July 20, 2012

There’s a lot of talk in photojournalism circles right now around the topic of Instagram & Hipstamatic images. They draw on nostalgia and emulate analog techniques such as cyanotypes, pinhole, Polaroid transfers and even aging. They satisfy two ends: they have an atmospheric quality generally amiss in digital and are distributed through mobile devices. These are tools that were conceived of for popular culture. Professional images generated from mobile devices began to appear in conflict photography stories first, where it was safer and more anonymous for journalists to shoot on the iPhone. The rest is history; this week both Time Magazine and National Geographic announced portals on their sites for Instagram images.

Ed himself uploaded an image into the NatGeo portal.  He immediately received a slew of crude and thoughtless personal comments. The experience was psychologically unsettling and he took the image down. How do photojournalists uphold the integrity of their careers and participate in the dialog of mass culture?

First, there is the debate about craftsmanship. “With Instagram and Hipstamatic, it’s all a gimmick. It’s pure laziness.” Jean-Francois Leroy said in a recent British Journal of Photography interview. From there, the debate turns to what defines a professional versus an amateur. Is it safe to assume that a professional, one who charges money for their work, strives to create images that demonstrate a lasting quality and rise above popular culture? In fine art photography, this distinction seems to be much clearer whereby if you think the series would benefit from a dramatic use of focal planes, you drag out the 4X5 not the Hipstamatic. Finally – always — we arrive at the economic debate. If a professional journalist chooses to participate in the social media streams of popular imagery, can they expect to be compensated differently and are they generally degrading the line that divides citizen from professional journalism?

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