[in brief] On Instagram and Elitism

My Instagram of snow falling on my campus today. Haters gonna hate.
My Instagram of snow falling on my campus today. Haters gonna hate.

I think what bothers me most about the snarking and condescension people often express about Instagram and the people who use it is this idea that something is only worth doing if you do it the Real Way or the Right Way or whatever.

I’ve never actually encountered anyone using Instagram and pretending that what they’re doing is High Art that should be sold in galleries and submitted to contests. I’m sure these people exist, but they can only be a tiny minority. People use Instagram to connect with their friends and create pretty pictures. Most of us realize that making a pretty picture doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve made “art,” although it can. What is art, anyway? That definition is up to the individual who creates or consumes it. I’ve created things that I consider art, and I’ve created things that I do not consider art—often using the same medium, in fact.

There’s a lot of elitism and self-importance among people who create what they see as “art” towards people who create amateur art-like things for fun. When I first started with photography when I was 16, there were probably people who thought that the silly photos of little kids and candles and whatever that I took with my point-and-shoot camera were ridiculous and stupid. Maybe they were right, but I was still practicing, and a few years later I won a few contests with my photos.

By the way, I was still using a point-and-shoot when I took those photos, because guess what—-not everyone can afford a DSLR. Would I love to have one? Yes. Would I be a better photographer if I had one? Probably, because there are definitely limits to how creative and technically “good” you can make your photos with just a point-and-shoot. But that doesn’t mean that what I was doing without one was crappy just by virtue of being taken with a point-and-shoot.

So it is for Instagram and its brethren. The teens and young adults messing around with it may be taking their first steps to becoming “Photographers,” or they might just be having fun with their friends and making pretty pictures. Whichever one it is, it’s not deserving of the sanctimonious eye-rolling it often gets. Neither of these things is a threat to Real Art. Neither of these things is a threat to photographers who use Real Cameras and take Real Photos.

P.S. A friend pointed something out to me that I hadn’t even thought about: much of the backlash against Instagram is probably caused by the fact that it’s mostly used by women. Just like with Pinterest.

P.P.S. The use of Instagram in photos that are used in news stories is a separate issue, though.

[in brief] On Instagram and Elitism

9 thoughts on “[in brief] On Instagram and Elitism

  1. 2

    The use of Instagram type photos in news stories is moot. That changed the second Photoshop came into the world of professional photography. I felt cheated when computers replaced the original methods. I stopped my interest in photography once film was more difficult to obtain and more costly to process. Before Instagram was around… I was using a brand of camera called Lomo which looked like toy cameras but had pretty good lenses on them. Experimenting with cross-processed film (slide film processed in C-41 chemicals) or expired film was one of my favorite things. You’d get these “Instagram” effects only as a surprise when you had your prints made. So here I am sounding like an elitist snob, but really I just miss it.

    1. 2.1

      I have a Lomo camera! I haven’t used it for a while because it annoys me that I can’t develop my own film, but I hope to get back to it someday.

      I don’t think Instagram “ruined” that or anything. It’s pretty easy to identify an Instagram photo, and photos taken with toy cameras have all sorts of effects Instagram can’t do. Of course, they could all be done with Photoshop, but that’s been around for ages anyway. And before Photoshop you could do all that stuff by developing your film a certain way. 🙂

      1. Yay! More Lomo people! I used to work in a lab in the late 90s so I could do all sorts of developing and mess around with my processing.

        I should have qualified my complaints with the fact that I do use Instagram and think it’s funny to put special effects of glittery sparkles on pictures of my dog.

    2. 2.2

      Losing a technique to technology is regrettable, but not necessarily elitist. Helping people to improve their skills should not be seen as elitism. Skill should be it’s own reward; the ability to perform reliably instead of luckily.

      It’s when we begrudge others the opportunity to learn, or dismiss the technology that allows more people access to the tools that were once specialized and expensive, that we become elitist, gatekeeping our position from the encroaching horde.

  2. 3

    I don’t get the bad attitude that many people have towards instagram, either.

    Understand, I am an art-photo-taking, DSLR-wielding fellow who spends days wandering places looking for “the right” image to photograph, so I do take photography relatively seriously. But, I also recognize that there are many tools for doing many things, and that deciding not to use one out of some dubious sense of “being elite” is plainly stupid.

    I still use my old point-and-click (a 5 MP HP camera that I bought around ten years ago) as the image has qualities that my SLR does not. I also use my iPhone’s camera for the same reason, and because I always have it on me and can easily whip it out when I see an image worth capturing. I use a film-loaded pinhole camera for many images, and have even made a pinhole cover for my DSLR.

    I don’t do post-field processing of digital images (no Photoshop for me, and Instagram doesn’t appeal either), but even that isn’t out of some mis-placed notion of what is “real” photography, it’s because the process of manipulating the image in the field using just the tools in the camera is the fun part for me. For other people, the use of these post-shutter tools are fun, and I say, more power to them.

  3. 4

    As a pretty obsessed amateur photographer who shoots film and digital, my attitude is that.at all that counts is the impact of the final image. With the exception of some fields (such as reportage for example) how you arrived at that image is completely irrelevent to me.

    I personally don’t like many images made with instagram but it doesn’t bother me that people use it to produce images, nor do I discount the fact that some can be uttely beautiful. We are getting to the point now where a phone with a camera can be pretty decent (I went to the Taylor Wessing photography prize exhibit recently and one image was taken on an Iphone) so, judiciously used, I am sure instagram can be an effective tool.

    I am intruiged by your suggestion there may be some sexism at work here. I hadn’t considered instagram to be something that women used more than men but I am well past assuming sexism can’t be a factor in things like this. It is interesting to note that we recently had an office photographic competition where instagram was banned until there were complaints from several co-workers, who happened to be female so it is certainly worth considering.

    I could waffle on and on about the relationship between art and craft skill here by the way as I think it is interesting how technical proficiency got wedded so closely to artistic expression but that would make for a thesis like comment so i will stop here!

  4. 5

    As an enthusiast myself, with dslrs going back to my brick heavy D1x from a decade ago, I concur with Richard that how you got the image is largely irrelevant to me, however a big part of the camera enthusiast market is dominated by pixel peeping amateurs who are convinced that bigger is better. The big 2 companies aggressively market to this segment, usually comprised of doctors and lawyers or other high income professionals. (The fact that these are fields dominated by men does not escape me). There is certainly an element of “@#$% measuring” in the field.

    I for one am abandoning dslr’s for Micro-4/3 camera’s that give me the same versatility as the big camersa without carrying a huge beast around with me. Check out http://www.mu-43.com/ or its sister sites like http://www.seriouscompacts.com/ to see great work being done with tools from outside the Canikosony box. I’m blotzphoto on MU-43 and I really like the community there.

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