Can using a pop culture medium like Instagram to publish photos be considered photojournalism? If you look at most news publications, the answer seems to be a resounding yes.
Despite the uncharted territory, many photojournalists have adapted the tool as part of their arsenal. Columbia Visuals chatted with Ivan Kashinsky and Michael Christopher Brown, photojournalists who incorporate Instagram and get their iPhone work published.
Ivan Kashinsky is a freelance journalist based in Quito, Ecuador. He has worked with National Geographic, Time, and the New York Times. Currently, he is producing a project entitled “#projectmibarrio,” documenting his neighborhood.
Michael Christopher Brown started shooting with his smartphone camera during a road trip in China in late 2010. He also used it occasionally while in Libya, but after breaking his 35mm DSLR the first week of the revolution, his iPhone became his go-to camera.
The benefits of shooting with your phone:
IK: If I’m investing my time and taking this project seriously, why not use a camera with some major megapixels? I’m taking a chance and this is an experiment. Less than a year ago, I had no idea what Instagram was, and I would have laughed at the thought of using my phone for a project. So, why use a phone now?
- I always have my phone. Whether I’m walking to the local store to buy a beer or driving through the car wash, it’s in my pocket. How many times have I seen a beautiful moment unfold before my eyes and thought, “Shit, my camera’s in the house”! That’s not a problem anymore.
- It’s less intrusive. I already stand out here. I’m about two feet taller than everyone else. It doesn’t matter what I wear or if I learn the local slang…I’m still “the gringo.” It’s a lot easier to shoot with a phone without being noticed, especially when you’re doing street photography.
- It seems appropriate for this story. If this is a story about the old vs. the new, a personal story about my place in this neighborhood, it seems like an interesting idea to use an iPhone. That’s what this story is about, the shift. This includes rapidly changing technology and the digital revolution, which is happening all over the world, including in Rumihuaico.
MCB: There are many benefits, as well as drawbacks. Some of the benefits are that the phone is, of course, not a camera, so when photographing people, (and my pictures are about people) this becomes an advantage in that the usual response of fear or hesitation due to the presence of a camera is gone. The phone is not, in general, taken as seriously as the camera. The phone is also tiny and easy to carry, makes no noise, is easy to operate.
There is a lack of control while shooting with a phone, but this has its advantages in that a photographer is never engaged in a technical process, which allows for a certain freedom in vision.
MCB: Instagram is the most popular, with the largest audience, and it is immediate and easiest to use. There are not frills, it it just about the pictures.
IK: Mass communication. Through Nat Geo and The Photo Society I’ve been able to attract 42,000 people who follow my feed on their phones. Nat Geo has 3 million. How else can you reach so many people?
It’s live. People all around the world can watch this project as it develops and comment on it. That’s cool.
IK: If I use a filter, I try to give the whole project a similar “look”. That way the whole project has the same feel and when they are put together they will hold as a whole.
MCB: If the filter adds to the image and makes it a stronger picture (stronger in that it reinforced the message without changing the message), then I have no qualms.
Common mistakes for photojournalists:
MCB: Some post too many images, too often.
IK: I think it’s cool that visual journalists are using Instagram, and I figure they can use it however they want to. If you like it, use it. If you don’t, don’t. In my case, it’s an opportunity to reach out to millions.