watch out Kodak, a new aesthetic's in town

By Christine Juon

We will learn why this image is great!

There used to be something called the “Kodak moment”. It was that once in a lifetime photo that will forever preserve that memory. In 2015 we have Instagram, or the Instagram moment. Instagram doesn’t have a catchy slogan, yet, but it does the trick. In many ways, it is the new Kodak moment. Because of social media the Instagram moment comes in a compact, square format. Instagram is littered with an influx of “#ootd (outfit of the day),” foodie pics, and selfies, but there’s also a growing community of what we can only call fine arts photos. Like Kodak moments, they are fleeting images captured on the fly by artists who have their eyes peeled. What’s fascinating is the way traditional ideas of composition have been upended in this new format. The compositions often center the main subject in the square. In addition, the image is usually cut with lines running diagonally, horizontally, or vertically. What we are witnessing with Instagram is the emergence of a new aesthetic with its own rules and its own sense of quality. What’s even more interesting is how the logic of the Instagram aesthetic finds itself in opposition to a great deal of the established rules of photography and illustration. Let’s see how some of the more interesting Instagram photographers are using this new aesthetic and how the rules of photography are branching into new realms.

Optimismm is a Korean user with a following of 141,000 people and she shoots crisp, clean photographs. In the image below she splits the photograph right down the middle by using the corner angle of the building as a vertical line. The horizontal design of the walls creates a sense of depth, even though the composition is split. In this otherwise industrial and cold looking image the man on the left half gives context to the size of the building and adds some life and movement to the image. The figure looks like he was just another passerby admiring the architecture: Optimismm catches him right at the moment that he highlights the building’s horizontal and vertical lines. Unlike most traditional art photography, this image takes an extreme one-point perspective approach. This kind of angle would seem uninteresting and not as “dynamic” as it “should” be, but Optimismm creates a dynamic image by reducing her images to its most basic components.

That image is so square.

Tinycactus, a Korean American Instagram user and artist with a following of 5,427 followers fits this aesthetic, but in a more casual and loose manner. Like Optimismm, her photograph is split through the middle with contrasting blues and greys. The blues are saturated and the greys are muted. Lazily lounging in the breeze, a colorful array of balloons intersects that middle vertical. They are either left over from a party or signaling the beginning of a new event. Whatever the case, it creates a dynamic and pleasing image, suggesting the possibility of any number of possibilities. The image clashes with the “rules” of photography in that the entire scene is on the same flat plane. In most photography you place the subject within the rule of thirds so that it stands apart from the background and becomes more dimensional. Tinycactus works against this usual style and works with the flattening of the image to focus on the dissection created by the color of the walls. It’s a striking effect that works against most of what you would be taught in any beginning or advanced photography class.

Everyone loves balloons!

Alexsteckly is a contemporary American artist from Portland, Oregon, whose following is around 1,244 people. This particular image is framed on the top and bottom with the brown mountainous texture that contrasts with the more vibrant attire of the people walking through the path. Though there is no clear line in the image, the family trails along the visual horizon line. This unknowing family on summer vacation gets snapped in a single file line while all displaying similarly styled outfits and uniform body types that groups them together. This image was shot in just the right timing that allowed for some pace with space between each individual. Images like these are most likely cropped down from a larger shot to create a sense of visual balance without any distracting factors. That’s an aesthetic effect that only happens on Instagram.

Much like the previous image the perceived background of this image has no visual depth that would allow the eye to explore the environment of the scene. Though it has some texture it generally appears as a solid brown block in the composition. This challenges the viewer to see the background as something apart from just the “back-ground.” The background could instead be interpreted as the lady in blue. As she is the furthest person from the camera, she is literally in the back of the line. Though the lady in blue is farthest from the camera, the Instagram effect creates the illusion that she is in the same plane as the first lady in red. This is all the result of horizontal placement and would never happen in a traditional “art” photograph. Still, the effect is stunning.

The truth in Instagram
Consistently centering the subject straight into the middle or dividing the image in half via angles and lines is to run afoul of good composition: any beginning Illustration class can tell you that. It flattens the image and prohibits a flowing eye path within the illustration. On the other hand, the Instagram world’s square format encourages this kind of design while simultaneously challenging and influencing the aesthetic standards of dynamic composition. Fine art galleries with its bleached white walls are starting to be replaced with the portable, touchscreen galleries of their phones. Like any art movement, the artists are making up the terms and a new set of rules. We’ll soon know how seriously people take the products of our new digital portable galleries. Though in today’s culture art and lifestyle has become so naturally intertwined with technology that it seems almost impossible for the Instagram moment to not take over. These new effects and possibilities are inspiring the next generation of budding artists. Time will tell if there will be a new era in illustration and photography that revolves around these unconventional, Instagram images. Or if this aesthetic will stay forever within the four walls of the screen.

©Christine Juon and the CCA Arts Review

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