On the Hipstamatic Journalist


General Photography

There is a presentation of Ben Lowy’s iPhone photos over at Lens blog, which includes an interview with the photographer (you can find my earlier interview with Lowy here). Jon Anderson wrote an article commenting on the Lens post, which is well worth the read. (more)

Writes Anderson

“Certainly anyone involved in an aesthetic practice — anything tied to perception and communication — is looking to innovate, to experiment with the form. That is a given. But this emphasis on the need to look different in order to attract attention and somehow correct the effects of so called image fatigue begs questions about the nature of image-based reportage, its status within the news industry, and the qualities that make it meaningful, which are not solely a matter of achieving a ‘different look.’”
There’s the key here, right there: A “different look” is not really what meaningful image-based reportage should be all about, and it can’t really be a solution to the problems photojournalism is facing - unless, as a photojournalist, you’d be happy to try to chase after different photo trends to make people look.

But even if you believed that photojournalism could gain something from a different look, there is another issue here. In the Lens interview, Lowy says

“I think that if you create a different aesthetic than people are used to seeing, you can attract the public — you can bring them in and then all of a sudden that is when the content is delivered.”
The problem here is that using a Hipstamatic/Instagram app is not at all “a different aesthetic than people are used to seeing” - everybody and their grandmother are now using those apps or filters. On top of that, these apps mimic old film cameras. So it’s not a different aesthetic at all - it’s a trendy aesthetic. In fact it’s so trendy and popular that Facebook just paid $1b to buy Instagram - a site centering on those kinds of images!

Many of the problems photojournalism faces might well lie beyond photojournalism itself - as Anderson notes. How photojournalists can deal with that I don’t know. But I don’t think converting iPhone photographs into mock-vintage images is the solution to the problem at all.

And I’d still love to hear from the New York Times why using the Hipstamatic app does not violate their strict rules concerning photo manipulations. You can’t slap a “photo illustration” label on so many images - and then pretend there’s no problem whatsoever with the Hipstamatic app. iPhones are able to produce very high-quality images (so by all means, photojournalists, use it). But the moment you produce those mock-vintage images by using the Hipstamatic app, you’re engaged in some pretty serious image manipulation.

Of course, as H.R. Haldeman said “Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s hard to get it back in!” I am sure we’re going to see more Hipstamatic photojournalism. I just hope it’ll be one of those trends that will make everybody ask “What were they thinking?” in five or ten years…