Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Instagram Effect

Instagram is a service which allows smartphone owners to apply cheesy canned effects to pictures, and to share the results in a social network sort of way. As of this writing it is the most popular of several similar applications and systems for doing more or less this. It is also roundly denounced by many who style themselves serious photographers.

The point, for my purposes here, of these services and systems, is that they are specifically built to transform pictures of things into pictures which are themselves things to look at, in to what is in some sense Art. The point is not that the result is any good, the point is that the picture is now an object unto itself, it is no longer merely a representation of what was in front of the lens at the instant the shutter fired. The picture is transformed, however superficially, from a representation of the thing photographed, into a photograph to be looked at for its own qualities.

The results don't matter, what matters is the intent of the photographer. By selecting an effect to apply to lousy picture of sushi, the photographer is making a purely artistic choice. It's not a big choice, it's not necessarily a good choice. It is an attempt at artistry, an attempt to create.

The message shared out in the instagram social network is not:

Look, sushi for lunch!

it is instead:

I think this sepia effect makes sushi look cool!

In the terms of the previous essay, instagram by its nature changes the way we apprehend the pictures in it, as much or more than it changes the pictures shared through it. It's not much, but it's a step toward a little more appreciation of art, a little more interest in art, and in photography as art. Instagram doesn't really generate much good art, but it might be subversively generating a society with more art in it.

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