Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

One Year of Instagram

In the summer of 2010, I noticed that Schmutzie was posting photos with her iPhone. They had a different feel than the photos taken with her “real” camera.  I downloaded Hipstamatic, her favorite photo app, but there were too many choices of stocks and filters, and I quickly lost interest.

I followed another link to an iPhone to an app called Instagram.   This one I understood.  It was point and shoot, and even better, it was like social like Twitter!  And unlike blogging, which is segregated by language, you could see photos from far-away places as France, Turkey, and Brazil!

I walked around my block in Queens and took a few more shots of the neighborhood. It didn’t feel like serious photography, but more like a visual diary.

“Hey, look. Here’s a chair someone is throwing away in the garbage!”

It WAS like Twitter.

It was a year ago today.

There was no way in hell that I could ever imagine that 365 days later, I would have taken 1300 more photos!  And even more shocking — others would LOOK AT THEM!  Instagram reminded me of my blogging world from 2005 — a mishmash of professionals and amateurs taking photos of their lunches, their babies, their cities, and lots of artsy sunsets, with no one  angsting over stats or monetization… yet.

Of course, some professional photographers looked down on the heavily-filtered Instagram photos, much in the same way that  some writers don’t see blogging as “real writing.”  The professional photographers do have a point.   I would never call myself a photographer.  I barely know what I am doing.   No one is going to hire me to do a job.  99% of those who use these app are not authentic photographers, but dabblers, and what’s wrong with that?  It’s another way to enjoy our creativity.  This is the world we live in — on the internet, everyone is a writer, actor, and photographer. And good-looking.

I did receive received some criticism over the year, especially for my fondness for taking photos of strangers on the street.  I am quite aware of the “peeping tom” aspect of what I am doing, but so far, I’ve been able to live with myself.  I do it with a standard of respect.  In my heart, I see street photography as a celebration of humanity and urban life, not something salacious.

In many ways, this year-long exercise in iPhoneography has given me more confidence in other facets of my life.   Writing is a solitary occupation.  Instagram gives me a reason to walk around the block.  It’s also taught me some lessons about writing, perception, and POV.  There is also something sexy about photography.

I’m even starting to gain the courage to ASK subjects if I can take a photo.  Last week, I had lunch/dinner/drinks with three different bloggers.  After the meal, I asked each of them if I could take her photo.   It felt empowering to say “Trust me,” and have someone believe me, especially a woman.

While these three photos may not be the greatest portraits ever, or as dramatic as the Instagram photos I once took of the skyscrapers of Fifth Avenue, they are way more special.   I care about these people.   And I didn’t have to hide in the bushes.

And then, this week, for the first time,  I asked a stranger if I can take her photo.

And that’s a big change in a year.

11 Comments

  1. I struggle photographing people because I hate to be photographed myself. I completely understand how our approach to photography reflects our approach to life. I don’t do Instagram or use apps or filters. My photographs are most often of small details in nature. That’s what I *see* when I move through the world and says a lot about who I am.

  2. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the city (well, cities) through your eyes. And I never felt like you crossed any line into creepy stalker guy. You took shots of what we would see if we were walking with you. There’s nothing wrong with that.

  3. I’ve envied you your Instagram venues. Where I live, there’s little but boring beige houses. No people. But I’m heading back to LA, and as you’ve shown, there’s a lot to take down there.

  4. I’ve always liked your photography. You have a good eye.

  5. You know how I feel about your Instagram photos, my friend. You might not call yourself a photographer, but *I* would, you have “the eye.” Also? Insanely jealous you got to have drinks/lunch/dinner with my friend Jessica. Late night facebook IM sessions not the same as in person.

  6. You DID find real people in SoCal! I’m insanely jealous you got to spend time with 24 and Jessica!

  7. Cool! I downloaded the app but haven’t been using it. Perhaps I should start.

  8. I love your pictures, and think it’s great that you are branching out to strangers! But don’t ever stop writing…

  9. Happy IGversary. I have been reading your blog for almost a year now, every time you post. I used to comment but the truth is your writing to me is like a book. I get it or I don’t. I like it, it leaves a permanent impression on me, sometimes shocks me. But all in all, I don’t find it easy to respond to. Most likely cause written word is not my strong suit. I just really enjoy reading.
    But visual art, that I can relate. So when you started posting IG more and more often I connected with you differently. I love street photography, and you have a way of telling a story. Sure, the gadget and the filters make it easy but ultimately it is the person who clicks. Always!
    I like your artistic expressions, be it your posts about bringing a prostitute to your mom’s or your photos of women wearing hats on 5th.
    Keep clicking Neil.

  10. I enjoy your photos, and I wonder if you don’t see the special quality they have.

    The ones that we see, but you miss.

    They’re very good.

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