Twitter feed and I host the Flak Photo Network and Flak Photo Books, Facebook groups focused on photography discussions. I’m passionate about creative collaboration and am constantly energized by what’s happening in the photo community, so publishing the website and participating in these channels gives me an outlet to satisfy that craving.

Flak Photo provides unique opportunities, and it’s just a small part of a vibrant online photo ecosystem brimming with images and ideas. The Internet has changed the way we consider photography, so these are exciting times for image-makers wishing to publicly show their work. The photographer who understands how to be an online publisher can share his or her visual ideas with a worldwide audience and that is incredibly exciting. It’s hard to predict where the technology is heading, but it’s clear that more of us are connecting with each other in blogs and social networks and those connections are bound to provide new opportunities for collaboration and discovery.

Michael Kirchoff, photographer

“I know I’ve seen that picture somewhere before…..”

Anyone who has spent even a minute online looking at photography has noticed the  flood of work to be seen from every corner of the planet. Truly, the shrinking of our world from the global online community that exists has given photographers a helping hand in reaching an audience that had been extremely difficult to reach before. What once took an airline flight or a FedEx delivery to share your work (both considerably more expensive, time consuming, and slow), can now be done with a few clicks of the mouse. Even my own social media marketing campaign (sounds so official, huh?) has put me in touch with a vast network of fellow photographers, gallerists, curators, and collectors, and has quickly become a very necessary part of my business. Clearly, the ultimate goal of any photographer in the business of selling prints or handcrafted photobooks would be to connect with the serious collector and turn all of those likes, views, and comments into tangible sales.

Another aspect of the accessibility of quality photography online is that, for me personally, it raises the bar as an artist when I see so much outstanding imagery. I’m constantly blown away at the techniques and ideas that others offer to the world, and it makes me want to be a better photographer because of it. The networking aspects of the online photography community are almost limitless. I regularly view work of other photographers online that I fall in love with and periodically add to my own collection of beautiful and thought provoking work from these talented individuals.

There does seem to be a bit of a downside to the access and ease of seeing work online however. The ability to view work that is enjoyed by a wide audience is wonderful, but it begins to seem as though many feel this is the end result of our efforts, instead of the finished print that could hang on your wall and be appreciated for a lifetime and beyond. It should be mentioned with certain regularity that viewing a photographer’s work online is merely a step to the experience of viewing the physical and tangible print in the gallery or museum setting, and knowing that that print in your own home is the most satisfying experience of all. These prints are indeed works of art that cannot merely be appreciated to the same level in an online aspect.

Aline Smithson, photographer, educator, publisher of Lenscratch

In thinking about how we view the bulk of the photography we experience today, I remembered that when I was a fashion editor, I was required to edit the hundreds of exposures from a photo shoot.  In a dark room, I looked at work on a projector screen that went directly to print.  There was never a physical photograph to hold and now I realize that it is not unlike looking for work to feature on Lenscratch.  I look at thousands and thousands of online images each year, and ultimately, I am looking more for ideas and concepts than the quality of the image.  Unlike online dating, when one is confronted with the reality of the digital image (from what I hear, daters are often shocked by the difference of the submitted photo and the real person), when I come across the work in person, I feel like I am meeting an old friend who is looking refreshed and at their best. More often than not, seeing the work in person is a far superior experience--nuances lost on computer screens, scale, and impact are only evident in the actual print--but as an image junkie, I'm happy to look at a photograph in any form.

Once in a while, as a juror or curator, I have been really disappointed in the physical print.  The word doesn't measure up to the small jpg, (due to poor printing skills) and that is a problem when you are juroring an exhibition online and bringing work into a gallery without having seen in it person ahead of time.

When I first started looking at contemporary photographs, it was mainly done by spending hours and hours looking at magazines or books.  If you liked someone's work, you sent them a postcard.  Now we have the amazing ability to get our work under the eyes of the world and make connections that never would have happened without the online experience. We are an international community and that is truly remarkable.

