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Is Instagram 'debasing photography'?

By dpreview staff on Jul 19, 2012 at 19:41 GMT

Mobile apps like Instagram are 'debasing real photography'. That's according to writer and broadcaster Kate Bevan, in an opinion article on British newspaper The Guardian's website. In the article, Bevan argues that filter effect apps like Instagram, 'spoil pictures - they get in the way of the image and they distort the story the picture is telling'.

Calling these filter effects 'the antithesis of creativity', Bevan claims that 'by adding a faux-aged look to [a picture], we in effect add a history, a longevity to the image that it intrinsically doesn't have'. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

A genuinely old photograph or a modern snapshot with a 'retro' filter applied? Can you tell?
(Picture: Kate Bevan)

(From The Guardian)

Comments

Total comments: 291
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GazzlionPixel
By GazzlionPixel (Jul 19, 2012)

I would really like these "Photographers" to go through "blind tasting of pictures" in which their work, along with bunch of pictures from lesser mortals, is analysed and rated.

0 upvotes
Mark Alan Thomas
By Mark Alan Thomas (Jul 19, 2012)

Lots of insecure Instagram fans posting here. To me the reality is in the middle. Even if you use Instagram, it’s still valid photography, but at the same time Instagram is a phony, cheap thrill people employ to make their photos seem better than they are.

1 upvote
Mark Alan Thomas
By Mark Alan Thomas (Jul 19, 2012)

Oh, and Kate's photo above? That’s an actual old photo. Instagram isn’t that authentic.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Gary Dean Mercer Clark
By Gary Dean Mercer Clark (Jul 19, 2012)

Who cares what people do to their images? Ummn...I don't.

1 upvote
EnsitMike
By EnsitMike (Jul 19, 2012)

I think the problem Kate gets herself into is labeling what is of intrinisc value within photography. She has placed a value on the essence of time within an image and it's truthful representation of reality, while another may put the value of an image within the creative interpretation of reality.

A distortion of reality is often the very reason people find intrigue within creative art, though the initial feeling of assault from this straying from the norm has been striking people as offensive for ages.

Every movement in art has it's critics, though we come to find that every step just adds to a beautiful history of the art itself. While we may look back one day and recognize that we, very much, distroted 'reality,' we will also be able to recognize the great emotion conveyed through color and tone to exagerate the visual experience and guide it in a creative direction.

2 upvotes
Photomonkey
By Photomonkey (Jul 19, 2012)

This hardly qualifies as a movement. This is a fad fueled by the prodigious marketing push of all things retro.

1 upvote
tdptdp
By tdptdp (Jul 19, 2012)

And there isn't enough Pabst Blue Ribbon in the world to make this particular fad look good.

0 upvotes
EnsitMike
By EnsitMike (Jul 19, 2012)

It absolutely qualifies. Retrograde is a social movement that is greatly supported by historical logic in being a psychological reaction to denying the current status of progression. This movement moves beyond aesthetics and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

0 upvotes
PicOne
By PicOne (Jul 19, 2012)

Is a charcoal sketch just the attempt of an artist to pull the wool over our eyes and make us believe it was drawn 1000s of years ago before the latest paints were created?

2 upvotes
tdptdp
By tdptdp (Jul 19, 2012)

Hipsters would find some way to debase photography without Instagram - don't shoot the messenger.

0 upvotes
ybizzle
By ybizzle (Jul 19, 2012)

This article is pointless. What is "real photography" anyways? Whether you take a picture with a Leica M9 or an iPhone, it's real photography in my books. You're capturing a moment in time either way.

By the way, you can say the same about any filter that changes the look of a picture that comes straight out of camera. People complain about anything these days. Just go out, shoot and have fun with your photography.

Comment edited 10 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
larrytusaz
By larrytusaz (Jul 20, 2012)

I go with Olympus states--camera phones are to photography what 3 minute noodles are to cooking.

0 upvotes
Mescalamba
By Mescalamba (Jul 19, 2012)

Jeez. Its just program for noobs that make them able to feel "artsy", or "pro". :D Its ego booster nothing more.. if you shoot crap, run it through Instagram, it will be insta-crap. :D

It doesnt ruin photographic world or pretty much anything. :D

1 upvote
bearseamen
By bearseamen (Jul 19, 2012)

I agree -nt

0 upvotes
GregoryAllan
By GregoryAllan (Jul 19, 2012)

There are always purist views of anything and I'm often in that camp. As long as you know what you're looking at and can accept it for what is, then what difference does it make?

