Virginia Heffernan defends the Instagram app:

When we live only in language—in tweets and status updates, in zingers, analysis, and debate—we come to imagine the world to be much uglier than it is. But Instagram, if you use it right, will stealthily persuade you that other humans—and nature, and food, and three-dimensional objects more generally—are worth observing for the sheer joy of it.

I don’t use Instagram although I like the immediacy of a digital camera. I never enjoyed darkroom work and would get frustrated from the moment I tried to reel the film onto a spool for developing to dodging and burning the image onto the photo paper. Oddly, I can spend hours playing with an image running it thru processing software to move, crop, and color what I’ve captured. Technology finally caught up to my lack of patience.

Immediacy can translate to a unique desperation to capture a particular thought or image on paper or in camera. There is little difference between a notebook, sketch pad, or digital camera. It’s the instancy of capture, the lightbulb in your head, the snap of your fingers that demands the tool to make it happen. But it’s still a ball of clay, a mash of mud and water. The work is in shaping it. Instagram does give you that immediacy of capture and the immediacy of finish. Polaroid did it the same way – and thankfully we’re still finding those snap-shots buried in cartons hidden in attics and old basements.

After I had gotten thru my first two years of recovery from chemo and radiation treatments, I began borrowing my wife’s digital SLR to take some photos. It’s not an odd thing to find that after you land on the other side of treatment the resulting side effects can have both a depressing yet focusing effect on your life. I began to notice more details around me and wanted to capture them as you would hold your hand out for an errant leaf or reach to scratch behind a dog’s ear. There was an immediacy to everything that surrounded me. I needed to grab it as quickly as possible. The digital camera enabled me to do that.

I’m in the middle of the bell curve when it comes to amateur photography. What I’ve found along the way is that the immediacy of the snapshot that the Instagram (Polaroid?) effect provides can be satisfying, But it still doesn’t truly say what you want it to say. That’s where the elements of curiosity come in. What was seen is not necessarily what you saw. Or thought. So you spend the time, with pen or processor, trying to recreate the story behind the snap.

It’s a struggle. I do like the avenues of expression offered in the new digital universe. But I hope that we don’t give in to the immediacy and sacrifice our curiosity…

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© Jeff Kopito

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