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  • Response

Reader Comments (18)

Thanks again for the invitation to be part of this, Jennifer! I also wanted to share my Photo 2.0 essay, which explores the impact of digital media on contemporary photo culture - Read it at

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Adams

I would agree with Aline to a certain extent. The issue I have as a photographer is matching the screen to the print from my own computer, it requires calibration of both screen and printer profiling. When displaying a print at least I have controlled the colours and they represent my perception of how the photo should appear, with a someone else’s screen then you are trusting to luck. I have seen some of the set-ups used to judged competitions and it makes me weep at all the effort some people must have gone to in perfecting their image only to see it appear on a woefully inadequate looking screen. My success rate for competitions and exhibitions is far higher when submitting a print.

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphiilp woolway

[...] mind lately and Jennifer Schwartz‘s conglomerate blog post (what do we call these things?!), Viewing Photography Online: The Perspectives seemed to dance around my answer to this [...]

Online culture has democratized photography as dramatically as digital tools for taking pictures have. For me, with a background in literary research, being able to see so many photographs online has been incredibly valuable in shaping my photographic vision without the benefit of a formal MFA. The same is valid for finding a community. True, some communities can be stifling in terms of creativity and learning (flickr, for example, is a dangerous place :) But there are always alternative spaces. So for me the value of online culture goes beyond being able to share your work - it's about creative development of your work, too. I have been able to do my Gypsy community project in participatory photography only because a community of passionate supporters I first met through various online media made it happen.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEllie Ivanova

Thinks are changing fast. No way back in all this incredible photography sharing moment we live now. And I really believe this is so good, we have access to many different visions daily, some really inspiring, as Michael correctly said.

The main problem is how to do it, I mean how to be able to see all this work. How to find that concrete work that will shock you. You have to do the selection and search by yourself.

And then the main problem I always listen/read from traditional photography. The one related with the print. Traditional film photography couldn't exist without a print, that was the final stage. But digital photography ( the one used by almost all those internet sharing photographers ) don't need that stage to have access to the final image. The final stage is the image file itself ( postproduced or not ). And by default viewed on screens.

If I hang a print in my city maybe one thousand people will see it, and some will appreciate the quality of print. If I post that image that number of viewer can be easily multiplied many times. Of course not everybody have a perfect calibrated screen, but some do. Maybe more than those that really appreciate the quality of print. But this second option widens the diffusion and opportunities for a photographer. But.. what to do? Discussion is open, only time will close it.

Only one more point. Technology goes really fast. Screens also do. And I just cant imagine the quality we will have in tablets or monitors in a little time.

July 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJordi V. Pou

Most thought provoking line for me... Lauren's idea about:

"The wide influence of blogs, online publications, websites (which now are becoming obsolete), and of course, social media outlets like Facebook has afforded photographers a quick, easy, and inexpensive way of distributing their work to an eager and global audience."

Actually, it is the websites becoming obsolete part. That one caught me up a little short. There isn't any reason to blow up my our virtual real estate. I liked websites. A lot. As awkward and fresh indy visions of ourselves. They felt a little more like the online version of a studio visit. We all had that friend who helped us cobble together something that actually had character. It saddens me a little if Lauren is right. And I think she is.

Overall, I am feeling a little web fatigue these days. I was once semi-addicted to FB but more recently I am going more often out of a sense of obligation to "make a little noise" either for myself or for one of my projects. Or, most often, to resource an idea which is a great aspect. Questions seldom go unanswered these days. Even when you are five drinks in at the Fallout Shelter, you can, in seconds, know who that girl was that starred opposite Matthew Broderick in War Games. And that is the feeling of power.

Google+, while looking like a better platform, for me has actually deflated my sense of value to the social media network. Because FB already feels like such a distracting timesuck that adding still other distracting timesucks seems almost dangerous, to my vitality at any rate. It is a bit like having two houses thirty minutes apart. Something I also know something about these days.

I imagine I will continue to exist to serve my online avatars but for some reason, I find myself withdrawing a little. Making pictures for me has always been about living. Being. Keeping up with all of the "opportunities" to be found online can be exhausting. It is almost as if we become successful before our time. Without paying enough dues.

