Skip

Ubiquitous nostalgia
May 3, 2011 5:25 PM   Subscribe

Instagram is a hugely successful photo app for iPhone, currently skyrocketing in popularity. Free to download, it enables users to add characteristic filters to their photos and share them online easily. But a growing uneasiness seems to be developing about the software's raison d'être: does it serve to dilute creativity? Or perhaps the effects simply become nauseating when overused. Or is the sharing just too easy, leading us to end up drowning in our photos?
posted by stepheno (93 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
With all these words in the dictionary how will we ever communicate to one another?
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:30 PM on May 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


Ohhh, the haters. I love this app. It makes my terrible photo-taking look quasi- competent!
posted by Kitteh at 5:30 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't use Instagram, but they can tear Hipstamatic from my cold, dead hands.
posted by Windigo at 5:34 PM on May 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm not sure I understand how the "illusion of creativity" differs from "actual creativity".
posted by jcreigh at 5:35 PM on May 3, 2011 [12 favorites]


Back when there were only cardboard photo albums and slide projectors I'm pretty sure there was nothing more boring than being forced to look through somebody else's holiday or family snaps. Why has this changed with the ability to put exactly the same type of photos online? I would guess that there's a lot more photos being uploaded than there are photos being looked at, beyond a few of the more famous 'here's my genderqueer cat parachuting into Roger Ebert's vegetarian Obama fundraiser with an open jar of organic guacamole it wonders if it's still safe to eat' pics which would obviously get a lot of hits around here.
posted by joannemullen at 5:37 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


We were sharing usernames in MetaTalk a few days back, if you want to see pictures of our kids/pets/neighborhood ephemera.

The MeTa is also good if you want to see a bunch of folks say "twee."
posted by m@f at 5:38 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I understand how the "illusion of creativity" differs from "actual creativity".

Because you're not the creator, it's the software.
posted by Flashman at 5:39 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


We end up drowning in photos, and the burden of cataloguing and sorting them increases exponentially.

I am hard pressed to think of a better example of the concept of "first-world problems".
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:39 PM on May 3, 2011 [16 favorites]


Photoshop filters, applied with discretion where they are appropriate, are good for design. Instagram, the argument goes, encourages the indiscriminate application of filters, resulting in the latter-day equivalent of LENS-FLARE FEVER!!!
posted by LogicalDash at 5:39 PM on May 3, 2011


Because you're not the creator, it's the software.

The same would go for anything you ever convert to a jpg.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 5:40 PM on May 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure I understand how the "illusion of creativity" differs from "actual creativity".

Yeah, that's cuz you're a late adopter. I was applying filters back when we had to take pictures using rotary phones.
posted by Hoopo at 5:40 PM on May 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Good news, everybody! There's a video app with similar filters and social network tie-ins.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:40 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think it makes terrible photos quasi anything. It just makes it look like the photographer loves instagram, or took all their pictures in the 60s. Nothing can save a bad picture (at least not instagram), and a good picture doesn't need a cheesy filter.

It's fun, but using it for every single picture you take is nauseating.
posted by justgary at 5:41 PM on May 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


Did someone say lens-flare fever? How is it that the TV Tropes overlooked Blade Runner, land of the Lens-Flare Engines?
posted by filthy light thief at 5:42 PM on May 3, 2011


Applying faux filters to otherwise unremarkable photos does not make them any more creative or interesting. As one of the links mentions, it's hard to see how this is any different from forced viewing of "holiday slideshows," back in the "day." If people are enjoying themselves, great, have at it; it's not art any more than coloring in a black-and-white Xerox of your drivers license photo with colored pencils is "art."
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 5:43 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are only so many ways you can to take a photo of the fucking sushi you and 10,000 other people had for lunch.

This is my thought on a daily basis and why I only feel the need to visit facebook/twitter once in a blue moon now.
posted by pink candy floss at 5:43 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't really think it 'dilutes creativity'. I think it makes the photos of everyone who uses it look the same, which is boring. Instagramstamatic photos are slowly taking over my Flickr friends feed. I tend to just to scan past them, though the fake film borders really do bug me.
posted by statolith at 5:43 PM on May 3, 2011


Because you're not the creator, it's the software.

So manipulating images through software doesn't constitute creativity?
posted by eyeballkid at 5:44 PM on May 3, 2011


I see what you mean Flashman, but the software doesn't do anything without a human controlling it. Anything that stimulates creativity, communication & sharing is a good thing. The notion that only professional artists are allowed to produce "artful" images is elitist. Besides, it's fun to take what would otherwise be a normal camera phone image and spruce it up a little. We're nostalgic for that faded look.
posted by archivist at 5:44 PM on May 3, 2011


Don't really see what the issue is here - you can post photos without the filters, but most users opt not to.

