The turn of a new year usually marks the end of lists of things that happened in the year with photography always seeming to produce more and more each time. Content builds on content until we have had another years quota of ideas and creative prizes. One thing that has began to occur in the past few years is the list of photographers to follow on Instagram.
I remember when Instagram first came along when it overthrew the pretentious Hipstamatic app. An app that inspired people to hang out on London fields for 'new age fun with a vintage feel'. It started out like this. A way to project your life onto the walls of many, through our electronic devices. It had all the senses of self gratification and instant success so much so it began to create a new kind of work - work behind the real work in its initial stages. It was used to keep us occupied as photographers who are not always taking pictures with tripods and light meters. It was a chance to experiment and play with no real pressure. It created content-less content that we can't resist to consume daily. We forget that we never look at what we have liked, they join a list of names piling on top of each other to make us feel a sense of achievement with minimal effort. Simple and easy, it made photography open to everyone and anyone. This can only be a good thing.
My mum is a regular user of Instagram but she has 3 or 4 followers, including myself and my sister. My Dad and his partner, their daughter and son and their offspring. It goes in waves and like any social media it has a different life whoever uses it. It all depends who is in control of the account. Instagram for photographers, for me, when I first discovered it was an enjoyable experience. Just a place to take pictures and put them there. They didn't mean anything or had any real worth. They were just compressed digital files with badly done film effects. After I shuddered at the thought of a filter on top of a digital file so did the rest of the credible users on the platform within the community. It then developed a kind of elite stature that added importance to the unimportant.
Instagram take overs took over our Facebook feeds to the point where you felt bad if you hadn't been asked to do one. I thought to myself, I will have an incredible week planned and I would have 'made' it if a brand accepted my mobile phone images as art. It was instant success but only possible if you follow the rules or social conventions involved. All of this makes Instagram out to be much more important than it is. It is now an extra to the artist portfolio. You wouldn't add an artist on Facebook without knowing them but you can see their life through an Instagram follow. It is more of a casual seeing into their life without the effort of getting to know them. It is accessible. Somewhere along the line, however, something changed and certain organizations were nurturing a certain aesthetic. A certain style. This style then became something of a must if you were to be involved in an Instagram takeover. If you didn't conform you wouldn't be asked. If you didn't work that way then it wouldn't be shown. Isn't it fascinating how a free app had made this much of a dent in contemporary photography?
The whole point of the app is to share photographs, that's a given. The mere purpose of it was to link friends with friends and share our lives when we were not there in person. But now we follow a photographer with great stature and adore their casual passing, sights and thoughts to the world. We categorize them and rank them in order. We make them the kings of a free app.
But it is more than that, it is a blank slate. For we can put anything at all in the small white box. Anything at all. There is no restriction. If you can photograph it we can share it. Beyond this, the app has made something of a genre within photography where we photograph pretty girls in the heat of a Miami summer, the young limbs of beautiful youth and the bizarre placing of objects creating abstracts in colour. And the work is indistinguishable. When you see a years collection of work it rolls into one large archive of popularity. A content that is made to be seen but doesn't know what to say when it gets there. It has so much of our attention but says absolutely nothing.
As I write this I feel I am being a little hypocritical as I too photograph objects and I do not have a Miami summer but I have the southern coast - for now at least. I feel both a love and a hate for this app. It is another feed to entertain me when I am on the train, when I'm on a lunch break or when I am at home. Image consumption for entertainment sake has become our biggest impulse of late. It takes over. We would be sat in a room and choose to ignore others to see the lives of others. In a time where it is incredibly important to experience life we are a generation adoring the lives of a few in our unhealthy obsession for image consumption to keep our thoughts ticking over.
It is hard to distinguish if this 'progress' is positive or negative. Is it anything? With platforms clinging to their right to curate imagery, through this application process of popularity we are always to be held back with the possibility of what we could have made instead of what think we should make. In an app that can publish anything we like we have set ourselves creative expectations and incidentally rules that mean unless we break the mold this will continue to happen until we inevitably lose interest.
I am in the process of working out where my opinion lies in that question.