Cities, Creativity, Street Art

View Finding: Thoughts on Real Life Instagram

A few days ago, I stumbled across this post by DesignMilk of the Real Life Instagram. Bruno Riberio has created ‘real life’ Instagrams by creating a series of posters that look the interface of the app. Each poster contains a photographers names, the location, a number of ‘likes’, the hashtags, and of course, a colour filter to influence end viewer’s experience.

There are layers of meaning Riverio’s project – one, just like Instagram, the posters guide one’s eyes to a cropped  vignette that shows us a detail or angle that would have ordinarily have gone un-noticed. Two, he uses a traditional camera – quickly forgotten by most of the Instagram set – to capture the area outside the frame and his poster. Three, he captures people with their smart phones taking a photo through the posters frame to create their own image, most likely to end up on Instagram. I couldn’t pass by this on the street and not be tempted to take my own photo to Instagram, could you?

To view The Real Life Instagram on the web in the context of art and design websites gives me some pause for thought and questions arise that probably wouldn’t occur to me if I encountered these posters on the street. In ‘real life’ I’d have the impulse to capture this interesting thing, but in seeing his photographs online, they make me question myself – How am I using my time? What am I contributing to? What is in our human nature to want capture all this? How are we living our ‘real lives‘? How are we showing them to the rest of the word? Why do we even want to do this?

As we move further into a human history where more and more of us live with smart phones, new apps, digital devices, and social media –  how we choose spend our time online is often criticized. There is a growing dissent around the demands that social media is taking from our time. Our digital apps are intrusive; information is being regurgitated, weakened and lacks quality; we simply don’t need one more photo of your lunch (unless you are a successful food blogger, that is); and a phenomenon of injury has started to emerge because people can’t look up from their smart phones long enough to safely walk down the street. Riverio’s project will make you question your own behaviour.

I was a late adopter to Instagram, and I use it in the most pedestrian of ways – to capture vacation photos, friend’s kids, my cat, and little oddities that I experience in the city. I too am contributing to an over-abundance of images, half exchanges by hashtags with friends, ‘likes’, and what could be perceived of the hyper-saturated, over-edited, over captured milieu of the social web.

But the longer I process these thoughts, they matter less to me. It is easy to be dismissive of our love for technology, now that we’ve gotten so used to our digital devices in such a short period of years. It is easy for someone to say ‘I don’t DO Facebook’ in a dismissive tone or to say that we don’t need a million photos of breakfast, or lunch, or graffiti. I say that we do.

“Charles and Ray Eames praised the use of a finder in their teachings. A finder is a small piece of cardboard with a one inch square hole cut out of the middle. Viewing the world through this hole greatly forces you to lose context and content, and to greatly shift your perception” – Keri Smith

You don’t need to be using a social network to appreciate the fact that everyone has a unique perspective to be shared. Instagram provides people the tools to do this, as does a guerilla poster campaign, as does an artists who provokes us into hyper-awareness of our online activities. What Real Life Instagram say to me, is that we are a million people with ‘artist viewfinders’ in our pockets. Some of us know our strengths, some of us have yet to discover them, but each of us have a unique voice. To generalize a collective activity dismisses the real life intentions behind each snapshot.

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