Dear Instagram: Please handle with care.

This morning, the inevitable happened. Facebook bought Instagram for a cool, evenly-rounded figure of $1 billion. I can’t say I am surprised. Though, to me Instagram was priceless really. For the first time, I actually had an emotional response to a corporate buyout. Hyperbole? Overly dramatic? Not really. And I’ll tell you why. Because Instagram, to me, is not just a free mobile app—it’s a community. But not just any community like my Twitter followers or Facebook friends. Instagram is different.

This past March 27th marked my one-year anniversary on Instagram. Back then, I had recently moved from Los Angeles,CA to Portland, OR. I knew very few people in town and was recovering from the third move in less than three years. I figured it might be a good way to meet other photographers in town. It became so much more. I met designers, writers, craftspeople, art directors, art buyers, creative directors and even a few cats and dogs. Okay, a lot of cats and dogs.

I met someone who lived a mere few blocks from me in Los Angeles, but whose path I never crossed at the time. And we swapped art by mail. Tangible art. She sent me a block print and I sent her a photo of the work of a street artist I had photographed in LA that we both love. I met amazing designers and passionate craftspeople in the Portland community and beyond. Their unique, decidedly non-photo biz perspective on photography would eventually inform mine. I befriended an absolutely charming photo editor in the UK who is a fellow Kubrick fan. We are now pen pals (albeit via e-mail) and I thoroughly enjoy our conversations. I look forward to the day we share a pint together in person. I’ve kept in touch with art buyers and they can now see how I see, through Instagram. It’s so much more than just a portfolio of images. 

A producer once said to me about Instagram, “If you’ve got your follows right, (it’s) a nice little dose of inspiration.” I couldn’t agree more. Instagram somehow leveled the playing field, in a good way. Friends who would never consider themselves photographers displayed an amazing range of artistic ability through the Instagram format. And professional shooters could loosen their neck ties a bit and just have fun—explore. I thoroughly enjoy seeing the world through my friends’ eyes and things like the weekend hashtag projects are just plain FUN.

A mere three days ago I wrapped up my first assignment not only earned through Instagram, but shot with Instagram. It was amazing. When I explained to people what I was doing, or more to the point, how  I was doing it, there was a shared excitement about it all. It felt new. It felt genuine. It felt different.

So Instagram, I am thrilled that the company has achieved the success it has. As a creative person who makes my living as such, I applaud the herculean task of succeeding financially in the creative game. It’s a tough, unforgiving one. But remember, we users are more than just that—users. We are people. And we don’t want to lose the connections with the other wonderful people we’ve met through your app.

You see, that’s the thing. Unlike Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter, Instagram has facilitated real human interactions. It’s not just about e-mails, DMs and mentions. Instagram led to meet-ups and face-to-face meetings. Coffee, lunch or a few beers down the street. Hashtags to handshakes.

So, please handle with care. All too often the drive for profitability has squelched the wonder of discovery or the joy of creativity. My hope is that Instagram’s scrappy, underdog status will improve Facebook. But it’s hard to tell at this point.  I joined Instagram because it was different. Please keep it different.

IG: @wmanthonyphoto

(© William Anthony)

See the documentary Marwencol. I can’t possibly begin to describe why, so just watch it. Trust me on this one. Click the image above to see the trailer. (Photo © Mark Hogencamp)