Filtering apps such as Instagram and Hipstamatic have penetrated the world of photojournalism. The Guardian picture desk receives a lot of filtered photographs from news agencies on the wires. We recently included the Hipstamatic shot below, of a man appearing to levitate, in our Picture desk live blog.
It’s the sort of image that usually illustrates lighter stories. To mix up their coverage Getty had its photographers shoot the US elections on their iPhones as well as conventional DSLRs.
Tougher subjects have been covered, too. Back in 2010 the New York Times’ Damon Winter won an award for his Hipstamatic take on the daily lives of US soldiers in Afghanistan. It caused a stir over concerns that the app’s nostalgia-heavy styling romanticised war. Winter later issued a statement in defence of his camera choice.
What we see with Hipstamatic and Instagram are images that are obviously filtered, but in the history of photography there has never been such a thing as a pure image. The journey a photograph takes, from its moment of capture to its display online or in print, is riddled with varying degrees of manipulation and intervention. It starts with how the image is framed in the camera, passes via Photoshop (or the darkroom) and finishes as a cropped version next to some text (including advertising). All these stages influence how the picture is presented.
Photographers using these apps relish the creative freedom it gives. They are relieved of all the technical considerations of operating a DSLR, and can concentrate on composition, making the experience similar to shooting with a Holga. In addition, the iPhone is inconspicuous. For Winter, the fact that the other soldiers were also taking photos on their phones meant that his went virtually unnoticed.
We have an unwritten rule at the Guardian not to illustrate news with photography that has been altered beyond the standard darkroom techniques; the photograph should be an honest account of an event, but at the same time our choices should reflect the world around us. It is an interesting time: technology is developing rapidly and photographers (professional or not) want to explore new possibilities and push conventional boundaries.
So, even if we are simply seeing a fever for all things retro spilling over into photojournalism, with picture agencies using it as a way to make more money, we’re also seeing an industry-wide change in attitude. Professionals are mirroring an increasingly photo-savvy public. Is that a bad thing? Should we at the Guardian reconsider the kind of photography we use?
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010