While I was pumping iron at the gym this morning (not really, I was on the treadmill, but ‘I was running on a hamster-wheel this morning’ doesn’t quite denote swag as much), a friend who's planning to go to Europe for a shoot next month, mentioned stumbling upon a woman (online, in the name of research) she knew who’d been there recently.
Hoping to find sweeping landcapes turned into cutesy Polaroid-style photographs with captions like ‘Majestic Gstaad’ and ‘Breathtaking Berlin’, she found only pictures of said globe-trotter pouting amidst various locations. While the clear labelling was indeed, handy (Me in Prague! #duckface. Me in Barcelona! #duckface) the futility of the exercise soon dawned on my friend, who realised that, to this woman, the big sell of every gorgeous European hotspot was that her pout had now been Instagrammed there.
I couldn’t help but wonder how deeply social media has affected our life goals (another friend of mine would have been likely to interject at this juncture and say #lifegoals—case in point). This woman had just traversed the borders into what was once, deliciously foreign land (and is now simply status quo for anyone whose been anywhere), and through all her experiences in Europe, hadn’t been able to spare a photograph for the place itself.
Going back to the old-school era (in my mind, tucked fondly into a happy crevice) when we took our little Nikons to Adlabs after our limited reel of 36 snaps was full up, and waited days while spools of negative turned into the contents of albums titled ‘Goa Holiday’ and ‘Nani’s Visit 1997’—I remember how, even then, when we lost a couple of soldiers to over-exposure, or having left the shutter down, we’d still have two or three pictures entirely sans people,…just to capture the space in which all those memories took place.
Having that space arrested as a whole, on it’s own piece of glossy photo-paper meant that we could insert all the memories we hadn’t finalised on film, instead of filling the frame with one specific smile, or one specific awkward group hug.
Now, however, the capacity of the average iPhone or Android phone or whatever your techno-poison of choice, is unlimited. Fill it brimful with unending bathroom selfies, and dump onto desktop when the phone sends it’s disciplinary ‘memory-full’ warning. Using a camera is a photographer’s game—whip one out in a crowded bar full of lycra-and-laced up ladies, and those click-ready smiles turned to confused ‘excuse-MEH?’ faces.
But even then, in daily flurries of picture-taking, no one really stops to photograph a space. Not on their travels, not on their everyday tos-and-fros from office-to-filler-time-entertainment to-home. People can only claim a space if they push themselves into the frame, and it’s not worth claiming if it can’t be advertised.
I’ve already garnered a plethora of hatred for my refusal to partake of this over-indulgent fad. ‘Why aren’t you on Insta?!’ many whinge, encouraging me to join it by telling they will be able to tag me in drunken photos of myself that illustrate particularly how unattractive I am, and how incapable my face is of a proper smile (if you’re thinking of Chandler from F.R.I.E.N.D.S. that would be accurate, yes). I realise that in this day-and-age (forgive me for that awful phrase. It’s been used more times than that F.R.I.E.N.D.S reference, I know) not being on Instagram is a veritable sin. It makes me stuck in the past, detestable especially being a weed of the current crop (basically, 25 years old).
But my issue with this desultory portal is really quite simple—it takes away from experience. It changes every event, gathering, coffee break, drunken night, moribund weekend of viral fever, and 3 a.m. work session into a ‘photographable moment’. One might argue, ‘So what? It’s nice to remember the little things!’ However, I have had conversations with friends where pieces of a night together have dropped away from memory, or little experiences have been missed because they were too busy taking red-lipstick selfies with the bartender. Between the incessant phone-flashes and the inebriation of too many gin-and-tonics, they barely remember being there.
But hey, there’s a picture that proves it on Instagram.
I come across as full of loathing, too irate to move forward with the times. I’m not, not really. I’d be a hypocrite if I was, because I, too, have taken selfies with some bartenders in my time (okay, regular photographs. I can’t be sold on the selfie thing still). But this obsession to show the world you’re having a good time often precedes actually having a good time. Flipping through my best friend’s Insta account, I found happy pictures of her on nights where I know she’d been crying her face off not 20 minutes before that picture was taken. The façade of a good time supercedes everything—‘If it’s not on Insta, it doesn’t count,’ says a popular meme.
I suppose that must mean I don’t count. Oh well. I’ll just have to work with anecdotes about a girl’s night in instead, and hope that people don’t ask for documentation to prove the 12 stages of relaxation I went through that evening.