Think of an artist fifty years ago. One out a thousand would feel some pressure to honor their success by pandering to the eager and unwashed art audience that somehow they were talented enough and fortunate enough to draw upon themselves. Weirdly, I feel that the internet and this abundant exposure has given all of us way too much swagger about our work. Because people are watching our collective identities swirl piecemeal around the web, there is definitely more awareness about most of us but the larger question that should be asked is "Are most of us really worth the effort?". I don't think that question gets asked enough. It is a little like we are all on an internationally bloated five year old soccer team and the online world keeps throwing trophies at us. Just for playing!

All that said, I have to admit that most of my opportunities come from my work being somewhere online these days. But lately I am looking for depth. Depth in my work, in your work, in conversation, in thought, in action... offline.

Hypocrisy, you may ravish me now.

July 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGordon Stettinius

As a photography lover, collector (minor), sometimes blogger, frequent poster, I look at viewing online in various way for different reason - one is with the intent to purchase a photograph, one is more educational, one is just to look at photographs that I think are wonderful or to learn more about a photographer and their work and lastly just to learn more and expand my knowledge about what's going on in the photography world.

All of these aspects work for me online although as a consumer one can not compare viewing a photograph online with seeing it in person whether for purchase or just looking at a gallery or museum.

I have been both extremely lucky and fortunate in buying work online from galleries in other cities or from auctions (not counting sites like 20x200 where the investment is minimal) and have also been disappointed (mostly from a condition perspective not fully disclosed in auctions or the lack of pristine shipping which may cause some issues which can become a hassle).

So for me there is a big distinction between purchasing and viewing and I will continue to do the former although perhaps more selectively and will most definitely keep viewing online for education, news and the beauty of it all form so many wonderful and varied sources these days.


As founder of the ArsFotografika online art gallery devoted to contemporary photography from emerging artists ( it is obvious that I truly believe in the Internet as an exciting marketplace for such works of art (I would never buy a painting online). Love to participate in this open discussion and encourage you to visit our "exhibition" :-)

July 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJosik

Jennifer, thank you for the blog - I would love to be at The Fallout Shelter listening to this conversation. This is the next best thing. I relate to what Gordon is saying - "collective identities swirl piecemeal around the web" - great description. I, too, find it sometimes overwhelming with a need to disengage at times - and a big wish for social media simplification. And I agree with Michael's comment about viewing work online and "raising the bar as an artist." I've thought about that often, how we are pushing one another to do better. For me, time alone is invaluable for my work - I find myself craving something akin to Thoreau's Walden - with spotty wireless.

July 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTami Bone

I have developed a love/hate relationship with the Internet after my elderly animals project went viral on the Internet in the late spring. Over the last few months, I've been spending less and less time online (particularly on social networking sites). Like Gordon, I'm finding myself seeking more depth. I value the online community to which I belong, but have been less and less satisfied with the type of discussions occurring in these forums. I also think it's important to spend time disconnected when creating (or thinking about creating) new work.

I'm still sifting through how I feel about my work being so widely distributed and seen. I won't lie: at times it's been exhilarating. Intoxicating even. But that is partly what I have found so scary about the experience.

Thousands of people from around the world have shared my images via Facebook, Twitter, blogs and Tumblr sites. That is just mind-blowing to me. But, most bloggers have not asked permission prior to using my images on their sites, which has been rather unnerving. I definitely have cringed at the way my images have been used in recent months. Just today I found a web site geared toward pre-teens using one of my elderly animal images. Surrounding the image -- I kid you not -- were cartoon hearts & flowers. I pretty much agree though with the sentiments expressed by Amy Stein. I generally have accepted these unauthorized usages of my images as the cost of putting work up on the Internet. And, I do appreciate that these bloggers have connected me with new and unexpected audiences.

That said, much of Lauren Henkin's comments resonated with me. I too have been disturbed by how quickly my images are being consumed online. This project has not been easy to produce because of its emotional toll and because of the financial costs involved with traveling to sanctuaries across the country. (Did I also mention that I am covered in animal feces by the end of many of my shoots for this project?)

