Either because of aesthetic or economy (or a combination of both), I have always been attracted to creating small photos. One of my first cameras was a Yashica Mat medium format camera – I saved my money from working at Wegmans and came up with the $125 I needed to buy it. That was a lot of money when you are 17 years old! I loved that thing but found that I was more interested in looking at the images from the contact sheets – less about creating big beautiful prints, one of the advantages of a medium format camera. As I moved on and took a cross country trip back in the early 90s on my way to Seattle, I shot lots of sweeping vistas and Americana motels and cow skulls (and a few alligator skulls in New Orleans, too). What did I do when I finally got my darkroom all squared away? I spent hours printing the images through little squares of toilet paper to give them that texture. Of course, they ended up the size of little pieces of toilet paper as well – I ended up showing the series at the now defunct Benham Gallery. Shortly after this, I fell in love with the old Diana cameras – they were hard to find then, they weren’t mass produced from the folks at Lomo. Each one of those things had a personality of their own and shot their own unique images with their own set of quirks and light leaks. And, again, I found myself printing the resulting images small – -like 5 by 5 inches. When I showed a bunch of these Diana prints at the Bemis Show, someone called them “little jewels,” a phrase I of course loved being applied to these little images I loved.
I ultimately went digital and, while I am sad about losing the tactile feeling of getting your hands wet in chemicals to print photos or editing slides over a light table, I have grown to love digital. But I did miss my Diana camera often in that period between getting my first digital SLR and my iPhone – I found myself using it less and less. Actually, the primary reason I ultimately got the iPhone was for the camera. I had friends showing me all these amazing things with it – Hipstamatic and the like. I had seen what Damon Winters was able to do with his iPhone in Afghanistan. I focused for a while on the Shake It app, then moved on to Hipstamatic, and finally Instagram. I avoided Instagram for a long time because, for some reason, I thought I could not save the images I created. Now, I have totally embraced it – even sometimes mixing Hipstamatic and Instagram to create something entirely new. For me, it’s another tool in the toolbox, another way of translating what you see in the world around you into a “little jewel.”
One of the criticisms of using Instagram filters is that you can turn a bad photo into something that looks arty. Why is that a criticism? You are giving people a tool and they’re using it as an entry point to creating something beautiful. OK, they’re not always beautiful but at least someone is attempting it. There’s this article here that completely slams Instagram by saying it’s a “shallow medium that will generate shallow results.” And I am certain some people said the samething about Polaroid Land cameras and Kodak’s instant cameras, and maybe even the Brownie camera back in the day but now you can go into a museum to look at Andy Warhol’s Polaroids – and, while I love Andy Warhol, there’s nothing particularly different about these images than from images I see in my Instagram feed. Dare I say it, but I think I have actually seen better, more interesting images than some of these. In every medium and with every tool, one can create something amazing and meaningful or something not so amazing and shallow – this is not simply limited to Instagram.
You can follow me on Instagram if you’d like @mikehipple.