“Pics or it didn’t happen.”
So a common Internet catchphrase reads, used to challenge any over-the-top, outlandish claim. With the ever-increasing amount of social sharing seen today, this sort of mentality fuels the popularity of the ubiquitous Instagram, now just as much of a social networking platform as a photo-taking service.
Detractors of Instagram are just as common as its users. The former will argue that Instagram, with its vaguely vintage faux-filters, debases “real photography.” The latter will be too busy taking pictures to chip in, uploading snapshots embellished with said filters and rich in hashtag irony (#coffee mug #starbucks #imsohipster). Can Instagram be considered “real photography,” or does the application play a major role in its degeneration? To answer this question, we need to know what “real photography” entails.
The dictionary definition of “photography” doesn’t provide any profound insights. Merriam Webster tells us that photography is the “art or practice of taking and processing photographs.” The term defines two separate parts: the art of taking pictures and the act of taking pictures. In thinking about the two, however, there is no clear suggestion of where one ends and the other begins. While Instagram isn’t definitively one or the other, its social networking aspect suggests that it is more an instrument to take everyday snapshots thana means tocreate art.
The definition of a "photographer" is similarly unconstructive, and outlines the term as "a person who takes photographs.” Anyone, it seems, can be a photographer, from the wayward toddler running amok with a point-and-shoot to his or her mother, brandishing an iPhone and intent on immortalizing every one her child’s smiles.
In fact, these definitions surrounding “photography” put it on a different level than other forms of art such as “architecture,” “digital art,” or “sculpture”. The latter terms suggest at an extended process of creation. Photography, on the other hand, is a trade that appears to require limited skill or effort – a “lazy” art medium, if you will. After all, it’s far easier to pick up a camera and click the shutter than to paint a landscape in oils or sculpt a giraffe’s head in perfect likeness. Yet both produce results that could be passed off as "art.”
This sort of easy accessibility in photography isn’t inherently a bad thing. Those that deride Instagram as the death of photography or as the end of true skill in photography are looking over its merits. Instagram represents the democratizing of photography and puts a convenient, simple-to-use camera in everyone’s hand. The program is merely another means to define experiences and capture the ephemeral – many more people can also be exposed to and engaged in photography. Anyhow, it’s the media, not the medium that truly matters.
Still concerned about being judged for using the application? We have the words for you:
"I’m not a photographer," you can say, tongue-in-cheek, "I’m a monkey with a camera."
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.
Photo courtesy of UNIT-E