I have blabbed a lot on this blog about how much I love analog mediums of all sorts. If you would like to know more about what I am talking about, you can read this post. So naturally, someone who loves film photography must hate Instagram, right?
Well, not really. I more have a love hate relationship with Instagram. First, let’s begin with why I love Instagram.
I love Instagram
The TL;DR version of this section would be one word: exposure.
I think that the ability to get your images out into the world as a photographer is magnificent. Afterall, our art is meant to be seen. At the touch of a button, your hard work can be seen by hundreds, if not thousands, of instagrammers. When considering how difficult it has been to get your work seen in the past, instagram offers something revolutionary to photographers. Before, the only real way to get your images seen was through either a photo book, a publication (newspaper, magazine, etc.), or an exhibition. But all of those outlets had a chicken and egg scenario happening. If you wanted to get your work into any of them, people already had to be following your work. For people to know about and follow your work, they had to have seen it already.
So exposure is probably the main reason that Instagram is an amazing tool. But that isn’t the only one.
Recently I acquired two new photo books. One was Robert Frank’s The Americans. Robert Frank took these photos in the mid 1950s, a little bit before Instagram was a thing, I think. As I was flipping through the pages of The Americans, I started to think about how easy it is to find inspiration for my own photography now. I prefer physical photo books, but there is nothing stopping me from just opening Instagram and finding five new photographers that inspire me. I enjoy flipping through the pages of a photo book and learning new techniques from the best of my craft, but the same can be done through Instagram. Having thousands of modern photographer’s photos at your fingertips is amazing. Before, you would have had to spend thousands of dollars and a lot of time collecting to obtain what you can find in an hour on Instagram.
I hate Instagram
While Instagram is a great way to be seen by people, it is also very difficult. Instagram is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to being seen. On the one hand, you could be creating really well thought out photos that take ages to arrive at a final product, yet only get about 50 likes. On the other, you can be taking cell phone pictures of your cat that took all of a minute to capture and upload and get thousands of likes. (But then again, who doesn’t love seeing a fluffy fur ball?)
This single fact is what makes Instagram really suck for photographers. Our art must stand beside pictures of half naked girls and, let’s face it, art loses the battle for attention pretty quickly in that scenario. Yet Instagram has become really important for artists.
For instance, in the case of models, clients want to see that the model has an Instagram following already. That means that models must have thousands of followers, thousands of likes, and lots of comments on each photo on their own personal Instagram account in order to snag a potential client. The reason being is that clothing brands (or whatever client) want to know that they can A. get someone who is likable to be the face of their brand, and B. leverage that model’s already established fan base. The same is true for photographers. If you have an average of 30 likes on your images, you are simply not a good enough photographer in the eyes of a potential client.
Instagram also promotes having a very small attention span. I was looking through The Americans and realized that I was actually taking the time to look at an image that was taken before my parents were born. By contrast, an image on Instagram has a life span of maybe an hour before it gets buried in the algorithm. If you are lucky, maybe the image circulates for a week and goes viral, but good luck with that.
More than that, though, we tend to look at any one image for mere seconds before scrolling on. In the world of art, that is detrimental. There is no way that you can understand all of what Robert Frank was trying to convey in a matter of seconds, yet that is what Instagram is designed around. Quick, efficient, frantic media consumption. Your image has mere seconds to get that all important “like.” This leads to some people frantically taking photos and posting as many as possible throughout the day so that they can get the exposure they need/want each day. This idea of immediacy is in the very name INSTAgram. Insta, meaning instant. Instant gratification.
Film and Instagram
I have always loved film. Part of that is because it is a slow process. I feel that this in some way insulates me from the Instagram trap of needing immediate gratification. There is a word, and hashtag, for photos that are not posted instantly. We call them latergrams. By its very nature, film must be a latergram, and I really enjoy that. Because I cannot possibly take my photo and instantly upload it to Instagram, I have more time to care about how I am shooting, what I am trying to portray, how I want it to look. I have more time to think about what that image means to me and what I want it to say about me. Because I am not posting it immediately and moving onto the next photo, I am forced to care about that image for hours, days, weeks, or even months later down the road. The same cannot be said for the images in my phone’s camera roll. I don’t even know the last time I went through all of those.
It is a good tool, but it has its downsides too. I wish that there was a way that actual photographers could be taken more seriously on the platform instead of the terribly lit, terribly composed, food shots taken on an iPhone by a “food photographer.” There are food photographers, and then there are “food photographers.”
I know that all of this might seem a bit judgmental. To that I should say that there is nothing wrong with taking out your cell phone and sharing your vacation with everyone. But what I am upset about is that photographers are forced to be lumped together with the same crowd. To me it is like putting the Mona Lisa on sale at Hobby Lobby with all the other Hobby Lobby paintings, the two do not mix (though I have seen some that look pretty nice—I wonder who paints them. Probably a factory in China).
Anyway, that’s it.