Christabel Rose

Editorial Photography & Instagram

© Christabel Rose

Photography & Instagram share a complex relationship; the latter exists as a space for the former, yet despite its seemingly obvious benefits, it has become a polarizing force within the artistic sphere.

─── by Josh Bright, November 30, 2021
  • In October 2010, Kevin Systrom, a 27-year-old Stanford University graduate and former Google employee, launched a brand new photo-sharing iOS app called ‘Instagram’.

    photograph of a a fruit seller working on top of a water melon pile in the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh
    A fruit seller working on top of a water melon pile in the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh © Anindita Roy

    The timing was perfect: several months earlier Apple had released the iPhone 4 that featured a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera (along with a front-facing VGA camera) representing a significant upgrade from previous models and thus opening up a whole new world of photographic possibilities.

    By spring 2012 when Facebook acquired Instagram in a landmark £1B move, it had nearly 30 million active users. Today, this figure has risen to one billion! For many, Instagram has become an integral part of life, an inexorable tool for promotion; inspiration, and discovery.

    Fashion color studio portrait of a woman wearing chanel by Milan Miguel
    'Opulent Distress' © Milan Miguel

    Yet in spite of its popularity, it is a platform that continues to divide opinion, not least among photographers. On the one hand, there is merit in the argument that it has helped democratize the arts, providing a platform where creators can share their work without the costs and difficulties associated with more ‘traditional’ forms of marketing.

    On the other hand, however, some argue that it devalues an artist’s work; it has become increasingly akin to an online billboard, an endless streams of paid ads, and ‘sponsored’ content.

    fashion photography, luscious and surreal images, unrealistic pictures from Sois Belle by Annelie Vandendael
    From series 'Soie Belle' © Annelie Vandendael
    film medium format color photogrpah of a cityscape at night by Kyle Kim
    "The Foggy Night" © Kyle Kim
    Color portrait by Maarten Schroder, woman with veil and red lipstick
    Untitled © Maarten Schroder

    “I think Instagram in itself is not negative or positive. Every individual is using the application from a different point of view and they have to find out how it works for them or against them in their life. 
    In general, I think it’s perfect for showcasing your work for free to a worldwide audience. What happens afterward (the side effects) differ per person” – Maarten Schroder

    Screenshots from The Independent Photographer's instagram
    From The Independent Photographer's instagram
    From The Independent Photographer's instagram

    The small, equilateral frames are not necessarily suitable for all artists, particularly those working in larger formats, and work is often reshared or posted without permission, and with little or no information or credit (the exact converse of what we strive to do with our own Instagram account).  Furthermore, images are open to plagiarism or even theft.

    Moreover, it has in many ways become an embodiment of quantity over quality, driven by an algorithm that all too often favors the superficial over the discerning.

    Color photography by from the series 'Rodeo Boys' Jack Sorokin, young cowboys.
    From the series 'Rodeo Boys' © Jack Sorokin

    “As a young artist, I feel I struggle to validate my own personal voice when I’m treating Instagram as my primary venue for my work. It constrains me more than I realize. That gamification of feedback and the valuing of immediate popularity has tricked me into feeding its algorithms and not my own.” – Jack Sorokin

    Black and white street photography by Francesco Goia, man smoking, London
    Untitled © Francesco Goia
    Color street photography by Francesco Goia, shoes, red pants
    Untitled © Francesco Goia

    The pursuit of what, rising photographer Francesco Goia describes as ‘a phantom score’, –  affirmation in the form of serotonin-inducing ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ – is a trap that many artists fall into, leading to a dilution of their creative output.

    “Being accepted and being popular doesn’t always imply expertise and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re better than someone who doesn’t have the same number of followers/likes. The people and the public should be the ultimate term of your communication, but when you use them to develop your narcissistic return there is something that does not fit, and social media in my opinion amplifies to excess this dynamic that completely empties any meaning within the artistic creation.” – Francesco Goia

    photograph of a woman taking a selfie in Miami, Florida
    A woman it taking a selfie in Miami, Florida⁠ © Carlos Antonorsi

    So given these drawbacks, how should up-and-coming practitioners navigate this ‘unruly’ space? Though there are some alternatives, at this time none boast the behemothic reach of Instagram, and thus, it should remain a key tool in the promotional arsenal of any artist looking to increase visibility.

    Color photography by Laura Pannack, man leaning against wall, Photography & Instagram
    Untitled © Laura Pannack

    “It can bring great inspiration, connections, and friendships but with this joy comes an addictive quality that can lead to pointless endless scrolling and overconsumption. Like everything I think it depends on how you use it, your intentions, and monitoring how good it makes you feel.” – Laura Pannack

    However, one must always be aware of its limitations, and pitfalls, if one is to avoid it becoming the driving force behind their creative process. Simply put, it may be a cliche, but artists should always remain true to themselves.

    All images © their respective owners

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