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Curious Frame - Issue #9 - Is Instagram Killing Photography?

Curious Frame
Curious Frame - Issue #9 - Is Instagram Killing Photography?
By Leanne Staples • Issue #9 • View online
As many have anticipated, this issue is about Is Instagram Killing Photography? But like all important questions, the answer is neither yes or no. It’s not that simple.
I immediately think of the Buggles song Video Killed the Radio Star. When a new technology arrives there are always the naysayers and the gloom and doom about the end of the world as we know it.
And I will say that I think that MTV had a dumbing down effect on music and a whole generation that preferred the videos to just listening to the music. Sometimes technology can have a negative effect on art. Maybe music videos killed radio as the Buggles song suggests.
Even now there’s hardly a rap video without mostly naked women and bling galore. Many a video has killed a number of good songs. And then when you watch an Elvis Costello video from the 1980s, you will see him intentionally not lip-sync. Very bold on his part.
Does art imitate life or does life imitate art? This is a question that does not have a definite answer. Much of the photography on Instagram is NOT art. But nevertheless, the photos are often imitated. They are reproductions of reproductions. Ad infinitum.
So yes, I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent here in describing a parallel situation to what social media has turned photography into. Or maybe not. And it should be noted that with the advent of the Brownie and Instamatic cameras, many thought that reflected the death of photography.
The death of photography has been greatly exaggerated.