At first I didn't get it, thought it was cliche, but honestly with most shots it does make them look more interesting (as someone that has taken many pictures and applied many filters, I can disagree with OneMonkeysUncle wholeheartedly). And we all know that if we're going to be refreshing nothing but kid, pet, street art and food photos, they might as well have a little flare to them.
posted by june made him a gemini at 5:46 PM on May 3, 2011


it's not art any more than coloring in a black-and-white Xerox of your drivers license photo with colored pencils is "art.

actually, this is a great idea for an art project.
posted by archivist at 5:46 PM on May 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


I used Instagram and it was ... meh. Same with Hipstamatic. Micro-payments to get different lenses, blah. I went with Camera+ for 0.99. The best thing I love about it is the fast start-up time and options to steady the picture as well as what I call paparazzi mode, where it just keeps taking pictures till you stop. It does have the after effects you can apply, which is just icing on the cake.
posted by msbutah at 5:47 PM on May 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also if you're even trying to define "art" or "creativity", please step away from the internet.
posted by june made him a gemini at 5:48 PM on May 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


So manipulating images through software doesn't constitute creativity?

Oh sure it does, but I think the work has to be done consciously, with intent. Not 'off the shelf'.
I.e. I'd say pictures like this are to 'genuine' creative work what a Chrysler PT Cruiser is to an Ed "Big Daddy" Roth Hot Rod. A simulation.
posted by Flashman at 5:49 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Only hipsters with an art school education should be able to use shitty photo filters. Also, it's not art if the plebs are doing it.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:49 PM on May 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


I draw stuff and post it online, I find it's simply easier to snap a pic using my camera phone and upload it using the device rather than going home and scanning it. The combination of the camera and bad lighting often adds a bit to the composition, but that's more of a happy mistake than anything else.

As an aside, I really hope in the future that generating .jpg artifacts for the sake of making pictures look like they're from the early 2000's isn't one of these "nostalgia filters"
posted by hellojed at 5:50 PM on May 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


What creative input is present besides choosing from a list of effects to add, that will make your photo look like everyone else with the same list of choices?

Is buying a piece of clipart also creative, because you had to choose it from a big catalog?
posted by danny the boy at 5:50 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you really think most people taking pictures on their iPhone and applying Instagram filters believe they're making some sort of high art, you should probably rethink that concept. They're having fun taking pictures of random stuff they want to show their friends.

Seriously, it's OK if the bourgeois have access to the means of artistic production. It doesn't dilute the special snowflakeness of whatever creative endeavor people feel is being degraded by it. In fact, it should make the Fine Art stand out more, right?
posted by immlass at 5:51 PM on May 3, 2011 [15 favorites]


Oh sure it does, but I think the work has to be done consciously, with intent. Not 'off the shelf'.

Unless Instagram causes people to go brain dead or pulls some wacky hypnosis trick on its users, I think the process of applying filters is very much "consciously, with intent."
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:52 PM on May 3, 2011


FWIW I agonize over which filter to apply. There is serious intent!

As a photographer, I also agonize over how annoying it is that these dumb filters make my phone snaps a lot more interesting.
posted by wemayfreeze at 5:54 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, god forbid that people should be able to take photographs or manipulate them so that they find them aesthetically pleasing. And to able to do it without a special room and lots of chemicals! The horror, the horror.

Disclaimer: I have instagram but haven't played with it much. I'm digging hipstamatic but don't use it exclusively; I love camera+, and pano will come in handy on Hawk Hill this season.
posted by rtha at 5:54 PM on May 3, 2011


Flashman - Look, the PT Cruiser is a wretchedly ugly thing, but to say that there was no creativity involved in its creation is, well, wrong. So I don't understand your argument. And I can't believe I'm, in a small way, defending the PT Cruiser.

Is buying a piece of clipart also creative, because you had to choose it from a big catalog?

That analogy really doesn't fit. The original, pre-filtered image was created by the user.
posted by eyeballkid at 5:55 PM on May 3, 2011


I mean you like it, have fun whatever, but the entire hook is making it look like an old Polaroid right? It's applying a layer of sentimentality that is entirely artificial. It looks interesting because it pretends to be exactly what it is not: a mundane photo you took with your cell phone this morning.

I think this is why people don't like it. It's like a shortcut to meaning. It's trying to imply a history that doesn't exist. It's like adding splenda to your coffee. We both know it's not what it's purporting to be.

