How We Learned to Love Low-Res
I was a late Instagram adopter. When the application first launched in October 2010, I boiled with knee-jerk skepticism. While it seemed like a fun way to share photos with friends and loved ones, something about it threatened the photographic purist in me. I‘d fallen in love with photography in the 1990’s when I was in high school and later learned to “see” in large format at Bard with Stephen Shore and An-My Le. Had I been a contemporary of Ansel Adams, Immogen Cunninghman and Edward Weston nearly a century earlier, I’d probably have worshiped the F64 folks and their adherence to infinite depth of field too. Something about Instagram’s imposed square format and film-mimicking filters felt more like an insult to the past than an honor or homage. I should note that at the time I still used a Blackberry because I preferred its “real buttons.” I was a rhombus masquerading as an artist/curator with high held laurels.
My attitude shifted over the years due to changes in the way mobile photography and Instagram (as a medium) have been utilized and perceived as a legitimate means of making work. One of the first major moments was when Ben Lowy displayed his “iAfghanistan” project at the New York Photo Festival in 2011, fostering a new, and more immediate way to document and visualize current events and political issues. Lowy was one of the first to rely on the prompt mobile-ness of the iPhone to communicate the urgency of Afghanistan’s political climate in a way that perhaps no other device could. A few years earlier (and prior to Instagram’s launch), Joel Sternfeld used an iPhone to capture Dubai shopping malls in “iDubai,” but something about Lowy’s "iAfghanistan" took this further, creating a new form of “mobile seeing.” Then, in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit, TIME used Instagram as a form of citizen journalism to uniquely cover the catastrophe. Ben Lowy, who was included in the mix of assigned photographers, landed the cover.
In the years following, an increasing attention and appreciation for the Instagram feeds of well-known photographers developed. Today almost every major blog regularly features their "Top Ten" Instagram photographers or has them do “IG Takeovers,” and many photographers, most recently including Brian Finke, have landed major editorial and commercial jobs based solely on their Instagram feeds. TIME magazine Photo Editor Kira Pollack declared, “every serious photographer needs to be on Instagram.” Shortly after, Aperture’s annual auction, curated by The New York Times Magazine’s Kathy Ryan, was exclusively comprised of Instagram images ranging from rising talents like Grant Willing and Sarah Palmer to art stars like Alex Praeger and Vik Muniz, whose intimate prints drew bids in the thousands.
At this stage in Instagram’s wider embracement by photojournalists, mainstream media, arts institutions and established photographers, what’s left? How are photographers continuing to make pictures that rely specifically on the application in its low-resolution glory? How is the camera phone helping to make images that could not succeed in the same way if they were made with a Nikon D800 or a wooden 8x10 Deardorff? Amani and I decided to add our own take to the discussion (#Latergram) with an open call and invitation to our community of photographers – a quest for new work that might help us answer this question. The resulting images are from an international group of photographers representing a range of roots and traditions. Some, like Mark Marchessi’s view camera influenced architectural #trippledeckers, and Emiliano Granado’s natural-lit studio portraits are more straightforward in their approach, while others like Stepanka Peterka use the iPhone and its screen capturing abilities to deconstruct its process entirely. From Alec Soth's famous #unselfies to Heidi Romano's screen captured aerials of landscapes she's never visited, enclosed are twelve photographers whose projects tell new stories, push the boundaries of the medium in innovative and exciting ways, or simply use it as a sketch book to test and develop their ongoing ideas.
– Jon Feinstein, Co-Founder, Humble Arts Foundation