I love Instagram. It’s a wonderful place to showcase some of your work, create your own personal gallery, get social, interact with other photographers, editors, and curators, keep up to date with family. It’s a great platform. However…
Last week I was reminded of Instagram’s weird issue with women. As I was scrolling through my Instagram feed I came across a photo by Jocelyn Bain Hogg of the photo cooperative VII. The model in the photo is using a kitchen knife to cut off a tag from her dress. And, as you can see, her breasts are exposed. As you can also see there are two “X”s over her nipples. No they are not two pieces of tape applied to the nipples by the model herself, they are digitally added to the image so that it can pass muster for the censors at Instagram. That’s right, one of the worlds most respected photo agencies has to degrade itself and have an employee put little “X”s over the nipples in an image just so they can post it to Instagram.
My friend and colleague, Lisa Hogben, posted a self portrait couple years back showing off her damaged shoulder, bruised and broken in a skiing accident. She made the photo just after a shower and as it happens you could see one breast and nipple. She posted it to our PRISM Instagram account and it was up only a short time before Instagram took it down with a warning of being banned from the platform if similar photos are posted. Lisa later posted the same photo (see below) on her personal IG account but this time with a black strip across the breast. This, the Instagram censors allowed. As Lisa pointed out however this only seems to make the image seem seedier than it really is. How is this a win for Instagram…for any of us?
It takes no time at all to find on Instagram young women, many of whom look as if they’re barely old enough to drive, in little to no clothing, in comically obvious sexualized positions, but as there is no nipple showing there is no censorship. Now think about that. Two adult women in two thoughtful, mature photographs that happen to show nipples, they get the humiliating treatment of censorship. But doe-eyed, hyper-sexualized young women? That’s A-OK.
Again, this attitude toward women from Instagram is not new. The hashtag #freethenipple is one of the most popular hashtags (over 3.6 million posts so far) due to the prudishness regularly exhibited by the censors. But it is still an infantile, degrading attitude.
Go to your Instagram page. Take the last 20 images and average out the number of “likes”. Divide that number by the number of followers you have. That number will probably be somewhere around 0.10. That’s the average percentage of people who “like” your photos. About 10%. Doesn’t matter if you’re a famous photographer or a well known photographic organization. Doesn’t matter if you have 400 followers or 400,000.
After all that time chasing “likes” and followers, about 90% of your followers won’t “like” your photos. Now, it may be that they truly don’t like your stuff; it’s not compelling enough to even garner a simple double tap on the screen. But more than likely it’s because they didn’t even see your photograph because they too are chasing “likes” and followers. They too think more is better. They follow a ton of people in the hopes that those people will blindly follow them back. And your one in 2,000 photos on that person’s IG feed is going to get lost!
These people want to look at the number at the top of their IG page and see that it is greater than their friend’s and acquaintances because, you know… winning! They console themselves that the photo they posted earlier today has 150 “likes”, 25 more than the picture they posted yesterday. Yet the reality is the vast majority of their followers won’t “like”, won’t see their photographs.
My point in pointing this out is to give you a different way to think about social media and followers and likers and all that stuff. For me it comes down to quality over quantity. The vast majority of people I follow are people whose work or art I admire, and am genuinely interested in watching it evolve. I would hope people follow me for the same reasons. I don’t follow someone simply because they followed me. I don’t do “like-for-likes”. I appreciate it when I see someone new has decided to follow me. But I will still take the time to look at their page and see if it’s something I’m interested in before I click “follow.” And often I don’t. Sometimes those people continue to follow me and many times they take back their follow. Which is fine because they weren’t really interested in my stuff in the first place.
Yes, we all have friends and family we follow because they’re friends and family. I do like to keep up with all the nieces and nephews! But for me Instagram is mostly for the art, for the photographs. It’s my own personally curated gallery. A place where I can view interesting, powerful, and unique photography. It’s not a competition for “likes”.
What I’m getting at here is don’t waste your energy chasing those numbers. Because they really don’t mean anything. Or, I should say, they don’t quite mean what we once thought they meant. Follow who you want. “Like” what you genuinely like. Post photographs that mean something to you, that are true to your artistic spirit. The followers will come. You’ll still only see “likes” from about 10% of them, but they’ll be more meaningful.
Civil War Re-enactor just awakened, in his night cap.
Behind him is the Dunker Church. Antietam Battlefield. Site of the bloodiest day in American history. Some 23,000 men were killed wounded or missing after just twelve hours of fighting. General McClellan’s troops outlasted General Lee’s. As they rested for what could have been the final crushing blow, Lee took his army back over the Potomac in retreat. And so the Great Civil War lasted another two and a half years. McClellan was soon relieved of his command by Lincoln.
This kindly fellow is a secessionist re-enactor. Eager to chat, he regaled me with facts and figures of the battle, peppered with much praise for anything and anyone of the South and much derision of anything and anyone of the North. Funny, that.
Early morning sun. Re-enactor, Dunker Church behind him.
After considering Instagram’s reconsideration I’ve decided to move on. I have downloaded my images from their server and deleted my account. All done. Good luck to them (like they need it) and to all who are sticking with them.
And truthfully, I just can’t shake the obnoxious notion that someone at Instagram proposed the idea that they start using other people’s images as if they were their own. “Hey, we’ve been providing this ‘free’ service to these moochers, they owe us!” “Sure, tell the simpletons they still own their images, but we can use them how and when we want!” — how does this kind of thinking become policy? How is that person not laughed out of the room?
I also can’t figure the “oh well — it’s not that big a deal” type of thinking prevalent among too many photographers. “What did you expect?” “It’s a free service, you’re the product.” “What’s the likelihood they’ll use your image, anyway?” — mocking those who are appalled by these attempts at a rights grab rather than the grabbers/thieves themselves is disturbing, to say the least.
And lastly, I’ve been feeling a little thinly spread these days. So this might be a good time to rethink my web presence. Do I need to be EVERYWHERE? Not really. One less place to check or to update might do the psyche good. Maybe two less places. Facebook certainly has its issues, (and they do, after all, own Instagram). Maybe the new year will bring changes in that arena as well. We’ll see.
Looks like Instagram intends to update its TOS (terms of service) after the new year. Among the changes is the second entry under the “Rights” section, which in its current form states:
“Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.”
The shorthand is this… They can sell your images for advertising. Sell it to whomever they want, for whatever price, without your consent and no compensation to you. Nice, eh?
Now, the backlash has been pretty swift and it’s been harsh. Everybody from the everyday take-a-photo-of-my-dinner user to some of the biggest names in the photography business have come down hard on Facebook (who recently bought Instagram). The overwhelming majority think it is an idiotic move on Instagram/Facebook’s part. Time magazine weighed in, as well.
Because of all this, I hold out hope they will rethink their position. I like playing around with Instagram. I enjoy the community I’ve fallen into there. But come January 16, 2013, if they allow the new TOS to go into effect with no changes, I will remove all my photos and delete my account.