OpEd: Instagram and the Visual Status Update

Instagram is the latest hyped iPhone photography app.  Since its launch over a month ago, its added nearly 500,000 users and I’m one of them. I’d never used Hipstamatic and infrequently used my iPhone camera over the last few months. Then I started hearing some buzz and seeing Twitter and Tumblr posts with photos sent from Instagram so I checked it out. Figured it was worth a glance.

The app is pretty slick, but it’s not really the filters that make it worth checking out.  It does two things that I find interesting, first you can easily share photos on FB, Twitter and Tumblr. Just a press of a button. Second, and probably more importantly, it’s a social network.  Within the app you can follow people, as well as ‘like’ and comment on photos.  This might seem like common sense, but they’ve wrapped everything into one app and that’s why it’s taking off and will likely continue to grow.

But if you’re a serious minded photographer, what’s the point? After all, you don’t want to contribute to the flood of mediocre images, right?  Perhaps, but I’m not really concerned with that debate.  Good photographers can make interesting photos with any camera, and while the filters can be a bit grotesque, that’s not really different from the ugliness you see with other toy cameras.

The Visual Status Update

Twitter and Facebook ushered in the age of the status update.  We share where we are, what we’re doing, what we’re eating, what we’re watching, what we’re reading, who we’re with and we do this everyday.

We’ve become accustom to the pithy status update and have adapted to 140 character communication.  I very seriously doubt (with a few exceptions) that people would consider this to be great or relevant writing, but that’s not the point, the purpose is more functional, informative and communicative.

After using Instagram on a daily basis for a few weeks, it’s starting to feel like the visual equivalent of Twitter.  The uploads and posts feel like visual status updates, and I think that’s pretty damn cool.

And it’ll get more interesting if more skilled photographers jump on board.  There are already a number of photographers (Elizabeth Weinberg, Jerry Hsu) who have been uploading cellphone photographs daily for a few years now, but I think Instagram has the chance to elevate the trend and make it more commonplace.

I know the counter argument here.  “Why should photographers over-share?  You should only show your very best work.  What happened to a sense of mystery?”  These type of questions are valid and probably worth discussing, but if the trends in journalism and writing are any indication, there’s an appetite for value added content, and more real time communication.

For me, it’ll come down to selectivity.  I’m only going to follow close friends, or people who are doing interesting work.  And that’s really the core point here. If you can do something interesting and add value, then people will gravitate toward your work.

Photographs by Mathew Newton

  • http://twitter.com/OnlyNow Angel Tatum Craddock

    Interesting. I’m looking for something to draw, paint or doodle for my status updates. I often have more images in my head that words.