Why Instagram Sucks. ~ Ryan Pinkard

Via Ryan Pinkard
on Jul 27, 2012
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Flickr: rondostar

Instagram is changing the world of photography.

If you haven’t used the Internet since 2009, the iPhone app that Facebook bought for $1 billion dollars applies artsy, interesting filters to your cellphone images to create instant art. So instead of settling for that boring image of a tree you took, you can have an image of a tree with vintage colors, a vignette and fake lens flare—all with the single tap of a finger.

Boom. You now have art.

Not only that, but you get to upload your art to the social media platform of your choice—Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram itself—so your friends and strangers can vote on how awesome your image is.

Pretty great, huh? Now let me say something controversial:

Instagram is bad for photography and bad for art.

I will admit—I’m a college-level photography student, I use Instagram recreationally and I was quickly charmed by its accessible allure. As a consequence of my generation’s nostalgia, I like old, flawed images to a degree I can’t quite explain. I understand the success of the app entirely, and still find amazement in how it can improve a lackluster cellphone image to my tastes.

So what’s my issue?

People have called Instagram a democratizing force, empowering anyone to be creative. I have a problem with this—I don’t think it works. Throwing a filter over an otherwise everyday image is not creative, it’s borderline lazy. A hypersaturated picture of your breakfast cereal is still a picture of your breakfast.

Art, or at least good art, is not just about looks—you need content.

If art is about personal expression, what are you expressing with a bowl of cereal? The narcissism of social media has a significant role in this behavior. Whether you tweet it or Instagram it, no one really cares what you had for breakfast. And given this social media aspect, is art also supposed to be a popularity contest where the “likes” determine the image’s success?

To call Instagram a creative process is a stretch. The trial and error process of choosing the right filter reserves only the smallest degree of creativity. Where a Holga leaves uncertainty and randomness to the process (not to mention the pain of developing it), Instagram leaves a finite 17 effects for its 40 million users to play with. To the artists out there, don’t worry too much—the MoMA won’t be holding an Instagram retrospective of any cellphone photographer anytime soon.

An Instagram of this post being written.

By the way, when you upload an image to Instagram, it’s not just yours anymore. Instagram’s overreaching terms of use policy says that you own your images, but don’t have any right to them.

Hypothetically, if McDonald’s likes the hipster-styled shot you took of their drive through sign, they can use it in an ad campaign without your consent or benefit. And if I like the cute dog picture you took, I can print it on a t-shirt and sell it for my own profit? What good artist isn’t into that?

Settle down now, you can still use Instagram and not feel bad about it.

Maybe Instagramers aren’t always striving for art, and are just documenting their lives. I use it and the guilt is mild. Still, if we’re talking about family-album memory photography here, will your grandkids lose perceive of your youth, as photographed through fake filters from before you were born?

A troubling aspect of Instagram is that most of the youngsters using it don’t even understand the analog technology its filters imitate, and Instagram isn’t alone. There is something so weird and disconnected about an app that shoots a virtual Polaroid, feeds it out onto the screen and then makes you shake it for a minute to make the image to appear.

In high school and college, I have been lucky enough to experiment with polaroids, toy cameras, alternative processes and the darkroom. But most people younger than me have never even shot a roll of 35mm film—I wonder how their experience with these filters is different from mine.

For quote-unquote “photographers” like myself, Instagram can be seen as a threat—but that doesn’t mean it is bad.

Technology always progresses, and there were plenty of film purists who were/are upset with the way digital photography makes quality imagemaking so much more approachable to the masses.

The effects Instagram creates are limiting and void of intrinsic meaning, but aesthetically strong. If applied with proper intention, great things can happen—making Instagram a potential tool for artists, not an art maker in itself. The real challenge for imagemakers of the future will be to escape the doomed to become cliché look of these currently hip stylings.

For photographers and art makers the challenge is the same, but with a new presence—be original, creative and create meaning.

The more complex threat is the cultural interpretation of what art is and isn’t. Just like Grandma says above, “Don’t think you are a photographer, just because you use Instagram,” just like using paint-by-number doesn’t make you a painter. On the positive side, maybe the reach of Instagram will inspire a generation to take these tools to the next level.

If I have any plea to the Instagram community it is this: use it mindfully, not mindlessly.


For more opinions on the significance of Instagram:

Why Instagram Is Terrible for Photographers, and Why You Should Use It

Instagram and its Impact on the World of Photography

26 Kinds Of Instagram Photos The World Can Live Without

The World’s Most Boring Instagram Photos {Tumblr}

Instagram Abuse—Stop Giving Food Photography a Bad Name

Is Instagram the Best Thing to Ever Happen to Photography? {Video}

(Thanks to Adán De La Garza)


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About Ryan Pinkard

Ryan Pinkard is an editorial intern at Elephant Journal. He is a wanderlust backpack journalist in training, and a student at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Find his writing and his images from around the world at ryanpinkard.com. Follow his reviews and exploits on music at milkdrinkscat.tumblr.com.


22 Responses to “Why Instagram Sucks. ~ Ryan Pinkard”

  1. Well done, Ryan. You have quickly become one of my favorite elephant writers.


  2. Brandi says:

    I think your ego got the best of you here. It's fun, easy, and a great way to share experiences. And who knows? Maybe some people using the app creating low-brow art will become inspired to take on the real deal of photo. Let people play…it's how we discover.

