I continue to struggle with Instagram. I enjoy using it, and like every user, I'm delighted to open the app and discover 6 new orange hearts, flicking eagerly to the News page to see who likes what. But I'm unsettled by the way it's effecting my gaze, making me look at the world as a primarily photographable thing. I find this tiring (I wonder often what it's like to be someone like Peter Peryer, with photos floating half-taken in front of your vision everywhere you turn) and shallow (I'm definitively not a photographer, and there's no inner artistic vision guiding this activity).
And yet. At the same time, I'm intrigued by how it is massively upping people's visual game; just the sheer amount of looking, sharing, responding that goes on. I was thinking the other day about what makes working at an art gallery special, and one of the most basic things is that you spend all day looking at things. Your visual database keeps expanding, and it changes your sight. I think Instagram is doing something similiar.
My friend Virginia pinged me a link to Ben Davis's Ways of Seeing Instagram the other day, where Davis looks at Instagram through the lens of John Berger's Ways of Seeing. It's a fascinating piece.
Adults and children sometimes have boards in their bedrooms or living-rooms on which they pin pieces of paper: letters, snapshots, reproductions of paintings, newspaper cuttings, original drawings, postcards. On each board all the images belong to the same language and all are more or less equal within it, because they have been chosen in a highly personal way to match and express the experience of the room’s inhabitant. Logically, these boards should replace museums.
Isn’t it striking that the most-typical and most-maligned genres of Instagram imagery happen to correspond to the primary genres of Western secular art? All that #foodporn is still-life; all those #selfies, self-portraits. All those vacation vistas are #landscape; art-historically speaking, #beachday pics evoke the hoariest cliché of middle-class leisure iconography. (As for the #nudes, I guess they are going on over on Snapchat.)
Why this (largely unintentional) echo? Because there is a sneaky continuity between the motivations behind such casual images and the power dynamics that not-so-secretly governed classic art.