Some can appreciate things at face value. I appreciate a photograph taken because of the image that is captured first and how it's presented second. I've always believed that photography is about what happens behind the lens and not so much about what happens in post.

I'm an Instagrammer because I enjoy the ability capture something in such a confining tool and see how tastefully creative and "real" I can make it.

0 upvotes
stratplaya
By stratplaya (Jul 19, 2012)

People who use these types of effects for all or most of their pictures will end up regretting it. I've looked through some of my old family pictures taken with a110 camera and wondered wouldn't it be great if I had taken them with a good 35mm.

0 upvotes
Michael Jardine
By Michael Jardine (Jul 19, 2012)

It's the same as stone-washed jeans. Some people like the look. Personally, I would never pay extra for jeans that look like I owned them for 10 years. But others love it. Personally, I have no interest in applying filters to my own photos - but my daughter does, and her photos are lovely. This is much to do about nothing.

0 upvotes
Kerry Beverly
By Kerry Beverly (Jul 19, 2012)

For the most part Instagram and it's ilk are used by folks who don't and probably will never give a flip about the arcana of photography. Why fret about them?

2 upvotes
JackM
By JackM (Jul 19, 2012)

BS. I don't use it myself because I don't have a smartphone, but I am friends with Olympic gold medalist snowboarder Seth Wescott, and he takes amazing shots with his phone of his globetrotting travels and shares them on facebook via Instagram. They should really be paying him, he makes me want to use Instagram! Whether or not the photos look old doesn't matter, they just look good.

0 upvotes
doctor digi
By doctor digi (Jul 19, 2012)

Get over it. I don't use Instagram and I don't think much of it, but like printing, reading skills, and a whole host of other things in human history, once the masses get hold of it and bring it to the lowest common denominator then it kills it. Or, at least, it changes the landscape to something wholly unfamiliar and kills it for the elite who won't adapt.

Photography as we knew it is dead. It died the day the first cheap digicams rolled off the production line and anyone could take pictures for very very low cost. It's changed things like stock (perhaps even killed it) and the attitude of most of the general public is that anyone can take a picture and thus photos are no longer worth anything.

Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. I feel sorry that good photos are no longer valued, but perhaps another viewpoint on this is required. Things like Instagram are just another take on photography. Better get used to it - it isn't going to go away.

1 upvote
Mike Walters
By Mike Walters (Jul 19, 2012)

I do wonder though if people using these apps are more concerned with the filters and effects they can apply to the photograph than the actual photograph itself...not that it really bothers me if that is what people want to do (which obviously they do). But is it photography?

0 upvotes
stuntmonkey
By stuntmonkey (Jul 19, 2012)

I think this is a fair point. I'm not against Instagram because it gets people into taking pictures, but her point is valid, everybody's pics end up looking the same. If it's fun, I'm all for more people to use Instagram. Afterall, I had an Instamatic 126 camera as well.

But, the artistry part of it, yes, I agree. Instagram creates faux nostalgia by taking away some of the image quality of a picture. However, the past masters did nothing of the sort, they were living in their own contemporary time, and when you looks through photos of a bygone era, you can see that they were just as careful about their craft as we are now, and that even though the film chemistry dates older pictures, the photographers were doing everything they could to extract the most image quality out of their pictures.

This was my own writing on these points.
http://1000wordpics.blogspot.ca/2012/05/book-review-fred-herzog-photographs-and.html

0 upvotes
bcalkins
By bcalkins (Jul 19, 2012)

I think critics miss the point of Instagram. It is a fast way to share photos! Most of the images people share these days are taken with phones, and lacking in much long term value as photographs - but they have high value among one's friends and family.

I have friends who don't use Instagram or other photo sharing sites and guess what, I never see their photos! I don't see applying filters as having much impact or the work of artists and professionals. If anything, the look of instagram images just identifies images as being shared on Instagram. I'm OK with that... What's the big deal?

2 upvotes
larrytusaz
By larrytusaz (Jul 20, 2012)

See, part of the problem is the idea that people think Facebook & Instagram INVENTED photo sharing. Bull-spit. Have people not heard of Flickr, PBase, Picasa, & an entire HOST of photo hosting sites out there? If people are too ignorant to think outside the Facebook universe, phooey on them.

