Let’s take a stroll back in time …
I bought a smart phone today. Keith at work says the next big thing is taking photos with smart phones and uploading them up online for other people to see and looking at other people’s. You can meet people too, over the internet or in real life. Get a peek into other people’s lives and cultures, follow their every move through their pictures. I could get a photo of someone robbing a bank or a celebrity in an uncompromising situation (I saw Norman Lamont hailing a taxi in Notting Hill once, looking a bit flustered). I know about the hardware, but this sociable media thing is at the softer end of the scale – slightly out of my comfort zone, you might say.
I’ve had quite a lot of experience taking photos over the years and these days you add filters and the pictures look great without you really doing much. I’ve been looking into it online. There’s a whole load of networks you can use. Instagram seems to be the go-to one with all the critical mass. Anyway, I’ll shop around first and get the best deal. But I certainly feel I have something to offer the world, so to speak, and this new world of platforms and networks, through this new shiney phone, is just waiting for me to go forth.
Plastic recycling tomorrow so dinner was built around the chucking out of various plastic containers in the fridge. Alan was just coming in the front door and after parking up his bicycle in the hallway, he came into the kitcken, threw back his sweaty shoulder-length hair in a big display of eco-friendly confidence and looked at me with a little snigger as I laid out on the kitchen counter: 1 tub previously containing pickled herrings but now just with a residual layer of white sauce with some bits of onion and something else in (no herring remaining: the Finns put far too much sauce in those things), 1 rasher of bacon (possibly with green tinges), 4 mushrooms (slightly shrivelled) and 6 spinach and riccotta tortellini. The big question was what the herring sauce would go with: it’s a bit tangy and overwhelms anything it goes with (apart from pickled herring). So after a bit of thinking, I just ate it there and then as a sort of starter and triumphantly threw the empty tub into the plastic recycling bag (job done!) and then fried up the bacon and mushrooms and added them to the tortellini. A bottle of ketchup with a mere trace at the bottom got a stay of execution until next week.
“Plastic recycling tomorrow”, I said to Alan. “Sweet” he replied, though I could tell he was being sarcastic. His phone made a ding! sound and he pulled it out of his pocket, looked at it and put it back in one quick movement. He then gathered up his back-pack made of recycled lorry tarpaulins from the kitchen floor and headed into the living room to dump himself on the sofa. I know he thinks my domestic routines are a bit anal, but then I think his general slobbing around the flat and slap-dash eco-existence in the rest of his life is, well, a bit slobby and slap-dash.
I’ve decided to join Instagram. I know there are risks (I heard on the news they could sell my photos if I don’t watch it) but I’m a bit of a risk-taker. There seems to be no cost and no long forms to fill out (where’s the catch?). Any photos of mine that I think are really excellent, I’ll put a big not-for-sale sign right across the middle of the photo. That should do it. I now need a name, or “handle” as they call it (I always think of frying pans when I hear that, particularly the blue one I’ve got). I’ve been looking for something humourous, that trips off the tongue, says I’m intelligent and also has a connection to photography. And after a lot of thinking I have one that ticks all the boxes: @BrianBrainy. It says: funny, clever and photogenic. It’s obvious why it’s funny and clever but what’s the photography connection, you might ask? Well, thinking ahead, a year or so down the line, I’m thinking: logo. If you turn “BrianBrainy” on its side and fill in the holes in the Bs (which have to be in capitals), they make two sets of specs = visual = photo. It’s marketing gold! I spent ages trying to think up a profile description that also ticks all the boxes. Then I had a brain wave (quite literally!) and thought I’d turn it on its head and turn a minus into a plus: “Words often desert me so I prefer to speak through my pics. International and intelligent observer of the world through my eyes and my smart phone.” I added some sparkly icons before and after the words. Very happy with that.
I signed onto Instagram as @BrianBrainy and I’ve followed a whole load of people. When you sign onto Instagram it tells you who it’s good to follow, so I followed most of them as they’re probably pretty good. There’s people from all round the world. I couldn’t believe how many followers some of the people I followed have! It doesn’t seem possible. They must spend half their lives on Instagram keeping up with it. Most of their photos are pretty good. Quite a lot of them are in black and white, which is interesting to know that it’s not such an old-fashioned thing after all. It’s perhaps even actually quite trendy – I might try it myself.
There was quite a rebellious-sounding one called @pissinginyourcappuccino, which made me laugh. He (or she, why not? well it might not be as easy, I guess, but still possible) mainly has pictures of food presented on high-class-looking plates and one with someone giving the finger in what looks like a kitchen in a restaurant. Is this guy (it is a man) a cook or something? Perhaps he’s a famous chef in New York or wherever he is (it looks like America).
