Traditional mediums like photography are constantly evolving. An extraordinary example of a digital technology that is influencing the world of photography is Instagram, an online photo sharing service. In this blog post I will analyse Instagram, examining Villi’s concept of near-time communication, applying this to how Instagram allows phone users to immediately share captured moments. I will also explore how Instagram has changed the nature of photography and how we interpret our world by shifting our understanding of space and time.
Instagram, an online photo-sharing app, has attracted over 150 million users worldwide since its creation in 2010 (Rusli, 2013). This staggering figure has been achieved in less than 3 years, proving the immense appeal behind being able to immediately share photos. In May 2012, every second a new user joined Instagram and 58 photos were uploaded (Daniells, 2012). Instagram attracts users through a neat design; uses hash tags to categorize images, and has many features and filters that allow everyday users to edit their photos (Rusli, 2013). Instagram therefore has a significant place in the history of photography, as it has encouraged the increase in smartphone photography by giving ordinary people the ability to capture and share their own experiences. Examples of Instagram’s features can be seen in the images below:
In her 2010 article, Villi examines modern photo messaging and the concept of near-time photographic communication. This refers to how camera phones can enable effortless communication over distance through photo sharing, providing a sense of temporal immediacy. Traditionally, photographs were used as records for later viewing, communicating through time. In “Rhetoric of the Image”, Barthes explains that the photograph acted as “… an illogical connection between the here-now and the there-then” (1977, 44). Photographs thus can be seen as time machines, shuttling us between the past and present (Batchen 2004, 97), yet modern technologies such as cameras in smart phones and network connections have changed the nature of photography. Camera phones now enable images to be communicated immediately after capture, creating “instantaneous time” as distance is no longer an object (Villi, 2010). While photo messaging may not be “real time” communication, it becomes near time. The lack of time passing between original exposures and viewing allows us to be present in multiple spaces simultaneously, creating presence in space and absence in time (Villi, 2010).
Instagram demonstrates the concept of near-time communication as it allows photos to be shared instantly. Photos can be taken from the app, which connects to the phone camera, crops the image, allowing you to edit, add comments and tags before it’s instantly uploaded. This decrease in time between taking and sharing a photo forms a strong connection between the there-now and here-now, communicating over space rather than time (Villi, 2010). While Instagram photos may still have some delay from the time of capture to time of upload, they offer more “near-time” communication than traditional film photography. Instagram allows for the everyday person to share a collection of captured moments, putting the spotlight on the mundane as well as the extraordinary, altering our perceptions of the world.
Instagram is also an example of how distance can be seen as the new “punctum”. Barthes explains that “punctum” is the detail in a photo that attracts the viewer (1981). Traditional photographs caught on film gave viewers an insight into the documented past. Villi explains that through modern photo sharing technology, distance is now a key focus in a photo (2010). Photos shared online can create an absence in space, connecting people across distances. For example, Instagram is popularly used by travellers, who can post photos of the exotic places they are currently experiencing, tag their locations and share their visual experience with others in almost real-time. In these photos, distance is the punctum, attracting viewers by altering the concept of space. Below are some selections of my Instagram posts I created while travelling, demonstrating how I could directly share my experience with my friends in near-time on the other side of the world:
Instagram is also an example of the increasing transience of visual messages. Villi argues that the value of individual photos is lessened because digital images can easily be copied and deleted (2010). Through the increased use of services such as Instagram, the nature of photography as an occasion has diminished, and Instagram posts represent a culture in which photos are intended for momentary consumption. Instagram photos can be deleted as easily as they are created, illustrating their transient nature, proving how technologies like Instagram have contributed to fundamental changes in photography. Giralt also discusses how apps like Instagram have changed photography, as technologies for photo editing/manipulation are easily accessible (2010). Editing dilutes reality, which should be something “captured” rather than “constructed” (2010: 3). Instagram allows for such manipulation to a certain extent, influencing how we interpret our world through photo representations as people often accept the realism of manipulated images.
Instagram is an extremely popular photo-editing platform that allows users to immediately share their photos, a clear example of Villi’s concept of near-time communication. This concept links in with ideas of distance, transience and manipulation in photography, proving how Instagram has a significant place in the history of photography because it alters how we can represent and interpret our world.
Barthes, R. (1977). Rhetoric of the Image. (Ed. and trans. Stephen Heath). New York: Hill and Wang.Barthes, R. (1981). Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (Howard, R., Trans.). New York: Hill and Wang. (Original work published 1980).
Batchen, G. (2004). Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance. Princeton Architectural Press.
Daniells, K. (May 2012). “Infographic: Instagram Statistics 2012”. Retrieved October 28th, 2013, from http://www.digitalbuzzblog.com/infographic-instagram-stats/.
Giralt, G. F. (2010). Realism and Realistic Representation in the Digital Age. Journal of Film and Video, Vol 62, Issue 3, pg 3 – 16.
Rusli, E. M. (September 2013). “Instagram Pictures itself Making Money.” The Wall Street Journal, Retrieved November 1, 2013, from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324577304579059230069305894.
Villi, Mikko. (2010). Visual mobile communication: Camera phone photo messages as ritual communication and mediated presence, Chapter 5, pp. 83–99.