Friends, photos & an instant filter

In a world where the first instinct is to share, Instagram is the ultimate tool for smartphone users

With over 100 million users as of September, Instagram has seen explosive success. Above are some popular filters (l to r): Earlybird, X-Pro II and Rise, compared to a normal shot.
With over 100 million users as of September, Instagram has seen explosive success. Above are some popular filters (l to r): Earlybird, X-Pro II and Rise, compared to a normal shot.
Photo: 
Instagram, founded in 2010, has come under criticism for using vintage-inspired filters to alter photos taken with a smartphone camera.
Instagram, founded in 2010, has come under criticism for using vintage-inspired filters to alter photos taken with a smartphone camera.
Photo: 

When Rayna Edels downloaded Instagram she thought, like most apps, it would fade out.

But it didn’t. As of Sept. 2012, the photo-sharing app has garnered over 100 million users, some of who dub themselves “Instagrammers.”

A year after downloading the app, Edels, ArtSci ’15, considers herself one.

“When I have some free time, or am feeling overwhelmed by my readings I will open my iPhone and take a look at the array of food, travel pictures and pictures of pets that people share,” she said. “I upload pictures on Instagram to share them with whoever will get a smile or giggle from them.”

Allison Corrigan, a Masters of Industrial Relations student, agrees. “It’s a great way to keep in touch with friends and colleagues. I can see what they’ve been up to and they can do the same,” Corrigan said. “It’s such a feel-good site because it’s easy to use and fun to take and post pictures.”

Founded in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Instagram has since grown with immense popularity. Registered members include a plethora of A-list celebrities and even politicians such as Barack Obama.

With a new member joining every two seconds, it’s a network like none other — a social sharing space for foodies, proud parents, aspiring artists, hipsters and celebrities. It became clear just how far the startup company had come in April 2012. The company, who had previously not made a single dollar in profit was snatched up by the mammoth social network Facebook in a deal of $1 billion in cash and stock.

“I think that Instagram has caught on so much with our generation because we love to share things that are important to us and feel appreciated by others. And why not add some colour and hipster filters to the things we love?” Edels said.

These filters are the digital layer added to a photo, giving it an altered appearance. They range from enhancing colours, to dulling the lighting for a more vintage look. But is the popular app destroying the art of photography, or widening it?

Although Instagramming has raised concerns with photography purists, Edels said she doesn’t agree with this perspective.

“I don’t think that photos are tarnished or damaged by Instagramming. They’re just altered from their original form, which is completely up to the individual who took the photo,” she said.

Chris Ziegler, senior editor at technology and culture news site The Verge, believes that Instagram and similar applications have created a community of smartphone users who are uploading billions of damaged photos into public record. “When you apply a parlor trick filter to your photo, you’re not enhancing it, you’re destroying it. You’re robbing it of its realness, its nuance and replacing it with garbage that serves no function other than to aggrandize your own false sense of artisanship,” Ziegler said in an April 2012 article in The Verge.

Despite Instagram’s method of imitating vintage photo techniques, Queen’s sociology professor Martin Hand said this doesn’t disrupt the notion behind the photography.

“There was never one authentic form of photography,” Hand said. “Photography is alive and well, it’s just taking different forms.”

He said artists have always been wary of change, like shifts from black and white to colour film, SLR cameras and programs like Adobe Photoshop.

Hand said Instagram is part of a trend that centres visual nature of experience. “The role of images has become more central in the ways people communicate with each other,” Hand said. “Everywhere we go we can find a wireless network, there are cameras embedded in other machines and are attached to us at all times.” This is why, he said, the success of Instagram wouldn’t even be possible if it wasn’t for the ubiquity of smartphones.

“We are not only given the tools to share our experiences, but we are expected to,” he said.

But this past December, Instagram decided that the right share photos didn’t solely belong to their uses.

The company revised their User’s Terms of Service to state that although they didn’t claim ownership of the content users posted, they had the right to sell users’ photos to third parties without providing notice or compensation after Jan. 16, 2013. The move resulted in huge criticism from privacy activists and in under a month, the service had lost over half its users. The company then retracted its statement promising to alter the terms. It was a shock to many, said sociology professor David Murakami Wood.

Unlike social networks like Facebook, Instagram was perceived to be a safe and positive community of friends and acquaintances simply posting admirable pictures.

“People have believed in this false notion that once you post things on the Internet you give up your rights to them and this is legally just not true,” Murakami Wood said.

“The idea of everything that’s posted online is fair game and that you have no rights is one of the biggest myths in regards to rights and privacy.”

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.