Things to do with your instagrams (part 2)

I posted here a while back about my enthusiasm for instagrams, and mobile phone photography in general. I decided to try out a few of the services I mentioned in that post, because I felt like I needed to do go some way towards creating something tangible out of all of those throwaway images I have amassed.

Here is the first set of instagrams I received from firebox. I was impressed with the service and speed of delivery. The prints have a nice matt finish. They don’t really look or feel like Polaroids, but I guess they are more inspired by Polaroids. They are fun and come in a sweet little pack with a free pen. I’ll definitely use the service again. I think it cost £9.99 for 12 prints, which isn’t too bad, but delivery was another £3-4 on top of that.

In contrast, I wasn’t so impressed with the postagram service. I ordered a couple of postcards back in March just to see what they were like; one to me and one to my mum’s address. They didn’t show up and I forgot about them. Then I re-ordered them a few weeks ago and they both turned up last week! I’m not sure if mum has got hers yet, though.

I found the website fairly unhelpful in terms of customer service. It was near impossible to find out how to contact someone about the missing postagrams and all I was able to do was re-order (which I had to pay for). I wasn’t that impressed with the size of the image or the quality either (you can pop it out of the postcard), and adding text to the card was difficult. I spent a long time trying to align the words properly and they still came out wrong. I had had an idea to do a little project with some postagrams, but I think I will use the firebox prints instead for this.

The final service I signed up for was instacanvas. Again, I like the idea of it – being able to order canvas prints of your and others’ instagrams from an ‘artists’ website sounds quite cool – but the website is lacking in content and style. It’s easy enough to sign up and navigate (though you have to wait a few weeks for your site to open), but there are pages which aren’t ready yet (like the stats page) and it doesn’t look particularly polished. It feels like a site which is very much a work in progress. To me it seems that there is a lot of hype around these new instagram services and not much (at least yet) to offer.

You can advertise your page with one of their buttons (see my widget on the right hand side under the main blog page) but these don’t look particularly, well, appealing in my opinion. Your photos upload directly from instagram and you can pick and choose which ones go into your gallery, which I like, but in reality what happens is people upload much better images they have taken with their SLRs (probably) to instagram from their computer via their iPhones after they have worked on them in Photoshop or whatever, so you see a lot of images (not all) which really couldn’t have been taken with instagram because they are beyond the capability of instagram, which is fine, of course, but then I wonder what the point of the instagram feed is at all. Most people don’t use the filters (they do have a feeling of uniformity to them), and there are other apps which have better filters and functionality out there. Instagram is starting to feel quite gimmicky; a vehicle for exposure as opposed to a ‘proper’ camera app.

(I know, I know I raved about it before, but hey, I admit I am a fickle creature…)

I haven’t ordered an instacanvas yet so I can’t comment on their quality. I will, but they are quite expensive, and at the moment we can’t hang things on our walls so I’m going to wait until we move.

I really wanted to try the postalpix service, which looks great, but sadly they are not operational as yet in the UK. I hope they get their acts together soon and offer a service to us UK customers as I really like the look of their square prints. Meanwhile, if anyone can recommend to me another service which can produce nice square format prints directly from your phone and/or computer I would love to hear about it!

Anyway, that’s it, for now! I have some ideas floating around of things to do with some of these prints. I will update more soon!

© Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012

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 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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