I love photography and I have an enormous amount of respect for the people that are good at it. It is an incredibly hard craft to learn and near impossible to master. It is a beautiful crossroads where science meets art, and the great practitioners of the art are as much skilled technicians as they are creative artists. They capture spirit and emotion and freeze it in time as an everlasting testament to that precise moment in history. They manipulate light and shadow to evoke mood and create atmosphere. This takes not only great skill but a great awareness of the world and a finely tuned creative eye. They are also so in command of their equipment that it has become an extension of their eye, they no longer have to think about the technicalities anymore – it’s simply intuitive. They are automatic reactions to the situation, the subject, the light. The ability they have to capture a perfect image in a fraction of a second still amazes me every time.
Not too long ago capturing professional-looking images was a elitist pursuit of those with an expensive SLR and later a DSLR. Then the iPhone came along. And yes, there were digital compact cameras long before, and there were even other camera phones before the iPhone. But the first iPhone changed everything, particularly the apps, and more specifically Instagram. Instagram combined the basic human instinct of showing off on social media with the ability to turn an average shot into a masterpiece.
Lomo had already started a pre-iPhone trend called ‘Lomography’. This involved taking quirky ‘shoot from the hip’ images of everyday nonsense on cheaply made, expensively priced Soviet analogue cameras. These highly revered ‘toys’ were very basic, and hard to focus as this consisted of a choice of ’near’ or ‘far’ and then you had to pay to have your film developed which took days. All this, only to discover your shots were blurred and unusable. If by some small miracle you had a useable shot you then needed to scan it to share it digitally via the web.
Instagram captured the spirit of Lomography and the iPhone put it in everyone’s hand, and more importantly their pocket. You no longer had to drag around large conspicuous and costly equipment. You no longer needed to understand aperture, depth of field and f-stops, the iPhone took care of all that. You just had to point and click.
Suddenly everyone became a photographer and could freeze moments in time and keep them in their pocket forever. They could share them instantly on social media and print them at home on there desktop printer. Instagram’s nifty little filter effects meant users could adjust their shots to look professional and change the composition by cropping it. It made people more aware of the skill set of a photographer without needing to have them yourself.
The beautiful thing that Instagram does is it makes people look at the world differently. You see supposedly ‘non-creative’ people change as they begin to see the world through the eyes of a photographer, and they start to look for the beauty in everything. They start to appreciate light, form, texture, they consider the composition before pressing the button, they begin to think creatively. They experiment to explore what works and what doesn’t. It really opens your eyes and makes you really look at what is in front of you.
Six years after its launch some argued that Instagram has ‘devalued’ or ‘debased’ the art and made the captured image disposable. I would argue that it has brought photography to the masses and heightened people’s appreciation of the art form, making it more revered than ever before.
Many of the world’s best professional photographers have now embraced Instagram as a platform to showcase their work. Steve McCurry one of the most celebrated photographers of his generation is an ‘Instagrammer’ (@stevemccurryofficial) and currently boasts 1.3m avid followers.
That is why in my opinion to say Instagram has changed the world maybe a bit of a stretch, but it has certainly changed the way its 400 million active users look at it. And I believe the great photographers of the past like Ansel Adams the landscape genius or the posthumously discovered street photographer Vivian Maier would approve too.