Photographers, artists, and Instagrammers. A common theme unites all: the use of a camera. But there's also a significant mindset and philosophy, in my opinion, that separates the three.
I recently was hiking alone in Idaho's mountains, slowly enjoying an empty trail and stopping here and there to capture moments and scenes that caught my eye. About halfway into the hike, a couple caught up to me, and we ended up becoming friends and spending the rest of the day together. It turned out they were Instagram Influencers, and I recognized them immediately, because I follow them on the social media platform. Together, their follower count totals just under 1.5 million.
We had a fantastic day together enjoying clear skies, alpine lakes and mountains, fresh snow, and an empty trail. The topic of Instagram and photography was spoken of frequently in conversation. I mentioned how it'd be interesting to be famous on Instagram (i.e. an Instagram Influencer), but I also wasn't certain that's how I wanted my photography to look or that I wanted it to dictate the way I create images.
The two graciously gave me tips and advice on how I might be able to go about upping my follower count: curate my feed, pick a color or style theme in my images, create an entirely new account dedicated to Instagramming, etc. But again, I expressed how I didn't want this activity to influence my artistic mindset, or to change the way I view photography and the world.
I then went on to ask one of the Instagrammers how he viewed himself: a photographer, artist, or influencer? He stated that he views himself not as an artist, perhaps not even a photographer, but mainly just an Instagrammer. Although he had professional gear like the Sony a7R III, he mainly only ever photographs vertically, specifically for Instagram specifications. He mentioned that sometimes, clients or potential clients approach him for photo usage, but he sometimes has to decline because he didn't shoot a scene horizontally, which is what the possible customer is in search of. Additionally, he mostly uses Lightroom for quick, simple edits.
Furthermore, he stated he's rarely ever shot anything other than the popular Instagram lifestyle and adventure-related genres. I asked if he thought this was actually stunting his growth as a creative person, that shooting other genres, even if you aren't fully invested in the topic, can help one see the world differently and influence one's main photography focus. He responded that it didn't bother him, and he enjoyed what he was doing and that was good enough for him.
To help explain my approach to using a camera, I told the Influencers that whenever I look through the viewfinder, I imagine the scene or subject printed large, hanging on the wall of someone's home or in a gallery. I expressed how I rarely think of Instagram or social media when clicking the shutter. I use the raw files as a starting point to help me get to my ultimate goal or end creation, which usually began as a visualization in my head, in which I use Lightroom and Photoshop to make painterly adjustments to the digital negatives.
We spent the rest of the day exploring Idaho's beautiful mountains and further discussing Instagram as well as social media and environmental ethics, such as not tagging exact locations. Whenever we got to a scenic vista, all of our cameras would come out. I'd focus on the landscape and smaller natural scenes while the Instagrammers set up posed lifestyle shots. We all enjoyed the day and all created images we are happy with.
What I'm trying to say is that I think there is a clear and distinct difference between Instagrammers, artists, and photographers. I don't think that there is anything morally or philosophically wrong with any category, but rather, I'm trying to simply acknowledge the fact that there are differences and they should be acknowledged and recognized or at least kept in mind when scrolling through social media. I think one clear piece of evidence is the Instagram account that highlights how photos on the platform all look the same. I think we are all guilty of creating similar work to others. Truly original images are hard to conceive and come by in this day and age. I think that many of us are guilty of creating copycat images, including myself. New ideas and original work are especially difficult to create in nature, lifestyle, and adventure photography.
In my opinion, Instagrammers are those who shoot specifically for the platform and have little to no regard for the history or process of photography. They are individuals who are trying to capture images that give their followers a reason to keep them on their following list. I think many individuals can be categorized as photographers, but I immediately think of photojournalists and documentary photographers as the prime example. Photojournalists often do little to edit their photographs (hopefully, to keep with the integrity of the genre) and cover events by capturing candid, newsworthy moments in real time. Artists who use photography as their medium of choice often have high regard for the process of photography, as well as its history. They value other forms of artwork and aren't afraid of trying something new. They're open to change and evolution in their medium and personal work and often use any tool they can to get to their final visualized creation.
Now, I know what you're thinking: I'm totally wrong and these aren't black-and-white classifications. I agree in that there is usually major overlap within all of these. Certainly, an artist doesn't need to use extra tools besides the camera or raw file to be considered an artist. Of course, as content creators, we want our work to be seen by as many people as possible and want to attract a large following of people who will support our goals and ambitions. Of course, Instagrammers, photographers, and artists could all have an appreciation for photography, its history and process. Of course, one person could be considered all three, either at the same time or at different points in their life. And of course, there's overlap in the idea of using certain tools to create a final, visualized idea. But in conclusion, I think there is a definite mindset that separates the three kinds of people who use a camera.
What do you think? Is there a separation in mindset between the three classifications? If so, what do you think that is? Does it even matter? Do you think Instagrammers are ruining or adding to the depreciation of photography and fine art photography? Or do you think blame lies with an audience? Is this even an issue? Leave your comments below.