Is instagram cheating?

Last night one of the people I follow on Twitter – Gus Silber (@gussilber) – posted a link to an opinion article on CNN’s website entitled “Why Instagram photos cheat the viewer”. Of course I was intrigued so I read the piece, which turned out to be a rather whiney rant from a professional news photographer stating that news photographs with instagram or hipstamatic effects applied were unethical and “cheating the viewer”.

Now I have to say that I have personally never seen news photographs using instagram so I can’t comment on how it is done or the impact it has. I’m not 100 per cent convinced instgram’s vintage effects, high contrast or grain are best suited to news photography, but to suggest that it is unethical or misleading is taking it too far. The writer of the piece – Nick Stern – points out that photographers have been fired from newsrooms for photoshopping news photographs, “One added smoke to increase the dramatic appearance of bombing, one cut and pasted a rifle-toting soldier from one image onto another and another removed his own shadow from an image.”

There is a line between news photography and art photography – and photoshopping a soldier from one image into another definitely falls into the second category. So what about instagram effects – news or art? Or somewhere in between perhaps?

My main source of discomfort when I read Stern’s argument is his suggestion that only news photographs – shot by ‘real’ photographer with a very expensive camera – are representations of truth. And I have a real problem with that – no photograph tells an objective truth. Whatever is presented in a photograph is mediated through the photographer’s understanding and interpretation, and the viewer can never know what has been left out of the frame. One might even argue that by appearing very true to life (with no effects, borders etc), the professional news photographs are even more deceptive, because they present themselves as being true. With an instagram photo, on the other hand, there is far less of that pretense.

Those who dismiss instagram and the branch of street/lay-man photography it represents, sound just like those people who bemoan the collapse of the English language. By pronouncing the use of instagram to be cheating, I am sure Stern is echoing many film photographers who felt that the first digital cameras were cheating too.

Photography, just like language, is always in flux, always changing and we cannot label every change as a negative one.

10 thoughts on “Is instagram cheating?”

  1. Instagram has opened up a world of opportunity for me – I can document interesting/funny/beautiful things that I see day to day in a simple way, without having to worry about lugging my heavy camera around. It’s convenient and the effects usually more than make up for the uncontrollables when shooting on your phone – bad lighting, lack of maual settings etc. All I can say is hip hip hooray for whoever developed it! It is my most used app on my iphone. People that have a real problem with Instagram don’t have an iphone…

    1. I just really didn’t like his superior attitude – instagram is a type of photography, not a replacement for traditional photography. I don’t have an iphone and use instagram with my DSLR photos – sometimesI like edited pics, sometimes I like to edit in Lightroom and sometimes I do it in instagram.

  2. This is such a timely post…..I JUST discovered Instagram and absolutely love it. Photography is art, and art is subjective, right? Instagram is simply another tool for creativity. You still have to have a fair amount of talent to produce an attractive image whether its with a point and click, an iphone app, or a more complex camera. This persons concerns seem fear based, and maybe once they’re addressed they won’t be so worried about a zippy little iphone app that does nothing but make people happy!!

    Thanks for posting that thought provoking ariticle!
    elisa

    1. Thank you, I am really glad you enjoyed the post. I think his main fear is around it having a place in the newsroom, but he shouldn’t simply dismiss it. I don’t think he has to worry about being out of a job because people are running around with iphones instagramming their pics – there is a place for both is our ever sophisticated media landscape.

  3. “Since when did we trust app developers to bring us the news?” Hmmmmm…. technology now a days is a must have for instant news all over the world.. People have been tweeting the news from all over and everyone picks up quickly, have the major news channels been complaining about that? Nope, they have embedded into the twitter life. I guess it’s about time for this guy to submit himself to the Instagram life! Unbelievable… 🙂

    1. Agree with you wholeheartedly – the same arguments he uses for Instagram can be applied to Twitter. The world of journalism is changing due to social media and instead of seeing competition, he should be looking at synergies. There is still a place for him and his second-mortgage camera in the world of journalism and instagram.

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