Ansel Adams is documented to have said, "The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it." If Adams were alive today, I doubt his claim would change, though some may argue that the most important component of a camera now are the applications used to edit the photos. One thing we can probably all agree on is that the world of photography has changed, taking a few recent punches from the smart phone and social media phenomenon.
Instagram, a free application for your mobile phone, allows users to apply a digital filter and then share it on their social networking platform and others such as Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr. Similar to the original Polaroid images, Instagram crops an image to a square. It also provides the options to manually create a blur, darken or lighten an image or apply a frame to the shot. This allows the user to change the look and feel of the photo. Most Instagram filters alter the image to resemble the appearance of older photographs.
The product – which launched in Apple's App Store in October 2010 sold to Facebook for approximately one billion dollars last April – has been attacked by photographers, copyright specialists, and both nonusers and users alike.
Some photographers claim that it provides an amateur the platform to pose as a "photographer." Essentially, this argues that if gallery space didn't have educated curators or high rent then anyone could hang their artwork; bringing to question: "Who is an artist?" But even with pricey gallery space and exclusive curators, getting to show work in a gallery doesn't necessarily entail that one must be an artist.
UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism faculty member Richard Koci Hernandez described Instagram in a recent interview for the Los Angeles Times' bimonthly photography feature, reFramed, as "a free billboard for your images on a VERY busy highway. Who could say no to that?"
Karen Rosenberg, an art critic for the New York Times, wrote "the photograph itself, even an artily manipulated one, has become so cheap and ubiquitous that it's no longer of much value," in a column about this subject titled "Everyone's Lives, in Pictures."
Sarah Dussault, a senior photographer for the Sun Sentinel, described her use of Instagram as a "visual Facebook" where she can follow her friends and view what they're seeing on their travels. "As a photojournalist you have to be truthful so you can't be using filters in your work," said Dussault. "So I use it as a creative outlet. I have a lot of fun with Instagram."
Among the world of Instagram's users there's still more argument surrounding the difference between sharing photos taken on a "real" camera (like a DSLR) other than a mobile phone camera. Some claim it's unfair to utilize more advanced equipment than the camera phone. Thus spawning the phrase "iPhone only" (which means photos were taken with their camera phone) among users who choose to disclose this info with their followers.
Beyond Instagram there's a world of photo editing apps that can take a photo to heights that even Photoshop can't attain. Some apps add hearts or hats to your subjects while others are dedicated to transforming images to black and white, achieving scratches to make images look more dated or adding texture like oil paint strokes on canvas or crumpled paper.
Some critics argue that these apps risk discrediting photojournalism for their ability to manipulate its subjects. Though, opposing critics have pointed out that there is only one truth and even before Photoshop there were ways to manipulate photography.
No matter where you stand on the spectrum, the argument is definitely worth exploring.