Hugged to death? The Instagram generation are really bad news for beauty spots
Photography is an ever-evolving, ever-changing hobby, career and art-form. Over the years the cameras have evolved from primitive wooden boxes powered by chemicals, into technologically-advanced power-packed gizmos that enable pretty much anyone to take a good photograph in pretty much any environment. In the process, what used to be a niche and highly specialised interest, was democratised. However, of all the advancements, progressions and transformations of the last 100 years, the one that has most recently had far-reaching effects on the world, is Instagram.
First launched in 2010, Instagram combined the immediacy of a Polaroid with the social sharing functions that the current generation was born into. The app’s popularity exploded, with one million registered users within its first two months alone, then 10 million in a year, 800 million as of September 2017 and well north of one billion users now.
It has always been a controversial app, from the hard-baked 1:1 square ratio of the original release, to the one-click filters, through its apparent disregard for the niceties of copyright ownership, to the bullying the platform enabled, the changes to its timeline algorithm and most recently the move away from photographs towards videos via its Story function and spin-off IGTV app.
Instagram propelled some photographers from relative anonymity into the big league. It took other non-photographers who had simply been taking photographs of what interested them and transformed them into Insta-stars. Above all, Instagram helped to bring forth a whole new career path for the millennial generation – the influencer.
The problem is that Instagram is a voracious beast. It demands a neverending supply of new images in order to satisfy that massive audience and their infinitely scrolling timelines. Influencers, once they were on the treadmill, found that they had to find new places to photograph, new ways of telling the same story over and over again, new photographic styles to keep their feed interesting, new collaborations to increase their follower count, new experiences to share, new restaurants to #foodstagram and new products to pretend they weren’t being paid to promote.
One of the unfortunate side-effects of all of this is the hug of death. Certain locations, which offer the perfect backdrop for an Instagram selfie, have been inundated with visitors. In some cases the locations have been damaged to such an extent that they have been closed to public access. The motto of the landscape photographer used to be Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but pictures. Kill nothing but time but these days the Instagammer’s motto is more like Leave nothing but litter. Take nothing but souvenirs. Kill nothing but the environment.
As a direct result of the dawn of this new breed of photographer – namely the person who takes images purely to share online with a following on social media – locations that have been visited for a hundred years by photographers are being damaged, destroyed and closed. It might sound sensationalist, but the evidence is clear. Bush tracks and paths that were once little used and overgrown are now worn to the point of collapse. Rock structures that survived for millions of years have been eroded and destroyed. Land-owners who were happy to let the occasional person cross their properties are now closing the gates forever. In many cases it was just the serenity that attracted the occasional photographer to a location – but that too has been shattered. What were once quiet and lovely spots out in the countryside are now simply locations to be ticked off a checklist as Instagram users try to create their versions of the photos they’ve admired online.
About the author: Andy Hutchinson is a photographer and journalist based in South Coast, New South Wales, Australia. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work and words on his website, or by following him on Facebook and Instagram. This article was also published here.