Tag Archives: instagram

Behind the Filters

What filter will it be this time around? What is trying to be “corrected” today? Skin texture? Skin tone complexion? Eyes? Nose? Jawline? Face structure? Double chin?

Today, anyone has the power to alter what they look like on social media. Some use apps and filters for fun without thinking twice about why they use or post them. Others, however, overthink how they look and need apps and filters to enhance their appearance because of deep-rooted insecurities. Many of these insecurities stem from the unrealistic Eurocentric beauty standards that are portrayed in the media, but also through apps and filters.

San Francisco State University ethnic studies professor Wei Ming Dariotis, who is also the Associate Professor for Asian American Studies, is not surprised that filters and apps are geared towards Eurocentric beauty standards. In fact, Dariotis is disappointed.

“We might say it’s not overtly racist because they weren’t necessarily trying to exclude people of color,” Dariotis expressed. “But it ends up being racist because it’s so Eurocentrically focused that people of color are excluded by default.”

Filters are notorious for lightening people’s skin tones and smoothing the skin. Many filters tend to lighten skin, slim the face, enlarge the eyes, and even create a bridged nose. But are those who claim that filters are pushing Eurocentric beauty standards looking too deep into it?

Dariotis brings up the start of beauty pageants for Japanese-American women. Growing up, she considered herself a feminist and would think of beauty pageants as sexist, oppressive, and overall a waste of time. But with time, she realized that it was a way for ethnic communities to express and showcase their own beauty standards and values. She thinks it’s a beautiful thing to have a group of people embrace their culture, after being told by society that they are not good enough and “ugly.”

The ethnic studies professor does not think Eurocentric beauty standards just stop at filters and apps. She points out that surgeries are also done to live up to these unrealistic standards. From eyelid surgery, to nose jobs, breast implants, the list continues. Dariotis believes it is deeply damaging to not only an individual’s psyche, but also for everyone collectively. In a way, she believes people’s minds are “colonized.”

“Colonial mentality is: you’ve been colonized, and instead of fighting back, you kind of believe what your colonizer believes,” Dariotis explained. “As other ethnic groups in the U.S., there’s a strong tendency to succumb to that mindset, and that allows us to look at ourselves as ugly when we’re really not.”

SF State student Trysha Luu admits she uses filters often. She thinks they are fun and she feels generally positive about them. However, she does see the deep-rooted issues in their features and the impact it can have on the youth.

“I don’t think that filters themselves are racist, but they do strengthen the negative stigma around dark skin and people of color in general,” Luu said. “It simultaneously reinforces a Eurocentric vision of beauty already instilled in adults and teaches this vision to younger generations.”

But what if this idea of “white” beauty standards in photos and media never crossed your mind? This is true for Mimi Sheiner, an SF State design professor. She admits that her being Caucasian is probably why it has never been in her consciousness, and she says that in itself is an issue.

Sheiner edits photos to make meaning clearer. She has never altered anyone’s skin tone, body type, or facial features. She enhances photos and only removes blemishes when they are distracting to the point she is trying to get across. For example, she may remove dust or a crease on an old photo, or add some trees to the background of a photo where the main focus is the person.

But other than that, Sheiner thinks its “creepy” to alter images to the point where they are unnatural. She believes that it damages people’s minds.

“The whole super manipulated beauty thing is damaging,” Sheiner explained while cooking her dinner. “People have terrible self-image because no one can live up to it. Not even those models live up to it. It’s so manipulated. It poses a standard of beauty that makes everyone feel bad about themselves and makes everyone envious. And I think that in a way it’s the theme of our culture.”

Even though Sheiner never really thought of Eurocentric beauty standards being pushed on people through filters and apps, she does believe that people need to look deeper. She thinks users should not think it’s “all fun and games,” because it is not, and altering skin tones is a serious issue.

Skyline College graduate Armani Fuller has noticed how filters lighten the skin, but he never thought about it from a racial aspect. In fact, Fuller thinks it’s a long shot to say that filters and apps are being “racist.” He is confident that it has more to do with people being insecure, which is why they turn to filters and apps to “fix” what they want.

