By Daniel Pereira
I remember the first time I learned about Instagram. As a photographer on a budget, the prospect of shooting pretty, square images that nearly rivaled those shot with my lovable-yet-clunky film camera, meant that I could spend more time taking pictures and less time searching for cheap ways to develop film (I have in mind, a particularly smelly affair regarding the failed conversion of a home bathroom into a darkroom). At any rate, my foray into the realm of socialized photo-editing made me an overnight believer. Not only could I create cool photos with the tap of a screen and share them with friends and fellow enthusiasts, but the app itself was free to boot. Without surprise, this simple, yet ridiculously appealing concept exploded in popularity – even leading the king of social networks to a sign a recent buyout agreement for a cool billion.
However, the issue with Instagram that has techies and photographers brimming with tiddles is exactly that: it’s too easy to pull crappy images from the cave of banality into the realm of aesthetic paradise. Some photographers, who initially embraced the app, soon found their enthusiasm transformed into vitriolic hatred. In a languid society obsessed with easiness and shortcuts, Instagram became the amateur’s wet dream: anyone with a smartphone could instantly create shareable masterpieces that a few years back would have taken hours to develop. If an 8-year old armed with an iPhone could create Flickr-worthy images, was there a need for Photoshop? Was there even a need for photographers?
Fortunately, photography as we know it, was spared. A phone with trendy software still pales in comparison to a pro camera-plus-Photoshop ensemble. However, though the battle remains won (for now at least), several quandaries emerged from the ensuing rubble. What sort of artistic status can we ascribe to “Instagrammed” photos? Is iPhoneography, with its emphasis on balmy, lo-fi images, the new anti-art?
Since the introduction of true digital cameras in the ‘90’s, there has been a paradigm shift in the accessibility of professional-grade photo equipment. Digital SLR’s (the industry standard) have become widely accessible to enthusiasts, hobbyists, and even people with extra cash to burn. We live in a world of advanced photo manipulation, social networking, and easily accessible information. It is unsurprising that even the lowliest amateur, with basic equipment and skill set, can shoot like a pro, and even less surprising that companies would want to deliver the photographic dream to the masses in easier ways. Instagram is not revolutionary by virtue of its popularity; rather it is a product that was poised for success from current prevailing trends. iPhoneography, as it stands, is no less an artistic movement in the visual arts than digital photography itself, or the more kitschy toy camera movement. In case of the latter, photographers tend to ascribe a higher aesthetic value to shooting film because it requires, in essence, a supposedly elevated level of skill. It takes time, patience, and money to buy rolls of film, gauge exposure settings, and develop prints. It’s a job that only “true” photographers would even consider taking. iPhoneography removes all that.
However, although apps like Instagram have introduced a wider audience to the art of beautiful pictures, they have also introduced a shoddy form of photography; one that is exploding in magenta tones. That is not to say that we would be better off without it. Art, in its very essence, is for everyone; and any progress, which pushes the threshold of artistic expression, should be exploited to its fullest potential. The ship of photographic democracy sails at full speed, but let us not forget that experienced photographers – those who have developed the elusive eye for beauty – are ultimately the ones at the helm.