6 October 2010 may not be a date that is globally recognised in history, but something happened that day that changed photography for good, though not necessarily for the better. It was the day that Instagram launched.
When I was at university many moons ago, before social media existed (in fact before everyone had a mobile phone, yet alone a mobile phone with a camera!) I had to write an essay in response to the statement “the camera never lies”. Unfortunately I don’t still have that essay so I can’t remember exactly what I wrote but I know I would’ve said something along the lines of “of course it does!”.
A photograph captures a moment in time, and you (the photographer) can choose what elements of that moment you want to capture. You can decide what is in and out of the frame. You can decide the angle at which to shoot, which can definitely help tell a different story – as we’ve seen recently with the photos of ‘packed’ beaches in the press through lockdown. You can choose a caption to go with the picture to encourage a particular interpretation.
Never more has that been true since Instagram launched with its simple square format and a range of filters to ‘improve’ our photos. Within two months it had one million registered users.
I joined Instagram on 15 January 2011, so I guess I was a relatively early adopter of the platform. I still remember taking, editing and posting my first photo. Over the years it has become my go to app to share snippets of my life. Whilst I love writing, I have a very visual memory and Instagram has helped me easily create a visual diary. From 2012 until 2017 ish, I used it to share a photo a day. Encouraging me to take photos every day even if I wasn’t do anything particularly exciting, it was a way to develop my photography skills and see things differently. One rule I’ve stuck by since day one is that all photos I share on my main account @lizetta have to be taken on my phone – afterall, it’s not Instant if you have to transfer photos from a camera first. (I’ve relaxed those rules for my other accounts as I realised I wasn’t sharing the photos I take on my camera, which I have with me 99% of the time).
It’s not all about your selfie!
One of the things we have Instagram to thank for (and I mean this sarcastically) is the rise of the selfie. #selfie is currently the 14th most popular Instagram hashtag having been used on over 430 million posts – and I’m sure it’s used many times on stories too! It’s not easy to avoid these perfectly pouted selfies, but the majority of these posts certainly aren’t authentic, with filters used to smooth the skin and make people look ‘perfect’.
Of course this is one of the areas that all social media comes in for criticism – these ‘perfect’ lives we share on Instagram aren’t real. It’s an edited selection of life. Even though I know this, I’d be lying if I said I’d never felt bad about myself and my life from scrolling through Instagram. Over the years I’ve taken a few breaks from social media to avoid it having an overly negative impact on my mental health. But I always come back.
Last year, 1 billion people were active on Instagram each month! It’s obviously had to develop and change to stay relevant, and it has certainly come a long way from its simple roots. I recently watched the Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design which had an episode about digital product design, including how Instagram went about changing their logo.
In 2015 it moved away from the square only format and being able to do a multi-post of up to 10 images felt revolutionary when that featured was added. The stories functionality they introduced in 2016 has seen a big shift in the way the platform is used; I know I share a lot more on stories now than I do on the ‘grid’.
This year they introduced reels (an attempt to replicate TikTok’s success?) which is apparently the new big thing though I haven’t attempted to use it myself yet. Who knows what will be next.
Of course, not all its developments have been well received by users. An increase in the amount of advertising in a user’s feed and the algorithm which changed the feed from showing posts in chronological order have massively altered the user experience.
My use has definitely changed over the years, and I’m more selective these days about what I post, but Instagram has become my favourite online tool. Through Instagram I’ve made (virtual and real) friends, developed a sense of community with people who have similar interests and spent a lot of money – Instagram and Paypal is a dangerous combination! It also played a significant role in bringing my boyfriend into my life.
I now have four Instagram accounts to reflect my different interests – @lizetta, @liveloveldntown, @goingonastreetarthunt and @zettastitch. I have definitely been known to spend too much time on the app, but it’s been a lifeline during lockdown and I love using it as part of my attempt to be creative every day.
This week I discovered that MySpace still exists, though it looks very different from when I last used it way back when. The speed at which technology moves, you never know whats going to happen to these apps and what will stand the test of time. Something tells me that Instagram will continue to exist for many years to come.