“Filters are like a temporary high to make someone feel good about themselves,” Fuller explained.

He knows that filters can be fun, but if someone is relying on them to feel and look better, the real issue is that they don’t accept themselves for who they are. Fuller stresses that there were “filters” even before the filters. He uses the example of people saying “get my good side” when taking a photo.

Even though our technology is advancing, there has always been a standard and look that people try to achieve.

Of course everyone wants to look their best when they are in control of what images get uploaded. Most people will not upload a photo of themselves where they believe it makes them look unflattering. Social media sites are just a curation of one’s life, and just because someone posts photos of themselves all dolled up and snazzy, doesn’t mean they look like that every day.

Alaysia “Frankie” Brown, a student at SF State, admits that filters give her confidence. She sees nothing wrong with using filters, editing, or adding things to give her photo the look she wants.

“I guess it’s just a way of seeing myself in a different way,” Brown said casually. “I’m okay with it. I like editing photos, putting cool stuff on my photos, so it’s fun for me.”

Brown does not think it is an issue of her being insecure, but does see an issue with the people who have comments about her usage. Brown questions why people are so judgmental towards her when they find out that she looks different in person than what her social media pictures show. To her, “a picture is a picture,” and should not be taken so seriously.

It has gotten to the point where Brown had to disable her comments on Instagram because people would comment about her appearance. She has people leave comments like, “But you don’t look like that in real life,” and the only fix is to restrict the option to comment on her picture all together.

Brown says it’s very common for people to get rejected in real life when they finally meet someone they met online. She explains how a friend of hers recently went out with a guy she met online. When they met in person, the guy told her friend that she did not look the same as she did in her pictures and he did not like the way she really looked. So he left.

Brown is convinced that people who regularly use filters and apps get cyberbullied more. She is disappointed that something that originally came from a positive fun place, turned into something negative.

“If you decide to post what you post, and if you feel beautiful with what you post, then it shouldn’t matter what anyone says,” Brown said.

However, she knows it is easier said than done. It has crossed Brown’s mind on why she uses filters. And she confesses that she has seen it from the race and insecurity point of view, but chooses to embrace filters and apps because they make her feel beautiful.

The “white beauty standard” is part of our history of colonialism. It tells us that white is the default, and what everyone should strive to be. Dariotis suggests that we do not wait for Hollywood to make these more diverse images, and that we make them ourselves. Whether that be making custom filters, or embracing one’s own culture and beauty.

“Filters are not in and of themselves evil or racist,” Dariotis said. “But the way the technology is focused right now, and the people that are making it, they need to be conscious of the fact that it can be used in a way that is harmful.”

Instagram announces emoji hashtags

Image courtesy of otto-yamamoto via Flickr


Instagram recently updated its app to include several changes to the ever-popular photograph-sharing social network. Emoji lovers will rejoice as they find themselves now using them even more than before.

The social networking giant announced that it is rolling out a few new filters called “Lark,” “Reyes,” and “Juno.” These subtle filters will now brighten and enhance your photos in a refined way.

In addition to these new filters, Instagram also brought something that, depending on your point of view, can either be a good or bad thing: emoji’s in your hashtags. As text messaging continues to be the new form of communication and less phone calls are being placed, it seems that being able to hashtag emojis is the next step. Emojis are changing the way we communicate faster than linguists can keep up with.

Emojis could even mark a return to a more pictographic script. The earliest examples of writing come from the pictographic hieroglyphs and inscriptions from Mesopotamia around 5,000 years ago. Could the rise of emoji mean we’re going backward?

Depending on your circle of friends, you either communicate via photos and videos, using emojis to communicate emotions and feelings in ways that anyone can understand, regardless of language or background.

But the ability to convey tone and emotion through text, without resorting to illustration, is one of the key challenges of writing. It’s what makes someone a good writer rather than an effective artist or illustrator.

And though emojis may make it easier to convey different moods without much effort, they have limitations of their own.

