The Paris publishing house Out of the Phone is debuting a book last month of 100 Instagram photos originating from 25 countries as a testament to the app’s scope and artistic capabilities. This goes to show that Instagram has come a long way from its underground hipster origins. Obama has Instagram. Ronald McDonald has Instagram. Your grandma just downloaded the app and now also has Instagram.
So what does entering the mainstream do to the experience? Instagram continues to be like other sharing apps and apart from minor upgrades the platform has relatively stayed the same.
What has changed is the magnitude in which the application is used. Instagram announced on their blog earlier this month that the app now sustains over 300 million active monthly users. They jumped from 200 to 300 million users in only 9 months. And perhaps most telling, 65 percent of these users exist outside the United States.
But its ascent to popularity has also been met with criticism. Some have pointed to the superficiality of Instagram photos thanks to the ease and extremes at which users can filter and edit images, losing their resemblance to the original places and people. Attacks have been fired at the use of meaningless hashtags and mundane content.
These are fair critiques, but the app’s accessibility and ease in which anyone can create a beautiful photo is the platform’s superpower. Cultures, places and people have been brought together through the mass sharing of photos that’s created a cultural mosaic of users on an unprecedented level.
Huffington Post recently published a piece titled “12 Surreally Beautiful Instagram Accounts Out Of China.” They compiled accounts that showcased China’s distinctive beauty. Instagram enabled the users of these accounts to create an archive of photos as well as free and unlimited sharing.
Although editing tools can hugely alter photos, they also encourage creativity. Instagram users like @mattfrench collaborate with other accounts to create images where users contribute to the final image product. People can then take that image and appropriate another design onto it or give feedback and critique.
Everywhere you can see these mobile artistic seminars, like people discussing pieces in an art gallery, adding another layer of cultural connectivity that doesn’t exist on other social network platforms.
Instagram has become the looking glass of millions. You can see the street someone in Finland walks along to get to work. You can lust over someone’s breakfast in Kentucky.
But it’s also more than a means for photo sharing – it’s an artistic stage to share cultural environments with an audience who has proved to be positive and nurturing. It’s a spectrum that’s not so much linear but spherical, having come a long way from its initial days of confined sharing among friends. Instagram has presented a remarkable cultural expository that anyone with a phone can explore. Let’s see where it takes us next.