Visual Novelties: The Evolution Of The “Instagram Moment”


Photography has always been the most fluent component of societal storytelling—it validates our experiences, celebrates everyday life, and breaks through language barriers.

George Eastman knew well of the novelty surrounding the still image—so much so that he became its champion—democratizing “art” and turning photography into a communication medium.

His knowledge of the technical process, both inside and surrounding the camera ecosystem, helped remove any trade-specific complexity, allowing his customers to focus solely on the image at hand.

Years came and went, cameras became more complex, binary strings replaced film grain and the larger world of technology enabled us to be more connected than ever before. Therefore, it should be no surprise that more photos are taken today than at any time in the past: “Every two minutes today, we snap as many photos as the whole of humanity took in the 1800s,” according to recent report. 1

Images in the past were processed in physical places, given to relatives, displayed on refrigerators, stored in physical shoeboxes, and uploaded to virtual ones named after sea creatures.

Until a few years ago, photography on the Internet was either a virtual shoebox or an interactive refrigerator. The pieces never fit together to form a truly on-the-go snap-and- share solution until Kevin Systrom and company launched Instagram in 2010. The app combined the act of capturing an image, and sharing it to a focused, receptive and fully-engaged audience, in a thoughtful and effortless manner.

Now that the platform has been analyzed, autolyzed and canonized, its diverse user base had begun to “hack” its basic functionality. Images aren’t merely taken, filter-enhanced and shared—they’re collaboratively edited. Location information isn’t just to determine where an image was taken—it now acts as an active billboard—driving people to actual places in the real world at a certain time (see below).

Instagram has evolved the way we tell stories on every level. It makes it easy for any person with opposable thumbs to be nearly as evocative as Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon or Herb Ritts. It makes it easy to study context, perspective, form and light—to not only dream about far-off places—but to redefine how they’re perceived.

Instagram users chronicle the world around them in the same manner that Stanley Kubrick or Vivian Meier did in New York and Chicago during the middle half of the 20th century. They elevate the everyday moments that we all see, but may not take the time to notice.

Instagram, unlike tumblr (or other visual display platforms), is incredibly focused—its users know exactly what they are there to do. Everything about the app is purpose- built to help take the guesswork out of creating a lust-worthy image that can be easily shared (and consumed) by a captive audience.

For a brand, this is a brilliant canvas in which to tell a continuous, ever-evolving visual story. It’s about speaking in tones, not nouns and verbs. It challenges “strategists” to focus on what elements an image must contain to make an impact—to stand for everything about the brand in a single frame.

For the average person, it can make a simple moment in their lives feel like of piece of the permanent collection of the Met—a work of art placed in a captivating setting for passersby to marvel at. It’s the next step in chronicling who we are as a people, and the most definitive way of showcasing modern society at its most creative.

1 How Many Photos Have Ever Been Taken?

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Maury Postal

Maury Postal, currently the Digital Experience Director at Ogilvy 360 DI, previously the Integrated Platform Specialist at Young & Rubicam as well as the Director of Strategy at Carrot Creative in Brooklyn, NY has helped guide the most distinguished brands in the world to find their voice on the social web. His work with Crayola, Ford Motor Company, Hellmann’s, PepsiCo, Sears, Wisk, The Peter G. Petersen Foundation, Weber Shandwick and The Onion has been met with critical acclaim in the mainstream media and multi-screen social news space. Recently, he has been integral to the Facebook launch of the 2011 Ford Explorer, featured in an international marketing study underwritten by Cisco, that details the impact of social media on collaborative innovation, established PepsiCo’s corporate brand image in the social media space, and co-authored a panel for South by Southwest with a key member of the Social Media Team at PepsiCo. An avid architecture aficionado and photographer, Maury is also a student of mid-century modernism, new urbanism, and adaptive reuse.