How I Really Feel about Instagram

I am known in my circle of friends as the guy who hates Instagram. This isn’t really true, I don’t hate Instagram, I philosophically loathe it. That is to say, I don’t enjoy the way many people on Instagram treat the art of photography.

When I talk about Instagram I am often met with a rebuttal as strong as those over religion or politics. In the end we are all entitled to our beliefs. I have a feeling that a similar post as this was written by many film photographers when the first digital SLRs started hitting the market.

justex07-on-InstagramI’ll keep this brief but here is my gripe. People take ordinary photos, what we would call snapshots, what we would drop in a shoebox and forget about as quickly as we took them. These photos do not stand out like the ones we would put in a physical album, that we would pay to have printed or that we would submit to a gallery for showing. They are the epitome of disposable photography and there is nothing wrong with that.

What I have qualms with are people that elevate these toss-away photos to a level of importance not by context or content but by obscuring the banality and ordinary mundanity of the photo with a filter, sometimes to such a degree that the original content of the image is totally obfuscated. That is not art, that is glorified censorship.

My issue is not with getting more people interested in photography or with the community people build around these photos. My issue is when photographers, like myself, who take great pride in each frame we shoot, who edit, curate, proof and print our images with great care, have our art discounted by the filters of Instagram. I might be unique in the detail I put into each photo I put into a critique, gallery and even on my photo site but I am not alone, not even close.

Philly-at-Night-Instgram

What makes the filtered photo on the left better than the original image on the right with only RAW file color correction and some perspective control? A good image should stand on its own.

We invest tons of time, money and love in a photo (and this is where it might sound a bit petty) and here comes someone with an Instagram photo of their half-eaten brunch or their duck-face and all of a sudden they’re magicians with a camera. It’s not that we’re vain. It’s that when we get a vignette on a photo we probably made a mistake. When our film comes out of the wash faded and unintentionally grainy, we grit our teeth. When we shoot a square photo on film it costs big bucks, takes a ton of time to shoot and process and requires incredible know-how on the physics behind light and the large format camera.

When I do post on Instagram, which I’ve only done a handful of times, I try to remember to add the #nofilter tag to my images signifying that I did not use any Instagram filters to make the image. This definitely makes me sound like a crazy person. The only filter I might ever use is in Camera+ from Tap Tap Tap called “Clarity” which does a phenomenal job of picking up details and expanding dynamic range in a photo. Sometimes even this gets a little beyond, if only they’d add the intensity slider to their iPhone app…

Trust me, that was the short version of my argument against Instagram as a function of creating high-art and misinforming the masses on what it takes to make a powerful image, especially without a faculty of ridiculous filters.

You can take amazing photos with Instagram and I have seen a ton of super impressive work on there. It’s still just a camera. I only have issue with the thinking that adding a filter to a photo makes it art. I love that Instagram has gotten people interested in photography again. I Love the community that has grown up from Instagram and have friends that go on photo-walks with other Instagramers. I also know of many Instagram people who get mad when people upload photos taken with their DSLRs onto the site; curmudgeons just like me but the other way around.

Phew. Now to add a filter to a shot of the free bagels and mimosas downstairs.