Recently I saw a friend who I haven’t seen in 6 months. We caught up on each other’s lives, but when we parted ways we didn’t even hug. So I reached for my phone and sent her an emoji. The next fews messages were emojis. In the past I would’ve handled it differently and either called her to tell her I miss her already, or sent a lengthy text message expressing my emotions.

With Instagram being the first to allow users to hashtag emojis, we can only imagine what other tech companies will allow us to do.

Instagram introduces new app

Instagram is at it again, slowly trying to become the best photo app ever and destroying the competition while they’re at it. Today Instagram released a new app called Layout which makes it easier for you to create a photo collage but includes much more than that.

Layout also allows you to mirror images, lets you choose up to 9 images to create a collage, and allows you easily resize the image of your choice. You can flip and reverse your photos with a push of a button or use a slider to make one picture smaller, while the other gets bigger.


To make your life even easier, when choosing your photos Layout puts them into ten different collage options, so no need to go around and push buttons to see what collage you like, Layout has already done that for you.

This isn’t the first time that Instagram had tried to take the photo game over either, their first side app that they released, Hyperlapse, did pretty well in the beginning but now it’s just kind of there.

Personally, I think Layout is genus. Not only is it super easy to use, like so easy my Grandma can use it, the creative options they give you are fun to play with and create custom made images of your own. I am a big fan of the mirror image feature and the cropping with just a swipe of a figure, because I am phone challenged and always mess up cropping. What I also like, and I tested my theory, is an image that is too big for Instagram, fits with ease using Layout. That means no more InstaFit Free and those annoying ads that go with them, with Layout it makes it easy for Instagram users can see your hair and the shirt you are wearing.

The reviews from the App Store are also pretty positive, Instagram users are happy with the app and how easy and simple it is to use. Negative comments include not being able to save to your phone and not being able use a photo you’ve taken with the Instagram app, but all minor issues that Instagram is sure to fix.

Layout allows you to choose up to 9 photos, adding them into a collage for you. Photo by Tami Benedict/ Xpress Magazine.
Layout allows you to choose up to 9 photos, adding them into a collage for you. Photo by Tami Benedict/ Xpress Magazine.

Now if Instagram can create an app that allows more space on my phone, that would be great.

The post-selfie scene

 A portrait of Journalism student Catherinue Uy with a face compiled of a mosaic of selfies. Mosaic courtesy of Alise Tifetale from the Selfiecity project.
A portrait of Journalism student Catherinue Uy with a face compiled of a mosaic of selfies. Mosaic courtesy of Alise Tifetale from the Selfiecity project.

Marcela Garcia holds up her iPhone 4s and turns on the front-facing camera, adjusting a light at her desk. The twenty-eight-year-old editor from Alberta, Canada, wants the light to shine on her face so she can show off her red stained lips and blue eyeliner. After trying on a few smiles and snapping a few practice shots, she finally finds one that she thinks looks genuine and clicks. Happy with the results, she types out a caption to go along with the portrait, “Canadian Guatemalan woman working in editing. #Latina.”

Garcia is one of many Latina women taking part in the #Latina Tag Project, an online selfie campaign on Tumblr dedicated to ‘reclaiming’ the Latina identity.

“Every time this blog posts a selfie of a beautiful Latina, it’s promoting how intelligent, ambitious, and beautifully diverse we are as an ethnic group. It’s important for me to submit a selfie to the blog for this reason,” says Garcia.

In 2012, Xochlit Montaño, a Spanish professor at the University of Arizona, noticed that the Latina tag on Tumblr was full of porn. Tired of the overly sexualized images that the tag portrayed, she created the #Latina tag project. The blog became a place where Latina women could send in their selfies along with any information about themselves—their background, goals, and accomplishments to showcase. Since the start of the project, the site has garnered a wide variety of images, from selfies taken at work, school, and even during a college graduation. For Montaño, and the many women submitting to the project, selfies are more than just images: they are an “act of resistance.”

“Selfies submitted to us reclaim identity because they are evidence that Latina women exist outside the stereotypes, proving we’re strong and intelligent women that come in all kinds of colors, races, shapes, sexual orientations, social classes, nationalities, and an array of other traits,” says Montaño.

