The other day a mate I used to go to school with posted an image on Facebook that I had taken.
Nothing unusual about that except that the photo was taken in 1978.
It’s a square photo too, probably taken on a roll of Kodak 126 and sent off to Melbourne for processing before it was returned two weeks later.
Someone commented not only on their thick, long locks of hair and the death sticks hanging from their lips, but also on how amazing it was that they had Instagram in 1978.
Considering that the person who wrote that comment was also in their fifties, it crystallised my otherwise wayward thought processes into pondering why Instagram was so successful.
When you look at any of the instagram filters they are all based on the effects of poor film processing, cheap lenses and shoddy cameras. Something that as a professional photographer I abhor has suddenly become the norm, it’s acceptable to not fix your image properly, it’s artistic to leave the film to bake in the car or get it processed two years after you took the shots.
The irony of using a device that is the result of hundreds of millions of dollars of R&D being spent on improving resolution, only to have a program turn the result into something taken with Aunt Myrtle’s Kodak Instamatic, is not lost on me.
Ask anyone under the age of 20 why they like Instagram and the answer will be, “It’s cool.” Incapable, it would seem, of forming a real opinion based on the history of photography and the action of silver halides encased in a thin bed of gelatin, they rattle off the standardised and accepted response of ‘It’s cool.’
Ask them why are the images square and you’ll get “it’s cool’ again followed by “It’s kinda retro like my nan’s pics.”
As a photographer, someone who can still wind a roll of 35mm film onto a spiral in the dark, can taste the fixer under his fingernails and knows what the f-stop is and does, it is this ignorance of the processes behind crap images and the wankers that now profess to be avant-garde photographic geniuses that irks me.
I was taught that if you needed to trick up an image in the darkroom or with Photoshop it was quite clearly not a good shot to begin with. Taking a picture of your cup of coffee balancing on the end of the table and then flicking through dozens of filters until you find one that looks the coolest, means that the original image, that boring one of the coffee cup, is just that, it’s crap. The same thing goes for your pic of the sunset, your sandwich or your dog with the hat on.
I spent four years of my life learning every aspect of photography. From aperture to zone system I attended TAFE in the search of perfection. Every image had to be perfect. There were no faded images, no cheap lenses, only perfection. The art was both in the composition and in the processing. It all had to come together in one beautiful image. Most of the time I admit, it didn’t, but we all strove for perfection.
Now all you need do is grab your phone, point it at some inane object, take a picture and then use someone else’s creative juices and technical nous to create an image that is held to be good. It is held to be good by those who doubtless know very little about what exactly it is that they’re looking at.
What you see on the screen of your phone is packaged creativity. It’s like a home-cooked meal bought from a supermarket. It’s stylised fakery. The emphasis is not on the composition, it’s all on the effect. There is no real knowledge required other than how to slide your finger across a screen.
By all means use your phone to take photos, they’re a great tool, but just take standard images and not process them in anyway. If it’s still a great shot feel proud to show it around.
Instagram is making art the art of photography dumb and it is too great an art-form to be treated like that.