  3. Laura says:

    The fast food of photography. Sucks but so easy…:)

  4. @tom_zorro says:

    But you can say the same for anything now such as most of these zen quotes people throw at you , in other words professing to validate their own qualities by associating with others who said it.

    This just as BS too and nothing more than spiritual materialism imo

  5. @tom_zorro says:

    I like quotes but its almost cliche where you get these " new agey " types or " starry eyed students " who behave as if they are the people their quoting themselves – usually with no beef to back it up , in fact id say Twitter itself and all social media is terrible tool for encouraging this

  6. @tom_zorro says:

    I am an artist by background too and agree with Ryan its not art because its jumps the whole process involved in reaching it , and ( the most important part ) and focuses on the outcome not how you reached it. Its like when I used fl studio to create songs i have no right too , there is some skill but i am by no means a musician .

  7. […] respectfully disagree with those who would fault Instagram for “too much bad art.” It turns us all into artists—perhaps not great ones—but active ones, looking out instead of […]

  8. jpsurfyogi says:

    Perhaps we should all weave our own cloth, to remember how it's done. Or mix our own paints? Isn't photography in general (portraits, at least) a cheap-n-easy-fication of the painted portrait?
    I say, bring on the future, it's fun. And it's good. And even essential, perhaps. No disrespect to the old-school photographic artist, naturally. But like you said, even DIGITAL photography was seen as a cheapening of the art form not long ago. (and still is, by some.)
    Art cannot afford to be too "precious" to be allowed to evolve. When evolution happens, it should inspire us to reach further! To prove the value of our chosen medium! To show WHY & HOW "old school" is better!
    But why frump about things growing in a way that we wouldn't have chosen, or begrudging how others make use of music or paint or dance or any means of expression in a way that isn't "serious" in our personal estimation?

  9. Christian says:

    I agree with you completely. I just had a conversation to my friend about this today. Instagram is the auto-tune of art. Period.

  10. Jerk McDouche says:

    First off, i hate instagram also because it caters to idiots' oversized egos and convinces them they are artists because they can apply three retarded filters to a very bad and amateuristic photo. But something in your article made me tick.
    "I like old, flawed images to a degree I can’t quite explain", not to worry, I can : because everybody's doing it. You don't wan't to be left out, no one wants to be the recluse kid at the back of the room, because the recluse kid at the back of the room never scores chicks. Simple as that. A while ago some popular hipster douchebag decided vintage was the new "arty sophistication" (probably because recycling something allready done is easier than creating something new), and everyone of you mindless and tasteless sheeples follow that trend ever since. People are so easy to decypher, what pisses me off is that they like to think of themselves as sophisticated and cultivated, when they clearly are just indulging themselves in herd mentality.

  11. Andy says:

    I stopped reading when you said Instagram was bad for photography and bad for art. As an artist, you should understand how subjective art is. If a photo on Instagram moves someone in the same way that others are moved by photography in Smithsonian or National Geographic, who are you to say that’s a bad thing? I submit that when used for photography, Instagram is GOOD for art. The problem seems to be that instead of being used for photography, it’s more-commonly used as a type of popularity contest by kids, and that’s a much bigger problem than damaging your concept of what art is.

  12. Dwayne says:

    I have been dabbling with photography since 1988. I have used negative film and digital cameras. I was using Instagram for a while and was starting to encounter problems with it. They closed my account twice and I did not violate their terms of use. I have not posted any inappropriate photos. I have left only positive comments on other people’s Instagram sites, and others have left positive comments on my Instagram site. There have been far too many complaints about Instagrams poor client relations. There are many great photographs on Instagram, no doubt about it . But for many , it seems like. a fast way to get attention for themeselves. Instagram is not for everyone and it is definitely not for me! I am glad that I deleted my account yesterday !

  13. Hugh says:

    It's fun to see butt-hurt hipsters bitching about this article. Instagram is not art and I'm as well fine with whoever wants to have fun with it. Instagram is pure management of posmodern nostalgia. No production, only consuption and reproduction. Bottom line, again: you are not an artist nor have artistic talent because you get likes from the crap you upload to instagram.

  14. Nat says:

    I don't use instagram to be "artsy"; very few of my friends do. We use it as a faster/less obnoxious version of facebook. I have friends in numerous states but I find facebook entirely obnoxious. A quick scroll through my instagram feed and I get to see where they are, what they're eating, what they're doing, etc. It's quite nice. Sure the filters bring out interesting colors but the fools who actually think they're creating "art" by x-proing their sushi lunch are few and far between. Social media is a fun way to get linked into your friends' lives; don't take it to seriously, be happy, and call your mom! (lol just kidding, but really nothing beats an old fashioned phone call with a close friend or family member, balance is key in this day and age)

  15. Britney says:

    Instagram is free for the public, mostly teens from my vantage point. Buy a domain, (Dot Com) if your a serious artist….

  16. LikeBlocker says:

    Given that Instagram is in the hands of the masses, it's hard to condemn those that use it for being awful photographers. The joys of modern technology gives the average person access to things they could never have dreamt of a few years ago. However, the real issue here is how Instagram and other social networks have put an exact number on things that are meant to be, and have always been subjective.

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