Throughout history, we have developed a collection of portraits depicting people we find to be highly influential and elite, from photos of the great Albert Einstein, to fifteenth century oil paintings of the famous philosopher Aristotle. In the past, only the wealthy and most iconic people had their portraits done; but with today’s social media tools, you can easily become one of those people by grabbing your smartphone and capturing a photo of yourself.

When the trend gained traction last year, photos were taken mainly for self-promotion or documentation. These images carry more meaning as selfies now have become a watershed phenomenon in social media activism. We have reached a new plateau in the selfie-sphere, and it might be time to start taking selfies a little more seriously.

Thanks to the power of social media and the easy access to more photo-taking devices, selfies have become an effective vehicle for storytelling and promoting change.

Since the Oxford Dictionary announced selfie as the word of the year for 2013, charities and organizations have been creating numerous marketing campaigns with the digital self-portraits. And, so far, they have become so widespread due to the large amounts of people participating in them. These simple camera phone photos give the selfie-takers the chance to feel like they are genuinely making a difference.

But not everyone views selfies as this new, helpful tool for activism. Since the invention of the camera phone in 1997, and the Myspace era of 2003, these images were perceived as cries for attention. People who share photos of themselves are continuously mocked by others; people scroll past selfies with the notion that whoever takes them has serious mental issues, depression, or a lack of self-esteem.

Reactions against the photo hype have been growing frantically ever since the hashtag started trending last year. The photos seem harmless, yet people are pissed. Those opposing the monstrous influx of photos on social media sites are posting “anti-selfies,” parody photos of real selfies. Anti-selfie believers are deliberately taking photos of themselves with bizarre facial expressions and hashtagging them #antiselfie. Some cover their faces, and some call out those who post selfies. Right now, there are nine thousand four hundred and forty-nine Instagram photos hashtagged #antieselife.

Two months ago, a Greek developer released SLMMSK, the “first realtime anti-selfie app.” The facial recognition app takes users’ images and distorts them with 3D effects, color shifting, and granulation. The result is a glitchy looking portrait. A Tumblr blog, called GlitchSelfies, shares a collection of images created with the app.

The anti-selfie movements seem endless. There are anti-selfie Facebook groups and community pages; the Lox, a New York rap group, released a song last month entitled, “No Selfies,” going off on our generation’s apparent self-indulgence, complaining about the world’s “Instagram garbage.” Felicity Morse of London, took it to a whole other level last year by creating a petition on change.org dedicated to killing the trend. Morse ordered selfie-takers from around the world to “STOP SAYING SELFIE” and join her “anti-selfie revolution.” Morse is shit out of luck though, with only a hundred signatures, it is highly unlikely selfies are disappearing anytime soon. There are currently one hundred seventy-seven million Instagram photos hashtagged #selfie, and the number continues to grow.

People dislike selfies, but chances are, everyone has taken them at least once in their life. Even Pope Francis has taken one. Last year, a study by the Pew Research Center found that 55 percent of millennials in the United States have posted a selfie on a social media site. On average, about 26 percent of all Americans have shared one.

There is no denying that selfies have become a major part of our lives. But are these photos really as bad as these haters make them to be? We live in a world with such absurd standards, from how to look, act, dress, and think. Every day over social media, we are bombarded with countless images that tell us who and what we should be, and we constantly feel the need and pressure to live up to those standards. Why? Because, as humans, we crave acceptance.

In a society that is so bent up on perfection, what is so wrong with celebrating yourself? With having confidence? With taking advantage of social media tools to influence change?

Believe it or not, selfies hold a lot of power. These trending images are redefining beauty standards for young girls and women, shaping the identities of young people, and promoting causes. For the most part, our photos have moved far away from vanity and self-indulgence. The focus of our selfies has transformed into something much greater: selflessness.

