Just recently I signed up for Instagram, the highly popular social photo sharing app. On iOS, it has already garnered many fans who happily share little snippets of their lives. Without a doubt, it has become a phenomenon and a habit to share with friends what you like, see, and think. Using photos is definitely a powerful and thoroughly enjoyable way of achieving this. The main reason why I did not even try Instagram until now is that I use Android. So, when it was ported to Android just a few weeks ago, it took me this long to install it.
The principle of Instagram is, of course, the social aspect of sharing impressions, joys, and memories of life. I was a never a big fan of this. In fact, I stopped using Facebook over a year ago. I use Google+ and Twitter, but on neither social networks do I ever share personal impressions. To me it is simply not important. If I want to share something with my friends, I do so directly via mail or Skype.
The filters and artistic aspect of Instagram caught my eye, though. Obviously I am very fascinated by photography. Until last year, when I was living in Germany, I worked as a freelance photographer. Unlike most photographers today, I do not live by the rule “the best camera is the one you have with you.” Up to my newest Android device, I never used the phone’s camera for anything. Understandably, the picture quality does not hold a candle to my DSLR. However, this article is not about making an unfair comparison between mobile devices with professional cameras.
Instagram as Inspiration
I am all about visual inspiration, anywhere and anytime. It is the best way to stimulate my senses. So photography is something that comes naturally to me. Whenever I need an idea, I do one of two things. The first: I close my eyes and let images form in my mind. This is usually how I get an idea for a story. If this doesn’t work, then I very much like to look at books or scour the Internet for beautiful photos of cars, landscapes, women, or anything pretty, really. Like most people, when I get stuck, I need something to motivate my emotions. This is the source of true inspiration. Instagram builds on that principle. When you see something that you think is beautiful, then it is good enough to share with the world.
My first tour outside today was rather revealing since I had on my mind this new addiction called Instagram — or the urge to see beauty in truly ordinary objects. The magic happens when you begin to see new angles and perspectives in otherwise very familiar vistas. This is the principle of this little app, which has kindled a worldwide community of people eager to share and appreciate each other’s memories.
So I went for a walk with my fiancee, since it might be the last sunny day for the week. Truthfully I was surprised by the pictures I took. Before, I would never have even looked at the things, but now I felt good about them, as though I created an artistic body of work that represented my vision fully. It felt freeing to walk around with a small smartphone and capture the simple beauty of our neighborhood. This is perhaps the best way to find inspiration. I was wrong about my previous belief that great photography also requires thought-out concepts. This is a false idea on my behalf. What can I say? Instagram has liberated me from my creative hiatus.
The Best Camera is the One You Have
The commercial photographer Chase Jarvis is famous for saying this. He loves to take photos with his iPhone. Only now do I realize what he meant by this. Now that I have a Sony Xperia S with its impressive camera, I can let go of the idea that only my DSLR quenches my thirst for perfection. If you are in the least interested to improve your photography, the same rule applies as it does in writing. The more you practice and apply what you have learned, the faster you will improve your ability to capture the moments that inspire you. In writing, I was taught that, first, one writes with the heart, then, one rewrites with the mind.
Instagram is all about emotions. It is all about being impulsive. It allows you see the small details of life that make it so unique and valuable. We have memories happening all around us; it is favorable to have a camera around so that they will not be forgotten. Nowadays, millions of people have smartphones, and most of them have more-than-adequate cameras. In most cases, the technical specifications that modern phones offer are more than sufficient to create compelling images. The only requirement is not of any technical nature, but merely a question of will.
Once you get over the illusion of technical requirement, your smartphone can lead the way into a whole new territory of artistic discovery. These words describe the exact feeling I had today — one of adventure and pioneering. For one, it made me go outside instead of gazing, uninspired, at my computer monitor. Is this not what photography and art is supposed to be about? The great John Cleese said that creativity is an act that is almost indistinguishable from the playing of a child. It is a state in which we allow our mind to venture off-course, marching head-strong on the less-traveled path.
That was the state of mind in which I found myself as we walked through the nearby fields and along small brooks. At one time, a pitch-black cat was lying in the grass. As I approached to take a photo, the cat did not run away. Instead, it came closer, as if asking for attention. It rolled itself in the grass, wanting to be petted. Usually, cats are not as openly trustworthy as this one was. I guess there are surprises everywhere in the world; even in your own backyard, you may encounter a welcome surprise. It made me think that we are too focused on our work and feel the erroneous need to be constantly wired in.
The World in the Palm of Your Hand
Today, I must confess that I spent a few hours just looking at what other people have uploaded to Instagram. The most popular Instagram shots prove to be an interesting and insightful collection of different tastes and styles. It could almost be construed as an overview of the psychological landscape in modern social media. These photos are not only what people like, but also what they see and how they interpret that input.
The logo of Instagram resembles the much beloved Polaroid cameras. Their success also came from a similar thirst for instant memories. It has also been rumored that Instagram wants to produce an actual camera based on its concept. A year ago I would have thought that this is just a fad. In a way, the logo also suggests playfulness with its rainbow colors and rounded corners. It could just as well pass as a Fisher-Price (toy) camera. This has, in part, contributed to the rising success of Instagram, suggesting that we need to get out and play. We need to get out, enjoy the sun, and capture moments without feeling obliged. A child plays not because it is his duty, but because, while playing, imagination can be free.
Out of this playfulness comes not only trivial pictures of cats and food, but also highly creative visual experiments. The latter is the reason why I seem to have found a new addiction — a new way to stimulate the artist in me. So I am excited to share with the world my own unique vision. Soon I’ll be taking photos in those situations when I would not have ever seen a photo opportunity. In this case, technology not only facilitates, but also promotes creativity. It is in much later years when I may look at these quirky images with a smile. However, these will be captured moments of memories that cannot be repeated, and I will be thankful to have captured them for eternity. This is the very quintessence of photography: the spirit of passing on unique views of a world that once was. In the future, Instagram may well be a very valuable database of memories and a telling document of humanity.
Image above by @fogarty via online Instagram viewer Webstagram.