Apart from my YouTube cruising, looking for interesting photography experiences and inspiration, I indulge in several subscription services that touch on everything from photographic history to how today’s technical developments influence photographic arts.
Recently, one of these subscription channels included a short discussion on how Instagram has influenced the way photographers approach their art. The premise was that Instagram has completely changed photography. Their argument: its technical requirements and this generation’s social norm of wanting instant gratification and continuous stimulation of the senses has resulted in a new standard for photography. What is that new standard?
According to this pundit, photographs have become more documentary in nature, less imaginative and interpretive, and they have treatments (if any) that make them appealing for a small screen. The latter would seem to be intuitive and logical, but this pundit argues that the same philosophy has been extended to other photography forums – website postings have less imagination, there are fewer grand treatments that tantalize the full field of view of the eye in print or projection. Instead, photographers capture a single moment, present it as they captured it and apply little to no creative interpretation or treatment.
While I can’t say I agree with the observations completely, I have noticed recently that there is a creative separation in the materials offered by those who have grown up with and almost exclusively use Instagram and those who developed their eye elsewhere and use Instagram only as an occasional supplement to other outlets of presentation.
In my own case, the things I post on Instagram are furiously constrained by its constraints. I don’t include grand treatments because the app can’t display them. I don’t submit my most creative work because the app reprocesses everything. And a feast for the senses just isn’t possible on an app built for cellphones. But I think I do manage to convey some part of my artistic focus through the app. It’s hard, though, and I don’t post there often at all.
It could also be that decisions about what and how to post are also driven by how often users believe they have to post. I have had colleagues say they feel pressured to post. I have had others feel demoralized because of lack of likes. I have friends that post every day because they like to share. But in no portfolio, sadly, are there winner images every day – unless, I suppose, you have been shooting for years and have just only started to share. More likely, some of the shared images will be masterpieces but because of sheer volume, most won’t.
I also have other friends that scroll through it every day, liking and commenting. From the point of view of looking at other work as inspiration, a regular stroll through Instagram can indeed be inspiring. But I can now also see how it can unknowingly limit perspectives, as we subject ourselves to more and more content formatted and processed for so small a visual experience. We get used to it and maybe even start to see the world in snippets of what would fit on Instagram.
I recently attended a session where a frequent Instagram user was helping people like me understand the best ways to exploit Instagram. She talked about recurring themes, how often to post, ensuring that side by side images had some relationship such as colour or subject, and that the succession of images tell a story. Her Instagram portfolio met all of these recommendations. But her images themselves were as I described above: documentary in nature with minimal processing and the capture of a quick, single moment in time, followed by another moment in time. It (arguably) worked for that environment. But I later saw that same style on display in a more traditional photography exhibition that she participated in. The consensus view, not just my own, was that the images didn’t have much life – they weren’t very interesting.
As noted, I do post occasionally to Instagram. Like others, I enjoy it when others like my work. But the choice of what to post is very hard, knowing that any work will be resized, recoloured and likely placed randomly in that square frame.
But maybe I should try an Instagram-specific project. Not sure what I would discover but it might be enlightening. Maybe I will discover that I am totally wrong and I can interpret and express myself as artistically as I wish in such a small space. Maybe I’ll give that a try. In the meantime, I’d like to hear an opposing point of view: why Instagram might inspire my interpretive creative mind, rather than stifle it. Leave me a comment.