In this post-selfie scene, photos have inspired activism and advocated for self-empowerment. Fedoras for Fairness, a campaign by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, uses selfies to talk about the United States’ immigration reform. Take a selfie wearing a fedora or any type of hat and hashtag it #Fairdoras, and, once you are done, include a personal story or caption as to why you think immigration reform is important, then post it to your social media accounts. In this sense, an ordinary hat has become a metaphor for a brighter future, and wearing one means you are in support of a brighter future for immigrants.

Project Unbreakable encourages sexual assault survivors to take selfies holding signs of quotes from their rapists. The idea is to give voice to the victims and raise awareness. Other campaigns like Dove’s #BeautyIs project and the hashtag #shamelessselfie, are using selfies to redefine the media’s beauty standards.

Marcela Garcia goes through the photos submitted to the Reclaiming the Latina Identity blog and smiles.

“What these other Latinas were doing was empowering because they were all coming together for a single cause. Seeing all that pride and affection for their home country was contagious and inspiring,” says Garcia. For her, it was amazing to know that she is one of many.

Insta-Love or Insta-Hate?

Photos of gourmet burgers, kittens, and famous internet memes are flooding Instagram as you read this. In fact, roughly two hundred million people a month are contributing to the popular application’s photo stream, according to data from Apple’s App Store.

But some photos are too annoying to bear – did we really need to see eight photos of your “bae” because you think he looks cute with his new facial scruff? On the other hand, select photos are so cute or touching, they make us stop and “awww!” until the end of time — or until a roommate throws a pillow at your head to shut you up.

But we want to hear from SF State students. What types of photos get under your skin?  And which  do you oogle and “aww” over? Here is what a few students had to say.

Instagrammers of SFSU

Words by: Erin Browner

Maybe it’s San Francisco’s love for the fusion of technology and photography, but Instagram is becoming a favored sharing platform. Users don’t have to be photographers, techies, or smart phone geniuses to appreciate the zillions of photos to explore on Instagram. There’s nothing like riding Muni to school and scrolling through images of the Transamerica building or Golden Gate Bridge complemented with the Hudson filter in our palm.

Problem is, most Instagrammers are doing it wrong. We’ve wasted too much data loading those damn self-portraits to our Instagram feed, it’s time to broaden our Instagram horizon. Check out these expert ‘grammers of SFSU for a little inspiration.

Beth Sohn, 18
Undeclared with an interest in Child and Adolescent Development

Handle: @saturatedlaughter
Followers: 615
User since December 2011

What does your handle mean?
My definition of saturated is when something is completely soaked-in and at its maximum capacity. I have a rather boisterous laugh, and I thought by describing it as saturated, it made sense and also doubled as describing my style of pictures, as I am always drawn towards saturated colors. It just clicked and I knew it fit.

Describe your Instagram style.
The words that pop into my head when looking through my pictures are energetic, organic, unique and most importantly — colorful.

Most inspiring subjects:
Fruit, farmer’s markets, and nature.

What’s your favorite spot on campus to snap an Instagram?
My dorm. There are always people walking around on campus, and I get embarrassed when people see me crouching down or stopping in the middle of a walkway to take an Instagram picture. In my dorm, I can spend as much time as I want setting up or thinking about a picture without feeling judged.

What’s your favorite Instagram?
I really love the picture I took of myself holding up a pineapple against the sky. The sky is such a gorgeous color blue, the clouds are pure white — I just really love how bright and wonderful everything looks together! It was also a challenge to get the right balance of focusing on the pineapple without the sky being too dark, or vice versa, and I spent a lot of time deciding what angle I liked the pineapple to be.

Who’s your favorite user to follow?
@tarantula_tamer is probably my favorite Instagram user to follow. I have always had a fascination of reptiles and insects, and he posts the most incredible pictures of such a huge variety of species!

What hashtags do you use?
When I choose hashtags, I try to not be very specific and use ones I know people look at a lot, like #iphonesia and #bestoftheday. I do not really know what they mean, but I have seen others use them and when I use them, it makes it easy for people to stumble upon my picture. I also like making up random re-makes of the word Instagram, like if it was a picture of hair, I might say #hairstagram or #instahair. I do that because I think I am being funny.

How many photos do you upload?
I aim to upload about once a day, quality over quantity.