It's aesthetically pleasing, but in what world is that any definition of "creative"? Particularly when you didn't do anything other than push a button to run some filters that someone else came up with.
posted by danny the boy at 5:56 PM on May 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


eyeballkid - I meant the act of purchasing and driving such cars, I should have made that more clear.
Anyway, this is a difficult and contentious topic, obviously - I was just trying to help answer the original query above. But it's hard to explain.
posted by Flashman at 6:00 PM on May 3, 2011


It's aesthetically pleasing, but in what world is that any definition of "creative"? Particularly when you didn't do anything other than push a button to run some filters that someone else came up with.

Which could describe a good 75% of work done in Photoshop.
posted by eyeballkid at 6:00 PM on May 3, 2011


Yeah, Camera+ is now involved with 95% of the pics of my kid.

I could use Instagram or Hipstamatic, I guess, but I don't know if I have the patience for the long con prank of "you were born in the 1970s in an alternate timeline your Mom and Dad saved you from." The leotard bills alone would be huge.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:01 PM on May 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Uhm, it's a fast way to get pictures off the camera/phone and onto Facebook so the grandparents etc can get their kid-pix-fix. Beats having to print them and either mail or deliver them. You're under no obligation to use any of the filters.
posted by newdaddy at 6:02 PM on May 3, 2011


Having said that, if you go and look under that 'popular' tab on Instagram, you see that there are some people doing good things with the app, even if it's not me. So there's that.
posted by newdaddy at 6:04 PM on May 3, 2011


Most digicam shots straight out of the camera are bland, do not evoke anything or make you feel anything. Old photo albums are full of photos taken with no particular artistry but that touch us yes because of their age but also because of their colors and tones. Kodachrome or old black and white film just feel nicer.

Instagram (and the like) let us do that with the cameras in our pockets. Does it make your photo "art"? No more than the fact that my parents shot film make their family snapshots "art". Does it make us feel better about the photos we take and about the moments captured? Hell yes!
posted by wemayfreeze at 6:04 PM on May 3, 2011


If you ever use the service at any length, the content stands out more than the filters - they just act as a way to bridge the gap between "shitty iPhone photo" and "bad lighting". The first set of definitions Google has for "creative" are: "having the ability or power to create" or "promoting construction or creation." Given that, these filter-laden apps are absolutely spawning creativity.

And eyeballkid nailed on the head with Photoshop - have you seen some of the tragic messes coming out of Dribbble, 99designs (if this even really counts), etc? Some of these people are lucky technology was able to get them where they are, because it sure as hell wasn't talent or honest effort.
posted by june made him a gemini at 6:07 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are tons of photo apps (not to mention Photoshop itself) that let you go nuts with filters and creativity. My current favorite is PictureShow; others include Hipstamatic, CameraBag, Lomo, G700, RetroCamera, Plastic Bullet, etc. As a photographer, I adore these apps -- I shoot with the regular phone camera, and then play with all sorts of filters and sliders and tweaks. It doesn't dilute the creativity for me at all, in fact it's enhanced and encouraged it -- even the random filters, which I sometimes keep, and then tweak further. All I care about is reaching that place where I look at it and say yesssss, that's what I'm after. And I think that's true for most artists.

Sure there's a glut of photographs out there. There's also a glut of websites and TV shows and news shows and music and lots of other things. As with anything else, the onus is on the viewers to take the time to seek out the art that speaks to them.

What I don't like about Instagram is that it requires that you create an account and log in -- which in my mind has nothing to do with photography (filters or not), and everything to do with social media. That's what scares me -- it's not about the photos anymore. I'm picky, and I like to play with processing on my phone, sharing things when and where I want, the focus being on the art; the sharing comes later, but only if I want it to. So every time I open Instagram and see the create-an-account screen, I close it right back up again. (Now, I could be wrong about the signup being required, because that screen coming up first thing is a HUGE turnoff, and I've never gone past it.)
posted by flyingsquirrel at 6:08 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's applying a layer of sentimentality that is entirely artificial.

I'm old enough to have owned a Polaroid camera, and have boxes full of faded/reddened photos of myself as a child, which I paid good money to digitize a few years ago. I have no sentimentality about film cameras of any sort any more than I have for the ritual of listening to cassette tapes. The thing I like best about Instagram is that some of the filters compensate for crap lighting and the lack of a flash on my phone, plus it handles instant delivery to whichever social network I feel like spamming on a per-photo basis with a few finger touches. I had no idea I was broaching on the territory of Fine Artists by using the damned thing.

