#890. What makes something Instagramable?

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Aug 14

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo !

Train bar – From my IG account (yes, you read that correctly)

My daughter is currently somewhere on a lake in Amazonia. I’ll let the unfairness of all that sink in for a minute (I should be the one having fun), but that’s not the reason for my distress.

Let me collect my strength and continue.


So, she – of immense DS lens review modelling fame – is on that remote, beautiful, waterway, working on “tropical skin”, ie architectural techniques suited to the area, using locally found ingredients and inspired by the evolution of local plant species. I’m sure some/most of this description is wrong, but that’s what I understood of the project before she left. To make my envy worse, that sounds really interesting.

The school organising the session has created an Instagram account to allow those who stayed at home to get and idea of what all of it looks like, and probably as visual proof of environmental beauty for future students tempted by the adventure. A positive side effect for over-protective daddies is that they can catch a glimse of their precious daughters and know that haven’t been eaten raw by piranhas or gators. Not me, of course, I’m brave and carefree. Coolest dad on the block.

Looks unbearable, right? (c) aavsamazon

Besides, she’s prepared.

We’ve submitted her to a month-long bout of paranoia, impregnated her (unnecessary) mosquito net and clothes with grade 1 zillion repellant, instructed her not to follow strangers on pirogues for jungle-candy, taught her to be a cute little killing machine through 15 years of intense karate training, and pestered her in every imaginable way (she’s been living alone and abroad for over 2 years, I’m sure she needs us on her back like I need a third elbow 😀 )

But there’s always something your forget. Something that seems innocuous. Unlikely to happen. Something that slips by and inevitably returns to bite you on the arse like Farmer Maggot’s dogs.


You see, the above screengrab is from a video. You’ll see it if you click the pic. In that video, someone is instructing the students. Only a few seconds are necessary to understand this is a satanic ritual! I daren’t listen again so the words may not be exactly those but it goes something like:

It could be interesting to study what makes something intagramable.

My poor, innocent, angel.

You think you’ve prepared them for anything. Vampire mozzies, ninjagators, alien abduction. But Instagram!? How could I miss that? Even in the middle of the jungle, Zuckerberg’s fingers can twist my child’s mind!

What’s a poor, broken-hearted dad to do? You teach them to be themselves over decades. To have their own thought process, their own look, their own voice. And there, in the middle of the world’s last untouched strip of nature, they get thrown into a cesspit of nano influencers that fake idyl right up to burnout, of algorithmically-elected creative quality, of brands that do not give a …, of microsecond celebrity at all costs, of monolithic fitting-in?

How did this happen?

Square. Probably not IG worthy.

Ok, so this is just me hoodwinking childishly, as usual.

What the instructor really says is “it would be nice to talk about the Instagram culture, what makes something instgramable”. I couldn’t agree more.

Obviously, the key word here is culture. And I’d love to hear that talk, given the quality of instruction my daughter has reported over the past two years.

I realised there are some of my old phone pictures on my old IG account (don’t judge me, marketing consultants need to know about new platforms when they pop-up into our lives). Mostly meh, with the then-novel filters slapped on. Some better than others.

Train station – From my IG account
Meh bar – From my IG account

But fun to rediscover nonetheless.

So what is that Instagram culture and what makes something Instagramable?

Facebook and Instagram (and all other ad-centric platforms) are built around the tiniest, most atomic, content element. Memes, pics of furry animals doing furry stuff, 3-second videos of drunk people falling over. Watch-like-ad, watch-like-ad.

Beyond that, I’ve no idea. Probably something that catches your eye very quickly but keeps it long enough to matter in a firehose of imagery. Which is really hard to do. I feel that what you have to do to make a photograph catchy in the first place often detracts from its ability to keep you interested in the long term. Artificial presets, spectacular locations, famous X or Y … It’s often the case that photographs that we actually hang on our walls take a while to decypher. They are longform content. They can be obvious in hindsight but not love at first sight. Although it’s square and visually simple, I’d never post this in Instagram, for instance. Is that wrong? My hands on experience of the platform is half a decade old.


This? 😉


Even more interesting than Instagram culture, I think, is how you could fit in and retain your own style. Just because the platform is designed for low engagement doesn’t mean the people watching aren’t likely to be interested in something deeper.