0 upvotes
absentaneous
By absentaneous (Jul 19, 2012)

actually, I think instagram and similar effects are most welcome because they make it obvious what to every photographer or every person dealing with photography should be already obvious: photography has nothing to do with reality and the more we actually distort it the more photography it becomes. photography is just an idea as an image is in general. an image doesn't exist until one is able to "see it" not in the physical sense but in the sense of the codification that every image is based on. take for example the image that is used as an example in this article. if we didn't have an idea of "human beings", "adults", "children", "parenthood", "home", "glasses", "human emotion" and so on we'd not be able to see this image at all. these are all codes that a human mind can read. these codes create an image and they create photography. so, photographs are not depiction of reality but interpretations of our mind. there is nothing real about photography.

1 upvote
Dan Nikon
By Dan Nikon (Jul 19, 2012)

Eh, yes and no. I use it to share photos, but they are not what I usually will sell. For example, I have largely ditched digital because I want people to see a real moment and know it was what I saw, not what was invented in Photoshop. So I shoot medium format and large format film and hand print it with a journalistic ethic. Photography was once something that you could count on telling the truth, my aim in my work is to bring that back as much as possible.

0 upvotes
brudy
By brudy (Jul 19, 2012)

That's not true. Film does not equal truth. That can be your approach and that's very cool, but since the invention of the medium images have been doctored, both in front of the camera and in the darkroom. Google Errol Morris and read some of his stuff. He did a huge piece a few years ago about this. Even HCB's decisive moment shot jumping the puddle was cropped.

0 upvotes
absentaneous
By absentaneous (Jul 20, 2012)

@dan nikon, what you saw can never be transferred on a photograph in the way you saw it. because people don't "see" things in the way that cameras capture images. you are not a machine, feelings can't be captured on paper, your state of mind as you took the picture can't be captured on paper. a photograph is in your head and your head is never a purely objective thing. there is no truth in photography because we don't see truth but we see what we are, how we think, how we feel but a camera doesn't see all that. we also don't see images but we interpret them. and no human interpretation is objective. already by choosing what to put on a photograph and what to not put on it you are transforming reality into an idea and that's on its own is manipulation. you never show the truth but your point of view. already be deciding to shoot a scene from a certain angle, perspective etc. you manipulate with reality.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
Dan Nikon
By Dan Nikon (Jul 19, 2012)

If you don't think that iPhone photos, Lomo film photos and now Instagram are photography, then you are truly caught up in the gear, not the image. It's just another tool, like Infrared film, a fisheye lens and at least it is done right away, you don't have to sit in front of a computer inventing talent you will never have in real life. A lot of well known pros use Instagram, David Kennerly, David Alan Harvey, etc. Their eye is what carries the image, not the tool. I did a show last year from my iPhone-4 in Hipstamatic. Most images were printed at 10" x 10" and two went as large as 30" x 30". We did very well opening night and sold out in three months, there were only editions of one each, a net profit of 3K. I shoot everything from 35mm / iPhone4 for editorial and fine art use to 4x5 for the same and advertising. I let the photos do the talking, not a list of gear that is supposed to impress someone.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
4 upvotes
larrytusaz
By larrytusaz (Jul 20, 2012)

I'm sorry, but I think gear DOES matter. It is not the ONLY thing, but it does matter. Come on, you expect me to believe that when we get into photography we have no aspirations to stepping up from our point & shoot or camera phone and getting something of actual quality? Get real. If the gear doesn't matter, then I guess Nikon & Canon and the rest should just stop making DSLRs at all and just work on making optics for the idiot iPhone photographers. Puh-leaze.

0 upvotes
slimbo9
By slimbo9 (Jul 19, 2012)

instagram haters are just scared and insecure. Nobody with a true love of photography would complain about people taking photographs. There have always been bad photographers and good photographers, and there will always be. But hating technology is just childish. She admits to retouching her images, so I guess her beef is that iphone photography is just too accessible for other people, not exclusive enough to make her feel special and better than everyone.

15 upvotes
pfzt
By pfzt (Jul 19, 2012)

You have a valid Point there, but i remember the times when creating those effects was not all too easy and now it's done by an App? That is quite irritating ;)

The big plus is that i don't have to look at cr*ppy holiday pics anymore, because with Instagram everything looks at least okay.

0 upvotes
Garp2000
By Garp2000 (Jul 19, 2012)

Yeah with every new technology mankind will end in a disaster. First time this happened when the wheel was invented. Then again when people started printing books instead of monks doing the copy job. And have you told you about the internet?