Adam Zollar, 21

Handle: @zollyw00d
Followers: 1007
User since November 2011

Describe your Instagram style.
Mostly everyday activities/items approached as “artsy” as I can. I try not to stick to one certain type of photo.

Most inspiring subjects:
Myself, nature, and alcoholic beverages.

What’s your favorite Instagram?
Anything when I’m in drag because I look fab.

Who’s your favorite user to follow?
@jeffreycampbell because they’ve given me some love and who doesn’t love looking at shoes all day?

What kind of photo will you always “like”?

What hashtags do you use?
The only hashtag that I’ve used is for my drag persona. People take hashtags #way #too #far. #ew.

How many photos do you upload?
I don’t upload daily. I would say about once or twice a week depending on how exciting my life is.

Christina Rose Hanlon, 22
Criminal Justice

Handle: @xxtinarose
Followers: 835
User since October 2011

Describe your Instagram style.
I take pictures of almost anything. I’m an open book so what better way to take pictures of my day. I am also into photography so from time to time I will post pictures of things I have taken while on photo adventures.

Most inspiring subjects:
I seem to take a lot of pictures of my cat Louie. I also like taking pictures of super colorful things like sunsets or art on the side of a building. And just pictures of my everyday life.

What’s your favorite spot on campus to snap an Instagram?
I usually sit in front of the Cesar Chavez building so I actually have taken a few pictures there in between studying.

What kind of photo will you always “like”?
It can be anything, from fashion to food to pets to the sunset. Anything I like, I “like.”

How has your life changed since using Instagram?
I think I have become more inspired to actually take pictures. I recently saved up and bought myself a Canon and since that day, I have been using my camera to take pictures of almost anything.

Kristina Kerley, 22
Journalism Major and Server at American Cupcake

Handle: @allbingeandnopurge
Followers: 1065
User since December 2011

What does your handle mean?
It’s the name of my food blog. On a larger scale though, I regard it as how I try to live my life. I want to take in all the world has to offer (binge on it) and never forget even the tiniest moments (no purge).

Most inspiring subjects:
1. Fresh ingredients – like a cut up fruit, fanned out around a wheel of cheese.
2. Desserts – because they really require perfection, frosting has to be swirled just right atop a cupcake, or a berry compote has to be falling ever so gently down the side of a tart.
3. Visible herbs/seasoning – such as a Caprese salad where you can see the ground pepper against the white mozzarella or the grains of salt still sitting on top of the tomato.

Who’s your favorite user to follow?
I really don’t think I could pick just one, I probably have a Top 5 list, and all but one is food related. My favorites include: @thaoism @ilanafreddye @kazuxxx @lobese @trotterpup

What hashtags do you use?
#food #foodie #foodporn #foodgasm #foodphotography #igfood #sharefood #instagood #instafood #tastespotting #foodstyling #healthy #homemade #cooking #baking

How has your life changed since using Instagram?
I definitely style my home cooked food more, since now I pretty much photograph it all. And it’s the running joke with my friends and family that whenever we go out I have to photograph every dish before anyone touches it. I would also say that Instagram has been the best platform for me to connect with other chefs/foodies around the world. There is a community of food lovers who I have gotten to know and learn from, I definitely draw inspiration from the people I follow.

Brandon Tran, 20

Handle: @dopensteez
Followers: 3,055
User since October 2011

What does your handle mean?
@dopensteez is a reflection of my own take on fashion. It is a description of my unique style and personality.

Most inspiring subjects:
My numerous amount of accessories, bright socks, and distinctive settings.

Who’s your favorite Instagram user to follow?
@Princepelayo. I am inspired by his photos because he dresses very bold. He is not afraid to take risks. He has a very simple and sophisticated look which makes him stand out from other fashion stylists/bloggers.

What hashtags do you use?
#OOTD, which stands for ‘Outfit of the Day.’

How many photos do you upload?
It depends on how busy my schedule is. Most of the time, I try to squeeze in about two to three photos a day.