The arguments about genuine art in this thread sound like the folks who argued that no photographs could ever be art in the early days of the film camera. After all, it's not like any of the people taking photos actually made the scenes they take pictures of!
posted by immlass at 6:12 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why can't I find any Instagram photos of hula-hooping Flappers dancing the Lindy Hop with their Zoot-suited, Beehive hair-do'd partners?

Oh, those popular fads had their day and then passed into memory too?
posted by orthogonality at 6:12 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm so nouveau-retro-hip/trend forward I still use a camera to take pictures. Actually I just like to use the term "trend forward".
posted by MikeMc at 6:15 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that arguing against Instagram filters or whatever relies on the assumption that the images produced by the default camera are the regular ones, and these are modified in some way. That's true by convention, but I don't see any reason why it has to be true absolutely. Maybe people just want to change what their default images look like.
posted by invitapriore at 6:28 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, people post a lot of stupid pictures, this is the effect of people having cameras with them 24/7. People also post a lot of very good pictures. Even if these apps are just filter factories, people have sought them out because they want to make better photos. I think the bulk effect of 24/7 camera is that people as a whole are becoming better photographers. Not everyone is going to be Ansel Adams, but they are certainly getting more competent.
posted by doctor_negative at 6:33 PM on May 3, 2011


I roll my eyes a little bit when I see these images in my Facebook feed, but I don't think anyone really intends them as Serious Artistic Photographs. It's just a bit of fun—not all that different than the "Zombify Yourself" or "High-School-Yearbookify Yourself" or "Obama-Posterize Yourself" things.
posted by ixohoxi at 6:39 PM on May 3, 2011


Also isn't there an Ansel Adams quote, roughly, that the difference between a good photographer and a great photographer (or a bad one and a good one, at least) is about three rolls of film per day?
posted by newdaddy at 6:44 PM on May 3, 2011


When I was a little kid, my mom gave me one of her old Instamatics and a packet of flashbulbs. It was fun to shoot, and easy too, but she had a gorgeous late-sixties Nikon and I was insanely jealous of what she got with it. She'd ask my opinion - and take me seriously - on which shots had the best color, depth, clarity.

Ever since then I have been trying to capture or reproduce the Perfection Of Mom's Nikon, as perceived at the age of seven. A little contrasty, very bright, very clear. It's a ridiculous and impossible goal, but that's all right. Everything looks better in your head, anyway.

All of which is to say: the retro-filters feel like a step backwards. I still have the old Instamatics lying around, the Zeiss, the Argus brick. I go to film if I want that sort of thing.
posted by cmyk at 6:57 PM on May 3, 2011


Basically, a lot of why these filters work is that they do make up for bad lighting and limited lenses, while simultaneously evoking an emotional response that makes the mild technical improvement seem a lot more profound. There's a timelessness in adopting the anachronistic. Plus, nudes with pubes just look better with vignetting.

It is kind of funny, shit like the "Drowning in Photos" link, where the guy mixes a handful of mediocre points with a bunch of bullshit — he totally ignores the history of pictorialism that Instagram plays into, as well as the neo-primitive shit like Holgas and toy cameras.

And, frankly, if not for the profusion of mediocre internet publishing platforms, the Drowning In Photos guy would be running that kind of rant off at the local Kinko's, so maybe he should think twice before drowning us in half-assed missives.
posted by klangklangston at 7:02 PM on May 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


We end up drowning in photos, and the burden of cataloguing and sorting them increases exponentially. Our ability to filter the good from the bad almost disappears — compare your iPhoto library to the albums your parents kept of you growing up. One is curated carefully and very deliberately; the other is a mass of events, with little-to-no critical selection. Your iPhoto library is perhaps less honest, less groomed, but that was never the point of personal photos: they’re a family mythology, somewhat idealised, rather than a strictly factual record. Applying Instagram’s filters becomes a way for us to try and make some of these photos stand out — filtering in situ rather than ex post facto.

It's like this guy is trying to reverse engineer On Photography. Blah blah blah camera stops you from experiencing blah.

Whatever, I was into the whole lomo schtick in college and have something like a dozen photo albums from that time, stock full of exactly this sort of print because that's what hobby photography is. Only it cost me a lot of money and I had to wait two weeks for overexposed prints of my feet since I was using 120 film and no one developed it anymore, but I had to use it to get those holga lens flares and stuff. And my parents' photo albums weren't carefully curated any more than my facebook photo feed is.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:12 PM on May 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


You people will complain about anything.

