What’s black and white, Amaro, Mayfair, Rise, Hudson, infinite other color combinations, and “read” actively by over 150 million users a month? Not a newspaper. Instagram.
For those who aren’t addicted to or at least familiar with this photo application, Instagram is a mobile app whose 150 million active monthly users capture, edit, and share an average of over 55 million photos per day. Its a visually appealing, easy-to-use mobile application that allows amateur and professional photographers alike to take/upload, manipulate, and share their photos with other Instagram users. It’s a searchable database of glimpses into the lives of millions through square-shaped windows the size of your smartphone screen, indexed by @persons and #subjectmatters. Its strength is in its simplicity; the one-photo-at-a-time format of an Instagram “newsfeed” forces you to focus, even if only for a moment, on ONE image—one idea—in an age when it’s sometimes difficult to focus at all.
For many of us who use Instagram (including this here Paducah Life writer), Instagram simply provides a fun way to take photos of our sometimes rather ordinary lives, make them beautiful, and then share them with friends and family. For such users, having hundreds of followers to share with is quite impressive. But for a handful of young Paducahns, Instagram is a platform that allows for the sharing of their original, creative, skillfully edited photos with thousands of followers—from all over the world —instantly.
Avid Instagram users and Paducah high schoolers @oliviasin, @carolinecriner, and @maddieybarzabal (96K, 60K, and 37K followers respectively), seem to have a knack for photography, and for them, it’s all about the edits. They fuse high quality, high resolution DSLR (digital single lens reflex) photography—the Canon Rebel T3 is the girls’ camera of choice—with simple, but highly versatile mobile photo editing apps like Superimpose, Phonto, and Sketch Club to create beautiful images they then share via Instagram. Although there are other young Paducah Instagram users with even larger followings than Olivia, Caroline, and Maddie, few come close to their skill level and creativity.
Their process typically starts with one or more photos taken with a Canon Rebel T3. They then transfer the photos from their cameras to their computers, and from there they upload the images to their phones where they can be manipulated and distorted into tiny works of art that fuse their realities with their imaginations. They upload the edits to Instagram, add captions—often quotes or song lyrics from artists they like—and the conversation with their followers begins. Each image will receive thousands of likes and views, and hundreds will leave comments, which are overwhelmingly positive.
Maddie’s captions in particular take her Instagram photos to a new level—together, her beautiful images and captions create a steady stream of positivity and inspiration for her followers to see. Though she’s never met most of her Instagram followers in person, she often talks with them either on Instagram or through Kik Messenger (pronounced “kick”), an app that allows you to text people using a secure username instead of a personal phone number. Never, ever, she says, did she expect it to get this big.
“I’ve had people ‘kik’ me—I know, it sounds so weird!—or comment on my pictures telling me that I’ve inspired them,” Maddie said, sitting in a Paducah Tilghman classroom waiting to meet with her volleyball teammates (one of whom is fellow Instagram star Caroline). “One person even said they stopped self-harming because of the quotes on my pictures,” she continued. “That was really crazy to me, because at the time I just thought I was posting a cool picture with a quote on it, but it ended up doing more than I ever could have imagined.”
Her teammates file in, smartphones in hand, and soon they join in on the Instagram conversation. One girl, Nicole, admits that scrolling through Instagram and Facebook are what run down her iPhone battery the most. She and the other girls love that it’s just as easy to follow their favorite musicians and celebrities as it is to follow their close friends and family, and in all cases they get a daily/hourly/by-the-minute glimpse into their lives and interests. It’s personal.
“I’ve tried to explain to my grandmother before why I love Instagram so much, but she just doesn’t get it,” Maddie said. “I tried to tell her just how neat it is, that you get to see so many different kinds of people and learn about what they do and what they love, and then you get to share what you do and what you love, too. It’s not just an attention thing. It’s interesting, and it’s FUN.” Maddie’s tried using other photo-sharing apps before—like Flickr, for example—but she hasn’t connected with any other photo app or community quite like she has with Instagram. Much has been written and speculated about why Instagram is so popular, and what its popularity means for photography, privacy, and the way we mediate our world, but Maddie and her Instagramming friends seem to understand what may be the most important Instagram implication of all:LIFE moves incredibly fast, but it’s beautiful, and it’s worth capturing.