KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Technology

Reality vs. Instagram

by Connor Tomas O'Brien , June 16, 20141 Comment

filter

Image credit: James Butler

Over at crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, a group of Edinburgh-based hipsters recently announced their intention to produce a range of amber-tinted Wayfarer-knockoffs. So far, so uninspired. The gimmick? The tint of the lenses is apparently the result of ‘endless research’ into the workings of the most popular Instagram filters. The response to the glasses has been phenomenal: as of late May, the team behind Tens, the ‘Real Life Photo Filter’ sunglasses, have already raised over £300,000 from 7000 backers.

Would Baudrillard have forked out for a pair of Tens? At the very least, he would have made the point that crafting a pair of lenses that replicate the look of an over-processed digital photograph represents the absolute triumph of the hyperreal. Because our colour-graded photos have become more authentic to us than the world itself, Baudrillard might have noted, it was inevitable that we’d eventually be drawn toward glasses that distort the nature of reality so that it better comports with the pictures we share on our touchscreens.

By now, of course, the assumption is that every digital photograph has been post-processed unless proven otherwise, and the way we decide to filter our pictures is an act of identity construction. We are tied, in some strange and unspoken way, to those who process their photos as we do, because their images are set in the same alternate reality as our own, and whether you’re a Walden person or a Sutro enthusiast can sometimes matter a great deal more than whatever it is you shoot. A photograph’s subject matter is fleeting, after all, but the algorithm that alters its curve profiles is forever. While previously we altered ourselves (via, say, a well-placed piercing, well-tailored suit, well-applied makeup, or well-ripped Guns ‘N Roses t-shirt) to make a statement about our taste or worldview, now we have the tools to, at least in some sense, alter the world itself.

Considering how much power we have to process our pictures, and how arbitrary our filter preferences really are, it seems likely we’re now fated to cycle through photo processing trends for ever and ever. If 2011 was marked by the saturated greens and yellows of Instagram’s Lo-Fi filter, 2014 might be remembered as a faded and subtly hue-shifted year, as on point photographers move en masse toward VSCO’s consumer film emulation filters. Already, too, communities are emerging in which smartphoneographers are ghettoising based entirely on post-processing preferences. VSCO GRID, for example, is a photo sharing site with a single point of difference: you can only upload and view pictures that have been run through VSCO’s filters.

Our infatuation with one-tap DIY post-processing doesn’t mean we’re necessarily entirely comfortable with the democratisation of photo editing. It’s been over three years since Instagram launched, and we’re still not sure whether processing a photograph might be considered akin to doctoring a memory. Recently, services have emerged allowing you to spot ‘filter fakers’ (those who tag their pictures with #nofilter, but proceed to post-process anyway), and there are professional photographers who continue to argue that, ‘Every time a news organisation uses a Hipstamatic or Instagram-style picture in a news report, they are cheating us all.’ (This doesn’t really hold up: virtually all journalistic images in newspapers are carefully colour-graded, and almost all the 35mm photos that sit in our shoeboxes were tweaked by spotty teenagers working minimum wage at Rabbit Photo).

In Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End, characters wear contacts that overlay the world with custom computer graphics, and in the ‘real world’ (whatever that means), Google Glass offers the potential for a similar style of reality augmentation. The Tens sunglasses are comparatively primitive, as are our Instagram and VSCO filters, but perhaps this is what makes them so compelling. We don’t necessarily want to exist in a virtual reality world – we simply want to be able to tweak what already exists to make it our own: maybe deepen the sky, cut out the shadows, vignette the corners.

Connor Tomas O’Brien is a web designer and writer, co-founder of ebookstore platform Tomely, and co-director of the Digital Writers’ Festival.

ACO logo




  • Mel Campbell

    Reminds me of the Claude glass, a tinted mirror which artists and travellers in the Romantic period gazed into to make real landscapes resemble the paintings of Claude Lorrain. You’d stand with your back to the landscape and hold up the glass to see it reflected there… much as we might now hold up our phones and view the world through their screens.

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

cluster munition

David Donaldson

How to make treaties and influence people

In an era when Russia can annex Ukrainian territory, when the Refugee Convention is regularly flouted, and when nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop the carnage in Syria, it can be tempting to ask: what can international law actually achieve? Read more »

My Salinger Year

Carody Culver

Searching for Mr Salinger

Joanna Rakoff’s book is ‘the truth, told as best [she] could’, of her year as an assistant at one of New York’s oldest literary agencies, a job for which many an Arts graduate would sell a kidney. Read more »

editing

Carody Culver

Giving voice to a silent profession

The role editors play in the process of ushering new writing into the world is both vitally important and strangely overlooked. Read more »

354_1

Hannah Kent

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Hannah Kent defends Highbrow Literature

I understand why many people have a problem with highbrow literature. ‘Intellectual snobbery’ is a common accusation, as though the reason people read and write the stuff is solely to intimidate their dinner guests. ‘Highbrow literature is for wankers,’ I hear them say. Well, ladies and gentlemen, so is Fifty Shades of Grey. Read more »

Mariah Carey

Is she Mariah, the ‘elusive’ chanteuse?