Anything.
posted by LarryC at 7:15 PM on May 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Merciful heavens, these newfangled daguerrotypes allow any man-jack to fancy himself a Michelangelo!
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:19 PM on May 3, 2011 [20 favorites]


Instagram is fun, but so is my Canon 5D mk ii. I'll create with whatever I want, wherever I want, however I like. I'll enjoy it. I hope you will too.

But if you don't, it's no skin of my back. It's ok. Maybe we'll connect over the next art fad.
posted by fremen at 7:20 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also isn't there an Ansel Adams quote, roughly, that the difference between a good photographer and a great photographer (or a bad one and a good one, at least) is about three rolls of film per day?

Between having a camera (phone) on me at all times, and the fun that can be found in playing with the filters of various apps, I'm taking way, way more pictures than I used to. I'm learning more about composition and light. I'm taking a lot of terrible pictures (most of which are either unposted or hidden behind the only-me checkbox of flickr), but I'm learning from those, too. And because I'm taking so many more photos, I'm also taking more good photos (like, on-purpose, yes-I-planned-this good).

Now, many of these photos, good and bad, are of cats. I particularly like this one of Violet, who lives downstairs and has two different colored eyes; I took it with the native iphone camera app. This is also Violet, but hipstamatized. I like them both; they each bring a different emotional tone to the table.
posted by rtha at 7:23 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


'here's my genderqueer cat parachuting into Roger Ebert's vegetarian Obama fundraiser with an open jar of organic guacamole it wonders if it's still safe to eat'

You know, if you don't like it here, nobody's forcing you to stick around.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:29 PM on May 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the blog post:
Why I hate instagram
Because it gives people the illusion of creativity. It can’t be that easy to make beautiful photos and to some extent it dilutes ‘real’ creativity


The iPhone camera is a bit harsh, so some nice subtle filters make all the pictures that come out of it that much nicer. I prefer CrossProcess to Instagram or Hipstamatic, as the filter I use there is a lot more understated.

As for "Real" creativity?

Authenticity is an illusion. Anything you create, you create. Everytime a new technological advancement brings more creative powers to the masses, you get people pissing and moaning about how the new technology is not as "real" as the old one. Digital cameras, Photo manipulation, Digital synthesis, DJs using CD players, DJs using computers, everytime something new comes along you'll find a few fearful luddites trying to give people using new technology a sense of inferiority. I've seen this happen so so so many times, and if you stick around for a couple of years, you always see the same luddites grudgingly adopting the new technology and then denying ever having been against it.

My last phone camera got some moisture into the lens. After that the pictures looked a bit more warm and fuzzy, not unlike the pictures from one of those iPhone apps. It had more character and uniqueness, sure, and a nice story to it, but those pictures are not more authentic. And anyway, authenticity is for press photos, not personal snapshots.

I applaud every technological advancement that makes it easier to make beautiful things. Pretty much every technological advancement in the creative field does that.


tl;dr - Haters gonna hate.
posted by svenni at 7:46 PM on May 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


You people will complain about anything.

Don't get me started on anything.
posted by fuq at 7:50 PM on May 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


You people

YOU PEOPLE?
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:54 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like the pictures I make with Instagram. So there.
posted by robcorr at 8:14 PM on May 3, 2011


I'm not a full-time professional photographer, but, as a journalist, I have taken my own photos for years, and had them published in a variety of professional publications. I've also had my photos published, on their own, with other people's work.

I was a professional designer for four years. I'm quite familiar with photoshop as a tool for photo manipulation.

I take all my photos with Instamatic now, and tend to use a lot of filters, as well as making use of their "tilt-shift" feature to force the focus onto the subject of my picture.

No creativity? Horseshit. A photo is good or bad. No filter can force a bad photo to be good, and vice versa. The filters merely act as a sort of super-fast photo processing program. Hipstamatic is the program that most tries to replicate the look of old toy cameras. Instamatic's filters are more varied, with several sorts of black and whites filters and a variety of cross-processing and color saturation filters.

I like the square format. I like to experiment with filters. And my photos are as good or as better as ever. No creativity? What. do you think the picture just takes itself? I still have to frame the subject. I still have to look for the opportune moment for taking a picture. It's still photography. Those of you who are dismissing it are engaging in what I think is the most obnoxious critical dismissal imaginable: It is worthless because it doesn't obey arbitrary rules that I just invented.

Hope that works out for you. Me, I took a half-dozen photos of filmmaker Mike Mills tonight. I used Instagram. I'm quite happy with the results. They're photos, they look like photos, and they work as portraits.

