Why Instagram and Social Media is killing my Photography
This was my first Instagram post. Posted 524 weeks ago, on the 18th of December 2010, Instagram was only 2 months old. The simple droplets of rain on a window in black and white disclose what photography meant to me at that time. Photography was a simple thing, an exercise, a game, and most of the time therapy to me.
But let's go back in time. I started taking photographs using an old 35mm Pentax Spotmatic that my father gave to me when I was 11 years old. Instagram was not my first "Photography Social Media". In 2002ish Fotolog.net became very popular in Brazil and it brought a great excitement on how photographing. It was the first place I've met where everyone was making and sharing photographs for the sake of the act. I remember that with a free account you could share 1 photo a day and have up to 10 comments. By paying a "pro" account you could post up to 6 photos a day and have up to 100 comments on each photo. I paid the membership for a long time and I used the hell out of it. I would post short series of 6 photos every single day. Some great photographers in Brazil, like my good friend Bronko and Cesinha, started in the same platform. It was a time of great creativity for me. I would go out almost every day for "foto-safaris" alone and with friends.
Fotolog soon became a true "social media" with a bunch of selfies and people crying for comments on their photos. Their servers went down several times because of the tsunami of Brazilians using the platform, that soon became obsolete.
In 2004 Flickr became the favorite place for photographers and enthusiasts. The quality of the uploads was great, it had groups, EXIF data, folders, collections, and all the good stuff. Flickr has been so consistent that still is one of the best websites to build a free portfolio, also a good place to learn and share. Photography became more like a job to me than a hobby or an art. I let that great creativity wave go for a while.
That was just until I got my first iPhone, back in November 2010. It was not my first camera phone but was the first usable one. And guess what? That was an app for that!
Instagram came in with all the film-like filters and frames, we could share as many photos as we wanted, have as many comments as we wanted, and could follow and like other photographers and friends. With a camera in my pocket, some cool filters, and an audience of a few friends, all that creativity for photography came back in. I used to photograph everything, every time, mostly in black and white.
I never had a huge audience on Instagram, I always made photographs for myself, until my friend Borghetti (another Fotolog friend) emailed me saying that he was a suggested user on Instagram once and they asked him to refer a few good photographers that he would like to see on the "suggested users list". This was a list curated by Instagram that would suggest great accounts to follow, I think that was before the Facebook acquisition and the "explore" tab.
A few months after I started receiving hundreds of followers every hour. My account jumped from 300 to 12k followers in a couple of weeks. I felt a great sense of responsibility for my work and I tried to create more and more, trying to make my feed make sense for my new followers. I remember that I even received a calendar from Instagram with their selection of the year. In the following year, I was on that list again, and my audience jumped from 12k to 32k.
I remember that I was living in Rio de Janeiro and shooting Copa na Copa when that happened. I was 100% dedicated to make fine art and street photography, after having my first exhibition in the Hearst 8x10 in New York. At that time I thought that Instagram was the only place to keep showing my work.
And it was until a few years ago.
Instagram was a "free" platform and it had to create profits for Facebook shareholders. Developers started tweaking the codes. Instead of showing your feed in chronological order, the new algorithm started showing photos that are more likely to your taste. That was actually a way of making it easier for big companies and advertising to get your attention, and also a way for Facebook to make you spend hours every day using the app.
That was the beginning of the end for me. Soon my posts, which were never too popular because I always liked to photograph weird things, started having less and less likes. The company made a huge clean on fake accounts, and because I was a "suggested user" I lost three to four thousand users in one day. It didn't take long so I could start losing more users than gaining.
In 2018 I was contacted by someone from Google, I was living in New York at that time, and they invited me to become part of a select group of photographers and influencers called #teampixel. I was already using the Google Pixel 2XL as my main phone. They gave me a second one and all they asked was that I post on my feed regularly using the Pixel. The quality of the Google Pixel camera is so good that the Pixel became my main camera. For a couple of years, all my content on Instagram was created with the phone.
But Instagram was changing, and it was not for me anymore. Social Media became something serious Being an "influencer" is now a full-time job for many people, they say you can actually make a living being one. The app now had stories, insights, sponsor, IGTV, ads, videos, explorer tabs, highly complex algorithm, and a growing number of users.
Because of my partnership with Google I tried to adapt to keep my community engaged. I posted at least a photo a day, tried to create engaging stories, making IGTV classes, full of content beer videos, schedule posts on effective hours, and use the right combination of hashtags. All for nothing.
After 10 years using the app I few that I still have a variation of the same 300 users that followed me on my first few years. But is not fun anymore.
Today, Instagram is not a Photography app. In fact, to compete with TikTok, they are tricking users to watch reels instead of posting a new content. The main button (the central one) is not a camera anymore, is the "reels" feed. Facebook doesn't want you to create anymore, but to get stuck scrolling to funny cat videos or whatever the code thinks you will like. In the end, every once in a while you will see a sponsored post.
In the past months I have been struggling to keep my feed updated. And is not because I am not creating, I still think that the Google Pixel has the best camera, and I still take at least a photo a day, even when I have busy days at work. I just don't want to post anymore. Instagram is not fun anymore. Actually on my average of 2h/day of screen time I spend less than 10 minutes using the app.
What's going to happen in 2021? Are we having a new app that will take over Instagram like Flickr won the battle against Fotolog? I dont't know, and to be honest I don't really care.
I always liked VSCO and how the app is really focused on the content rather than the interactions. I also like the fact that when they have a sponsored content they create a new filter instead of pushing ads. But it's still a Social Media, which means that it has to generate profit somehow. I am sick of being hostage of platforms owned by other people.
I am not saying good bye to Instagram or VSCO, you will still se my posts there. I just want to focus on the photographs I made and the ones that I will make. I can't be concerned about reach, interactions, number of followers, impressions, if I want to create good photos.
This place, this website is owned by me. I can create anything I want, post anything I want, in almost any format and shape. And I think this will be the future for me.
For now you will most likely see more content being posted on my personal website rather than any other platform, here I have full control of what I want to do. It won't like Fotolog or Instagram, you won't see a photo a day. Maybe you won't even see a photo a month. But I feel that this is what's right for me this time.
I hope you will like what you will see and read here. And if you don't that's ok.
Photography is just my therapy.