Instagram – Real Photography or Not?


Incident on Ginza-dori, Tokyo; © Ian Poole, 2012.

In an article (page 10 March 2012) written for my Auckland based friend, Tim Steele, in his f11 Magazine, I spoke of my anxious concern as to whether a smart phone could take photos/be a camera.  As a late adopter of smart phone technology (an early adopter of belt mounted pagers in the late 1970s, but that possibly doesn’t count); I came to the concept of mobile phones as cameras rather late in life.  Up until late 2011 the telephone had been a “ring ring – hello” type of device for me.  At that time I was preparing for a trip to Japan and was keen to share images with friends both at home and on my travels.  Whether my Japanese friends had good English skills (my Japanese is just short of non-existent) they all had good visual literacy skills.  Therefore photography was a legitimate form of communication.


Clouds over Queenstown; © Ian Poole 2013.

Despite using professional equipment (Nikon D800 and a much loved Panasonic Lumix GF1), I found that the note taking capacity of my i-Phone was seductively easy; as was the instant capacity to communicate with friends on the run with Instagram.  There has been contemporary debate about Instagram since its sale to Facebook, but whilst I have taken some cherished images and placed into this software, it is a visual communication device that differs from my “real” cameras.


Homage to Cartier-Bresson at Matisse Exhibition; © Ian Poole Brisbane, 2011.

Moving from travel documentary, I found that the ready availability of have a device in my pocket led to images being taken that would not normally be exposed.  I am not a reportage type of Cartier-Bresson photographer, but found that I was seeing and taking more of these style of images.  My i-Phone had become a notebook that was as indispensable as my Moleskine.

Just as good darkroom technique is important in analogue photography, post-production with i-Phone (or Android) images is critical.  My preferred software is Snapseed, with a camera setting called 6×6 permanently set at black and white as my monochrome image maker; reminiscent of Hasselblad days.

Yes, my i-Phone is an integral item in my camera bag; no, it hasn’t replaced any of my cameras (and that includes a Holga, a Lubitel, a Sharan pinhole and some more serious bits and pieces.


One Way – Keep Left; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 2011.


Guardian Angel, Queenstown, New Zealand; © Ian Poole, 2013.


Brisbane Cliche Wedding Location; © Ian Poole, 2012.

2 thoughts on “Instagram – Real Photography or Not?

  1. Instagram! Photography? It’s a sharp question but 99% of the time it does not matter. I reckon the guiding principle is – cue the Cockney accent – “Leave it out guv’ner. It’s all jest pitchers, innit?”

    Some rare times the distinction between picture and photograph is of consequence.

    Trying to sell the electronic file behind an Instagram to a collector in a photographic gallery would, on the face of it, be tricky. Even if the collector buys it the grand principle, “different” is not “the same”, is scarcely overturned.

    Claiming an Instagram has the same causal relation to subject matter as a photograph doesn’t pass analysis. Judge Maris would admit Instagrams to his courtroom as testimony; photographs as physical evidence.

    Some people accumulater self esteem by self-identifying as photographers while generating nothing but electronic files. They gain status and respect among their peers who do the same thing. But photography isn’t just what people agree among themselves. That’s Aristotle’s “argumentum ad populum” fallacy all over again.

    In practice ordinary speech grants lots of latitude and my personal observation is that when most people say “photograph” they could say “picture”. A picture is a surface showing marks that the eye perceives and the mind interprets as a representation. And the surface can be that of a monitor screen, a chimp-able preview on the back of a DSLR or a telephone, or even an aggregation of marks on a piece of paper. As the famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein pointed out choosing the wrong language can create conceptual difficulties needlessly. If everybody always said “picture” the angst about “photography” would not even arise.


    • My dear friend Maris, I had a feeling that a reference to Instagram would drag you from your monastic cave. Thank you – I don’t necessarily disagree with you, I just can’t respond as eloquently.

      I would be happy to approach Judge Maris in his courtroom with an Instagram or two, but would certainly be happier speaking and defending my case with a photograph. It is a matter of interpretation and confidence in one’s visual skill. I find my i-Phone is an immediate tool and sits readily at hand. My current life does not allow for traveling with a large format camera – and in that I envy your lifestyle and raison d’être.

      The debate is obviously inconclusive, but your opinion is valid, rational and cherished.


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