It started in the Fall of 2013 when Instagram was finally released for Windows Phone. I had a Lumia, and I was excited. I had wanted to get on Instagram for a while, because you know, who wouldn’t have loved the idea of the vintage-y filters and square format. And so, when the app was released for Windows Phone 8, I was utterly disappointed. I had the first version of Lumia, a Windows Phone 7. Typical. After some months of thinking about it and trying to forget about it at the same time, I finally got myself an iPhone – admittedly, primarily because I wanted to have Instagram (I am aware of being a little bit ridiculous, thanks). I joined in March 2014, and at first was perfectly content with sharing ordinary photos from everyday situations, using Instagram’s own filters and editing system.
Gradually I started noticing the hashtags #vsco, #vscocam and others that started with the letter combination vsco. Those picture seemed to be better than others on average, and so, after a while of being confused what vsco was all about, I googled it. I found out vsco stands for Visual Supply Co, and that it is an app for editing and publishing your photos. The filters - or presets, as VSCO calls them - are much better and subtler than Instagram’s, and there are more of them. The same goes for the other editing options. Furthermore, VSCO is a social media platform in its own right, giving its users the option of publishing their photos on their own feed, called the VSCO Grid. However, VSCO is largely different from Instagram in its social media aspect, as the comment and like functions do not exist. This is because the platform wants to retain its purpose of art rather than become one of social maneuvering.
At first I used VSCO only occasionally but it swiftly became my only system of edit, and for over a year I have used it for my photos exclusively. Every single shot I post on Instagram has gone through an editing process in VSCO.
Around the time I discovered VSCO, I started getting more into photography itself and paying more attention to what I was capturing and posting online. My style, eye and editing preferences have changed over time, and I hope to continue evolving in a better direction. For a long time I’ve been battling with whether I should continue on using only my iPhone for photography, or whether I should start using an actual camera. Currently I’ve been experimenting with the latter territory as well (for ages I maintained a “I’m doing it with my phone, it’s authentic” mentality), although I’m sure I won’t stop taking photos with my phone. I still strongly maintain that mobile photography is the future – and the present, to be honest.
I am a person who has always felt the need to do something creative. For the longest time, my primary creative outlet was music and songwriting. I had been pursuing that seriously since my teenage years up until the point I had a development deal with a record label. When things went awry with that, I found myself having a songwriter’s block that I still haven’t fully recovered from. After a year of not quite knowing how to channel my creativity, I found a new safe haven with photography, Instagram and VSCO.
Furthermore, my lifelong love for travel, the outdoors and roaming in nature has gotten a whole new boost, as there is a quite specific niche for outdoor and adventure photography on Instagram. I’ve found a fulfilling hobby in chasing and capturing beautiful sceneries, and I enjoy seeing the beautiful photos others post. Within this corner of Instagram, there seems to be a nice sense of community as well. I’ve even met new people through Instagram – I participated in the World Wide Instameet weekend in Helsinki earlier in the fall. It was super cool to meet and shoot with people whom I follow and who are, to use a cheesy term, Insta-famous; some of the folks I met have up to over 100 000 followers and are photography professionals.
Being on Instagram is a peculiar tightrope of posting pictures you think are beautiful, interesting and fun, curating a coherent and inspiring feed, and desiring visibility for your work. In no way will I tell you that I don’t want to get followers and likes; of course I do. But for me it’s less about any notion of social acceptance (although I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it’s a tiny bit about that too – and I, like probably a lot of people, hate that aspect of social media and its effects on us) than it is about creating content you are proud of and naturally wanting it to be seen. I get inspired about other people’s photos, so I obviously have a desire to bring the same to them through my work.
In my opinion, Instagram and VSCO make a great combo as separate publishing platforms; to go along with that sense of interaction, feedback and community that you find in Instagram, I love the freedom found in VSCO. Because for the longest time I didn’t know how many followers I had or who they were (that information is now available), I feel more at ease with curating a feed that completely serves myself. I treat my VSCO Grid as something no one is following (even though they are), something were I can post exactly the kind of content I like to, whether conventional, experimental or artsy. No feedback in the form of likes or comments equals no worry over it.
I find it fascinating how Instagram, much as any social media, has many subtle unwritten codes of conduct if you want to get recognition and success. Certain hashtags are primarily used by people who are into photography, and thus, the images found in them are expected to be good quality captures by like-minded photographers. Things like posting more than one picture at a time, or more than a couple of pictures per day would be considered bad, as well as posting too irregularly or rarely. No one is ever going to tell you this though: it’s the stuff that one just needs to figure out. And when you get into photography in today’s globally connected environment, you need to get to know not only the suitable platforms of sharing your work, but also the intricate web of rules and systems of conduct that governs the world you’re interested in. Of course, rules are meant to be broken; once you know them, you are licensed to break them too.
All of this is an all-encompassing experience, which is why I am talking not about one platform or phenomenon only but about everything concerning it, and my personal experience with all of it. That is how interwoven all of it is with each other.
Photography through social media has also offered new kinds of opportunities for companies, agencies and brands as well as the photographers themselves. For instance, Visit Finland (@ourfinland) invited a bunch of well-known instagrammers from all over the world – including Finland – to Ylläs last winter. The ensuing images posted on Instagram were not only stunning but reached hundreds of thousands of followers all over the world. Just like that Finland gained spots on a huge amount of bucket lists. And when it comes to the photographers themselves – well, who wouldn’t want a sponsored trip to a breathtakingly beautiful place full of opportunities for photos?
Instagram has its dark sides too, of course – recently a young Australian girl called Essena O’Neill created quite the media buzz by announcing that she will quit Instagram and social media. She had half a million followers on Instagram and a bunch of them on other social media platforms as well. The message she wanted to convey was that social media is not real life and that the image of herself she was projecting and the social validation she was seeking out of likes and followers made her miserable. O’Neill’s announcement was met with a throng of articles on various media outlets and commentaries by journalists and regular social media users. A lot of them praised her decision, her transparency and the promotion of a more authentic life. However, she was met with critique as well; many commented that she put the blame of her misery on social media rather than herself, and that social media is not inherently bad; what is bad is the way she decided to use it.
I had never heard of O’Neill before her quitting became a thing on the internet. Her Instagram account was not the type I would have been following. However, I do think that the case served as a nice wake up call for all of us. In my opinion both her and her critics have a point: while social media has a lot of great qualities and does end up being what you make it for yourself, it is also so easy to get caught up on numbers and the admiration of other people’s photos and lives. It’s important not to take our social media presence too seriously, and to remember to check ourselves regularly: am I doing this because I enjoy it or am I doing this for social validation? We should remind ourselves that absolutely no one has a perfect life, no one’s life is all glamour or all adventure, all beautiful or cool. In the end, everyone is an average person with good days and bad days. In reality, our Instagram accounts present the highlights of our lives.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy it as the creative outlet it has become.
Pssst! Find me on Instagram (@evekammonen) and VSCO (vsco.co/evekammonen).
All photos by Eveliina Kammonen.