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Over the past month, there’s been a renewed deluge of articles arguing over Instagram’s merit as a photography tool. Every so often, tech bloggers, photographers and journalists come together in a discussion over the merits of Instagram, asking whether or not the app has added anything to the world of online photography.
Some characterizations have been less than flattering, alluding to a bunch of ‘kids’ that are enamoured with an app that gives them access to a world that disappeared when the digital revolution did away with the eccentricities and flaws of print photography. According to that writer (and photographer) it would seem that he viewed Instagram in a somewhat condescending light of us ‘kids’ trying to recreate the magic of the analogue past. Others have been far more harsh in their criticism, going so far as to say that Instagram has debased photography.
They, and many others, who decry the way in which Instagram has ruined photography, are ignoring a very important fact. They are all forgetting that Instagram is far more than a photography app – it’s a community.
Instagram may have appealed to many initially because of its quaint filters, with an ability to turn almost any photograph, no matter how bland, into an interesting piece of art. Of course, the app is flooded with just as many, if not more, photos that are anything but art. You probably don’t have an interest in what most Instagram users had for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but that hasn’t stopped Instagrammers from uploading over 7 million photos tagged ‘food’. And some of them are actually pretty good photos.
When you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that there’s far more to it than filtered photos of Sunday brunch. The level of photography on Instagram is extremely impressive. Many don’t even use the app’s filters when posting their photos, choosing to edit them on their phones with a variety of incredibly useful editing apps like Snapseed or Filterstorm. Mobile photography is increasingly becoming a recognized form of art, and Instagram has become the ideal place to share those creations.
(For full disclosure, I should probably mention that I am very much involved in the Instagram community and am actively involved in at least two projects which I have become involved with directly through using the app.)
Mobile Photography Has Come Into Its Own
As smartphones are equipped with increasingly impressive cameras, photographers are able to push the limits of photography using nothing more than their phones. Of course a smartphone camera will never compare to a DSLR, but as the adage goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. While a DSLR has its advantages, that’s not to say that you can’t achieve impressive results with a phone.
There are several photography collectives dedicated entirely to the mobile movement. AMPTeam and Juxt are excellent examples of how talented, professional photographers and creative minds are coming together and putting their phones to pretty good photographic use.
As the art of mobile photography has grown, Instagram has given that community a place to come together and share their art.
Community Activities, Hashtags & More
As photographers have amassed on Instagram, they aren’t just sharing their photos. They’re engaging and interacting with each other. A vibrant community atmosphere exists within the app if you take the time to invest a little bit of yourself into Instagram.
Find like-minded photographers to follow, add their photos to your favourites, leave comments, and before you know it, a lot of photographers will be reciprocating.
More importantly, there are countless activities taking place on Instagram. Hashtags have been transformed into a way to curate the best content available on Instagram. Black and white photography in particular seems to have an extremely active community, with several accounts curating the best black and white Instagram has to offer.
Not only are photographers sharing their work – they’re collaborating. A group of over 50 photographers come together once a week, and post their own edit of one member’s photograph, using the hashtag #bw_collaboration.
Some individuals have put in an incredible amount of time into Instagram to create an experience for their followers. Josh Johnson, for example, assigns a topic on a daily basis, and his 159,000 followers tag their photos to enter them into his daily ‘forums’. At the end of the day, Johnson sifts through thousands of submitted photos and features the best ones. To date, over 10 million photos have been submitted to the ‘JJ Forums’ as they have become known.
Instagrammers Don’t Really Care About Filters
The fact of the matter is that most Instagrammers don’t really care about filters. Most of them are more concerned with interacting with the community, entering their photos into contests and getting featured.
It is that very community that is pushing photographers to try new things.There is no better inspiration than seeing what other photographers are doing or taking part in daily projects that encourage you to take new photos based on certain themes.
Instagram has not ruined photography. As GigaOm’s Matthew Ingram says of the many criticisms made about Instagram:
Running through many of these criticisms is a kind of anti-amateur argument: real photography should be left to professional photographers, real journalism should be left to professional journalists, and so on. Can tools like Instagram be used to post shallow photos of nothing in particular? Of course they can, in the same way Twitter can be used to post messages about what you had for lunch, and a blog can be nothing but a repository for your ranting about cats, or whatever your personal obsession might be.
But that doesn’t change the fact that these tools also break down the barriers for participation by talented amateurs of all kinds — photographers, writers, journalists and movie-makers.
These arguments will no doubt surface again, and as they rage across the Internet driving home the point that Instagram has ruined photography, a whole lot of photographers will be continuing to create their mobile photography art, and will be sharing it with a community oblivious to these discussions.
Let us know in the comments how you feel about this issue. Does Instagram contribute to photography or does it ruin it?