Reconsidering our relationship to the almighty photo-sharing app
Andy, Instagram is really about making money for the owners through advertising revenue. Once you grasp that it will make more sense. A photo of naked older men embracing might be great/interesting art but is it something they can hang an ad off of? Maybe not. Instagram's ideal posted photograph is one that appeals to the most people (the core advertising audience). Think about puffy clouds, animal photos, white picket fences, green forests, country scenes, waterfalls, heterosexual couples, fast cars, food, sunsets, cruise ships.....ok ok you get the idea.
iG has come and gone for photographers. In fact it left a long time ago. And in truth, was it ever really meant for photographers? I think we tried to cling to something that wasn’t really ever ours and as the TOS changed we ignored it until we couldn’t ignore it any longer.
We tend to think of it as a community. And for some who maintain that very small group of friends and family, it could be. Otherwise, it really just helps stroke our egos when we get all of those “likes”. Harsh words but if you want to break free of it then you have to come to that realization first.
Build your own community. Your newsletter is that first step. These are the people who will choose to read and choose to interact. They will take the time to read through and comment. If you were to ask the thousands of people on your IG, “who is Andy Adams?” Most probably wouldn’t know. If you ask on your newsletter, everyone would tell you because they followed with intent.
Another good article Andy!
Of course, “Chad’s Garage” misses the fact that Chad has become inconceivably wealthy by utilizing the presence of our stuff in his garage.
As an artist who makes work about sensuality and often has nudity, I’ve been in the same spot as yourself. Even a re-share of an old and rather innocuous Halsmann photograph of Salvador Dali in front of a skull formed by nude women was flagged for sexual solicitation and earned me a temporary ban. I’ve done a pretty good job of posting only tasteful work, and censoring when needed, but its clear that there are double standards at play. Major brands like Playboy or Victoria’s Secret can post far more provocative work without repercussions, while you and I are policed by an AI that looks for flesh-tones and body-shapes that flags or bans people instantly with practically no recourse and no room for nuance.
And this is why: due to laws like SESTA/FOSTA, companies are liable for “sexual solicitation” that happens on their platform, as well as any kind of ‘adult material’ that may be on a app accessible by children. Those children are the target audience of Meta, which is why the pivot to attention draining content like short viral videos. Meta would rather ban content made by & for consenting adults than even consider making any sort of age verification check, or even an option to hide suggestive content. Instagram already gained market dominance, and Meta is already selling everything it knows about you to the highest bidder, they don’t *need* you anymore.
Sex workers and erotic artists were the canary in the coal mine here, and they (and free-speech advocates) accurately predicted that the fallout would broaden and affect everyone. These laws have made people who work in sex less safe by forcing them off online platforms and back into the street, and thats just the start. Now those laws are being used to ban artists who make work about even the most tender of subjects, what makes us human. There are currently more laws, similar and even more draconian that are being drafted.
We have to be vigilant about protecting freedom of expression online, even work that doesn’t align with our own tastes, because the effects will be unexpected, harsh, and difficult to undo.
Until social media platforms are democratically owned and controlled, this problem will not be solved. Their purpose is to make money for themselves, not publish your work.
Ig is a terrible platform for sharing photography
Instagram was never really about art or artists. It started out as a combo camera and photo sharing app. The main sell was the filters you could apply to the photos you took with the camera. It was a gimmick at first. That it become something else entirely, is weird, interesting, sometimes useful, and completely predictable.
The reason why it worked for a while is the audience spanned all mediums, genres, ages, genders, intentions, etc. Did anyone actually see the "influencer" trend before it happened? I dunno, if you did, you were really plugged into something. I mean, that was just a really odd outcome of monetizing images, and I guess it was really an outgrowth of YouTube monetization.
What's next? I like the design your own story aspect of Instagram. We all have broad interests, and with IG I can pull together a mix of my love of music, friends, visual artists I know and don't know, museums, galleries. It's part discovery of new art and artists, and staying connected with what's happening. As a photographer, I read, play music and find inspiration all over, if IG were just about photography, I don't think I would spend a whole lot of time there.
