Quitting Facebook

*A hush comes over the media scrum as Chris walks into the press conference, flanked by his publicist and life-coach, then sits down in front of a microphone*

‘Um, yeah nah, I’ve just left the locker room where I sat down with the other 17.1 million Australian Facebook users and told them that I was retiring from Facebook, effective immediately…or after the 30 days cooling off period that Facebook make you do. Whichever comes first.
This was obviously a massive decision for me, as Facebook has been part of my life since 2007, but I feel that this is the right time to step away and spend more time with my family. To be clear, I have been spending a lot of time with my family, I just want to try it without constantly looking at my phone because I’m being distracted with incessant notifications and inconsequential updates on other people’s lives.
I will now answer any questions.’

‘Is this going to become a lecture?’

No. We’ve all suffered through people who have found a new diet, exercise regime or series of small plastic containers in which to store their food…and who then bang on about it at every possible juncture.
Nobody likes that person.
So I will not be using this as a way of showing that I am better than you. If you choose to reach this conclusion by yourself, I will not be responsible. But I will understand.

‘Will you still be using social media?’

Quitting one social media channel while continuing to use others, would be a bit like someone quitting alcohol by only drinking wine and beer – but NOT spirits!
It would be sadly hypocritical.
But if using social media has told me one thing, it’s that it’s VERY important to publicly show one side of yourself, while secretly living your real life.
So while I will be quitting Facebook, I will still be using Twitter and Instagram.
WHY?!! I hear you ask. Well put simply I still have memories of when Twitter was good. Believe it or not, there was a time when Twitter was a gateway to new and exciting information. I could follow Mark Colvin and discover amazing Op Eds from renowned international publications, or hear contrary views expressed in a way that made me reconsider my current beliefs.
It was like having a cool big brother who was constantly introducing you to amazing new bands. But now it’s more like a drunk Uncle, yelling his opinions and mocking any sense of nuance. So I’m taking Twitter off my phone, and will only look at it when I’m sitting at a computer.
I’m keeping Instagram because I like pretty pictures.

So in summary:
Twitter = Drunk Uncle yelling into the void
Facebook = Older family friend who corners you at Christmas and bangs on about what their kids are doing.
Instagram = Book of photos in Dentist’s waiting room that briefly distracts you from the inevitable horror that awaits.

‘Was it a tough decision?’

Bizarrely, yes. The evil genius of Facebook is how it has become so ubiquitous in our lives. You can; message people, buy and sell things, log into other services with your Facebook account, and you can start any number of sentences with ‘Did you see on Facebook….?’
So when you make a conscious decision to step away from all that, it does feel a tad intimidating, as if you’re giving up an amazing opportunity. To the point where I actually hovered my finger over the ‘delete forever’ button for quite a while, wondering if this was the right decision.
A freaking website was causing me existential dread!!!
Thankfully, reason won out. After all, this wasn’t a big decision. This was like that time you felt bad about leaving the bank that you had been with since you were a teenager. No one was going to notice, let alone care. This wasn’t life-changing or profound. It was NOT like changing where you get coffee in the morning and having to constantly walk past the old place…with a coffee in hand.
No one was going to get hurt.

‘Why are you actually leaving?’

Hoo boy! There are myriad reasons, ranging from the ‘virtue signalling’ all the way through to the ‘tin-foil hat’. But here’s a summary:

The sanctimonious – Facebook are bloody awful corporate citizens, and the less data of mine they have, the happier I’ll be. I also don’t want to be the sort of parent who tells my kids about the evils of social media, but is still a slave to its inculcative influence.

The societal – Look, I despair of other people as much as you. But for a society to work, you actually have to interact with other people. And not just in a click ‘Like’ way…and definitely not in a ‘I’m going to send a torrent of abuse some complete stranger’s way because they disagree with my opinions on climate change’. We’re still more tolerant and accepting of people and their views in real life than we will ever be with the distance of social media, and so setting up a world where we only talk online, and we order our food to be Uber-eated to our house, and block out the world on our train ride home through head-phones and ‘our feed’, means we become more isolated, more unaware of opposing points of view and more scared. And scared people rarely make good long-term decisions.

The financial – We all know that people only present the parts of their life that they want other people to know on Facebook. But that doesn’t stop the pangs of jealousy we feel every time someone else has a holiday, or buys a new bike, or renovates their house. I mean, if 100% of everyone else is clearly buying things, why am I depriving myself?!
Then somehow we have ended up with the second highest level of personal debt in the world.

The mental – I find myself bemoaning how busy I am, how little time I have to just relax or unwind…yet still slavishly respond to every notification and message. Last weekend I realised that the queue for pastries was going to be more than a few minutes, and so I reached for my phone to distract myself. I used to think that I was actually being ruthlessly efficient in not allowing my life to have any down time, but I realise now that I’ve been depriving myself of those little moments when your mind can head off on a tangent and go where it wants to go.

