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Instagram: From Photo-Sharing App to Visual Twitter

Photographers have used Instagram to share their work since 2010, when the photo-sharing app first emerged. But over the past decade, Instagram has soared in popularity. The application now serves more than 100 million users, and some photographers are recognizing there are drawbacks to posting their art on this crowded platform. Lael Corbin, professor of art at PLNU and fine-art photographer, is one of them.

“It has definitely changed from coming on the scene as a photo app to just full-blown social media.” Corbin said. “Now it’s really just a visual version of twitter or facebook.”

Nonetheless, the social media aspect of Instagram can benefit professional photographers, such as Bethany Endo, sophomore international peace studies major and PLNU marketing and creative services assistant, who has an account for her freelance photography. She said Instagram has helped her connect with clients and other artists.

Endo said she enjoys “being able to communicate with others or getting advice from other photographers” through the app.

Mary Perez, senior art education major with an emphasis in visual art, said Instagram also gives photographers access to a bigger audience.

“You have thousands of people who can potentially see your work, versus 10 people you see in a day or the 200 that come to your show,” Perez said.

Another “positive for Instagram is that it has created this intimacy where people can look at photos all the time, wherever they need to, and that’s wonderful,” Corbin said. The immediate and mobility of the app is “raising the level of visual literacy and of photo literacy,” he added. “But on the other hand, it is giving people a false sense of what photography can be.”

“We have a very narrow view of photography right now because of Instagram,” Corbin said. He compared someone posting a picture on Instagram and calling it photography to “taking our grocery list and putting out in the world and calling that writing.”

The flood of users who aren’t photographers, along with the inpouring of their posts, has changed the type of content most people want to see on their Instagram feed. According to Perez, this affects artists who are trying to share or publicize their work.

“A lot of people don’t recognize art on Instagram,” Perez said. “I know that if I post a picture of my face, it will get 400 likes. If I post my drawing I’m going for 100, 200.” 

Instagram can also constrain photographers’ artistic expression and limit the ways in which a person can experience the work they post. Corbin said the unmodifiable scale of photos was a huge restriction within the app.

“Everything on Instagram is the same size,” he said. “There are photos out there that are 20 feet wide, and when you see them in person it’s a whole different experience,” from  holding them in your hand and looking at them on your phone.

“Speed is the second thing,” Corbin continued. “I regularly hear from my photo students that they are not used to looking at photos for as long as we do in our critiques. We will look at a series of photos for half an hour to an hour sometimes talking about them, versus if you’re sitting there scrolling on your phone, it’s maybe two to three seconds.”

Perez said the mindless scrolling through pictures on Instagram was another drawback to using the app as a platform for her work.

“You are already registering so much,” she said, so when someone sees a post that is meant to be appreciated as art, “it registers as nothing. It has the potential of being just another picture. If they’re not interested in those few seconds, you’ve already lost them.”

Endo said when people go onto social media to look at photos, they “expect endless work or fulfillment of expectation,” but that is not the reality. If they keep scrolling, they will eventually reach the end of her posts, and then they will move on. 

“I’m glad that they’re looking at my work, but I would want them to appreciate it, because it is something that photographers do put a lot of time and effort into,” Endo said. “Just taking the picture is one process, but there’s also a whole process in post-production.”

Written By: Lauren O’Brien

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