2 upvotes
alffastar
By alffastar (Jul 19, 2012)

These types of articles and opinions are really absolutely meaningless! If people are using instagram than there is reason why they do it and this reason is fun and quick way to make something interesting of your shot. How many instagram users really care about 'creativity' and photography the way the author of the article does? This attitude leads to nowhere - just accept the fact, try to understand why and do not try to push in peaoples faces narowmindness or niche kind of thinking, no matter how correct it may be! As I am sure that mass production of producing shoes dimished the handcraft of making shoes and how many people in the world would REALLY care about this fact?

2 upvotes
sgoldswo
By sgoldswo (Jul 19, 2012)

The only thing that's worrying about instagram is that people who use it think the output is worthy of the name photography. Assuming they don't I don't see the issue.

It's a bit like phones with a camera in. They are all a bit rubbish really - that will become a lot easier to see as screens move towards a "retina" standard.

1 upvote
GazzlionPixel
By GazzlionPixel (Jul 19, 2012)

I agree, everyone should go to "The Photography Standards Authority of Sgoldwo" to get their "bunch of pixel" approved as photographs.

1 upvote
sgoldswo
By sgoldswo (Jul 19, 2012)

I didn't say that anyone needed to get their photos approved. I just query if it's very creative to take a cr*p photo with a camera phone and apply a filter so it looks like an old cr*p photo.

I don't object to cr*p photos with phones particularly, I take some myself, I just don't claim they are anything special. In any event services like instagram will die on their a*se in a few years unless all phone cameras shift to something like the Nokia pureview.

0 upvotes
WmCRoberts
By WmCRoberts (Jul 19, 2012)

Just as blogging on the Web has accelerated the creation of bad prose at geometric proportions, so too all the new mobile phone camera stuff is accelerating the creation of tons of bad pictures. So be it. At least in neither case are trees dying for this. :-)

2 upvotes
jeerzz
By jeerzz (Jul 19, 2012)

Instagram is secretly for girls who want to hide the wrinkles on their faces with some vintage filters and film grain. believe me.

2 upvotes
bloodycape
By bloodycape (Jul 19, 2012)

I don't think it Instagram or the like that is necessarily degrading real photographs, but mobile phones, with the lack of real manual controls, like shutter speed, and exposure.

1 upvote
johnvalenton
By johnvalenton (Jul 19, 2012)

Really? well, maybe if our phones had great glass that was really fast, then maybe people would stop using pointless filters... Besides, half of the people that use instagram don't have an eye for photos anyways. You ask them about their subject and they think you're talking about an email header.

How many times have you seen someone posing with ducklips in the bathroom?

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
Tom Goodman
By Tom Goodman (Jul 19, 2012)

An dull and uninteresting photograph is still dull and uninteresting for all that.

1 upvote
wvanbeckum
By wvanbeckum (Jul 19, 2012)

I shoot with instagram daily, and it is valuable to me as a photographer because it allows me to capture a moment that I wouldn't be able to capture otherwise. We all see beautiful moments all around us every single day, so why not utilize our camera phones to capture a moment?

The use of instagram filters allows a photo to be shared quickly, and for it to have a finished quality to it... I'm not saying it's a fine piece of art necessarily, but I like to think that I have a good eye for composition, and some of these filters strengthen the photo and let me share it quickly. These photo's aren't leaning on their filters as a crutch... the filters are just enhancing the image, and instagram is allowing me to share the image with fellow photographers.

Look at the iPhone photography section of my website if you need examples of moments that I captured without my SLR... These photo's are not about the filter, they are about the image. http://www.williamvanbeckum.com/Series/iPhone/

1 upvote
larrytusaz
By larrytusaz (Jul 20, 2012)

Why should you even OWN an SLR if the tool doesn't matter and you're going to use your iPhone anyway? I stick with what Olympus says--camera phones are to photography what 3 minute noodles are to cooking.

0 upvotes
wvanbeckum
By wvanbeckum (Jul 23, 2012)

I never said that my SLR doesn't matter to me... I use different tools for different uses. I'm not going to shoot a landscape project on my iPhone if I expect to print it at some point. The iPhone is great for moments when I don't have my DSLR handy and I want to quickly share a photograph. I would never use it for work that would end up in a gallery.

3minute noodles have a very important place in my kitchen cabinet. The iPhone has a very important place in my photographic toolbox.

Are you honestly saying that you have one camera that suits ALL of you photographic needs? That's absurd!

