You don’t have to instagram your washing up.
Of course, if you’d like to, then go right ahead – your account is all yours & you should do whatever your heart desires on there. An account of everyone’s different piles of dirty dinner plates could actually be fascinating, so my title is actually redundant here.
What I’m really referring to though is the idea that it is somehow dishonest to only show the good things in your photographs – to live the ‘perfect instagram life’.
It’s something that seems to be on people’s hearts and minds. It’s everyone’s guilty insta-secret – this styling of tables and coffee, the deleting of sub-par shots -and we only ever confess it to one another in secretive, whispered tones.
Someone tweeted this article in Vogue, where the author describes becoming “a publicist for my own self, sending out clear, controlled images of the life I want to convey” on Instagram.
On BBC Radio 4’s Bookclub a few weeks back, I heard three women berating the age of social media sharing – ‘a photo of a plate of food!’ one exclaimed. ‘There’s just no STORY in that’.
It sort of seems du jour to be down on the carefully worked instagram feed, and I get why; in a time when even Beyonce & Miranda Kerr are photoshopping their ‘grams, its all too easy to feel like everyone has a better, prettier, more photogenic life than you. Don’t we all need a bit more authenticity? Where are the real, unfiltered photos of dirty clothes, of washing up?
Not on Instagram.
But then, Instagram was never supposed to be a place to share real, unfiltered images; its unique selling point when it launched, and the reason most people downloaded the app, was in fact the filters themselves. Wasn’t it?
I remember it being a game changer for mobile photography, in a time when the cameras in phones were still really disappointing. It made you want to actually use your phone’s camera – and share the photographs you took!
The accounts Instagram promote, feature, and support reflect this – they are consistently galleries where people post their best, most considered work. They seem to want to be a platform where mobile photography is taken seriously – not just an extension of the facebook photo album. More like the golden days of Flickr, I suppose.
I think that a lot of people have an idea that a true photographer should simply record the world as it is, like David Attenborough watching a polar bear cub die. It’s not for us to intervene. Everyone could be an amazing photographer, this theory quietly suggests, if they only had the time, and the camera, and someone to show them how to work it.
But I don’t think that’s true – if the polar bear tried to eat the cameraman, I think David’s journalistic impartiality would be out the window, and photographers frequently interfere and play around with their subject to capture the right image. Wildlife photographers lay bait in photogenic spots and wait all day; couples at weddings drive out to more scenic spots for their bridal shots. & then the magic happens. Not everybody is a great photographer, just as we can’t all be writers, or singers, or Nigella Lawson (sigh).
So I’m standing up in defence of the styled instagram shot, because I think the line is a bit arbitrary. Is it ok to use a flash, or is that lying about how light it was? Why is it ok for a pro camera to automatically adjust the white balance, but wrong to use a corrective filter on mobile to do the same? It feels like old vs new, like deciding any words coined after 2001 don’t count and can never be allowed in the dictionary.
A photographer conceives of an image, and uses all of his or her available technical knowledge, skill and expertise to make it a reality. My images shown in this post are styled, edited and considered. Does admitting to that spoil them?
In reality, the vast majority of my instagram (& other) photographs are spontaneous moments of stumbled-upon loveliness (here, here, here) – though I might move a stray Mars bar wrapper before I snap. I guess I’d say my strength is in finding those moments – and who knows, perhaps the tweaks are unnecessary perfectionism. Generally I’m against perfectionism – I really am – but I just don’t want to post anything that doesn’t fill me with joy. It’s ‘the edited highlights of my life’ as I said on Radio 4 (!).
So finally to my title: why isn’t anybody photographing their washing up? Perhaps it really is because we’re all trying to pretend to be more perfect – I suppose that’s the reason I make sure the house is clean and dustbunny-free before people visit, and so I guess the same is true for instagram.
But perhaps it is also because it’s boring to take a photograph of something boring! If it doesn’t excite me or interest me or inspire me, why am I taking a photograph and sharing it with the world? And who in the world is going to want to see it?
There definitely are elements of Instagram that are contrived – gallery curation, optimal posting times, engagement formulas. Strategies used by individuals and brands to build their social network but they are about the act of sharing, rather than the content being shared.
To the lady on Radio 4 who thinks food has no story, I say, wait 50 years. I would totally go to an exhibition of photographs from half a century ago of plates of food from all around the world. What was portion size like? Can I still recognise all the food today? What does it say about our changing ideas on nutrition?
To the girl at Vogue, I say – if Instagram is messing with your head, you need to get off instagram. It’s not the filters or the content that’s a problem, it’s the like-addiction, and that’s a whole different post for another day.
I say it’s not dishonest to only share the photographs you’re proud of, any more than it’s lying to go out in the outfit that looked best, or fraudulent to spellcheck a blogpost. Yes, we need more openness and honesty in the world and yes, the perfection myth needs to die – but please, not at the expense of inspiration and art and pride and pretty pictures of people’s coffee cups from above! Let some things be sacristan.
Let’s take down Facebook instead 😉
Where do you stand on this? Do you prefer accounts that are all about the beautiful pictures, or do you follow a mixture of real-life too? I’m really interested to find out! Leave me a comment below to chat.
PS. A life needs secret plans… I’m working on something top secret and SUPER exciting to launch soon, to help you make your Instagram dreams a reality. Look below.
"The best camera is always the one that's with you." An adage for an Instagram generation, where we photograph everything and anything and make our daily lives the subject in our work. It's a style [...]