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.
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’.
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.
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.
“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
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.
“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
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
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.
“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.
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