I suppose my articles are not creative either, because I use spellcheck and the web automatically places the text, chooses the typeface, and the kerning, and there is no ink.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:45 PM on May 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


InstaGram, rather. I always conflate the too.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:46 PM on May 3, 2011


I also conflate too and two.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:46 PM on May 3, 2011


hellojed: As an aside, I really hope in the future that generating .jpg artifacts for the sake of making pictures look like they're from the early 2000's isn't one of these "nostalgia filters"

How 'bout video artifacts? When intentionally done, it's pretty cool.
posted by bayani at 8:53 PM on May 3, 2011


It was creative when I knew how to do it but then they made it accessible, affordable and easy so now it's not.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:27 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sure metafilter is big enough for the both of us thsmchnekllsfascists, yay diversity!
posted by joannemullen at 9:43 PM on May 3, 2011



No creativity? Horseshit. A photo is good or bad. No filter can force a bad photo to be good, and vice versa. posted by Astro Zombie

If you're OK with eliminating 1/3rd of the photographic equation, that's your choice. What happens in the darkroom (even a digital one) is critical to a photograph's success.

But hey, we're not talking about "art," right? We're just talking about some cell phone snaps.

That brings us to the "signal to noise ratio" portion of the problem (too many pictures, period), as well as the "rampant overuse of filters" problem. Examples of the latter can be seen in various other creative media, from the overuse of the Papyrus font in print/logo design, the overuse of Auto-tune in music, and the fact that everyone's iMovie/Vegas projects all look the same. It's homogeneity masquerading as "quirky" or "unique."

The problem of "too many pictures" is a tricky one to handle. One the one hand, we're naturally inclined to agree that more documentation is always better. But on the other hand, simplicity and eloquence are both more effective, and more elusive, creatively. How many times have we seen a single photograph perfectly encapsulate the emotions of a huge event, whereas a pile of 10,000 photos of the same event, taken with less care, are disregarded?
posted by ShutterBun at 9:48 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I applaud every technological advancement that makes it easier to make beautiful things.

If that were true of either Histamatic or Instagram, I'd applaud them, too. Unfortunately, it's not.
posted by ShutterBun at 9:53 PM on May 3, 2011


"Digital cameras, Photo manipulation, Digital synthesis, DJs using CD players, DJs using computers, everytime something new comes along you'll find a few fearful luddites trying to give people using new technology a sense of inferiority. I've seen this happen so so so many times, and if you stick around for a couple of years, you always see the same luddites grudgingly adopting the new technology and then denying ever having been against it."



The side you left out is that for the first couple years of tools, especially democratizing tools, they tend not to be very good. For generations, Photoshop edits looked like ass compared to what a good air brusher or darkroom artist could pull off — but they're cheaper, and good enough wins. Then there are enough people playing with Good Enough and Gimmicks to want to do something more, and the technology makers respond to that, along with improvements in hardware, etc.

So yeah, a lot of times the work that comes out is broadly technically inferior for a couple years and then the technology and people's skills with that new tool have advanced enough that you can do really cool shit with it, and then it becomes necessary to keep up.
posted by klangklangston at 10:06 PM on May 3, 2011


That brings us to the "signal to noise ratio" portion of the problem (too many pictures, period)

But how do you see "too many pictures" from Instagram? You have the app and look at pictures from it, or you see a link or a picture in some social media. If you don't want to see it, don't use the app, don't follow the links, block the app in Facebook, etc. If it gets to be too much, unfollow the offenders on whatever social media they insist on spamming with pictures. Some curmudgeon upthread compared Instagram, and I guess cell phone pictures in general, to forcing people to sit through slideshows, except for the part where this is the internet and nobody's stopping anybody from clicking the x in the corner for all these awful photos that they don't want to see. It's not as though the fact that "bad art" exists on the internet obliges other people to view it. Curate your own web experience!
posted by immlass at 10:29 PM on May 3, 2011


I use Instagram. The main thing that bugs me about it isn't the filters, which are fine (if anything, they enhance the shitty photos my 3GS takes), but the fact that the whole app is trapped in the iPhone ghetto. If I see someone's Instagram photo on the web, I can't go look at their other photos -- there are no links back on the photo page at all. I have to do it all within the iPhone app, which feels pretty backwards to me.

But I do like the filters. Sure, they're a gimmick, but so are cameraphone pictures -- why not improve them a bit with another gimmick? If I wanted to be an Artiste about it, I'd use my Nikon in RAW format and a tripod instead of a 5mm plastic lens that probably has finger grease smudged all over it.
posted by neckro23 at 10:37 PM on May 3, 2011


Curate your own web experience!

