Watch Idea Channel: Is Instagram Revolutionizing Photography? on PBS. See more from Idea Channel.
Do you use Instagram? Do you love it? Hate it?
There's been a lot of talk about the mobile app recently. A reporter friend sung its wonders last summer; her prescient enthusiasm anticipated Instagram's huge dent in public consciousness over the last few months. The mobile app was bought by Facebook for a big price tag; it was the subject of Jon Stewart's acerbic wit; it's been featured on the PBS Idea Channel (above); it's inspired a snarky (and very funny) parody video of its features; it's even made the pages of the Grey Old Lady. Oh, and I recently did a feature on a prolific (and dedicated) IG user. What's the big deal?
Part of it seems to be the temporal nature of the app; it captures moments within a certain frame of time, with filters reflecting users' moods and visual ideas around events. It's temporal, with a leaning toward the personal, taking the best bits of social media and putting them within a visual interface. Thus, it's become a beautiful complement to reporters' toolkits. For evidence, check out WSJ's impressive collection of Occupy Wall Street Instagram shots. Photojournalist Richard Koci Hernandez sees it as a game-changer. It was used for New York Fashion Week. Plenty of people - journalists and non-journalists alike - use it as a kind of blogging shorthand for what they see around them. Plenty don't, however, and in a neat twist of irony, they've used other social media outlets (particularly Twitter) to air their displeasure. Is Instagram a threat to traditional photojournalists? To journalists overall?
The line between reporting and art feels perilously thin when considering the potential of the app. I happen to like it for on-the-go shots of my daily life, though I'm careful to avoid the "this is what I ate for breakfast" mundanity that seems to dominate so much social media photo-sharing. As a former photographer who worked in (and occasionally misses) film, I find Instagram's range of "vintage" filters more amusing than annoying. Still, there's something to be said for the tactile, and more than once, I've found myself drawing (or wanting to draw) some of the shots I come across on my daily Instagram look-throughs. Perhaps that's the basic beauty of the app: it embraces the sharp, thorny terrain of the present, while snuggling with the soft, messy sheets of yesteryear. It's Now, and Then, and Maybe, all at once.