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
inframan
By inframan (Jul 19, 2012)

Why should we care about what she cares about what others do with the pics most of us don't care about?

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 40 seconds after posting
13 upvotes
Michael Barkowski
By Michael Barkowski (Jul 19, 2012)

I think they are part of the language, that's all. Neither good nor bad.

5 upvotes
SeanU
By SeanU (Jul 19, 2012)

Considering the money they got for Instagram, I wish I had come up with the idea. I hear-by claim a patent on a file format with deteriorating pixels. These pixels will slowly deteriorate over time, clearly showing their age based on the recorded image capture time. Different camera manufacturers can specify their own fade curves, so Fuji can replicate faded Velvia etc. Scratches and water stains will also randomly appear as the photos age.

3 upvotes
57even
By 57even (Jul 19, 2012)

Shall we apply the same to HDR while we are here...? Or oversaturation, Photoshop cloning, B&W conversions, adding noise and worst of all those horrid border thingies. Or shall we just go back to enjoying a harmless hobby that doesn't matter?

13 upvotes
babola
By babola (Jul 19, 2012)

Well said, bud.

0 upvotes
kevinschoenmakers
By kevinschoenmakers (Jul 19, 2012)

It's an interesting discussion, but I don't think this article is particularly well written. Also, her Flickr photostream which apparently is meant to "expand on her points" is laughable.

I'm ambivalent about Instagram. I think what most people dislike about it is not so much the filters, but the modern inclination to upload everything, even what you had for lunch. However, for every 10 people who fill my Facebook news feed with those kind of rather meaningless photos, there's always one person who uses Instagram to actually enhance their already good photo.

Is it really something worth fighting over? Granted in two years time everyone will be onto something else. And whatever that will be I'm equally sure people like Bevan won't like it.

1 upvote
EinsteinsGhost
By EinsteinsGhost (Jul 19, 2012)

The same argument could be made for ANY post processing tool. I tend to differentiate between an artistic rendition (which Instagram is about, as is photoshopping, for example) and painting the reality as is (as necessary in journalism). What is the hoopla about, again?

2 upvotes
Blaise Reymondin
By Blaise Reymondin (Jul 19, 2012)

From the very beginning, centring is the first and the worst trick. That's why everything is then possible with Photography, and should just be called "natural evolution".

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
suprjeff
By suprjeff (Jul 19, 2012)

just another gimimick to try to get people to buy phones, tried it once and it's nothing special, got a lot of the apple heads hooked though

0 upvotes
Greg Henry
By Greg Henry (Jul 19, 2012)

It's not the app - it's the user. And those who promote the pics incorrectly.

Instagram can create "fun" photos for CASUAL purposes, but you need to know when you're in the middle of a casual situation and whoever displays them needs to have standards as well.

Example: Yesterday I saw a photo of a microburst thunderstorm cloud over NYC. Would have been an incredibly shot of water just pouring from the clouds over the city. But whoever took it from the plane used Instagram to take it... why??? Then numerous news sources (The Weather Channel, CNN, etc) published the photo. Why? Personally, they should have rejected the image as not meeting certain standards. And the person who took it should have realized it was NOT "an Instagram moment".

Again - fun app.... when used correctly.

5 upvotes
Richard Shih
By Richard Shih (Jul 19, 2012)

The photo you're referring to was shot by former NFL linebacker Dhani Jones: http://www.slate.com/blogs/futuretense/2012/07/18/nycstormphotosdhanijonesinstagramisthebestphotoofnewyorkcityhailstorm.html

4 upvotes
Paul van den Berg
By Paul van den Berg (Jul 19, 2012)

Thank you Richard for the link. Instagram or not, it's an amazing photo!

0 upvotes
Mike Arledge
By Mike Arledge (Jul 19, 2012)

You can write a much stronger piece about this main thesis, but this writer just sounds whiny and shallow.

6 upvotes
Dabbler
By Dabbler (Jul 19, 2012)

Well National Geographic has stated they won't take photos taken with "filters". I'm on board with that, although I do use Instagram just for kicks ; - )

1 upvote
Doug Pardee
By Doug Pardee (Jul 19, 2012)

Haters of all stripes are debasing photography. Just about any tool can be used for good, for evil, for art, for commerce, for amusement, or a ton of other purposes.

2 upvotes
DFPanno
By DFPanno (Jul 19, 2012)

Tempest in a teapot..........

3 upvotes
Total comments: 291
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