August 24, 2012

The Problem With Instagram

Oooooh this is so not going to win me any friends but just this week alone I’ve had this argument 3 different times in 3 different places where none of the participants knew each other or could participate in the discussion of it together so I decided I’d write a post about it. So here we go.  (And this is extra funny/frustrating because I have a policy about arguing on the internet: it’s VERY rare that I bother. I have no idea why this drives me so fucking bonkers.)

First let me say that my issue with Instagram is not with the app itself, it’s with the vast majority of its users who believe that taking mediocre photos with their iPhones and applying one of a handful of premade filters that 10 million other people are also using makes them some sort of photographic Instagram-using genius. If that’s not you, then stop getting offended, I’m not talking about you! I’m talking about the girls on my Facebook feed who take perfectly okay pictures of their infants and apply filters to them that make them look like their babies were born in the 70s. YOU’RE NOT FOOLING ANYONE LADIES, I KNOW BETTER! In fact, it was that very thing that made me block the Instagram app on Facebook on the first or second day it even existed. In just those 24 hours, people were abusing it left, right and center.

And this is where you whine at me and tell me I’m being a snob, that art is subjective blah blah fucking blah.  Well, I give you that and raise you a Jean-Luc Picard:

(Note that this is not art either!)

The problem with Instagram ARTISTES (note: not you, probably) is that there’s zero skill involved. “Oh honey,” I hear you saying. “I had to frame it and focus it and blah blah fucking blah.” Okay well, your phone doesn’t have manual focus so there goes most of your argument* and yeah, your framing can be fantastic but if you take that much thought in composing your image, why would you INTENTIONALLY make it look shittier and like everyone else’s by applying a premade filter? The same filter used by 10 million other users who could take the exact same photo you just took and who could reproduce it IDENTICALLY by using said premade filters? There is no skill in that! If 10 million people can reproduce your “art” identically – and by that I mean creating ORIGINALS as opposed to duplicates or prints – where no one, not even an expert could tell them apart, then you’re not much of an artiste then, are you? (Blake argues with me on this point, so I’ll just say that this is my opinion, take it for what it’s worth: practically nothing.)

And maybe I’m being a snob. That is entirely possible, maybe even probable and I’m fine with that. I just think that you have to earn the label of “artist” by making art and Instagram is not it. In my opinion.

“Oh but Instagram levels the playing field and makes everyone artistes!” No, sorry, no dice. Just don’t even. It makes everyone’s amateur photographs look exactly the same: like shit. That’s all. All of your Instagram pics are common, not unique. Instagram may have been an art tool in the beginning for the “pioneers” who discovered and nurtured it but now even their photos look exactly like everyone else’s who is using Instagram.

Granted, some people use Instagram to make *some* pictures look pretty incredible. Better than the originals. But that is the very rare exception, not the rule and that’s not what I’m talking about either. My beef with Instagram really boils down to the fact that every Instagram photo looks pretty much the same. They are not unique and you are not a unique and special snowflake because you’re using it. You are not an artiste.

And here’s where you say “how is this any different than using a Polaroid with filters? SUNNY, YOU POLAROID USER, YOU!” and here’s where I tell you:

Using analog equipment to take a decent photograph takes SKILL. I fucking challenge you to take the same Polaroid picture twice. You can’t do it. I’ve been playing with Polaroid for a couple of months now and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is absolutely impossible to take the same Polaroid picture twice. And if you can? THEN YOU HAVE SKILL AND YOU CAN CALL YOURSELF A PHOTOGRAPHER. And for the record, the filters for (the current crop of) Polaroids suck. The lenses are okay but the filters are pretty useless. In my amateur opinion. My point though is that taking a decent picture with a Polaroid camera takes skill. Creating your average Instagram photo, by the average Instagram user, does not.  And the thing with Polaroids…well, there’s really a few schools of thought but I’m talking about my own personal opinion here, is that the whole entire point of using your run-of-the-mill Polaroid camera (as opposed to large format or the super expensive pro Polaroids) is to use a low-fi piece of technology to create something that looks high-fi. (I’m probably using “hi-fi” incorrectly but I don’t know its equivalent when talking about photography because I’m an AMATEUR. Why do people take such offence at being called what they are****? Anyway…) In doing so, you are showing off your photography skills and believe me, it is a skill because taking good Polaroids is really fucking hard, at least with the model I have. Even with all the fancy lenses.

(But hey, if you want to use an analog camera to take crappy looking pictures on purpose, that’s a whole *thing”. It’s called Lomography. There’s TONS of it on Etsy and some of it is pretty cool. But again, there’s skill involved in getting the kind of shot you want. You have to know the intricacies of your camera and film.)

And here’s where I use Charlie as my example: He uses his iPhone to take really great, high-res looking photos. That’s a whole *thing* too y’know, using a (relatively, compared to an actual DSLR) low-fi piece of equipment to take high-fi images. Take a look at iPhoneography. Then note the difference between most of those pics, taken with the same iPhone you have in your pocket, and your shitty Instagram “originals”. Now you tell me which ones are art and which ones are…I don’t even know what because they are so distorted I can barely tell what they are actually supposed to be.

