Seven things to do with your instagrams

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Maybe it’s a bit like Marmite; you either love them or hate them. Believe me the narrow-eyed cynic in me really really wants to hate them, but I can’t help it. I’m hooked. I love instagrams (and really I use instagram as a catch-all for any kind of images made/enhanced by a smart phone photo app. I also use vintage cam and Hipstamatic occasionally and there are some others I haven’t tried yet like Tilt Shift Generator and PictureShow which are interesting). I know they’re a bit too mainstream to be cool anymore and they’ve had a bit of stick, but they are fun and simple and easy and surely all the best things in life are and should be those things. I think they are as exciting as the Polaroid camera must have been to Walker Evans when he first got his hands on his new ‘toy’, the SX-70 40 years ago.

And cheaper! The ultimate democratic art form!

OK, so maybe they’re not examples of Quality Image Making, but we all know that you can have the best kit in the world – it’s not going to make you into a pro photographer, or an artist for that matter. It’s what you point it at that counts Evans said (I did promise I would come back to this, didn’t I?). I would go further than that and say It’s what you do with it that counts. He was lucky because he was already famous and established as an artist-photographer so some nice people made his lovely Polaroids into a book after he died, otherwise surely they too would be lost and forgotten; checked into the end-of-the-road snappy stop shop for stray photographs, like billions of others.

These kind of ‘throwaway’ snapshot images almost seem to reproduce themselves. They supersede the medium of photography. They are disposable, junk; the visual equivalent of white noise, proliferating, littering our screens, our minds, our lives. I have this vision of the end of the world when everything has imploded and all that is left are millions of little shiny glimmering photographs, like Polaroid snapshots. Our starry lost souls floating aimlessly around in a void of empty, black space. This will be what we are reduced to.

I wonder then if the criticism levelled at these tools is more about a certain elitist attempt to protect or safeguard the worthy status of photography. But why do we need to do this? Why do we feel like images like this are somehow base, a bit dirty or cheap, whereas say bad writing is OK, it’s just bad writing. If we get back to what photography actually is about, like words, and all art, it is communication. People will always seek to communicate. We need to communicate. It’s instinctual. I would argue that nowadays we communicate as much through pictures as we do through words.

It doesn’t cheapen anything really because all people are doing is communicating. It might be annoying, and thoughtless, but, like meaningless words, we can toss them aside because they probably weren’t meant to speak to us anyway.

I am also aware that the youth-of-today probably doesn’t know or even much care that these retro-vintage style filters are appropriating an aesthetic made fashionable by the Polaroid camera in the 70’s and lomo-style cameras like Holgas, Lubitels etc. It just looks cool.

But why does this even matter?

Is it just because it’s too easy, somehow? After all, all art is about aesthetics, and appropriation (Warhol, anyone?). Nothing is truly ‘unique’. We are always borrowing ideas from other people; things we see around us, things we read, we get inspired and hey presto a new idea furrows its way into our brains and takes on a life of its own which is a little bit like something someone else did, but maybe we take it a bit further, or we put a new spin on it. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of recycling going on.

At school when a child ‘borrows’ an idea from another child we don’t call it cheating anymore, we call it ‘magpie-ing’ (thanks to the great Pie Corbett). I love this, because it is liberating. Not only does it teach children that knowledge and ideas are not things to be guarded jealously, but are free and should be shared amongst our fellow human beings, but it also exposes the creative process to them, which previously might have seemed a bit mysterious or impenetrable. This is how creativity works: you open up your mind, you look, you listen, you read, you become receptive to other people’s ideas, discuss them maybe, inform yourself, and through them, your own ideas will grow and develop (if you nurture them).

This is why it is often said to be a good writer you have to be a good reader, and probably the same is true of photography and looking. Generally, to be a ‘good’ artist you need to be sensitive, attuned to the world around you, and be able to draw that into you work in order that you have something interesting to say.

Anyway, this is why I like instagrams so much. Not because they are really anything that great, or because they are trying to communicate anything particularly deep or meaningful, but because they don’t pretend to be anything more than they are, which is fun and nice to look at. They don’t take themselves too seriously.

BUT if you don’t want them to end up forever inscribed in the graveyard of your C: drive under: oh yeah I meant to actually do something with these one day then here are a few ideas, just in case you are stuck for things to actually do with your instagrams:

  1. Share them. On your blog, on one of the many social networking sites like tumble, Flickr, foursquare, Facebook, twitter, pinterest…. You can share them on instagram of course, but I know that only about three people follow my instagram feed and I think the more places you share them the more likely it is people are going to look at them. Flickr has loads of iPhone photography/instagram type groups you can join if you’re into that sort of thing
  2. Create a 365 instagram-a-day diary style project. Blipfoto has set itself up as a forum solely for people who want to share their 365 projects
  3. Turn them into prints. You can do this easily anywhere on the high street, or use an app like postalpix. Or if you want retro Polaroid-style prints try Firebox. Once you have prints, the possibilities for creating collages and other works of art are endless! I like Elsie Larson’s blog she has lots of fun and easy to create ideas for things to do with your pictures like this instagram canvas wall art
  4. Surprise your family and friends with an instagram postcard with postagram (I just sent my mum one so we’ll see what they are like. I think these look quite good fun!)
  5. Download the blurb app and make a book of your instagrams (haven’t done this yet, but planning to do one towards the end of the year, maybe My year in instagrams or something inspired like that!)
  6. Make some into coasters to give as gifts, as demonstrated by petapixel here
  7. Make them into ‘art’ by signing up for gallery space on instacanv.as where you can buy and sell your prints on museum quality canvas. The way it works is, you get your gallery sooner if you advertise in on social media sites like Facebook, twitter, pinterest and get your ‘friends’ to vote for your gallery.

© Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012

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6 Comments on “Seven things to do with your instagrams

  1. Great post. I really enjoyed it, and I agree completely with you!

    • thanks! Btw you might have seen from my last post I’ve been ill so am a bit behind on things and life in general. I have an idea what I want to send you but I haven’t had a chance to sit down and actually make it, yet. I will hopefully get around to it this week!

  2. I haven’t joined instagram, yet but I’m sure I will once I buy a new laptop. 🙂 You’ve made quite an argument and I am persuaded!

  3. I’ve never used instagram, but man do i LOVE using my mobile phone to take pics. i guess because it is always with me, so i don’t miss stuff. I discovered my camera phone had a macro setting and took some really close up shots of my eyes, which turned out so cool. Love your pics…..if i ever get an iphone, i’ll check out instagram for sure.

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