hooray for hipstas;

My own Flickr account has a fair few images that look like they could have been created with Instagram’s retro-flavoured algorithms. They weren’t – they are all film.

Stephen Dowling for the BBC, asking whether smartphone ready “retro” filters and photo-sharing applications such as Instagram are making everybody’s photos look the same.

Dowling’s isn’t the first article I’ve read on decrying the craze for faux-vintage cameraphone photography (with one million users downloading the Android version of Instagram in the first 24 hours after it became available, I’d say it easily qualifies as a ‘craze’) but it’s certainly one of the most strikingly snobbish. “Chances are that that artfully retro pic of a display of cupcakes your friend showed you at the weekend was an Instagram pic,” he sneers, which is actually pretty funny because I was having a quick look through the 200 or so snaps I’d uploaded to the service in the last six months or so last night and it turns out that, yes, a high proportion of them are of cupcakes.

But so what, right? I like cupcakes. I eat a lot of them, and it’s nice to be able to illustrate it when I’ve written about the best ones. I did not give a shit about their trend factor in January and I do not give a shit about their trend factor now. Also I will happily take pictures of them with my SLR, only it turns out that the best camera is the one that’s always with you and I can only fit that thing in my handbag if I leave out the book, purse and six different varieties of Zooey Deschanel-branded lipgloss.

Back in the Saddle (Day 46 of 365 // Week 7 of 52)
Chipped nails, awesome fringe and 50mm POWERRRRRR. Also: fuck you.

I can understand the frustrations of film photographers like Dowling, the ones who were doing it back when they discontinued all the 35mm and you could only track it down on eBay rather than Urban Outfitters. I imagine that these days they feel pretty much like journalists did when The Internet happened and the local press sacked all their dedicated court reporters and nobody got paid to write about music anymore because all the fifteen-year-old kids do it on their blogs for free. I appreciate that the magic of film is the experimentation: it takes years of practice and discarded negatives to develop a skill and get a feel for what works, and you can’t tell just by looking at the back of the camera whether the combination of film and light and flare has worked.

But just once I’d like to read an article on so-called iPhoneography that brings up a few of the lessons I learned in my first few weeks as the owner of a £450 digital SLR: that the camera does not a photographer make. That yes, there are hordes of Instagrammers who slap on one-click filters so that they can quickly share a picture of that delicious cupcake with their Twitter followers (and good for them!) but that the best images need plenty of work – and talent – before you even get to that point. I suspect that the reason so many of these apps sprung up is because framing the image, getting the right focus and lighting etc is about a million times harder on the “camera that’s always with you” particularly if that camera is on a first generation iPhone.

I took this photograph last night from the front row of an Amanda Shires show in a tiny bowling club in Jordanhill. I used both Hipstamatic and Instagram, but they only added the colour pop and the scrappy border (while the phone, I guess, added the blur). I love the movement, the flare effect in the top right hand corner caused by the stage lighting and the way the pedal steel player’s face is obscured (sorry Todd) to make Amanda the focus. While sometimes it’s luck, as it is for any photographer, I’ve spent enough time playing with lighting effects as anyone, and I’m pretty sure I’ve discarded just as many prints as the average film photographer while I have experimented learning how to do so. Admittedly I can do so way more easily on my digital device but frankly at a cost of fifteen quid the last time I bought three rolls for my plastic Diana camera can you blame me?

Although, given that I loaded the first one incorrectly I’m still pretty excited to see what comes out.

And in the meantime, here are some ideas for app-centric photography projects courtesy of the sickeningly cute A Beautiful Mess.


1 Comment

  1. April 19, 2012 / 3:24 pm

    My personal preference for photography is whatever I can get out of my (sadly locked-up) iPhone minus any filters or effects, but the crux of this issue is access. Instagram and their ilk are gateways to photography. The key assumption in the BBC piece is that people who get into ‘lazy one-click processing’ aren’t going to explore any further, but there’s absolutely no way of knowing that. For some people, that’s all they’ll ever need but others will fall in love with it and WANT to sit for hours tinkering with the settings.

    The other point (already made in comment to Paul’s link)- “[T]he camera does not a photographer make”- this is so true of any creative art. The slog of taking thousands of pictures or scrawling thousands of words is far more important than having a top-range camera or a lavish notebook so beautiful and expensive that people become too scared to actually write in it. The idea that Instagram isn’t ‘real’ photography is a limiting and expensive fallacy for any creative pursuit.