“Hey cuntface! How is using Instagram any different than using Photoshop!”

Oh my sweet little bunny. There’s a couple of differences and a couple of similarities. There is NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER in using a premade Instagram filter and a premade (that you didn’t make yourself) Photoshop Action. Again, in my opinion. Some Photoshop Actions are more like tools than filters though, so I can see how some might argue that they’re a little bit different, but the ones I have are from the Pioneer Woman and with the exception of maybe 3 of them, they’re all made to basically make your photos look “cool”. The difference, however, is that you’re using PHOTOSHOP on a computer and NOT INSTAGRAM on a phone so even if you did use one of the Pioneer Woman’s premade Actions? If you have some ARTISTIC SKILL, you can tweak the end result pretty endlessly. The Action just saves you some time. (And for the record, being an AMATEUR, I do not possess great Photoshop skills. The only photo I really ever tweaked with an action and then by hand was this one, of the dead rabbit, and quite frankly I’m pretty proud if it because I did it all by myself. I did do a post when I first discovered Actions showing them off, but I don’t really count those as anything because I was…showing off the Actions on purpose.**)

Anyway…mostly I find Instagram baffling. Why on Earth would you take a decent photo and then make it look crappier on purpose? Blake says “well it looks crappier to YOU!” and that’s true, art is subjective after all, right? But like I’ve been saying throughout this entire rant, this is just my OPINION. The reason I’m even writing this, like I also said, is because I’ve been arguing about the merits of Instagram all week and I figured I should put my thoughts all in one place so I can just point people to this post for future reference. I do not, I repeat: I DO NOT, want to argue about Instagram anymore. I’m done. These are my feelings. This is not an argument. This is not a discussion. (okay maybe it can be a bit of a discussion, but I’m not spending all day at the computer again today.) I should probably just turn comments off and leave it at that but I’m not going to, feel free to post your own thoughts about Instagram, photography, art in general and whatnot, but know that I’m probably not going to argue with you.

 What I guess I’ll leave off with is that most of my actual friends*** don’t abuse the shit out of Instagram. And I’d rather look at an “artsy” picture than a normal one some of the time. I mean, like I said, some people use Instagram to enhance their photos and it works out, my main issue when it comes to my friends is when it distorts photos needlessly or makes normal snapshots look arty for no reason. For example (and I’m sorry to the person who just posted this, if you’re reading this, I’m not meaning to single you out which is why I’m not going to say who you are) someone on my Twitter feed just posted an Instagram picture of a new pair of earrings she bought. It’s a picture of her hand holding up the earrings on the plastic card thing they came on. Was it really necessary to “enhance” that picture by adding a blurry border to it? I mean, there’s nothing WRONG with doing that and the person who did it is not calling herself an “artiste” or anything like that, I guess I just don’t understand the point in taking all those extra steps to “enhance” a photo in a way that’s completely (to me) unnecessary. The earrings look the same with or without the border. In fact the border actually (to me) detracts from the photo’s purpose of showing off my friend’s new earrings because all I can think about when I look at that photo is “why?” And that’s pretty much why I blocked Instagram from my Facebook newsfeed in the first place.

Oh and one more thing before I end this post that’s probably going to get me flamed to hell and back: Instagram does have a silver-lining, I think. In arguing about it during the past week, a few of my pro-Instagram friends have admitted that they really only use it because they’re lazy but that Instagram has made them more interested in “real” photography. One friend said they were planning on dusting off their DSLR and learning how to use it. If she actually does, that’s a good thing! (And I also think that a good portion of my friends who do use Instagram are also using it because they’re lazy and/or Instagram is just handier than bringing a DSLR everywhere. I get that. I do. They’re capable of so much more though, which is another reason why I kinda find the rampant use of Instagram so disappointing.)

And I think that’s it. *braces self for impact*

(*I had a friend argue with me that iPhones have manual focus. I don’t, nor would I ever, have an iPhone so I have no idea if it actually has manual focus or if she’s just talking about zoom. If it has manual focus I stand corrected on that point, but you aren’t able to adjust depth of field so neener neener neener.)

(**Actually, I think I tweaked this one with an Action too but I forget and can’t find the original. I’m pretty positive I was lazy with that one and didn’t tweak it after applying the Action though. And I guess I like taking pictures of dead things.)

(***As opposed to Facebook acquaintances.)\

(****Originally I wrote “being called a fucking spade”, which Charlie said was racist. I didn’t know and had never heard of that. I was talking about the term “calling a spade a spade”, which is a card term, as in the suit in a deck of cards. That term is not racist, but calling someone a “spade” without that context apparently is. At least it is in the US. I’ve changed what I wrote because I didn’t make that distinction in the way I worded it and it wasn’t important to the post anyway, so I apologize if I offended anyone who was wondering why I’d say that. I honestly had no idea there was a distinction to be made.)


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  1. scutterman says:

    I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said there. But I find it so easy to ignore instagram, partly because no-one I know uses it and partly because I’m not a very visual thinker. When I see a picture I see the subject and the intent but not the details so it doesn’t matter to me if it has a ton of filters applied, I mentally remove them and focus on what my mind thinks I need to see.

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