Bit of an obvious lead-in, but could Instagram be affecting the nature of photography, and to a broader extent the nature of art exhibitions. It seems that certain mediums, even specific artworks, are more suited to be spread on a social network. Could this then create a feedback loop by informing the makeup of an exhibition.
I've had mild inklings of this for some time, but only really noticed this at the Asia Pacific Triennial at GOMA and then reinforced while at the Cranbourne Royal Botanic Gardens. I was most interested in taking photos of objects or sculptures, especially those that were formally complex or detailed. I was also having a marvellous fun doing it, as a participatory act of interacting with the artworks and the exhibition.
I wasn't interested in flat surfaces – paintings or photographs – they didn't lend themselves to being re-recorded. Further, they didn't seem to warrant the time to spend with them. They had no use value apart from their supposed inherent value as an artwork.
Biennials and Triennials have restructured the curatorial and artistic landscape with their focus on grand sculptural pieces. I'm wondering if phone cameras, or photographic social networks could be having a similar effect by reinforcing this trend towards the sculptural. Artworks that lend themselves to the dialogue between viewer, artwork, and phone are more likely to be spread on social networks TM and thus more likely to increase the popularity of the artist. If it is more interesting and enjoyable to appreciate the artwork by taking a photo of it, then it's more likely to spread. An artist's practice could lean towards this dialogue and quickly find themselves getting some very healthy phone calls. Especially if they can bring with them statistics of an increase in likes or stars to a gallery's social media strategy.
Let's go a little bit deeper than that though. The dominant photographic shape of the social network is now the square. Portrait or landscape look weird when jimmied into Instagram; the square allows for a universal visual currency. Thus, the ability to frame an artwork into the square format is integral to the new use value of the artwork. We're also dealing with an army of amateurs, making this framing somewhat easier for them could be an added skill for an artist.
Then there are the particularities of phone lenses; with their large depth of field and lack of analog zoom. Nothing is given priority, so we have to hijack the tilt shift function to simulate or highlight three dimensional planes. One could even go so far as to create different works for Android or iPhone, based on the differences in lens quality, white balance, etc.
Does the work of art allow for multiple photographs from different viewpoints? For different interpretations by a broad audience all while keeping it interesting and spreadable? Further, are each of these photographs imbued with a creative act? Does it provide a way for the holder of the phone to feel artistic or creative in their own right? To be creating something of extra worth, on top of the artwork?
It's worth noting here that galleries that don't allow for photographs because of outmoded copyright laws or silly security reasons won't be able to spread themselves on the network. Locked behind their own walls of obscurity.
Note that this vague theory isn't restricted to detailed sculptural artworks. I recently wen to the fabulous Cranbourne Royal Botanic Gardens and couldn't stop playing with my camera. It's a fantastic place: not just for the extremely well laid out gardens, nuanced environmental messages, and witty nods to the native landscape, but because it really lends itself to a jolly instagramming. There's more than enough novelty to ensure at least one good square photo comes out of the trip.
I've also wondered aloud on twitter about the possible effect that the nostalgia filters could be having on coffee culture. Could we start to see certain baristas, or particular coffee blends, be more interesting when witnessed through the lens of Instagram? I can almost imagine various cafes recommending particular filters to go with their coffee. "If you'll be drinking our single origin Costa Rican today, then we recommend either Hudson or Toaster with perhaps a light tilt shift blur. But our Nicaraguan special works really well as a flat white with your filters set to Nashville."