You know what, Instagram? I’m sorry.
I cursed you and your buddy Hipstamatic for the last couple years. You were destroying our industry, flooding our market with imagery, and making the construction and process of image-making too easy and less intellectual. I was one of, if not the guy who wrote the blog post that started the whole Damon Winter/POYi mess. I cursed iPhoneography, Holgaroids, and Urban Outphittography™. Oooooh, I like that – Urban Outphittography. Note the ™.
I’m big enough to admit that I was wrong. Well, sort of. Wrong is such a subjective term.
Here’s where you are right. I caved one day when walking along a storefront and finding a little window with a mannequin head in it I wanted to shoot. I didn’t have my 5d Mark II, nor was it a scene I really needed to break out a big DSLR and really work. It was the morning after landing a great gig and I was happy. I was excited about life, excited about being my own boss, and excited about being so freaking lucky to be able to be able to make pictures still after leaving my staff job a year-and-a-half ago. Something about that window, that little patch of light, that reflection that made me want to just snap and capture it. I whipped out my iPhone and made a frame and randomly used the Instagram app, which I had on my phone and never used – know thy enemy. Then I posted it and was suckered into a medium I had previously put on blast.
Now, I can sit here and try to wrap the reason for you as to why I am on Instagram and why I am not a hypocrite, but I can’t. I am a hypocrite. I’m using and enjoying my latest foray into Instagram. It has been six weeks and 36 frames (ironically, a whole roll of film), and I think I know why I’ve changed my mind about it.
What I haven’t changed my mind on its role in photojournalism. I think it’s a slippery slope of ethics to be be masking and changing content for news stories. For feature stories, illustrations, and work not labelled as news? Sure and please do. I think there is one last holdout of truthiness out there, though, and that is documentary photojournalism. It is a field that should adhere to its own set of rules and ethics, no matter how the world changes around it. I’ll preach that until it dies (don’t worry, I’m not going there).
Damon Winter and Ben Lowy are two of my favorite photojournalists and friends, and more power to them for using the iPhone for evil (kidding, guys). Their work inspires me, and consistently pushes me to be a better photographer.
There is something to be said for making pictures that aren’t important, that don’t change the world, and that aren’t perfect. I just need to make pictures…more. As a freelancer, I apparently spend 12.2% of my work hours making actual photos per this diagram. That is true. I make pictures when I am hired and honestly, I don’t pick up my cameras as much as I did at the paper. I used to shoot 3 assignments a day for years and years. I wore my crappy cameras out. Now, I have gear that is nice and snug in a bag in the corner of my office and not rolling around in my trunk. When I shoot now, it is much less frequent, but much more deliberate and important. I’m paid more for those shoots, the risks are higher, and it’s my name on the line. Not the paper’s. I lose a client if I screw up. It can be frightening, but always exciting.
Instagram lets me document random moments that don’t need 21.1 megapixels and a Lightroom bath. These are pictures that aren’t important to really anyone but me. They are there just to document for the pure sake of documentation. They are slices of me with four little corners, four even lines, and some borders. It may be just a fad, but you know what? Participating in a fad means at least you are participating. It means contributing the the visual history of what we put as photographers out there. There may be a lot of it overdocumentation now, but it is who we are in the Applocracy we live in. Again ™.
They aren’t photojournalism. They aren’t perfection. They are just..life.
So, Instagram, please take me back. I’ll never be mean again.