Monday, March 26, 2012

Instagram: Is Photography Becoming the Layman's Art?

Instagram has become incredibly popular for smart phoneusers. The app allows the user to put pictures through a variety of filters tocreate different tints and shading techniques. The founders of Instagram citePolaroid cameras as their inspiration for creating the app. As they say ontheir website “When we were kids we loved playing around with cameras-- we loved how all the old Polaroid cameras marketed themselves as “instant”(something we take for granted today). We also felt that the snapshots peoplewere taking were kind of like telegrams…-- so we figured why not combine thetwo?”

Of the two pictures below, one was taken with a film cameraand one was taken on an iPhone 4 using Instagram. Can you tell the difference?

If you guessed that the one on top is the film photo, you were correct! Not being a photographer myself, I find it difficultto differentiate between a film camera and a photo filtered through Instagram. Sullivan Roger Davis, the photographer of the above film picture, used a Leicaflex SL with lomography red scale film 501SO. TheLeicaflex SL model was only produced between 1964 and 1976. The photograph wasintentionally taken on the wrong side of the film. Davis’s explanation for this technique was because “by shooting through the emulsion, everything takes on ared tint, so it looks as though it's redscale, but it's actually an effect only captured on film, not a filter.” This technique and extensive knowledge of not only photographic technique, but also the chemical and mechanical processes of photography are lost on strictly Instagram users.

Instagram, however, can evoke an emotional response in the same way that a film photo can. Filters can distinctly change the way the viewer interacts with the photo. Consider the two pictures below.

The one on the top is my younger sisters playing at a lake. The one on the bottom is the same photograph filtered through Instagram. For me as a viewer, the bleached tones of the filtered picture make it seem aged. One seems to be looking through it into years past. It conjures childhood memories of summer time, relaxation and childhood fun. By saturating the picture with light, the photo appears to have been taken on a brilliantly sunny day. In reality, the day was quite cloudy. While the picture on the left does evoke a similar emotional response, it is not as significant as the one provoked by the Instagram-filtered picture.

Many of the editing techniques available on Instagram were previously only available to those with certain kinds of film or advanced photo-editing technology. Even then, those with the equipment to create such distinct effects needed a keen eye for color and shading in order to achieve the desired effects. Instagram has successfully removed the need for thephotographer to have any knowledge of photographic arts. The most basic pictures become ‘artsy’ when given an Instagram filter.

Perhaps in response to the layman’s adoption of advanced photographic techniques, a new type of photography is being pioneered. Panography is a form of collage. Pictures are taken of the same panoramic view and brought together to provide an accurate representation of how the eye sees. David Hockney is an important pioneer in this field. He began making his “joiners,” as he called them, in 1970. One of his earliest was a photomontage of his mother, titled “My Mother, Bolton Abbey, 1982.” Hockney was fascinated with the way the compiled photographs created a narrative. This style of photography has been likened to Cubism due to the abstract way it treats shape and color.

David Hockney, PlaceFurstenberg #I, Paris, August 7-9, 1985


Christian said...

I think you meant that the bottom was on film? There wasn't really any red tint in the top version.

I'm basically trying to prove to myself that I know what I'm talking about. Go ahead and tell me I'm wrong if you must!

Kayla Murphy said...

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the top picture is indeed the film photograph!

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