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Instagram, the Devil, and You

When a photojournalist uses Instagram, the devil smiles. He keeps it handy, in the top drawer of his toolbox, sitting right next to true love.

Like most of his tricks, it promises the user fame, fortune and the admiration of one's betters. Despite knowing this to be a lie, photographers, even the good ones, often succumb to the temptation.

After all, he's the devil and knows exactly how to play us.

To be fair, Instagram does deliver a hollow sort of fame. Not the kind of Gene Smith, ready to take a beating in the name of truth, type of fame. More like the 7,200 people saw what I had for lunch and that'll keep me feeling special until dinner, type of fame.

It delivers the fortune too, just not for it's users. Instagram became more valuable than the New York Times practically overnight without having to pay for a lick of content. That's 25% of what Star Wars just sold for and it took George Lucas a good thirty years of hard work to destroy that content.

As for the admiration of one's betters... scorn, admiration, hey take whatever you can get. There’s no such thing as bad PR, right?

Listen, I just bring this up because once again the press dropped the ball on a huge story that impacts the lives of millions of people (No, don't be silly I'm not talking about the presidential race). I've looked through the images made of Hurricane Sandy and I'm stunned by the lack of excellence.

Most of the photographs are REALLY bad. This stuff is important. It’s history. It changes people’s lives. You're not allowed to make excuses or drop the ball, but sadly most of you did.

Maybe the editors were too busy culling images submitted by their readers. Really, I gotta say it's sad to see the New York Times and the Washington Post begging for user generated, ahem, free content. (This just in.. A tree fell in Brooklyn!) Where's your sense of dignity people? These are trying times and here you are stealing desperately needed content from your local FOX affiliate.

The worst of the offenders has to be Time's Lightbox. Normally I love this site, but sending photographers out to purposely shoot Instagrams is the journalistic equivalent of stringing together an essay from a bunch of tweets. It's shameful and you should be embarrassed. Not to say these shots weren't well seen (which is the hardest part), just that they were poorly executed. Which is to say they fail as photographs.

For the record, with natural disasters you need a couple of images that show the power of Mother Nature (is it alright to capitalize that without capitalizing devil? I’m not sure). Even though it was at night, John Minchillo got a few of these. Check. Now move on to the important stuff, and by stuff I mean people and the experience they’re going through.

We don’t need more than one picture of a floating car, instead we got dozens. We don’t need to see point pictures, as if you’re documenting a crime scene or making pictures for an insurance company.

All we need is people.

Thankfully, we got a few. Chang Lee’s shot of a patient being evacuated was nice, but somehow rare. Where are the shots of babies being born by candle light and nurses manually respirating patients?

Keith Bedford had a real nice image in the Washington Post, something beyond the normal, here’s a sad person in front of devastation, picture.

Allison Joyce made refreshing images of people being people in the midst of abnormal times. Susan Walsh also had a nice one of these. Mel Evans had several.

There was a nice picture in The Daily Beast's feed of people at a bar under candlelight, but I screwed up my notes and don't remember who made it (sorry).

Still, overall I was disappointed by the lack of remarkable images.

As for you Instagramers, twenty years from now you’ll be sorry. You’ll be more sorry than I am when I look back on a picture I made twenty years ago with a 20mm lens when I should have used a 28mm.

Years from now, you’ll awake in the middle of the night and suddenly realize putting a fake border on a picture makes the whole picture fake. You’ll understand that the technical choices you made destroyed the longterm credibility of both you and your images.

Instead of having a body of work to look back on, you’ll have a sad little collection of noisy digital files that were disposable when you made them, instantly forgotten by your followers (after they gave you a thumbs up), and now totally worthless.

You’ll wish you’d have made those images on a Pentax K1000 and Tri-X (at the very least or most depending on your age and perspective), but the times you failed to record properly will be long gone.

But don't listen to me, listen to all your Insta-friends. They love you.