What do we know about Instagram? The square format is one thing. And a great, great, thing. Learning to compose in a square is an exercise every photographer should submit to. And it’s a real shame that manufacturers never picked up on the idea of square sensors. They make so much sense at every level and would free us once and for all of the 3:2 barnacle (Barnack debacle).

Beyond that, I know very little that’s actually style-related (most users seem to have pushed beyond the cheap filters) or genre related. But the broad and shallow approach to life is always present on social media platforms because they need fast volume to peddle ads. So, to blend in and succeed as a traditional photographer, you’d have to balance instant attraction with deeper meaning. A bit like playing candy crush while listening to Tanhauser or reading Hyperion. Or is that too 2017?

You could argue your pics don’t have to appeal to a vast number of people. You could post for a much smaller community. But, given the infinitesimally low level of engagement on those platforms, as an artist, why would you chose to (beyond the convienience of not having to set up a website)?


One thing that does come to mind is the Polaroid-like look of some filters. Call me retro but I’m partial to those. The train bar and train station pics above, free-spirited as they feel, reminded me of the (fairly) recent Wim Wenders polaroid show that made my knees tremble in awe. Imagine if Facebook sold 4″ printers that closely emulated the pola look. I’d be all over that light-hearted vibe.

So maybe there is something worthwhile for everyone on Instagram. And I really look forward to hearing what was discussed on that lake or what will be, back at school. The simple point & pola appeal would be high for me. And every one might find a similar niche that brings back to childhood or triggers some dopamine in the photographic part of the brain. Except that, for me, no print, no deal. That’s the way of the silver hair.



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  • Sean says:

    What an interesting subject. First up, I’m not on IG nor FB, even when the wife regularly reminds me with “Why don’t you? You should, you know.” Nah! I’ve not capitulated as yet, and probably never will be. Dunno what the future holds on this position, though. As long as my ears bleed too much from wife’s verbal urgings to join IG, my obstinance might survive my IG abstinence – or eventually succumb and obey wife’s verbal nudging. I don’t suffer IG lifestyle envy, nor need increasing doses of IG serum – but I do have annual injections of flue vaccine 🙂

    Having said that, here’s an interesting couple of pieces on this IG thingy:

    Title:”Instagram is the Happiest Place in the (Internet) World”.
    Link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/paper-souls/201601/instagram-is-the-happiest-place-in-the-internet-world

    Title: “The Psychology Behind Your Instagram Post”
    Link: https://blog.wolfmillionaire.com/psychology-behind-instagram-post/

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Sean. I will actually read both with great interest. All we hear of these websites are the suicidal teenagers and the burned out so-called influencers with the actual social clout of a moth. But I’m sure there are plenty of interesting aspects to exploit. I have accounts on both, and linkedin, and twitter and … bbecause it’s important for me to test them for my work, particularly the advertising side of things, but they really ore me profoundly. There’s only so much shallow content one can swallow in a day, right? 😉

      • Sean says:

        Re: “… There’s only so much shallow content one can swallow in a day, right?…” Sounds to me, that what you have said here, has hit, for some of us, a relevant and emotive bulls eye.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I’m not sure whether you should be reading magazines & books on photography to solve the Instagram crisis in your life, or philosophers like Kahlil Gibran to solve the daddy crisis. I daren’t add to your woes by telling you what happened when my niece went to Brasile on a student exchange!

  • NMc says:

    The really odd thing about Instagram is that it the time for an actual Polaroid to develop is much more than most images get viewed. The actual physical image did have some lifespan measurable in years or decades, not fractions of a second, even if the photo was actually quite bad though meaningful to those involved.

    What makes something/somewhere Instagram-able? Unfortunately that is too often ease of repeated capture, instant recognition and ultimate in cultural disposability.
    Ideally if the Architecture students learn what most of Instagram is about it will help them create the opposite for the improvement of the actual real world, my inner sceptic thinks that is not the motivation. Architecture as branding is just too irresistible particularly to the corporate and political classes, and they issue the biggest commissions.

    Social media is the opiate of the masses.

    • Sean says:

      NMc: Indeed, there’s a certain substance to what you state “… Social media is the opiate of the masses…” Grok that!

      • pascaljappy says:

        Indeed. Facebook is, very literally, The Matrix. It uses the attention of billions of humans basking in a fake reality to power its advert mill. Blue pill everyone? 😉

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