What is a filter?

Since pretty much forever, photography has been about presenting the best version of yourself to the world. Think back to school portraits. We’re told to ‘smile, sit up straight’, and it’s likely our uniforms had been freshly pressed to look new. In a way it’s no surprise that when taking a photograph it has become default to think ‘this needs to look great’.

Right now I’m pouring everything I have into an idea about challenging people to go without filters on Instagram for a whole month.

To save repetition, here was the post that kicked the idea off, here is why it’s important to me, here’s the way I launched it to my friends, and here’s the literal what, why, how.

When I talk about the why, up until now, this is what I’ve said:

Why do #NoFilterFeb?

Because when you really look at it, what’s going on online is kind of scary.

The influence of social media is colossal and its core user base are going through some of the most impressionable years of their lives.

While black and white may look sleeker and a sunset is more eye catching in Low Fi, every time we tweak a photo we are further perpetuating the issue we know exists: what we see on social media isn’t always real life.

Going filter free is a small step but it’s an important way to get people thinking. Ultimately social media isn’t going away. More kids are going to grow up with it as a key influence and the potential impact it can have on development, identity and mental wellbeing is something we can’t ignore.

But I want to go a step further because in a way, that only skims the surface.

While the core of this particular campaign is about dropping filters for a month, it’s what that action represents that is really the focus.

When we put a filter on a photograph before posting it, consciously or not, we have already gone through a consideration process. We’ve handpicked this moment to share; we are simply looking for a way to make it look better.

If we consider that idea around what goes into having handpicked a moment, that’s really where the filters come in.

- Does this make me look good?

- Will my friends like it?

- Will I get enough likes?

- Is this painting me in a good light?

- Could I do something to make this look even better?

It’s these thoughts we have when deciding if a photograph warrants being shared at all that are the real filters.

While there is the argument that no lens is ever as good as the naked eye, and filters are a way to improve a technology’s limitations, that’s not what this idea is tapping into.

Knowing that what we post on social media is permanent has created a culture of curation. Our past is only ever a few clicks away so we have become more cautious of the picture we paint.

On top of this, because what we share sits in context with moments and profiles of everyone else, it means we can’t help but benchmark ourselves against what we see. And the effect that all this can have on an individual is quite profound.

With so many people only showing the highlights reel, the spectrum of influence on social media shows very little balance.

Everything starts to feel as if it ladders up to the same ideals. It becomes natural to question ‘why?’ when our day to day lives don’t immediately look the same. We very rarely stop to think about what people don’t share, or the details about the photograph we don’t know.

The important question is what all this energy and anxiety around what we project really amounts to.

So what if we don’t get more likes? So what if your life doesn’t look perfect? Is the digital version of our life really worth investing more into than our real one?

Ultimately, when we put this much effort into how others will see us we are wearing a mask that hides us from being true to ourselves. It stops us from being ‘unfiltered’ if you will.

In a way, removing a filter from a photograph doesn’t come close to addressing these other filters. They’re set much deeper in our psyche. To address them requires a huge level of self-awareness. We need to be able to separate ourselves from our influences and really define who we are and what we stand for. It’s not necessarily a very easy thing to do.

However, removing filters from our photographs acts as a starting point. It gets us a little bit closer to being real.

#NoFilterFeb is a metaphor.

It is a small, token act that nudges at the side of a much bigger conversation. The idea of removing photo filters is designed to be accessible, but not literal. It won’t provide the answer to the bigger ‘whys’ we could be asking ourselves and it won’t necessarily trigger a huge amount of self-realisation. However, if in some way it helps steer toward that point of reflection and gets us to think about the wider topic, then it seems like a good place to start.

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