The selfish – I’m pretty sure that the data and time that Facebook is getting from me, is of far greater value than what I’m getting back from them. If a company, or Govt, said that they wanted to know all about me, and my friends, and what I liked, and what I was interested in buying, and where my kids went to school, and what their names are, and what I said in my Private Messages, etc, etc. I can tell you that in return I would be asking for a fair bit more than ‘a website that keeps serving me video clips from the Graham Norton Show’.

The political – the ‘democratisation of information’ and the ‘wisdom of the crowd’, hasn’t really lead to a brave new world of innovative thinking and nuanced discussion. People still believe what they read, but can’t be bothered to do the work to see if it’s actually true. Our media cycle has become so frenetic that we simply don’t have the time to follow things through, but we seem to have the time to get incensed about trivial things. To quote the great Mick Thomas “We can’t find the time for talking, but it seems we find the time to shout!”
Politicians and political parties have quite literally escaped unscathed from things that in the past would seen them thrown out of Parliament or Government.
Our systems and institutions simply haven’t adapted to the speed and level of the bullshit that is being generated. To quote a popular saying on social media ‘Life comes at you fast!’, and so long as both sides of politics feels that it can benefit from it, it’s not going to change.

The egotistical – As one of the generation who has seen the transition from traditional media to social media, I still get a kick from the idea that what I say and write, can appear on the same platform as celebrities and people I admire. But that has somehow been commandeered into a situation where any muppet with an opinion and a keyboard thinks that what they have to say is equally as important as what someone who has years of experience has to say about the same thing.

The honest – To have a social media account that I would want to follow, people would need either; a life so interesting that that I want regular updates, or a willingness to disclose personal information that appeals to my inner voyeur. I don’t have the first, and I’m not willing to disclose the second. So why put time and effort into something that, ultimately I wouldn’t even want to read?

‘So where to now? Are you tempted by the shorter versions of the game?’

Ah, no. No, I think that the likes of ‘Snapchat’ and ‘Tik Tok’ can safely assume I will not be stumbling into their party, making a fool of myself, and then politely being asked to leave.
It’s a young person’s game.
But there is every chance, that like so many other retiring athletes, I will make an ill-judged come-back, humiliate myself, and then remember all the reasons that I retired in the first place.
But hopefully not.
Instead I hope this is the start of a new chapter in my life, a chapter in which I get to see you all in real life, down the street or at a party, and remember how good it was when I had Facebook, and could simply interact with you on my terms and at a time of my choosing.

Being a finalist in the NPPP

About a month ago, I was working with one of my videographers on the pre-production of a tricky video we were shooting the next day, when my mobile rang. The number came up as ‘Unknown’ and the location was Canberra, and so I assumed it was a telemarketer. This impression was in no way diminished when my videographer looked at my phone and said ‘Oooh, someone’s about to save some money on their electricity bill!’
So I think it’s fair to say that my tone when answering the phone was dripping with ‘You’re wasting my very important and valuable time…please sod off!’ But then the person at the other end of the line said ‘Hi this is Tara from the National Portrait Gallery, and I just wanted to say congratulations, you’re a finalist in this year’s National Photographic Portrait Prize!’

If you’ve ever seen a Hollywood car chase where the driver is flying along in reverse and then does an epic skid while spinning the car around and changing into a forward gear, then speeding off in one fluid move.

via Gfycat

I was now attempting to do the conversational equivalent of this, as I tried to desperately go from ‘Go away telemarketer!’ to ‘Oh my God this amazing, thank you so much!!!’ with the additional degree of difficulty offered by trying to do this while walking swiftly through an open-plan office trying to find an empty meeting room.
I think my response of ‘Oh…that is good’, really nailed it in terms of conveying how excited I was to have been selected as a finalist, and in no way sounded like I was an underwhelmed jerk who was learning English through an iPhone app.
Thankfully, responding to good news like a human being wasn’t one of the pre-requisites for the NPPP, and so I’m still a finalist. Seeing as this isn’t a position I ever expected to be in, I thought I’d take you through how I got here.
BUT SPOILER ALERT – I can’t post the photo that made it to the final 48. So it isn’t in this post!!!

4 generations have worked this farm, and I got to meet three of them.