Two weeks ago, Mariah Carey launched her fourteenth studio album, Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. Yes, that’s the real name, and it’s hilarious not only because the title is so long and happily shameless but because Mariah has long styled herself as one of the least elusive pop stars in the pop music galaxy. Read more »

Douglass books

Julia Tulloh

High fantasy writers who aren’t George RR Martin, and who are also women

‘Tolkien is the greatest burden the modern fantasy author must labour under and eventually escape from if they are to succeed.’ So wrote Australian high fantasy writer, Sara Douglass, a decade and a half ago. Replace Tolkien with George RR Martin, and one might say the same principle applies today. Read more »

Conchita Wurst

Julia Tulloh

Why Eurovision 2014 was a bit disappointing

No one watches Eurovision to discover surprise new talent, or even to hear good singing. I watch it for the kitschy, pop-tastic visual onslaught which rarely fails to assault viewers. Read more »

Happy Christmas

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Joe Swanberg’s Real Women

In Happy Christmas, the female characters are a pleasure to watch, largely because they’re so familiar in life and so rarely depicted on screen. Read more »

Gabrielle

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Beyond tics, limps and prosthetics

Think of a disability – mental or physical – and there’s sure to be a film that features it. What about giving big roles to actors who actually live with the disability they’re depicting? Now that would be authentic. Read more »

Under the Skin

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Size Matters

Bigger isn’t always better, but some films will open themselves up to you and pour themselves out in new ways when you see them on a cinema screen. Read more »

5881861191_90de8b5bc9

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Making trolls eat their words

If we’re not conscious of a troll’s desired response, we risk inadvertently encouraging further trolling by allowing ourselves to be played. Read more »

filter

Reality vs. Instagram

It’s been over three years since Instagram launched, and we’re still not sure whether processing a photograph might be considered akin to doctoring a memory. Read more »

2014 Budget

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Could we crowdfund the dole?

Following the announcement of the 2014 budget, the director of a leading arts organisation posed a question on Facebook: ‘What recourse do the people have to stop these changes? What are next steps? Would be curious to know of any other effective measures to get the message across… apart from complaining on Twitter.’ Read more »

tumblr_inline_n6wz16ohb91r8e10g

Danielle Binks

YA is the New Black

Apparently those of us who do read and enjoy youth literature should be ‘embarrassed’. At least that’s what Ruth Graham said in her recent clickbait article for Slate, ‘Against YA’. Read more »

A Little Pretty Pocket Book

Danielle Binks

Who run the book world? GIRLS!

‘It’s no wonder boys aren’t reading – the children’s book market is run by women.’ So claimed the headline of an April article in The Times.

*Cue Liz Lemon eye-roll* Read more »

The Fault in Our Stars

Danielle Binks

The Fault in the Cult of John Green

I like John Green as much as the next YA-aficionado. I’ve snot-cried through his books, and chuckled over his YouTube videos. But now it’s time to talk about the media-led oversaturation of John Green, and the insulting way he’s been heralded as the saviour of young adult fiction. Read more »

splash

Chad Parkhill

Queering the Power: The Soft Pink Truth’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?

The Soft Pink Truth’s new album ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage’ demonstrates that despite their superficial differences, dance music and black metal have a lot in common. Read more »

The Knife

Chad Parkhill

Never Settled: The Knife’s Shaken-Up Versions

Making live electronic music engaging is a difficult task, and The Knife’s Silent Shout tour shows a band committed to breaking the visual cliché of performers standing still behind banks of electronic equipment. Read more »

Tori Amos

Chad Parkhill

Loving (and hating) Tori Amos

Tori Amos is hardly to blame for the existence of her fans’ expectations, nor for their disappointment when her work does not live up to them – but that doesn’t prevent that disappointment from feeling intensely personal. Read more »

Alg-90210-jpg

Stephanie Van Schilt

Sick-Person TV

The only upside to getting sick was the many afternoons I spent curled up on the couch at home, watching daytime TV. I inhaled the drama of pre-recorded episodes of Beverley Hills 90210 while playing with my Brandon and Dylan sticker collection (interspersed with sporadic vomiting). Read more »

The_Million_Dollar_Drop_logo

Nicholas J Johnson

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Nicholas J Johnson defends Lowbrow TV

I can’t stop looking at Eddie McGuire’s smug, stupid face. It’s not my fault. It’s just I’ve never been this close to the man before, and it’s not until now that I’ve realised how oddly smooth and tanned his skin is. As if someone has stretched the orange bladder from a football over a slab of marble. Read more »

deadwood-03-1024

Zora Sanders

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Zora Sanders defends Highbrow TV

I’m going to be honest with you. I feel a little guilty being gifted highbrow TV as a subject to defend. Highbrow TV doesn’t need a defender! It’s a battle that has been won! Highbrow TV is downright fucking awesome and every single person reading this already knows it. Read more »