We’re living in exciting times: digital photography brought millions of people into this field, people who wouldn’t have never before dared to consider themselves photographers. Those who started to photograph with a film camera know very well how expensive it was: prints, rolls, developing, slides. Photography was a serious thing, you really had to be committed to it.
Then came cheap cameras and eventually smartphones with their cameras that still keep on improving month after month. You can take really good photos with a cellphone nowadays. This was unconceivable not many years ago: pros thought that good photography was on one side and then there was mobile photography which was poorer from a technical point of view. Today this gap is narrowing and sometimes the quality of the later overlaps the other.
It’s really easy to take amazing images today, even with a cellphone.
Here’s the thing: the fact that it’s easy does not mean that they’re good as well.
Is Instagram really bad?
Given that Instagram is the king of photography, you’ll find many — if not all — trends on it. Some people become really famous on it because they are really good photographers, some because follow trends. They basically see what works on this platform and then do it over and over again. The result is that many profiles are alike. It’s really hard if not impossible to get who took this and that picture because they’re just the same: same composition, same post-processing (also known as presets or filters), same captions (quotes, meaningless texts, heroic statements). My point is that it always pays to be original. Maybe not in terms of following but at least in terms of credibility. Instagram is a very powerful marketing tool and I’m tracing a line exactly here: there’s a difference between marketing based profiles, personal and truly photographic profiles. Those that are devoted to the magic of photography are far away from those that see it as a tool to get assignments from brands. Sometimes the two might overlap but most of the times commercial profiles use photos to deliver brands and products. There’s anything bad in doing that. The point is that Instagram’s got nothing to do with photography. Or very little. But let start from the origin of this social network.
Instagram was born in 2010. At the beginning it allowed to use very few and very ugly filters and it wasn’t actually even the first app like that. Others like Hipstamatic did more or less the same thing: they turned the camera of your smartphone into an old camera, applying filters that made your pictures look older, like you took them on old films. Instagram was the very first app to make the whole process a lot easier and, above all, it was a social network from the beginning.
Having a camera that fits in your pocket is a dream come true for every photographer and with a smartphone it became a reality. At the same time a very big shift happened in how we were accustomed to consume photography: up to those times we saw pictures on books, prints and so on but from the end of the 2000s we started to see, produce and consume it in digital form. Good thing, ain’t it? Yes and no: seeing a photo on mobile is far different than see it on paper.
Let’s consider the polaroid: it measured 7,5 by 7,5 cm. Today we’re experiencing photography in a rather smaller version, like on an iPhone 8, that’s just 5,87 cm large. We are actually seeing much smaller pictures than 30 years ago.
That’s why I say that Instagram brutalizes photography: it forces us to see it on a smaller scale.
Of course, we can zoom it and see some details too but what’s lost is, literally, the Big Picture or the fact that we can see the whole picture in a glance.
It is not only Instagram’s fault: every app and every picture we see on a phone has a smaller size than it used to be not many decades ago. For downsides like this there’s also a big upside which is that nowadays we can carry billions of photos in our pockets, just like it’s happening with music or videos.
After Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 some major changes happened. The app shifted from being a simple way to share moments of daily life to videos and, eventually, stories, the so called Instagram Stories. During all these years Facebook has legitimately tried to find ways to milk the cow.
At first were the sponsored posts, then they allowed brands to publish their own Instagram Stories in between users’ stories. Just like commercials, Instagram morphed into a portable TV set. This didn’t come as a surprise given that we are consuming more and more videos on mobiles than on our home TV.
The question now is: has Instagram still got anything to do with photography? My answer is: no. And it was probably like this since the beginning, even if I, along with many others, kept on thinking about it in terms of its photographic offering.
But Instagram is something quite different.
Instagram is a visual social network. It is based on photography but it’s something different.
That’s why I stopped getting upset because I saw so many bad photos on it. Of course, its lack of quality was due to the huge number of people that were using it but it was also because people have not been using it to show their photographic skills but, simply put, to share moments of their lives. Exactly in the way it was meant to be from the beginning by its creators, that are not by the way very good photographers.
That’s the conclusion I came up with:
Instagram is the way many human beings use to share their lives.
It’s the biggest selfie of mankind, taken each day.
And selfies are usually very bad and boring photos.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t good photography on Instagram anymore. Among kittens and food and selfies and motivational quotes on epic landscapes there is still very good stuff in it, and that’s also why I started a series called What’s Good on Instagram to suggest profiles worth to follow.
Why I think they’re good? Because they are original, they rely on quality and they are inspiring. Do they talk about the lives of those that took those photos? Sure they do, but in an indirect way. They don’t show what they see but how they see their realities. Photography is the expression of a point of view and it requires brain and personality. How to express it and, above all, how to be original is the main theme of the next article.