I am a perfectionist and I discard much of what I shoot. I envy photographers who can crank out work quickly. That's just not how I work.

After editing my work, I spend copious amounts of time trying to create the best possible print statement I can. Printmaking is a very important step in my creative process. I have spent countless hours and dollars chasing down technical issues that likely only a small handful of people would notice or appreciate. But, these details matter to me, and it's my signature that will appear on the final print.

Given what goes into each image, it has been jarring to observe the casual way with which these images were being widely distributed. Images that took months to produce were being devoured and then distributed in a matter of seconds. That is not to say that there weren't people engaged with the images in a thoughtful and respectful way. I have received numerous e-mails from people who were affected by the work and understood my vision for this work. I also am selling prints of these images as a result of all of this online attention. I am very grateful for the support my work has received, and I recognize that never would have connected with these audiences had I not put my work on the Internet.

I also highly value the democratic aspects of the Internet. As David Bram pointed out, you no longer need to live in a major city or have deep financial resources in order to appreciate fine art photography.

But, I do think the ease with which images can be viewed and shared on the Internet has diminished the respect and appreciation for photography as a craft.

Like I said, I'm currently having a love/hate relationship with the Internet.

July 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIsa Leshko

This is a really interesting post.

I am a photographer but also help develop digital portfolios for other photographers.

I have found that having a photographic background has given me a massive advantage in understanding how to get the most out of work online.

The flip side of it being so easy to get work work online is that so much of it is badly curated. So many sites really need to be stripped back to core images and remove distracting design elements. Just like a gallery space, or a traditional book images really need to be edited down for display online

July 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hole

For me personally, the online experience pales in comparison to a fine crafted print in person. I've recently saw a large gallery show juried online and a few of the placing prints were shockingly bad. Not bad but terrible in everyway. It made me ask what does it mean to be a photographer in 2011.
There have always been artists that didn't print, but at least they had people that could, print their work. I can spend a lot of money on someones physical print but would not dream of doing the same for a tiff file even if its 1 of 10....

July 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid J Eisenlord

[...] Contact ← Viewing Photography Online: The Perspectives [...]

Aline hits it on the head for me. In my own (limited) experience, creating a well-presented print from a digital file was like starting from scratch, at least as much (if not more) time, effort, and knowledge goes into that process as creating and editing the photo. It's funny, not in a ha-ha way, that B&W darkroom printing seems like it was simpler. Wait, let me get my rose colored grad filter.

It was driven home when I visited an art regional recently and more than one photo was just horribly presented, some of them with warped and wavy paper from not being properly mounted. They were good photos, great photos really, unfortunately. As a bonus, the show had two rounds of judging, the second being the presentation of the work.

All of the testimonals about reach and scope of online viewing are true. But being able to experience a finished print is a way to view the work in the artist's own voice, instead of in someone else's layout on a blog or worse, stripped entirely of context in a direct link to the file. White emptiness is not always the best backdrop for every photo.

Ultimately those who are passionate, dedicated, and persistent will produce excellent work whether it's on a screen or on a wall (or on a screen on a wall -- have you seen these "cinemagraphs" the kids are making these days?). In an ideal world they'll even get some recognition for it. The only danger I've felt is that the push for social media personal branding networking 2.0 can redirect that passion and dedication from the art to the outreach. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, they're amazing tools, but forgetting they're just tools and not an end of themselves is a short step off a shallow cliff.

August 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterB

[...] fine art photographic prints. Schwartz responded to a lot of these concerns in the form of a blog post where she asked people from the photography community at large to comment on the relationship [...]

[...] fine art photographic prints. Schwartz responded to a lot of these concerns in the form of a blog postwhere she asked people from the photography community at large to comment on the relationship [...]

[...] Jul 28, 2011 Comments Off Because Lenscratch is all about viewing work online, I thought I'd share Jennifer Schwartz's terrific blog post from earlier this week, where she asked a variety of photographers, editors, and publishers for [...]

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