Has Instagram changed the way you engage with photography?
Instagram was great in the beginning. I jumped over from 500px and I enjoyed the social aspect that came with interacting with other photographers. But now that everyone with an iPhone and an Instagram account is a “photographer”, my opinions on social media have changed. I’ve had a camera since I was 10, a masters in fine art photography, and a 12 year career in commercial photography before digital ever happened. Galleries and print were the only ways to get your work out there. Now I’m getting back to that, the true feel of photography. I shoot film again, focus on my website, submitting to galleries, and printing books. I decided that instead of giving something else all my energy, I would just make my own magazine. And that’s how I ended up here. I started writing and sharing photos, and in about a month my magazine will go to print. So much more rewarding than social media. I still look through instagram occasionally. YouTube is better for inspiration and knowledge in my opinion. What social media makes you forget is that we survived long before it was ever here, and there are countless professional photographers who have great careers and don’t use social media. Now that I am focused on my own projects off social media, I don’t even have time for it anymore, it has become secondary, if even a consideration at all. Just shift your focus to your work and your ideas, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
I have been a photographer since I was 15, and a pro for a dozen years before a career in digital design. I am old enough to know what it was like to see great photography ONLY in a gallery or a book, and young enough to be working with AI as well as digital media. I find the black hole of IG and other social media outlets to be dispiriting, as one can put good solid work up, get some approval, then it drops into a hole forever. There is a thankless aspect of it, as the stream of bits rolls on swallowing everyone's work up for the benefit of the platform, not the people viewing it. I am in the process of printing digital color again and loving the substantialness of a print. I find that the only thing one can bank on in posting scrolling imagery is a "score" and random, stupid and sometimes unpleasant comments. It is amazing. though. though, to see how human perception of art is always shifting, constantly updating for the current moment in time, and letting go the vast majority of work created before.
The biggest lie of IG in its current iteration is that if you consume more, you can create more. But the reality is that the more you consume, the less you create… the less you live.
For the artist, the photographer, it is taking the very foundation it needs to create and share the work. Henri Cartier-Bresson said, “We photo-reporters are people who supply information to a world in a hurry, a world weighted down with preoccupations, prone to cacophony, and full of beings with a hunger for information and needing the companionship of images.” How can we supply the world with images when the pressure to be in a hurry and create so much content catch up with anyone? Less attainable in a feed full of ads and sponsored posts that drive the viewer OUT of the app and into a checkout page. It is requiring more from the artist to pause, retract and THEN come back to the platform to engage.
It promotes disassociation and mindless scrolling because we are taking all of the noise in and overwhelming our systems without processing it.
Photography was a lifestyle. Taking photos with a camera was just the first step in a series of steps to create photos. Developing, scanning, enlarging and printing went hand in hand. There was a dedication to a handful of images and a story rather that excess.
Instagram robs me of the possibility to engage with work that moves me. I prefer to engage with the author offline and will often opt to buy their photo book and meditate in a body of work. IG will never replace a museum visit or a gallery exhibit in real life.
My opinion is that Instagram promotes extreme shallowness both in appreciating photography and in making pictures.
The good news is that you can always leave it. I deleted my account about two years ago and I’m way happier as a photographer and as a person ever since.
I'm quite ashamed of admitting it but, not only I have the bad habit of scrolling without really looking, but when I take pictures for myself and for my projects, in the back of my mind, there's always the same thought: "Is this picture going to work on Instagram? Is it going to be liked by people?".
I have serious trouble on photographing without thinking this all the time. I want to go back to a time where I take pictures only for the sake of it, not because it has to work in a social platform.
Thanks for the book recommendation, I'm definitely going to read it.
Essentially we don’t take time to “smell the roses” on SM. Promoting of our pictorial websites on SM is rather ideal.
Agreed. IG is terrible. But attention spans were already a problem. I am on IG in a very limited capacity. And I prefer to use it as a connection to other photographers. I save meaningful interaction with photography for books. 🙏
Instagram and social media, in general, seem as though they're the holy grail every creative must have to grow their business and be seen. I suspect this is as intentional as anything else that's advertised to us all. The whole process of scrolling is exhausting (a person can't possibly keep up with every feed on every platform). It's not healthy to even try! IG scrolling impacts my image-making negatively. While I'm inspired by the work I see, I often wind up comparing my work to others and I feel it's distracting more than anything.