Readers comments:
Keeping the dialogue going, here is a response to Issue 8 and What is the Worth of a Photo.
 I really liked the tip from Duane Michals’ book, I will look for it because I am very curious!
This theme of the value of photography is fantastic, I think it pursues all photographers, be they professionals who have been in the market for a long time but mainly for those who are proposing to start as a career and earn bread!
It’s very easy to join in on the dialogue. You only need to hit the reply button in your email. And if you’re wanting to catch up and read previous issues you can find them at the link below.
Curious Frame | Revue
For what it's worth, this is my most liked photo on Instagram. Liked by 499 people!
For what it's worth, this is my most liked photo on Instagram. Liked by 499 people!
Is Instagram Killing Photography?
Perhaps I should begin by stating that we are living in a post-binary world. Most important questions are no longer easily classified as black or white, or good or bad. It only took us a few millennia to get to this!
Aristotle and others would have us believe that you are on one side or the other. Even in Chinese philosophy you have yin and yang. Thinking in dichotomies. Friend or enemy? Or now we have frenemy. (Frankly, I don’t understand frenemy.)
Yes, we are living in fluid times. Bravo for nuance! Stereotypes are being discredited on a daily basis. But, evolution is a very slow process. And as photography has numerous purposes, we can’t think of most photos posted on social media as art. They are disposable.
So many of the photos on Instagram and other social media platforms fall into the category of completely boring and why are you sharing this with us??? There are some gems out there if you’re willing to take the time to dig through the piles of garbage and selfies.
The Number 1 photo on Instagram with almost 54 million likes. Posted in January 2019.
The Number 1 photo on Instagram with almost 54 million likes. Posted in January 2019.
Nietzsche wrote that the world is made up of leaders and followers and that leaders will always be in the minority. I don’t imagine that he would change this statement if he was alive today to witness the trends in Instagram posts.
Who is considered a leader and how they became a leader are good questions. As it has become very clear, some people in the world become leaders even though they aren’t really fit to be considered as such.
So I digress, but the fact is that it is quite a mystery how an egg can gain so many likes and the criteria that is used to determine who the leaders are in social media and sometimes even in the ‘real’ world.
Love + Be Loved, New York City, May 2019
Love + Be Loved, New York City, May 2019
Photography in its most generic sense is used to represent who we are and how we would like others to see us. Emphasis on how we would like. It becomes a statement of our beliefs and those things that we value most.
It has become how others view us. To be without social media accounts is almost to be nonexistent. To be invisible. You meet someone in public and they immediately want to know how to find you in the virtual world.
So much of our time is easily spent in the virtual world that we barely make a distinction between our time spent online to that we spend in the “real world” interacting with people face-to-face. All the world’s a stage more than it ever was before. Roll over Shakespeare.
Phoebe NYC, street art. @phoebenewyork
Phoebe NYC, street art. @phoebenewyork
In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes. Maybe stated by Andy Warhol. Maybe not.
It almost doesn’t matter anymore if Warhol made the statement about 15 minutes of fame, or not. One of the biggest problems with Instagram and other social media platforms is that is exactly what everyone is trying to attain.
Before the internet and social media, I wouldn’t have had my work as a photographer, artist, writer and tour guide. Or at least not in the same way that I have now. I also wouldn’t likely have met you or be communicating with you.
To a certain extent, the playing field has been leveled. To a certain extent. It bares repeating. Now you have to find methods to be found. Since Instagram exists as a social media, it includes people who are involved on it for numerous reasons.
186, New York City, December 2020
186, New York City, December 2020
Dare to be yourself. André Gide
Those who don’t participate in photographing themselves and/or taking photos to share on social media, risk being invisible. So in a way, the idea that Instagram could be killing photography is not the correct question to ask.
Social media platforms exist primarily for people to be social. We live in a democracy and freedom of speech goes with that for better or for worse. With that comes a plethora of uninteresting drivel. That is the first layer. The facade.
Instagram is the love to hate platform. This year, the year of the pandemic, I’ve been posting on Instagram on an almost daily basis. It’s possible that I’ve begun to have it work for me, to my advantage.
Red Truck with Rain, New York City, October 2009. 402 likes on IG.
Red Truck with Rain, New York City, October 2009. 402 likes on IG.
I rarely follow anyone with tens of thousands of followers and thousands of likes. If a person has those kinds of numbers then it will be impossible to actually form any kind of relationship with them. What would my follow or like mean to them or me???
I’ve also noticed that the people who do get those kinds of numbers often create very slick and perfect photos. I am not a fan of ‘perfect’ photos. I create street and abstract photos because of their little imperfections. Those things that make me me.
 Be yourself. I much prefer seeing something, even it is clumsy, that doesn’t look like somebody else’s work.
William Klein
We are by our very nature flawed. It’s what makes us unique. I follow as much as possible, people who also follow me. We create dialogue to the degree that it is possible to do so on Instagram. People do want to have a genuine personal experience in life and that includes on social media, even though it’s not the ideal place for it.
Greetings from El Barrio, New York City, November 2020
Greetings from El Barrio, New York City, November 2020
It’s not about shallow follows and likes. It isn’t even about trying to game the system and win the jackpot of posting the most liked post ever. It’s possible that my method of using Instagram isn’t what most people use it for or its intended purpose. C'est la vie.
Photography is my work and even more importantly, it’s my passion. I have worked hard to make IG work for me and I spend a considerable amount of time on it. But relationships always take some effort. That is true in virtual and real life.
The only thing that you can really control to any degree in your IG stream, is who you decide to follow. But even within that there are so many people that call their work street photography when it clearly isn’t. I find this mostly by following particular hashtags and collectives.
So yes, Instagram makes it difficult for people who take photography as an art seriously. But if we remember that it isn’t really designed to provide us with a platform that is only for our tastes and we are willing to dig a little farther to find the gold, it is there to be found.
At LV 2, New York City, October 2020
At LV 2, New York City, October 2020
Everyone has a camera now and everyone shares their photos and that is one kind of photography that really weakens the word in so many ways. Maybe it’s just as difficult as it was before the internet to find the photography that is really meaningful to us.
In the past there were very few methods of being exposed to photography. Since the internet, it’s very difficult to not see all the meaningless photography and to find the work we’d really like to see.
Perhaps finding beauty will always be an adventure. It is not likely to be easy to find the best. We tend to appreciate it even more when it took some effort. Can you imagine a world with only beautiful photos? Who would decide that? Museums and galleries?
Is Instagram Killing Photography? No, on the surface it’s just serving the lowest common denominator. Once you sift through it, there’s much to be discovered. It’s almost like a game to dig deeper into the stratosphere beyond the top layers.
Free Voice, New York City, February 2017
Free Voice, New York City, February 2017
I joined Flickr in the early days when there wasn’t really anywhere else to post photos. Digital photography was in its infancy then. I remember the horror my daughter had when Facebook opened up to everyone and not just students. I used Tumblr and 500px and Ello and and.
So until something new comes along to replace Instagram, I guess that I will continue to use it. Some of the best photography is still to be found in books and some websites that cater to the photographic community. But they don’t allow for dialogue.
I do find inspiration from the work of photographers on Instagram. There are people who don’t really care about fame, fortune and likes. They are bold enough to do what they do without considering these things. They often have very few followers and likes.
Do what you love. I always think that my photography can be better and I always encourage people to follow their art where it takes them. It takes courage to do that. But we shouldn’t be thinking about the masses who may not care or understand art.
As artists, we will likely always be outside of the mainstream. Perhaps we can mock those who prefer lip-syncing by intentionally showing that to be what it is. It will take a lot more than Instagram to kill photography. So, the answer for me is, NO. Long live photography.
Photography Is - Part Three
Shopping on Madison Avenue, New York City, December 2019
Shopping on Madison Avenue, New York City, December 2019
Sometimes it can take years before I gain an appreciation for a photo.
It can take me awhile to catch up.
Vision changes when photos have the opportunity to marinate.
It’s not about souvenirs and nostalgia for something in the past.
Further viewing
William Klein (b 1928) is a favorite photographer for so many reasons. He was not by any means attached to one style of photography. Some of his most iconic photos are the ones that he painted on. Here is a short taste of some of his work.
Free Thinkers: William Klein
Indie Gifts
If you are interested in affordable indie art for your holiday shopping, here are a few ideas and they ship internationally. In the That Other Space shop, I have 3 series of mail art and in my shop, I have 2 mini art packages as well.
That Other Space Shop – Art, Etcetera
Shop for Art, Zines & Publications - Leanne Staples
You can also find me at:
Artist, Photographer & Writer - Leanne Staples
Walking Photo Tours & Street Photography Workshops in New York City
Did you enjoy this issue?
Leanne Staples

In a world that is overpopulated with images, Curious Frame is where I share my thoughts on photography. It is always about ‘seeing with new eyes’.

I’m Leanne Staples, a photographer, artist, and writer living in New York City. Street photography and lens-based art are my passions, and Curious Frame is where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on these passions.

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