I love Instagram, but it has ruined me.
I love using X-Pro II and Amaro and Valencia and Lo-Fi. I can do a number of things: Disguise the mediocre. Enhance the mundane. Adulterate a purely fine digital photograph with a filter.
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In November, I strolled around the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, and had forced myself to bring my Nikon so I could snap photographs with “a proper camera” for once. Ever since I’d gotten an iPhone at the beginning of 2012, my Nikon and Canon cameras — and all of my film cameras — have sat on my shelf, collecting dust.
As I walked around the pond and toward the dome, I took photos, but after taking a handful, I felt odd. I used to enjoy this process so much: review shots I’d just snapped on the LCD screen, planning out my next shots, gathering different angles, already growing excited at the thought of sifting through my options later, at my computer.
But that day, I wasn’t doing this, and in fact, got quickly bored. I just took a photograph, but it’s sitting there in my camera, I thought. Filed away on the memory card.
Isn’t it sad?
Surely it wants to be shared.
I strolled underneath the iconic dome and gazed up, put the bulky Nikon around my neck, and reached into my purse for my iPhone to take the shot above me instead. Then I opened Instagram, ran a filter over it, and posted it — to send it off into the world to be liked and viewed for its moment of glory, and to shortly after join the stream of other Instagrams disappearing into our Internet wasteland.
And it felt much more satisfying. So I took the rest of my photos with my phone, sharing several of my favorites on Instagram in the short time it took to walk back to the car.
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I’ve written about this way of photographing and consuming before — about suffering from a bad case of the Facebook Eye and the need to self-document and share. Thankfully over time, as the novelty of a social network has worn, the desire to share has lessened, primarily on Facebook and Twitter. I hate Facebook, but right now it does serve as a functional tool to connect, so I’ve stopped complaining and use it to get in touch when needed. And after dabbling several years ago in Twitter press trips as a travel blogger, I realized I had little desire to share things in such inorganic ways, and to tell everyone where I’m flying and who I’m with and what I’m eating and how the view is totally amazing and blah blah blah.
Yes, I share things that are happening, that I think are cool, that I’m proud of. But I’ve managed to use Facebook and Twitter in ways that make sense to me, in ways that lessen the irritation I once felt while using them. But Instagram? Hmm. Instagram has completely changed my approach to taking photographs, and that’s saying a lot.
In my last post, “On Travel, Time, and (Revisiting) Granada,” I compiled my Instagrammed shots from my recent trip to Spain. In Granada, I also forced myself to take my “real” camera — my Canon this time — out on the streets. As expected, I juggled my camera and my iPhone in my hands, my camera fighting and trying to prove it was still relevant.
So, here I’ve posted additional photographs of this trip, courtesy of my camera. Compared to the gallery in my last post, I honestly don’t like many of these.
Where’s the extreme contrast?
Where are the unnaturally bright colors?
Where’s the fake depth of field?
Where are the borders?
Somehow, unfiltered has become boring. (You won’t see me using the #nofilter tag!) And I find this interesting, and a bit sad. I know social networks and tools and apps come and go, but I do wonder what’s next in my own evolving process in photography.
Note: Thanks for the mention of this post, New York Times!
Cheri Lucas Rowlands
Writer at Writing Through the Fog. Editor at Automattic.