Instagram: Is Photography the Language of the Lie?

‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.’

– Oscar Wilde

I remember when I was doing the creative writing course at film school, the principal lecturer once told us that, as film makers, we were ‘telling a lie to tell a greater truth.’

This is a fabulous maxim, and comes with all kinds of implications. What is the truth we’re trying to tell, and in the blossoming paradox of the action, what do we reveal about ourselves?

There is the well-known cliché about the author being dead, but I’ve never bought into that. You might not believe in God, but there is an invisible directive behind the wind, or the surf, and you can look at the effect of its influence, but the network of environmental forces that give rise to the force in the first instance tell us even more.

I’m told that Instagram is the most popular of the social media platforms, but it’s the one that doesn’t really interest me. I mean, I certainly believe that it’s the most addictive (I often find myself staring at it for far longer than I am actually engaged), but it seems to tell me least.

I also think it reinforces one of the most oft-spoken criticisms of social media; once upon a time, it was much harder to get published and find an audience, but it meant that what was available for consumption was of a much higher standard. Now, with Facebook, Insta and blogging, there is far more inept, pointless bullshit out there to clog up your filter.

Digital media relies heavily on photography for content, and there is good reason for this; it’s more economical. It’s also more engaging because it is more easily, and more swiftly consumed. However, it rarely qualifies as art, rather than propaganda.

It’s not just a matter of something telling you what to think, as opposed to evoking something less direct, less certain, but also because the creator is present, regardless of how they are revealed.

One of the things I enjoy about reading text is that a writer has to develop some degree of skill, or at least have some kind of knack. And short of that, the best thing you can do is tell the truth.

Those crazy screeds on Facebook where someone confesses that their life is actually a bonfire of personal disaster are compelling, at the very least.

Further, a skilled writer may develop a sense of where a reader sits, and how to shape their observations, but they are always revealing themselves through that process. A writer, over time, cannot help but give themselves away.

The best ones understand that even though the human beings may be remote from one another, in the communion of writer and reader through text, they are actually soul to soul.

I read something interesting recently about Instagram, which is that once you photograph and post something, the intimacy is gone. Perhaps this is because you are introducing a stranger into the moment, or preparing a place for their insertion. In doing so, the communion that makes that moment sacred is leaking away.

The act of photographing something, filtering, distorting and applying a hashtag is the process removing yourself and instead, putting an expectation, or a standard, or a cliché in its place.

Where the spectator is left with light, shape, colour, and toxic positivity; a hall of mirrors where they are surrounded by nothing but weird, distorted reflections of themselves.  

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