IG is part creative discovery, art and music calendar, and social connection with people of similar interests. The algorithm is a problem, since I know I'm missing a lot of good info from people I care about, and the censorship is offensive. Yet, I keep using the tool. I know people want the timeline back, but, I remember how that was a poor solution to content growth. If you're following 200+ accounts, there's no way a timeline view will help one manage the content flow.
The censorship is never going away. It's going to get worse regardless of who is in power as our country's institutions, if not an actual majority of citizens, swing far right. It's a business decision, and the platform is free. The platform isn't about art, though art, artists and artist communities tend to lead the way to commercial success for those with foresight and connections to investors.
It'll be interesting to see what replaces the 2D screens we currently live our lives through. May well be AR or VR, or some type of mixed reality, which might entirely change how we see and interact with images. Some future generation will laugh at us for using our dopey phones and computers.
Instagram engagement is much lower today than just 6 to 12 months ago for pretty much every photographer I know. VERO seems like a good alternative at the moment for sharing and viewing photography without oppressive algorithms that I hope gets more traction over time.
Let’s get behind an alternative that focuses on still photography, current and historical.
Instagram was never a good place to show photographs but it used to be a good place to make them seen. I have personally always been very reluctant to use it and have lost nothing in the recent changes. I am very happy to use Substack now.
I have sent my fifth weekly post yesterday and I think its format works great for me, as I post lots of photos, accompanied by text, in a diary of sorts with themes that become more apparent on the long term. It worked in photoblogs, it works in a newsletter but I couldn't make it work on social media.
The fact that people hate Instagram but stay there is in my opinion because they value the connections they made there but don't really want another photo sharing app. They're probably ready for another kind of experience, but not the same one somewhere else.
I had a video removed, that I made and insta said I had used music outside of copyright... I used their editor to add it 🤔. Instagram has become increasingly frustrating since the move away from still photography and image though...I get under half the interactions I used to but still feel compelled to stay! On another note they allow some really violent and dangerous content about suicide and self harm, and refuse to take it down..the whole thing is wrongheaded - Nakedness is not porn, carry on the good fight Andy.
No user voted for the community guidelines. If tomorrow, Meta changed the rules, then they would be the new"community guidelines".
It's their garage, their rules.
The disingenuous part is for Meta to call them “Community Guidelines.” They are not.
Let’s face it, algorithms run our lives, especially when you have 95M posts a day. It’s ‘unfair,' ‘greedy,’ and stifles creativity. But it’s a fact of life. Plus, to add to other points of view, it’s a business, which at the most basic level is only about making money. But I love the high-spirited resistance and tenacity here in the ‘community’ of photographers, and everyone who loves great images... Onward!
Appreciate this, Andy
I appreciate that you note that Instagram has a challenge on their hands to discern art from inappropriate work — I just looked it up, and they estimate an average of 95 million posts per day.
I agree with your words, and also don't see easy answers on either Instagram or the artists' sides of the issue.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights, Andy.
Tom Ridout is 100% right, Andy. People get confused by what IG is trying to achieve as apposed to what we are. They have one model and only one, to make money - they don't give a shit if it's a kitten video or some deep meaning piece of photographic art - can it carry advertising? Their measure of interesting is audience likes and watches. Why do we have pages apparently run by a puppy with 100K followers and yet other seemingly more worthy pages - insert our names - with minimal interaction? More want puppies than art or so the algorithm says. Of course, we could move on and leave the platform, but, we don't - we hang in there. Some push the algorithm and get away with it, some get posts taken down and bitch about it and some take it on the chin. There is a game to play and some are in and others not, but, the rules is the rules.
Really appreciate your letters. I was kicked off Instagram last year for similar reasons but no warning just deletion. No recourse. I was so frustrated. Taking control back, by communicating more directly with people, feels like such a good response. I read recently that YouTube is a more creatively free platform. I’m thinking about it.