Almost two minutes after I signed onto Instagram, I got my first follower. I thought it must be one of the people who I’d followed but it wasn’t. It was someone called @newbiegram with a picture of a globe as a profile and the following description: “Following and welcoming newbies on Instagram from all around the world. Have instafun!”. So I followed him/her back as it only seemed fair, although he/she (let’s call him a he) doesn’t have that many pictures and they all seem to be pictures of written messages in bright colours such as “Opening my arms to Newbies on Instagram” or “I follow you around the world”. He has 27,000 followers and he’s following 50,000. Well, at least that’s nice to know someone is looking forward to my first picture. In fact, very soon after @newbiegram followed me, I got two more followers (perhaps his influence?). One from Thailand and one from somewhere in America. I didn’t much like the look of the one from America (a bit hairy and middle-aged) but the one from Thailand looked quite exotic so I followed her. I mean I already have about 100 people that I follow (the ones Instagram suggested) so I can’t just go around following everyone. I have to leave some breathing space for new relationships.
Looking at the picture of the hairy guy from America reminded me that I obviously ought to get a picture of my own as a matter of urgency. I spent quite a long time taking photos of myself trying to get a good one. In the end, I decided I’d go down the mystical route and not put up a picture of my face at all. It’s not my strongest point after all. So after a bit of rooting around the flat I found a little Budha statue that I bought in a charity shop, so I took a photo of that instead and put it on my profile. It will show I’m not too England-centric and have a spiritual side.
I want to make a big entrance with my first photo on Instagram and I get the sense that now I’ve signed up, people are waiting to see what my pictures are like. It’s a big decision obviously. It’s my calling card, it’s the curtain-raiser, it’s a ta-da! moment. It needs to be like a firm handshake, or like a brightly coloured tie – or even a bow tie! (That might have made for a good profile picture, oh well). I’ve thought about it a lot and I’ve decided I’m going to do a picture of Big Ben. It’s a symbol recognised around the world, it’s impressive, it’s an appendix to the houses of the British Parliament (the mother of all parliaments no less!) so it has authority and standing. It says: look! It’s me! I’m big! It’s also associated with reliability (ie being on time) and people look to it (to get the time) and look up to it (quite literally), which I hope people will to me in the fullness of time on Instagram. Bong!
Am having second thoughts about my handle, @BrianBrainy. I don’t like the look of the Bs – they’re too chubby. And in all honesty, having a logo might be a bit of a stupid pipe dream. What was I thinking of? Getting carried away in the moment. But I suppose I’ve got three followers now and they’d get confused if I changed my name and I can’t be bothered having to explain to them and ask them to continue following me. Let’s stick with it.
I took a quick trip on my lunch break to Big Ben today. I took about ten photos from different angles and I think I’m going to use the one that’s a bit wonky. All the photos turned out a bit dark but I’m sure one of the filters will fix that. Before going out, I also googled a bit of stuff about Big Ben and decided to write a bit of history about it next to the photo. Apparently its real name isn’t actually Big Ben, it’s the Elizabeth Tower, so that should add some interest to the photo. I grabbed a hog-roast bap on the way back to the office and had it al desko. I’m sure Carole made a purposeful trip past my desk as I finished off the last strand of apple-sauce smudged pork just in time for our 2pm meeting. I remember her once saying (after a few drinks) that if you go out for lunch, you should have a proper sit-down lunch and if you don’t, you should just come straight back and have it at your desk. Did she see me taking a photo of my bap, I wonder? I was thinking of maybe posting it up if food is such a big thing on Instagram. But no matter which filter I picked I couldn’t get it to look nice. I even spread the mustard around so you could see a bit of colour. My desk was a total mess.
Boom! (Or should I say Bong!). It’s up! My first Instagram photo is live. Just a few seconds ago I uploaded it and tapped in the following caption (thanks Wiki!): “The Elizabeth Tower, or Big Ben as it is commonly known, has become one of the most prominent symbols of both London and England and is often in the establishing shot of films set in the city. It is reknowned for its reliability and Londoners look to it (and up to it) for their time.” So not only used in establishing shots of films set in a city, now used in establishing shots of Instagram accounts by photographers. (Could I change the Wiki entry?). Definitely a good idea to use the one with Big Ben tilted. At a jaunty angle, as they say, like a trendy hat.
I was so pleased with it, I showed Alan. He didn’t think much of the photo but he seemed mildly impressed that I’d joined Instagram. Everyone in his office is saying it could be the next big thing. Some of his PR clients are starting to use it, he says, though I don’t know how exactly. I found out he’s on it and has quite a lot of followers, though all his photos are just of his day-to-day existence. He didn’t follow me.
To be continued …
About this piece: Back in 2013, I started an interactive multimedia publication dedicated to iPhone photography, iPhotographer Magazine. I partnered with a liar: Petr Palan was his name. The first thing I said to him when we first met in January of 2013 to discuss the project was, “People must get paid for their work.” I had seen too many times people in the movement working for free, including me. He said, “Of course.” Like a fool, I believed him. I worked for eight months day and night and put together three full issues. Big issues. I didn’t do it alone: I had lots of people working for free on the promise of getting paid at Issue #4, which is what I fervently believed was going to happen. The magazine had features never seen before, like Appstrology, the hilarious horoscopes from Elodie Hunting. There were others, but I can’t remember them all right now. I will get the issues back online one of these days. There is too much amazing content, information, personalities, humor, craft, and, most of all, art to not resurrect the issues. One of my favorite features was the monthly Secret Smartographer column. I cannot reveal his identity, even today, but we can enjoy his insights and wisdom once again.