Don’t be square (be there)

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Coastguard mast seen from the ground, Shingle Street, Suffolk

I’ve recently rejoined Instagram. My departure in December 2012 was, like many others, due to the announcement that Instagram was going to change their terms and conditions that would allow them to let advertisers use my content without asking. Instagram soon backtracked on this, but I had made the break. At the time I was considering leaving anyway, as I had started to question how many social networking sites I was on, and what I was getting out of them. So this minor media blow-up prompted my exit, and as such, I wasn’t bothered about rejoining once the back peddling started.

However, much to my surprise, I actually found that I missed it.

Around the same time, many photographers I know started getting quite vitriolic about people who use Instagram, and posted articles on their Facebook walls against the photo sharing app. One such was by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian, which pretty much calls anyone who uses Instagram mindlessly deluded. Now, if there is one thing that winds me up more than anything else, it is artistic elitism—so I rejoined Instagram, if for nothing more than to wind up people with such attitudes.

To be honest, I was a little incensed by such opinions, and so some furious notebook scribbling has resulted in the following points, presented here for your reading pleasure:

  • Anyone who is so vehemently opposed to something usually feels threatened by it, and this usually results in a defensive attitude. This is what I believe we are seeing here. Anything that looks popular is immediately denounced and elitist walls start rising, soon to be followed by over blown pompous statements and incredulous derisions that do not really have an ounce of an objective rationale.
  • Photographers do not own photography. It is a popular activity, for anyone to take part in for their own purposes. In fact, anyone who owns a camera is automatically a photographer, and therefore has as much right to do what they want within the medium as anyone else. For good or for bad.
  • I do not disagree that much on Instagram is vacuous and of little artistic merit. Particularly the filters, which I use sparingly and only to enhance a poor photograph. But that doesn’t damn the medium. A good analogy is with that of looking at Punk music between1976–79. Immediate and of the people, Punk encouraged anyone to pick up a guitar and get involved. This was both its beauty and its downfall, as a thousand god awful bands formed. But a few fantastic talents emerged that wouldn’t have otherwise, and they developed and grew to be of great importance to the wider world of music. So to with Instagram—it is there, free to download if you are lucky enough to be able to afford a smart phone, and there is stuff of value there if you choose wisely in who you follow.
  • Many of the people I follow are designers. There is something about its immediacy and ‘of the now’ nature that is appealing in sharing with people who have a particular visual outlook on their surroundings. As well as locations I am unlikely to see, typography, book jackets found in flea markets and architectural points of interest, to name a few subject matters that occur regularly, are visual thoughts knocked backwards and forwards between followers. To be able to check this in the middle of a mundane day is not just to feel connected, but it encourages the viewer to look at their own everyday from a different perspective.
  • Instagram is by far a better designed interactive mobile image sharing vehicle than Tumblr, which, in and of itself, tends to encourage the sharing of other people’s work with little to no respect for copyright. (No offence Tumblr, you have your purpose and are good at it).
  • There is just as much vacuous art photography outside of Instagram as there is engaging and intelligent work. Shit photography is not the preserve of Instagram, and photographers have no high-horse to get on from this perspective.
  • And finally, the concept that something can only be validated if it is on a gallery wall is beyond ridicule.

I use Instagram as a visual scrapbook for my on-the-go visual notes and thoughts, albeit a scrapbook that I welcome others to share in. I do not want to see photographs of other people’s meals or kids or snowmen with or without a wacky filter; so I don’t follow those that post such things. But I do want to see the photos of, say, Dan Hill, the architect, designer, writer and CEO of communication research centre Fabrica , whose City of Sound blog is always a stimulating and intelligent read and who has much to say on all things design related. To see the the experiences and interests behind what informs his opinions and his writing is always engaging, and never ever deluded.

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