With the barrage of Instagram filters and editing apps like VSCOcam producing pretty awe-inspiring results— there’s debate over whether just about anyone can be a photographer. There’s also been debate over the validity of Instagram as an art form, but if Richard Prince’s latest exhibition anything go by, it is. Granted, he’s courted a lot of controversy because of it all, and perhaps violated the copyright of the Instagrammers he essentially stole from. The question is, does the accessibility of the art of photography cheapen it or democratize it? That’s for us to debate and discuss, but one thing’s for sure, the way that social media is influencing pop culture is undeniably having an effect on photography.
Last week I contributed a piece to our friends over at HOW Design that explored the idea that pop culture is transforming photography, focusing on the ripples caused by the proliferation of social media channels over the last few years. So how is pop culture influencing the art of photography? Let’s dive in…
1. The Selfie Generation
Selfies are nothing new. From Rembrandt’s tronies to Robert Cornelius’ famous daguerreotype, self-portraiture has long been a go-to practice for the visual artist in need of a cheap, readily available subject. Still, while these people relied on their own visages as a means of improving their craft, today’s Instagram selfie—as well as its forefather, the Myspace mirror-shot—is usually nothing more than a cheap exercises in vanity. So much so that the Instagram selfie has more or less become a symbol for the vapidity of the millennial generation. But the selfie craze has also caused an interesting backlash among some photographers who’ve used the sheer volume and general mundanity of Instagram selfies as inspiration to push their own self-portraiture further, or even turn the phenomenon itself into a subject.
2. Analog Aesthetics
For the most part, digital and smartphone cameras have replaced film, while Instagram filters and editing apps have replaced the darkroom, which has led to an increased interest in the photo processing techniques of the past. For many, digital photography is too clean, too bloodless and too predictable.
And we see this sentiment reflected in the aesthetics of a great deal of modern photography, where the use of film and the visual language of the analog and/or disposable camera (i.e. harsh frontal flash, film burns, over saturation etc.) have become sought-after markers of authenticity, often copied, but never quite duplicated by digital editing apps.
From the concert venue to the art gallery to the swanky rooftop bar, you weren’t really there unless you posted it on Instagram. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Allowing users to tag, exchange and search photos of an event expands the feeling of community that shared social experiences create. No matter how good the band is, a concert is more enjoyable when it is packed, and a searchable pool of hash-tagged and geo-tagged online photos allows that insular crowd to extend this feeling of community into the digital space. Still, amateur concert photography has plenty of detractors and it is now something of a trend for bands to complain about audience photos/videos (many have actually tried to ban it). And although this might make them sound a bit old-fashioned, they make a decent point.
4. Lost in the Noise
When Nick Ut’s famous ‘Napalm Girl’ graced almost every front page in the country, it sparked a national conversation. The photo of a naked, badly burned 9 year old Vietnamese girl running from a U.S. napalm attack had such a major effect on the social consciousness during the Vietnam War that even President Nixon took note. The idea of a single photograph having such an impact on culture today is unthinkable. Most of the photojournalism we encounter today is done by so-called ‘citizen journalists’ whose blurry iPhone pictures and shaky videos get picked up and instantly pumped out all over the internet and cable TV. They pop up on our Twitter and Facebook feeds, where an image of an ISIS beheading is given the same amount of space as a Buzzfeed quiz, or your aunt’s vacation photos. They come with ‘Graphic Image’ warnings, so even if we don’t accidentally scroll right past them, we can still choose to ignore them. The social media explosion has given us the incredible ability to share our photos and stories with the entire world in a matter of seconds, but more often than not, images that previously might have made an impact just get lost in the noise.
5. We’re all Mad Men
Commercial photography, one of the few arenas in which photographers/visual artists can still make some decent money, is also being encroached upon by Instagram and its ilk. By now we’ve all seen crowd sourced ad campaigns like this one from Honda or this Taco Bell commercial made entirely with user submitted Instagram photos. Social media sites like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook provide corporations and PR agencies with potentially endless pools of free content, leaving little room in the advertising world for interesting art and photography.The broad digitization of culture has permanently altered the world of photography. But not all of these changes have been for the worse. It’s true that social media has further eroded the line between artist and layman, but for many serious photographers it has also been a source of inspiration. We’re now left with the difficult task of finding creative new ways to push the art form forward—and we’re up for the challenge.
Do you agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below.
Check out the original post on HOW Design here.