For me, the question isn't so much "how can I avoid seeing all these pictures of meals?" as it is: "How can we convince people to be more selective in the pictures they take?" In the pre-digital days this was easier, since economics and time tended to dictate the rate at which people took pictures, and how choosy they were with their subject matter. Granted, this had the unfortunate side effect of causing something like 99% of family photographs, and about 100% of home movies to be of holidays, birthdays, and vacations, without much left for simple "moments" to be captured, lest they be considered "not important enough."

I want my friends to take as many pictures as they want, and to share as many pictures as they want, and I want to see the pictures they're sharing. I just wish there was an app that would give people the missing reality check of "are you SURE you want to share this picture with your friends?"
posted by ShutterBun at 10:55 PM on May 3, 2011


I'll refer to the good-natured ND¢ and this post about what makes a photo pwn. It is creativity, and it is lacking in haters gonna hate, and it is quite a bit more simple than applying the correct filters. These are all part of why photography is such a lovable art. For the reasons posted by ND¢.
posted by JLovebomb at 11:09 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hell yeah, I love camera apps. I haven't seen this one yet so I'll be giving it a go soon.

I had a great time learning the ins and outs of my vx8300's camera, but found most of the time that it was best to shoot with the black and white option selected. The camera had a terrible time with colors. The vx8300 is hella old now and I just recently upgraded to the new iPhone since Verizon finally picked it up.

I think we're at an awkward stage for telephonography where the cameras are good but not nearly good enough.

The stock camera application has limited focusing and metering options and the phone has no way to adjust aperture or exposure settings. Phone cameras are still pretty primitive. The shots you get right out of the box can be hit or miss.

What I really like about these filter apps is that it lets you make up for the noise produced by the shitty camera by ramping it up and making it look like film grain. I think it's a pretty great stop gap solution. I feel it's similar to kicking my old phone cam into black and white mode. It just consistently produces better looking pictures from the limited hardware.

I just wish more of these apps made tamer filters and ditched the tacky photo frames, or at least make them optional.
posted by grizzly at 3:59 AM on May 4, 2011


But hey, we're not talking about "art," right? We're just talking about some cell phone snaps.

Sure we are.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:36 AM on May 4, 2011


Surely you recognize the use a rhetorical rebuttal as segue' to a counter-rebuttal?
posted by ShutterBun at 5:29 AM on May 4, 2011


I don't know what art is, but I'll know what it isn't when you try to make it.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:51 AM on May 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Surely you recognize the use a rhetorical rebuttal as segue' to a counter-rebuttal?

Don't call me Shirley.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:05 AM on May 4, 2011


"How can we convince people to be more selective in the pictures they take?"

I just wish there was an app that would give people the missing reality check of "are you SURE you want to share this picture with your friends?"

I don't understand why you think you get to impose your artistic judgement of what should and shouldn't be created on other people. That seems to me to be a very arrogant way of approaching other people's creative urges and fun: that you should get to advise them to shut it down because it doesn't meet your high standards. I always wonder whether people who feel this way would be willing to hear the uncensored artistic judgement of others on their own work. "That's boring" or "that isn't very good" is never a nice thing to be on the business end of. This is why we learn as kids to keep that judgement to ourselves for the most part.

It's a core belief of mine that people should be urged to create and perform (music, writing, theater, karaoke, or whatever floats their boat) actively instead of passively consuming entertainment/art created by others, particularly when the passive consumption is a result of fear of being judged for bad art/performance. Your attitude is incomprehensible to me and I find it hard to respond without passing personal judgement, so I'm out of this discussion.
posted by immlass at 7:17 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think this is why people don't like it. It's like a shortcut to meaning. It's trying to imply a history that doesn't exist.

But this, in my opinion, is exactly what scrapbooking does, too, and yet that is wildly popular among Moms I know!

They make themed pages about "Our Family Vacation" or "Andy's Graduation!" Gorgeous backgrounds replete with sunsets and palm trees, inspirational quotes on thick card stock paper, you name it. Never mind that three of the kids came down with chicken pox and had to be quarantined in a camper while on that vacation, or that Andy's graduatiom ceremony, held outside on the high school bleachers, took place during a rainstorm and no one could really see anything through the deluge and the crowd of shielding umbrellas.

