I’m not sure how I should respond to Instagram or Hipstamatic or the other dozens of digital photo modifiers out there. They take photographs and add structured elements to make them “arty.” Of course, real art is not taking a picture and converting it to black and white, or putting it in a nice frame, of softening the glow, or whatever those other effects do.
I had to laugh when I read that Nikon and Canon both ship cameras with a tube of Vaseline to rub on the lens in case your computer crashes and you can’t use Instagram. Now I’m a big believer in the best camera is the one in your hand and the latest versions of iPhone and other smart phones have really excellent cameras.
My complaint is with the artsy-fartsy digital effects that people without an artistic bone in their bodies try to “fix up” their pictures. Now we hear about Hipstamatic providing special templates for “photojournalists.” Photojournalists = good. Special templates to make photojournalist pictures = a crock.
To quote some real photojournalists from an article in the British Journal of Photography.
Especially, adds Ben Khelifa, since the world of photojournalism is changing. "Our industry is exploding, in a good way," he tells BJP. "Our practices are changing — we're going faster, we're dealing with new economics and new tools. Everything is changing, and I think it's great because it allows us to renew ourselves. Applications such as Hipstamatic and Instagram are making a lot of money right now, and I think it's great when they decide to give something back to photographers. It just goes to show that photojournalism is still important, even for companies that specialise in new technologies."
However, at the heart of the Hipstamatic Foundation of Photojournalism lies the app itself, which continues to cause acrimonious arguments within the photojournalism industry. "As long as you don't have control over the image, I don't believe it has any value," says Jean-François Leroy, the director of the Visa pour l'image photojournalism festival. "No one can pretend that the photographer retains control over his images when using Hipstamatic. I find that this type of application tends to standardise photography — you're not shooting your image, you're shooting a Ben Lowy image," he says, referring to the digital filter Hipstamatic plans to release for photojournalists in the coming months. The GoodPak, as Hipstamatic calls it, was developed with Lowy's input. BJP understands that the Pak was finalised three weeks ago, after undergoing months of tests.
Magnum photographer Christopher Anderson, on the other hand, doesn't have anything against photographers using the app, yet, as a photojournalist, he believes the resulting images are visually bad. "Garish is the word I would use," he tells BJP in an email interview. "I think they are also oddly nostalgic. But that said, I don't have any ethical problem with them. For the purists out there, I would remind them how their own dogmas alter reality – the use of black and white being the most notable of hypocritical dogmas. Unless the photographer is truly and thoroughly colour-blind, this is a pretty drastic alteration of reality. I don't see how making your skies purple with an app is any less ethical — albeit in worse taste, perhaps."
But, adds Anderson, there's another side that remains unexplored. "It occurred to me that my mother and sister, and everybody on Facebook, is showing their world to each other using these apps. That 'look' is not at all exotic to them. So when a 'professional' photojournalist such as Kuwayama or Michael Christopher Brown use an iPhone and app in a conflict zone, perhaps it actually helps communicate what is going on in, say, Afghanistan to people in the suburbs because it looks like the way they show each other their world."
In the article, Hipstamatic CEO Lucas Allen Buick says that "The idea behind it is to create an educational platform, where professionals will be able to give some of their time to educate up-and-coming photographers on how to go into Libya, for example, and not get shot."
"Stories have always been a large part of what Hipstamatic is about. We have an opportunity to let photographers do the stories they want to tell and we will be giving out grants to these photographers, so they don't have to find publishers to finance their work."
So, to be a photojournalist you really need two things. 1) to be in a place of conflict such as Libya or Afghanistan, and 2) to take your pictures in black and white … or mauve with a frame showing the 35mm film number?
Hog wash. There is art and there is “not art.” It is more difficult to apply an objective standard for defining art by identifying what is not art. For example, I strenuously object to the concept that art is anything its creator wants it to be, but many hold fast to this belief. It is my opinion that a framed sheet of notebook paper is not art just because a “creator” states that it is—how we view the sheet of notebook paper is also a consideration.
In a critique as a college student, a classmate generated fifteen minutes of conversation concerning the nature of art by hanging a calendar upside down. The artist knew he could capture the imagination of the class with his pseudo-intellectual ramblings.
The same rules didn’t apply a week later when I proudly presented a Woolworth’s “spring clearance” window sign with car wax applied to it. My creation was repulsive and my declaration that it was as much art as the calendar hung upside down was rejected. I was ridiculed by my peers as I defiantly contended they proved my point for me: my assertion as its creator that my car-waxed sign was art was insufficient because no one else accepted it as art.
I still think I won that argument … all evidence to the contrary aside. Therefore, ipso-facto, quod erat demonstrandum. Hipstamatic is not art.
In response, Ben Khalifa, said, "What's really annoying is that all these debates about the aesthetics and whether it's a good idea to use Hipstamatic don't make sense. The story is at the heart of photojournalism, and if a photographer believes he can tell a better story by using Hipstamatic, that's his choice. Hipstamatic, like a Leica camera or anything else, is just a tool and nothing else."
Well sir, I reply to you, in the words of Roseanne Roseannadanna, “Never mind.”