How has your life changed since using Instagram?
Not only has it given me a whole new perception of what fashion is, but it has also helped me boost up my confidence. It has taught me to be myself and to not be afraid of being different. It has pushed me to become more comfortable within my skin. I was able to bring out my true personality. Instagram was the tool to help surface my passion for fashion.

Chanel Phengdy, 20
International Relations major; Chinese Language minor

Handle: @ahappyphace
Followers: 364
User since August 2011

What does your handle mean?
Keep a happy ‘ph’ace on, even if you truly don’t have a happy face.

Describe your style.
Insignificant things that may not matter to others a whole lot, but I find to be quite significant.

Most inspiring subjects:
I always love to shoot delicious food, amazing scenery, and random quirky things I find along search for good food and scenery.

What’s your favorite spot on campus to snap an Instagram?
The famous “No Name” Lake at my study abroad campus, Peking University.

What’s your favorite Instagram?
A sepia-toned photo of me at the Great Tangshan Earthquake memorial site in Northern China. The train tracks I’m standing on are remnants of the actual earthquake, and I believe the photo captures the ambiance of the real scenery quite well.

Who’s your favorite user to follow?
@_YEONG, a Korean with a cute and quirky style for Instagramming. Her life seems pretty sweet and “picturesque.”

What kind of photo will you always “like” when it shows up in your feed?
Anything food-related. I’m a bit tired of eating mainly noodles and dumplings (standard Northern Chinese cuisine) in Beijing.

What hashtags do you use?
#iphonesia, before Android users used Instagram. #joking

How has your life changed since using Instagram?
Instagram has definitely made interacting with people easy and entertaining. For example, it’s pretty neat being able to follow a total stranger somewhere else on the globe and discover how similar we all are.

Jon-Pierre Kelani, 32
Sociology alumni 2012

Handle: @EsqueJon
Followers: 691
User since August 2011

What does your handle mean?
It means in the manner or style of Jon. It’s about how I carry myself.

Describe your Instagram style.
My style generally reflect where I’m at and what I’m doing. It also reflects what I see. I’m always looking for a combination of high and low light contrast and from there I let the light guide me as I compose my subjects.

Most inspiring subjects:
My style generally is all capturing light on the street, people, and portraits of friends.

Who’s your favorite Instagram user to follow?
@Koci is a IGer that has inspired me because I try to mimic him after I dissect his images.

How many photos do you upload?
I try to upload one maybe two per day. I feel it’s an obligation to myself to take photos as much as possible.

How has your life changed since using Instagram?
Instagram has inspired me so much because it’s a mobile platform that allows me to share snapshots instantly.

Instafame: Bex Finch

Words: Barbara Szabo
Instagram photos: Bex Finch

On February 12, 2012, Bex Finch, watched as Justin Vernon (the frontman of critically-acclaimed indie outfit Bon Iver) won a Grammy award for Best New Artist. She had been a fan of his for a long time. Little did she know, he had her eye on her as well—through the digital lens of Instagram.

Justin discovered Bex’s work through a mutual friend. They exchanged quirky tweets and messages back and forth on Twitter, and before long Justin invited Bex to his compound called April Base in Wisconsin to take photos, document his life, and hang out for a week.

“I really admire his ability to maintain a fairly normal life living in his hometown with family and friends close by, while being a Grammy-winning musician who sells out stadiums around the world and gets recognized everywhere he goes,” notes Bex, still bewildered by the experience and in awe that a phone app could lead her to such an opportunity.

Bex (@BexFinch) is what is referred to as “Instafamous,” having over 190,000 followers on the photo sharing application that serves as a visual diary, a window into someone’s life through images and accompanying short captions. Instagram has several built-in filters with which to adjust images, as well as other editing tools, but users can also use other editing programs such as Color Splash (isolates color in a specific area of the photo), Diptick (crop several shots into a collage), and Photoshop Express.

Business Insider named her one of the top nine “Incredible Instagram users that advertisers are dying to work with.” She created the hashtag #FromWhereIStand, which is an image captured from above, as the user looks down at their feet. A hashtag is the “#” symbol followed a keyword or phrase as a way to categorize images and captions so that users can dig through the Instagram world through specific topics.

