But that was an application for a job as an opinionated columnist; in the real world I am less scathing of Instagram and its imitators; they are, after all, responding to a demand for instant nostalgia (In 2012 we want to experience the present as both NOW and THEN). Such apps are often criticised for the shortcuts they offer to half-decent photography, but to criticise that aspect is to miss what these apps are really doing. On the face of it they provide a nice aesthetic for young people to apply to their images before they share them with their friends. On a user by user level, I’m not sure that there is much more to it than that, are these app users claiming that they are good photographers? Maybe. Not that it matters, because Instagram is fooling no-one important, and it never will. Guitar Hero makes non-musicians think that they can play guitar, but you can’t take that plastic guitar-shaped thing with buttons on it out into the world and busk with it. Well you can, but you’d be more likely to find your hat filled with dog-arse and street-fluff than the spare change of passers-by. You can, on the other hand, carry your Instagrammed images everywhere you go, but that doesn’t mean anyone is taking you seriously as a photographer, it just means you’ve got a bunch of images that are nice to look at, effectively a portable version of that drawer in your gran’s house that’s full of faded, sun-bleached, and over-exposed photos from the seventies.
If photo-filtering apps are having any effect, it is that a generation of kids are looking at the world in a kind of pre-nostalgic light. Where by spotting a scene and thinking ‘that would make a cool Instagrammed image’ they are applying their nostalgia before the event.
In years to come, what nostalgia will they revel in? Will they look back fondly to a time when nostalgia became something you actually lived in, rather than enjoyed retrospectively?
One final thought, if I were a photographer, I’d be working on taking analogue photographs that recreate the effects of Instagram, forming a kind of feedback critique where the old technology is revived in order to replicate a new technology that is premised on the failings of that previous technology.
Keep an eye out for that, because you can guarantee that someone will be doing it RIGHT NOW.
Me, circa 1980, before Instagram.
Image copyright belongs to Trevor Smith