Art and soul: Is Instagram destroying photography?

Photo: Ruairidh Bowen.
Photo: Ruairidh Bowen.
Photo: Ruairidh Bowen.

I hate to admit it, but I’m a self-confessed Instagram fiend. I love being able to capture a moment, enhance it’s appearance, and post it within seconds for the world to see. The application offers the user a series of seemingly magical filters that can make any awful photography look vaguely artistic; or rather, make bad photos look bad on purpose.

The aforementioned smart phone app is now an emblem of the modern contemporary age, equitable to senseless hashtagging or the infamous selfie. In just a few years I’ve posted 326 photos and gained 153 followers (although these figures are minuscule in comparison to many pro ‘Instagramers’). At the back of my mind however, there is a concern that Instagram’s contribution to the field of photographic culture may not be a wholly positive one. Being an artistic soul, I worry that programs such as Instagram limit artistic creativity, warp the story of an image and reduce the art form of photography itself. We now live in the fourteenth year of the 21st century, and I find both fascinating and terrifying the many millions photographs that are snapped around the world each day in this digital age. From parties to animals, food and the utterly mundane, the sheer number of photographs created each day make us question if images still tell a story and have a sense of value. I’d indadvertedly snapped over 5,000 photos in my first year alone, which I hastily removed from my iPhone before it had a nervous breakdown.

Instagram’s success was much down to timeliness, where the company, founded less than four years ago, rode the wave of mainstream (and ironically) hipster culture, so much so in 2012 ever-powerful Facebook purchased Instagram for $1 billion. If only someone had told them you can download it for free on the App store. Last year alone, Instagram grew by 23%, whereas its mother company Facebook grew by only 3%. I just wonder whether the Instagram effect is a good or bad thing for art, for it has truly revolutionised the way people take and share photographs.

I suppose Instagram’s greatest strength is also its flaw: the filters. Slapping a tinted effect on a photo may improve its aesthetic qualities, but it by no means makes the image unique. The photo will have the exact same appearance as millions of others, meaning the creative input here is non-existent; in fact, Instagram is the antithesis of creativity. Photographers perfect their craft over many years of labour, learning techniques, the artistry of composition and the skills of exposure. Instagram reduces a great art form to something empty, uncreative and devoid of any skill. Digital cameras, and even the cameras on smart phones have increasingly powerful lenses in this day and age, yet Instagram makes pictures look as though they were shot with a 2 megapixel camera, a backwards step in photographic progression. Perhaps, most prolifically, it is the fake nature of Instagram pictures that most concerns me, where recent events are given a false history. Faux-Polaroid hipster-appealing filters are slapped onto a photo, thus distorting the image’s true story and spoiling the picture.

Having said all of this, I would ultimately contest that Instagram has a positive effect. Technology should be embraced, and perhaps the eternal recording of life on earth is something to celebrate. I could never criticise an outlet that brings art and culture to the forefront in every society and country across the globe whilst also supplying a creative outlet, even if it is minimal. The social media revolution, whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest or Instagram has brought the world closer together and made it better connected, which can only lead to less ignorance and an increased awareness of humanity and culture.


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