Caption (image above): photograph of Bianca Devins found on instagram

Photography has been transformed by instagram. I now feel it’s an undeniable fact that I’ve taken a long time to accept.

We’ve seen how young students have been influenced by this social network. From the square format to the characteristic seductive quality of their imagery, we recognize instagram’s influence. Most of my students name “instagramers” when asked for references. In itself, that’s not a problem, but if instagram is all they understand as photographic culture, then that becomes troubling. We’re starting to see the real consequences of this “instagram mentality” and they are nothing short of terrifying (we’ll get there in a minute).

As students let us know, instagram accentuated the idea that in order to be a “good photographer” one would only need a cellphone and a lifestyle. Unfortunately, some teachers agree with this approach and promote it, arguing that no scientific understanding of light is necessary. Cellphones are material commodities, but what is a lifestyle? My guess is it’s a simulacrum, meaning: a world of make-believe that seems so well sustained that what seems false and/or unreal is to deny its right to exist. This effabulation around the idea of happiness and well-being brought photographic imagery closer to an utilitarian expressive mode than it has ever been. Photographic images found on instagram are made with the purpose of being there – being seen and liked. We could interpret this attitude as a symptom of a generation that is incredibly egoistic and that’s no lie, but there’s a lot more to it. Although younger generations have a poor sense of community, they also have a poor sense of self. These fundamental gaps are the result of several things (parental education, the school system, capitalism, living in the digital era, etc.).

When I think of instagram I think of words like “fake” and “inauthentic”, which is funny, since in my creative endeavors I associate instant photography with finding an original visual language. Instagram is about photogeny – pose, style and drama. However, at the core of this image-making process is something much more determining: capitalism. Instagram is all about selling products through the promotion of certain lifestyles. Through the grid-like appearance, visual narratives are created and a well defined group of aesthetic qualities is explored. It’s about light as well-being and I suspect the success of photo-books owes much to the gimmicks of display inaugurated by the social network.

Instagram’s iconography has set a standard for living in the digital age of capitalism. Visual culture, in general, or photographic culture, in particular, are not niches of life that affect only those working in the creative industries. Art and culture are an integral part of who we are as individuals and as communities. Even if we fail to notice it, even if we try to avoid it, we’re always influenced by the culture of our surroundings. Culture is a communal construction, thus it promotes moral values. If instagram is now an integral part of the younger generations’ culture, I think it’s important to consider the values it is promoting.

The other day I had a conversation with some students about the effects of instagram and their reaction confirmed my suspicions. Here’s a summary:

  1. They all admit to be in some degree addicted to instagram; 
  2. Most mentioned the appeal to consume, as a consequence of many influencers promoting commodities as a passport to a better (and beautiful) lifestyle;
  3. When asked about how they feel after spending some time on instagram, they said envy, frustration and anguish.

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. In a couple of weeks I’ll be able to tell all about that and share my experience participating in a new photographic project.

I’ve hesitated before starting this post, but the news about Bianca Devins murder kept haunting me, so I’ve decided to try and write something about it. Bianca Devins was an American teenager, a 17-year-old girl from Utica in New York killed on July 14th, allegedly by a 21-year-old boy named Brandon Clark, 21, who slit her throat and then posted a photo of her lifeless body on instragram — where it remained for nearly a day before being removed. Reports say the killer then stabbed himself while doing selfies and trying to post them online. As becomes clear, the particulars in this story relate not to the nature of the crime itself, but to instagram as a community that uses people’s image with absolutely no consideration for anything other than their ego. There’s no ethics, no empathy. In sum: no humanity. Again, the lack of humanity is no surprise and it won’t ever make the news; maybe what’s different here is how the cruel nature of the crime was publicly displayed. Here a bit more context:

Twenty years ago, the death of Bianca Devins would have been a small town horror story. Tragic. Brutal. Stomach-turning. Essentially local. A jealous man stabbed her to death in a fit of outrage before trying, and failing, to kill himself. Something of this kind happens too often for anyone to hear about them all.
Bianca Devins’s killer did something different, though: he took pictures of the 17-year-old’s dead body and posted them online, to a private forum on the app Discord. He also took pictures of himself after his suicide attempt and uploaded them as well.
[…]
BuzzFeed claims that when the killer posted a photograph of Devins’s corpse he did so with the caption, ‘Sorry fuckers, you’re going to have to find somebody else to orbit.’ A local radio station claims (though this has not been verified by the police) that the killer wrote ‘May You Never Forget Me’ on the pavement after killing Devins.
It seems obvious that as jealous as the killer might have been, this was not a crime enacted in blind rage but with the calculated goal of making an impression. It is probable that he hoped to make sure no one else could win the affections of a girl that he must have been obsessed with, but beyond that he must have craved notoriety.
by Ben Sixsmith – full text here

Of course I haven’t seen any photograph or video regarding the murder of this young girl. However, I find it terrifying that thousands of people promoted the visualization of a 17 year-old decapitated body and, furthermore, that the social network dismissed the issue, considering that the pictures of Bianca Devins death were not in any violation of their “Community Guidelines”. 

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