I used to care. In fact, I used to care a lot. It’s actually sort of embarrassing, in retrospect, how much it mattered to me.
Every single night, I would check the numbers right after midnight, when the clock changed from one day to another.
12:01am. Launch browser. Navigate mouse.
On occasions when I was actually ready to climb into bed earlier, say eleven thirty, I would prolong my day just a little. I willed myself to stay awake; I waited, remaining conscious just a bit longer.
This is the valuable information that I was dying to know: How many people had visited my website and looked at my photographs in the preceding twenty-four hours? Had they stayed long? Had they meandered around or headed off elsewhere into the World Wide Web? And, most of all, had any of them left any comments? Comments were like winning the lottery.
In 2009, about a year after I first picked up a camera, I started a photography blog. Driven by the concern that photography wasn’t worth pursuing if nobody but myself saw the images, I opened up shop. Google Analytics, a free online service which tracks visitors to any website on which it is installed, followed shortly after. Almost immediately I became an obsessed woman.
At the beginning I worked desperately to share content that drove traffic back to my site. I submitted images for feature on other blogs that would link back to mine. I favored posting images and subjects that I knew would make readers linger and maybe even come back. (Dessert images sell, people. Trust me.)
But at some I began to no longer care. This online feedback started to seem almost meaningless. It didn’t happen at a specific moment in time, but rather I eased into a sense that other things were more important. I still shared images, but I forgot to check the numbers. I went to bed before midnight.
I’ve come to believe that every creative goes through this process in her own way and on her own timeline. At the beginning, when we first share our work, we’re worried about what the world will think. We can’t tell, personally, if what we’re doing is good enough. We don’t know our craft quite well enough to determine if it’s actually good work or just something we like because it is ours and we put in the time to create it. These insecurities lead us to desperately seek validation from our friends, from our bosses, and from our blog readers.
When I stopped checking the numbers obsessively it wasn’t that I had actually stopped really caring completely what people thought. To a certain extent, I had been right: photography does gain a certain value from sharing and because of this, viewers’ opinions do matter.
But in the time it took to get there, I have become a better critic of my own work. I know what I like and I know when I’ve failed in capturing my vision. Even more than that, I am almost content with the happiness that I get from just shooting. There is enjoyment that comes from printing my own images. There is happiness in seeing them: the way the colors work together, how the shapes combine for a strong visual aesthetic, and the golden light that in my mind makes good images magical.
I still blog my photographs pretty regularly. If you’re wondering, the times I do check indicate that that the number of visitors I have and how long they stay has gone up. More than I could have anticipated.
The not caring came with the confidence I have in what I do. It’s like growing up: in middle school, what everybody else thinks really really matters, but as you get older, it starts to matter less. We still care, but what other people think is no longer the most important thing and has become instead just a bonus.
To the creative amongst us: do you feel the same way?
About the author: Simone Anne Lang is a photographer and writer based in Berkeley, California. You can visit her website here.