This post has been brewing for some time. I opened my Instagram account last December, then came the controversy over their new terms and conditions. I knew I would have to write about it. I have always taken photographs with my mobile phone, at least since 1st of January 2003, when I received a brand new Sharp GX10 from Vodaphone. At the time it was the first camera phone available in the UK. I was to record one picture a day for the whole year. That was to become an exhibition – iCapture. I loved the immediacy and ease of the phone camera, but also my connection to it was different than my other cameras. Taking photographs with a phone results in more spontaneous and personal images. It gives you the feeling that you are recording your very own view of the world, exactly as you are experiencing it, that can then be shared instantaneously. This relationship with the camera phone, later became the subject of my dissertation, on the MA at Newport.
Today millions of Instagramers are taking a photo a day, documenting their daily lives. The vast majority of users take photos of themselves and their friends, when they go somewhere; to say – this is me, I am here, look at me! This use is fine and perfectly valid. It is a form of visual communication and important to people. However finding photographs on Instaram that hold an interest to others and communicate another level of value is not hard to find. There are lots of ways to use Instagram. Many photographers and non photographers are using it in a creative and inspiring way. There is an opinion within some in the photographic community that Instagram is dull, vacuous and meaningless.
For me, Instagram is a great leveler. It is the very fact, that we are all taking the same photographs that appeals to me. It makes me feel connected with others around the world, who are not so very different from me. I love experiencing how other people see their world. It gains me access to those worlds that I am not part of, and could never imagine. It takes me out of the everyday and puts me into seeing and shooting mode, as I walk down the street. It helps me to notice and appreciate the everyday.
The real power of Instagram, was revealed when they tried to change their terms of service, at the end of last year. By consenting to their terms (original and now updated) you grant a full worldwide license to Instagram, which is also transferable to a third party. In plain language Instagram can use your photos for free and give them to someone else to use for free. The attempted change in policy, would have made it possible for Instagram to charge third parties, for the use of your images. This caused a huge reaction, with some users closing their accounts and many stopped posting until Instagram reverted to their old terms – we can use your photos for free.
The power of Instagram and the connections we make through sharing our photos obviously outways the photographer’s own concerns over copyright. Sharing is more important than ownership.