#FromWhereIStand has become one of the most popular hashtags, and now has more than 150,000 subscribers. The series of photos has a literal meaning (“here is where I’m standing, what shoes I’m wearing, what’s around my feet,” explains Bex), but it can also represent the stand a user takes on an issue. Bex is planning to post a picture of herself standing in front of an Obama 2012 sign to encourage her followers to vote — and to vote for him, she hopes.

“Taking photos of your feet wasn’t exactly a revolutionary idea, but I put words to the idea and started taking photos of my feet almost compulsively to get the series started, which is why it’s credited as mine,” she said.

Bex started using Instagram December 2010, only two months after the app launched. By March 2011, she was placed on the “suggested users” list, composed of celebrities, photographers and companies that catch the attention of Instagram employees. She remained on the list for over a year.

When compiling the “suggested users” list, the Instagram team looks for original photos with a unique perspective, businesses that use the app for branding, and people who represent their own community in a way that reflects the Instagram community as a whole.

“I think Bex’s popularity on Instagram can be attributed to her unique and talented photography skills, timing of joining Instagram and duration she was featured as a suggested user,” says Jared Chambers (@jaredchambers), an Instagram user who started following Bex’s work before actually meeting her.

Tyler McPherron (@tylerturtle), Bex’s boyfriend, also became Instafamous when she recommended him for the list, and within a few months he reached 118,000 followers. They soon became an Instagram couple and started to get noticed all around the city. They recall the time they were spotted at a Lomography photo store opening. The young man approached them, starstruck to meet people who he had known so much about but never actually met before. He had followed their digital lives and this was the moment where a virtual existence transformed into reality. Another time, a young lady dashed down the hill to Tyler and Bex while they were sunbathing at Dolores Park in the Mission District of San Francisco. She was excitedly asking about their work, referring to specific images with vivid hand gestures, light brown eyes gleaming with admiration.

“It’s strange to be recognized, by appearance only, as a photographer, though I guess I do take enough self-portraits and have bright enough hair to stand out,” said Bex.

Indeed, Bex does stand out. Although she is merely five feet three inches tall on a good day, her bright reddish strawberry blonde hair that falls just below her shoulders, accented with bluntly chopped bangs to the middle of her forehead, makes her noticeable from wherever she stands.

While on a cross-country road trip from San Francisco to New York City February 2012, Ed Droste, singer of the band Grizzly Bear, started following Bex’s Instagram photograph feed. He invited her to Cape Cod where the band was cooped up for weeks, writing the music for their new album Shields. They explored the island together and took Instagram photos of one another. She is traveling with the band on a leg of their European tour at the end of October through the beginning of November to document the tour through a photo essay.

“I like that idea of people following my work and can come up to me to talk to me about it,” said Tyler. “Sometimes I think, I have this many followers, I wonder how many of them are in this room.”

Last September, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism invited Bex to Israel for ten days with nine other Instagrammers to take pictures of the country. On the trip, she met President Shimon Peres who invited her into his home and showed the photographers around.

“He even took an iPhone photo of me taking a photo of him,” she says excitedly.

For Bex, using the app worked in her favor, but some people frown upon Instagram users as amateur photographers.

“There are definitely times when people take it way too seriously,” says Tyler. “People get really bent on that gratification of getting likes and comments, and that’s not the real world in many ways.”

Interaction between Instagram users works in the form of commenting on or “liking” images. These actions welcome a communal environment, a place where Instagrammers offer feedback, whether constructive or at times flat out radiating criticism, on images taken thousands of miles away. Bex and Tyler are no strangers to compulsively checking other users’ reactions, in the form of words and symbols, only minutes, even seconds after they post a photo; they switch back and forth between doing that and swiftly scrolling through the feed of images compiled from the work of every user they follow, pausing on certain ones for more than two seconds to “like” it with two quick thumb taps.

“Without Instagram, I would have never been introduced to several of the photographers that have helped shape my creative style and for that reason I see the app as a worthwhile use of my time,” says Jared.