Ok, this subject has been a bit of an obsession for me lately. As reflected in my writing on here and my blog. Yes, absolutely Instagram changed the game. The endless stream of imagery. But not just Instagram, it came along, coupled with the iPhone which put a pretty damn good camera in everyone’s pocket. The sheer number of images being created skyrocketed. The concept that you could grow an audience, a following was suddenly accessible. Image makers were getting discovered on Instagram by real art directors, art buyers, ad agencies. It became the place where you’d show your pictures and your life. Your portfolio and your personal work. It took a minute, but eventually EVERY commercial photographer had an instagram. So yeah, an endless stream of imagery that got better and better and now we’re numb to it. However, I do believe that this Darwinian struggle has also had the side effect of raising the visual literacy of the average citizen. There is a lot of good imagery out there. It’s interesting that in this moment, I’m seeing this question being posed all over the web. Now that social media seems to be slowing down. Eating its own tail. Ouroboros.
When IG started it was definitely a photography platform that was interesting and inspiring. The more it grew and the need to turn investment into profit the more it moved away from this. It is now, at best, a time sucking evil, at worst, a mirror to the vanity and vacuousness of huge swathes of society. IG plays on this by asking its 'users' to dance a little fucking dance in order for more engagement. It knows its users desperately crave this and they'll do anything for more likes and followers. Subsequently the idea of any kind of creative endeavor being viewed on the platform is not done through the lens of craft appreciation but through monetization and short cuts. How many accounts do you see that post about 'achieving the film look' or 'get the cinematic look' etc etc. It isn't about learning photography and trying to work out your own style or voice. It's simply a mechanism in which to copy what achieved high engagement for someone else. I don't work for Flickr or more recently the new Fotoapp but these platforms take the way we engage with photography much more seriously. In short they just care more about it. IG does not care about photography and if the platform doesn't care about it then this will only rub off on most of the users who will just see photography as more disposable 'content'. God... this makes me sound very bitter. I'm not bitter I just fucking hate Instagram and its parent company. I'd like to pull it out at the plug and it will all be gone in a bloodless pop.
While Instagram, Facebook, etc., have certainly had impacts on engagement, I still think that change pales in comparison to the fact that over 55% of people are seeing these images on a mobile device, and those screens average around 6.3 inches.
Thanks for your time and writings, Andy.
— (a different) Andy
Thank you for opening up another wonderful discussion. Without taking too much of your time, here are my two cents. I think one specific category of photographs/photography that has been particularly impacted by social media has been "travel photography". Travel has been, for understandable reasons, one of the biggest "influencing" categories. As a result, for those of us who are into travel photography, the line between producing travel photography/writing and doing "influencer" things became very blurred too quickly. Even the requirements of paid travel assignments changed almost right away with demands to produce Instagrammable photos and then "videos/reels". I struggled with this for a long time and started to genuinely dislike the work that I produced. Finally, the only cure that I could find was to put all my energy into my own website (a place of sanity outside of the algorithmic parameters). Substack has also been a haven so far but I know that if I am not careful, it can start to feel like Instagram very quickly and I can fall into the same algorithmic traps and then start despising the platform.
I spose the quality of the discussion has changed. The enormous amount of content at the fingertips makes it hard to focus. As far as feedback, does a ‘like’ mean I’m blown away or it’s just an okay picture. If I make a comment, Im never sure if it comes across as too critical. There’s not much room for nuance in the comment box.
Instagram is non existing for me, as a commercial studio photographer it does not work for me. So NO, Instagram did not change anything.
For the first 35 years of my career, which started in 1976, I made landscapes with a 4x5 view camera. My digital work continues in the same methodic manner, often with multiple subjects in complex compositions. Seen as large prints on the wall, they engage the viewer for years, however, displayed as thumbnails that are scrolled by quickly on any social media platform, they are passed over in favor of gaudy, simple images. I am constantly frustrated by my posts of really strong images being ignored, while a snapshot of a cliché sunrise getting a huge response. Simplicity and over saturation seem to be the keys to social media success, but have nothing to do with good art. I most enjoy showing people REAL fine art prints in my gallery. Slowing going through stacks, telling stories, and giving each print the necessary time for the viewer to fully understand and appreciate my intentions.
There was a time when Instagram was essential for me, to make friends, meet colleagues, scout subjects, find work, grow my audience, but with time Instagram's economic incentives changed and the platform changed, for the worse.