Instagrumpy: What Instagram’s Done To Photography

I have a very contentious relationship with Instagram––not because it’s trending at an alarming rate that threatens the very sanctity of hipsterdom, but more because in revolutionizing the way in which artsy photographs are taken, it has simultaneously diluted the quality and very definition of the photographic image.

Where Have All The Hipsters Gone?

The true hipster has long been extinct, phased out with the death of the counter-cultural movement in the 90s that permeated well into the early 2000s. What has survived the hipster holocaust? A nostalgic residue of what is “cool” and “hip” that’s embodied by things like skinny jeans and Instagram; however, these modern symbols and ideas only mimic a deceased contemplitude, and are void of any real substance––a sign with no [signifier/signified].

Why My Pants Are So Small

Skinny jeans, at one time a bold fashion statement for redefining the constructs of masculinity and femininity, can now be bought at some of the world’s largest (and most commercially unethical) department stores and retailers. But before their rise in popularity, skinny jeans were not widely available for purchase. People had to be a little more creative in restyling their own jeans to match the style, or buy jeans meant for the opposite sex or for children. However, regardless of the means in which people recreated the look of these unhealthily tight pants, it required a more involved and intentional process of either searching them out or doing it yourself.

The difference now, in a post-hipster society, is that skinny jeans aren’t any more of a choice than which Starbucks coffee you get before heading to the 9 to 5 you said you’d never have; it’s just another commercial commodity that has been reintroduced to the world via capitalist enterprise. Therefore, the counter cultural content they used to represent has become as ubiquitous as jeans themselves, hugging the hips of soccer moms and the desperately hip from east to west.


Instagram falls into the same category, albeit its usage is quite different and its reach through technology enhances its numbers exponentially. Indeed, it has diluted the very essence of a once practiced art form just the same. And like its analogous partner in crime, the skinny jean, Instagram has now become a commercial entity that has removed the artistic aspect from photography altogether. Take their new “Terms of Use” policy as an example. In agreeing to be an Instagram user, you automatically give the company permission to sell your photos as advertising content with no compensation to you. Essentially, Instagram has turned a once trendy photo app into the next supplier of stock photography to compete with the likes of Getty Images. 

This transformation from an easy version of Photoshop to an expansive network of stock photography takes Barthes’ concept of the photographic punctum of a single image and applies it to the medium itself, devaluing both the art and art form until you are unable to view it as anything more than a sign with no signifier. I weep for the future.

Article written by Eric Rydin