The Mythical Instagram High Ground
I should probably give a bit of my background before I start. I am a fine art photographer and former educator. Photography is something participate in for both work and pleasure. My "opinions" are simply that, opinions. I try my best to be rational in these types of discussions and hope you find it interesting.
I have noticed a trend in the advanced amature / hobbiest communities that has me concerncered. My concern is not something profound like worry for the health of the medium but more that only one side of the story is being told. I had the good fortune to learn the craft of Photography at the beginning of it’s major shift to digital. I was exposed to every aspect of the medium and had the unique opportunity to freely mix and match styles that spanned the previous 200 years. I think it provided me with a greater appreciation of the creative process and the means to identify truly great work regardless of its presentation. At least I hope it has.
There seems to be an ever growing uproar in some circles that Instagram is ruining the medium. I understand where this comes from. We can all do a search for Ansel Adams and marvel at his jaw dropping images. I love those as much as the next guy. In fact Ansel Adams is great example of the power that tools like Instagram can have. Allow me to explain.
For those that don’t know Photography was announced to the world in 1839. It became an almost instant hit and made it’s way around the world quickly. It didn’t take long for people to experiment with the medium and attempt to mold it to their visions. Unfortunately, those photographers faced a brick wall when it came to acceptance in the art community. Painting was the "true" art form.
If we fast forward to the early 1900’ we can find a group of photographers creating images that are classified as "pictorialism" . They were attempting to mimic the feel of a painting by using soft focus and movement. Many may not realize that Ansel Adams was originally taking photo’s in this "pictorialist" style. There are still examples out there. Eventually he came to despise the need to conform to this construct and he ventured out with a few of his friends and formed a click called Group f64. They wanted to maximise the inherent properties found in a camera and exploit those instead of conforming to a "painting" aesthetic. It changed the direction of photography. People still said they were not creating "ART". It didn’t matter though. they continued on.
Eventually Photography gains acceptance in the Art community. MOMA and specifically John Szarkowski begin to shape the narrative. Unfortunately, barriers still remain as new processes emerge but this time they exist mainly within the photographic community. Arguments would rage on whether or not color photography was anything more than a fun toy. Polaroid enters the scene and the same arguments are again happening. Ultimately though, the transition to digital was the roughest. It was almost like we watched the creation of a new medium. Solid arguments can be made that we did. In the past you had painters and photographers fighting it out, now it was photographer on photographer crime. Ultimately cooler heads prevailed and we can all pick up our DSLR’s without fear that we are using an inferior tool.
I bring up this long winded history for a simple reason. Worrying about which camera or final output is the "true" expression of the medium is a complete waste of time. It’s like walking backwards. Instead we should all be working from the inside out. The question that is always most interesting is "why". Why did you do that, why is this import to you, why are you showing me this. The most boring question one can ask is "what". If I have resorted to asking you what camera you are using we have both lost. Instagram is not your enemy or an enemy to photography. It is just a tool. If it helps someone express a unique vision or experience we should all embrace it. It is not a threat to my many years of experience or yours. If it were, we are likely not the outstanding photographers we think we are.
Thanks for reading.