In it to win it

I never buy a Tattslotto ticket on the basis that I have basically the same chance of winning whether I buy one or not. My approach to entering photo competitions has been pretty similar. That’s not to say that I haven’t had friends and family say things like ‘Oh you should enter that in a competition!’ or just send me links to photo competitions via Messenger saying ‘That photo you took of *insert thing here* would be perfect for this!’.
But these same people say things like ‘No of course the haircut looks great!’ and ‘This is delicious…you can hardly taste that it’s burnt’…so their opinion only carries so much weight.
Plus, have you seen the photos that are being submitted? They’re really freaking good! Who the hell am I to enter a competition and nominate myself as being in their league?
Not to mention you have to spend more money on an entry fee than a lotto ticket…and you have to spend a LOT more time filling in the entry form on a photo competition than you do on a lotto ticket.

My Uncle John, on his brother’s 80th birthday

But this year I made a commitment to actually enter a few more photo competitions, because ‘Oh but everyone else is so good!’ is just another way of saying ‘I’m too scared to enter, but I want to sound magnanimous about it!’ If there’s one thing I wish I’d learnt earlier, it’s that opportunities don’t fall into the laps of the lazy and introspective…they go to the people who actually take a risk and put themselves out there.
It’s also actually a pretty good reality check. In Lightroom I normally rate my photos from 1-5 stars. Any 1-2 stars are deleted, 3 stars are given another look, and if they don’t get bumped up to a four they’re deleted. I think it’s fair to say that my social media feed is pretty much all my four star photos, and I get about a dozen 5 star photos per year. But for a photo competition you need to go through those 5 stars and hope that someone else sees the same things that you see in it.

My first attempt at a long-exposure portrait

The cull

I managed to cull my favourite portraits for 2018-19 down to 20 photos, and this was quite a fun process. You get to sit down and go through all of your photos for the year and pick out ones you really like. The next step is not so much fun, you have to start eliminating photos that you really like, and this is even less fun when you have to start getting rid of photos of family members, or choosing between photos of your kids, or getting rid of photos that you know took a lot of effort to take.
I managed to get the list down to 12, and then took it to my family for feedback. They were of course politely brutal and got it down to 7. I then sent this list of 7 to my Graphic Design, Social Media and Video teams at work and asked them for their top three. Herein lies the challenge inherent in asking people to judge artistic endeavour…people like different things. So seven different people came back with 6 different top threes, which was not super helpful. But all 7 had the same photo in their top 3, which was VERY helpful.
A smart person would have just entered that photo, but because I like to make more work for myself, so I entered three photos (but for the record, the one that everyone chose, is also the one that the judges chose!)

Double exposure portait

The photo

I know most of you are probably just reading this and saying ‘stop talking about your bloody culling process and talk about the photo!’ Well the simple truth of the matter is that the photo that was chosen as a finalist is actually embargoed until the winner is announced in March (so I will be adding it to this blog then…but not before), but I think that I can safely say it was a photo of one of my kids (about 80% of my photos are of the kids, so I don’t think that’s giving too much away).
It was taken on my Fuji Xt1 with the 56mm f1.2 lens, and as much as I would love to claim otherwise, it was not pre-conceived or meticulously planned. I had set up my soft-box to take a different photo, and when this opportunity presented itself, I took it.
I would never claim to have the technical skill to manufacture a great portrait, but I do feel I have the personality required to create an environment where a great portrait can happen.

Man in a hat.


As part of the submission you have to have the consent of the person in the photo (one of the reasons I never entered this photo of Uncle Jack Charles is because even though he was happy for me to take his photo, I’ve never been able to get onto him to explicitly say he was happy for me to enter it into a competition!)

Uncle Jack Charles

It can be really easy to just say, well they’re my child, so I’m sure they’re happy for me to use the photo. But just as I always ask my kids before I post an image of them on social media, I’d asked my kids if they were happy for me to enter the photos.
I won’t lie, it does feel weird asking your kids for permission to do something. But I think it’s really important for kids to have control over how they are portrayed to the world, I would have hated to have had numerous moments of my life documented and sent out into the world to live on forever without my permission. It’s also a good opportunity to show how a single photo can suddenly take on another life outside of your control once it’s in other people’s hands.
So parents, get your kids consent before you post that next photo of them on Instagram, they’re the ones who are going to have to live with it.

I would love to claim I can both do a tie and take a photo…but in truth this photo was taken by Luke Vesty

So now what?

Well now I have to get the photo printed and mounted ready for exhibition. And book a trip with the family to Canberra for the big event at the National Portrait Gallery. And spend a LOT of time working out how I can weave the terms ‘serendipity’ and ‘lyricism’ into my descriptions of my own photo. And retrospectively charging friends and family for any photos I may have taken of them (it’s only fair, and I’m sure they’ll understand).
But most of all I’m going to celebrate the fact that one of my photos is going to be hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, and then going on tour around Australia.
And that’s pretty amazing!!!

Swimming self-portrait