Arts / Media / Philadelphia / Philadelphia Neighborhoods / Social media

The rise of the visual web and the photographer celebrity

In the last 20 years of the Internet, words and the writers best skilled at making them have excelled, fueled of late by social media with a text focus. But all of that seems to be changing. The visual web now appears to be playing favorites with photographers and video specialists.

CityPaper staff photographer and freelance photojournalist Neal Santos worked off of two laptops and an iPad to multitask.
The following is a report done in partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods Program, the capstone class for the Temple Journalism Department. Editor Christopher Wink contributed to this report.
If the first 20 years of the Internet were dominated by the written word, giving rise to bloggers and journalist celebrities with the help of text-first social media, the next 20 might likely be the long touted rise of the visual web.

The last decade saw the rise of the modern search engine, with default results still focusing most heavily on words. But the subtle movement is happening: Bing is focusing on image results, character-focused Twitter is experimenting with video-first Vine, Google is still betting on Youtube, Instagram is a new social media staple and Facebook, which rose to prominence on the back of party pictures, has made the visual the foundation for its mobile strategy.

There are a number of factors feeding this trend:

  1. The ever expanding free multimedia hosting offerings for video, photo and the like
  2. Trends in image-first web design and exploding mobile usage with a focus on quickly digestible multimedia offerings
  3. Advancing analytics tools aimed at tracking visual search and command.
  4. Improving Internet and 4G browsing speeds to consume larger files online (like video and photos)
  5. The proliferation in devices that can create high-quality photos and video.

So in the way that writers have felt so comfortable online — LiveJournal will be 15 years old next year — photojournalists and videographers are coming into their own for world wide web stardom.

Think: Instagram and Vine, a better monetized Youtube, a Flickr revival, Facebook mobile strategy. In the past to be successful online, you needed something to say, increasingly, you will need something to show.

The transition is still happening: of seven different local Philadelphia photographers, all of them had a Twitter handle, but just four were using Instagram. The amount of Twitter followers between all seven photographers total to 82,301 users. The amount of Instagram followers totals to 23,820.

    Chaucee Stillman checked her blog's Instagram account for activity.

Chaucee Stillman checked her blog’s Instagram account for activity.

For artists like Neal Santos and Conrad Benner who use Twitter and Instagram in particular to share their photography, they believe that consistency with posting and regular conversation with an audience is the best way to brand themselves.

“If your goal is to have a successful blog, you have to live and breathe social media. It doesn’t sort of start at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. You don’t have weekends off,” said Conrad Benner, a Quaker City Mercantile project manager, photographer and owner of the street art blog Streets Department. “You’re always talking to the community you’re trying to create. If you’re not connected to social media, I can imagine that would raise a lot of challenges.”

Neal Santos, a freelance photographer and staff photojournalist Philadelphia City Paper has an Instagram following of over 18,000 users on his personal account. He says that the best way to self-brand through Instagram is to share one’s passions. Santos says Instagramming is a passion but it is also part of his job.

Conrad Benner of Streets Dept sat with a laptop ready to blog.

Conrad Benner of Streets Dept sat with a laptop ready to blog.

“The company of Instagram, they had listed me as a featured photographer. That was a real boost in, just the number of eyes that are looking at my pictures and just paying attention. What I do with all these people following me? I just stay true to myself,” said Santos.

  • is chronicling the homicide epidemic in Philadelphia. Its founders? Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Jim MacMillan and longtime Philadelphia photographer Joseph Kaczmarek.
  • Look at Chaucee Stillman, a freelance fashion writer. A version of Stillman five years ago might have likely been found using Blogspot, offering up 350px wide images to convey a point she would write about. Today, her design heavy Streets and Stripes site, which is a platform to grow awareness of her photography and writing, puts images first.
  • Philly Love Notes, the popular side project from scientist turned social media manager Emma Fried-Cassorla, is no doubt still full of the written word, but no post is complete without Cassorla collecting photos to back them.
  • Hugh E. Dillon has branded himself as Philadelphia’s lone paparazzi, but even with the market cornered, a thirst for his images of celebrity sightings has to have only grown in recent years, as he’s picked up Philadelphia magazine and other local clients to supplement his sales to the national star-watchers.
  • The Philadelphia Daily News style blog Street Gazing from Reuben “Big Rube” Harley is surely part of a trend on its own. Newspapers have rolled out photoblogs in recent years with nearly the same consistency as they scrambled to launch editorial blogs not too long ago.

The rub here is that in the same way mobile strategy is becoming a pre-requisite for launching a new online venture, so, too, might images tie to the storytelling of all organizations and people in the way that the web made all of us publishers of the written word.

A writer or blogger without the camera, the know-how and the interest to put images first might soon look like something of a dinosaur in the still-maturing world of web content.

Companies: Philadelphia Daily News

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