In their scrapbooks, every pivotal event becomes a Norman Rockwell moment.
posted by misha at 7:23 AM on May 4, 2011


The thing that makes me so so stabby about Instagram is that you can apply a Fuji Velvia film border to your filtered cameraphone pic. Fuji Velvia, a slide film known for its heavily saturated colors, looks nothing like these desaturated, soft Instagram filtered shots. And so it's like fake metadata. Sure, nobody is going to mistake an Instagram shot for actual Velvia, but so then why slap on the Velvia border at all? It just muddies the waters. I wish Instagram had made their own fake border instead of just stealing Fuji's.
posted by statolith at 7:33 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


The best camera app for the iPhone, as far as I am concerned, is the lightmeter app that I use whenever I go for a walk with my Bronica. Serously, best $2 I ever spent. Fantastically accurate, provides a histogram, fast. You can adjust for filters. Good stuff.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:23 AM on May 4, 2011


If I post my actual childhood photos (taken in the 1970s) do I now have to include a disclaimer that they were in fact taken in the 1970s? Because you really can't tell these days, especially if my dad's in the photo.
posted by desjardins at 8:36 AM on May 4, 2011


Did someone say lens-flare fever? How is it that the TV Tropes overlooked Blade Runner , land of the Lens-Flare Engines?
You haven’t seen the new Star Trek movie, I suspect?
posted by KuraFire at 10:54 AM on May 4, 2011


I’ve seen more creative photos in the 8 months that I’ve been using Instagram than I did in the 6 years I’ve been using Flickr.

If you think of Instagram as nothing but an app to apply filters, you’re ignoring 70-80% of what makes the app so popular. Quick sharing, keeping it simple, a process that encourages you to think differently about photography altogether… I’d say Instagram has been a tremendous boon for creativity in photography, if anything.
posted by KuraFire at 10:57 AM on May 4, 2011


I think that some people who consider themselves "real" photographers are just jealous that now a photo idiot can actually create a unique and interesting photo very easily now. On the other hand, I have photographer friends who use and love Hipstamatic and Instagram in addition to taking brilliant photographs with their fancy cameras and using their artistic skills.

I think these apps are great for what they are. A way to share snapshots with friends online. Nothing more. If anyone thinks they should get a job as a photographer because they figured out how to use Instagram, then I think they will be disappointed. At least, I hope they will. I think there is a difference between these app photographs vs. professional ones, and I hope that most people can tell the difference.

And if they can't, then it's their loss isn't it? In other words, BIG DEAL! I think the original bloggers referenced here are trying to make a really big deal out virtually nothing.
posted by dr. strangelove at 3:43 PM on May 4, 2011


In addition to my actual, physical camera, I also take a buttload of pics with my phone. Out of the 12 camera apps on my iPhone; I probably use Hipstamatic, ProHDR, Camera+ and Plastic Bullet the most.
posted by cerulgalactus at 4:32 PM on May 4, 2011


If anyone thinks they should get a job as a photographer because they figured out how to use Instagram, then I think they will be disappointed.

I've had at least two or three Instagram photos already used in a professional publication, not counting my column, where I publish Instrgram photos almost every day. Today, for example.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:52 PM on May 4, 2011


I think this is why people don't like it. It's like a shortcut to meaning. It's trying to imply a history that doesn't exist. It's like adding splenda to your coffee. We both know it's not what it's purporting to be.

My favorite example of this are ring tones that use samples from old Western Electric 500s. The amount of over-engineering and raw technology involved to reproduce the sound of a couple of odd-shaped bells and a solenoid is absolutely astounding. I mean, just for starters you've got all the silicon: the CPU, RAM, the DSPs to process the recording… then there's all the recording equipment, the software, then there's triggering of the sound which brings you to the whole network layer… both the protocols and the physical transport layers, the satellites and the fiber optic cables and the servers passing data and the cell towers…

It's like someone using a 3D printer to reproduce a vinyl record.

Which, by the way, is so coming in like 10 years and I just want to say it right now that I totally called it!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:41 PM on May 4, 2011


it's art. it sucks but it's art
posted by tehloki at 6:35 PM on May 4, 2011


The best art sucks.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:12 PM on May 4, 2011


Digital photography wasn't art, because an "artist" only used film.
Color photography wasn't art, because an "artist" only used black and white.
Photography wasn't art, because an "artist" painted.
Modernist painters wasn't art, because an "artist" painted realism.

Ad nauseum.

Somewhere back in the stone age, one cave man said to another "you use ochre? Phht...real artist only use charcoal".

You tedious, predictable art poseurs...same shit, different genre.
posted by kjs3 at 8:00 PM on May 4, 2011


LOVED that last link by Koralatov. Thanks for posting it.
posted by JLovebomb at 4:35 PM on May 17, 2011


« Older w o b b l e w o b b l e w o b b l e   |   This week in love Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post