Untangling Instagram's growing web of influence

Updated 8th September 2017
INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 24:  Models Kylie Jenner (L) and Kendall Jenner take selfies at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California.  (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for MTV)
Credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images North America/Getty Images for MTV
Untangling Instagram's growing web of influence
Written by Tom Jenkins, CNN
In October 2015, Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing joined CNN Style as guest editor. He commissioned a series of features on the theme of #diversity, exploring issues around fashion, politics, gender, family, race and culture.
Instagram's fifth birthday party had a guest list stretching to 400 million. That's how many monthly active users the photo-sharing app now has and almost half of them are under 25. In the triumvirate of social media (along with Facebook and Twitter), it's definitely the cool one.
Much of the platform's appeal lies in it simplicity, hence developers have changed very little since its inception. But with the introduction of sponsored posts it feel like Instagram is at something of a crossroads. Will it lose its idiosyncratic creative spirit or simply push on to the next level with a whole host of new features?
Only time will tell, but let's get serious for a minute and forget the filtering fun and unobtainable constructed reality, and examine how Instagram really is changing the world.


The best Instagram accounts are aspirational, but they also tell a story. The fashion world is starting to catch on to this.
Designers and brands are responding to a desire for storytelling, inviting their Instagram followers into a previously closed world. Show lighting and set design is planned with Instagram in mind and it's now the place where trends become reality and model's careers are made.
Olivier Rousteing recently previewed Balmain's SS16 ready-to-wear collection on his feed -- many of his 1.3 million followers may not be able to afford the clothes or lifestyle (yet), but they can be part of the conversation.
"It's democratising fashion," says Eva Chen, former editor-in-chief of Lucky Magazine and now Instagram's Head of Fashion Partnerships. "There's a greater connection to the customer now. Instagram enables brands to build a voice and speak more specifically to their audiences. Designers are not just thinking about the people at the shows. It humanises [designers] I think."


Art and fashion are gloriously intertwined currently, and Instagram is helping to open the former to a wider audience too.
Brett Gorvy, International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie's is a fan and thinks it's "changing how people perceive artists." Internet artist Rafaël Rozendaal, who uses Instagram to preview artworks for his project websites, agrees: "I use it as an open studio to show the process of my work, and also my life, which is work too.
It opens up the artistic process to a broader audience; it demystifies the life of artists. At the same time it creates myths. Instagram is an extra organ, an extension of the body. I would like it if the likes and comments weren't there though. Just images, no hierarchy."


Instagram is broadening our horizons as we seek ever more photogenic locations, while travel brands are commissioning popular Instagram photographers as part of their marketing approach.
Eelco Roos, who has shot for Travel Alberta, as well as brands such as Samsung and Ducati, quit his job as an IT Consultant for IBM and is now one of the most popular photographers on Instagram. "For travel brands, Instagram is more measurable than traditional media in terms of finding out what an audience thinks. I haven't experienced hostility from 'traditional' photographers, but I do have to defend ways of photography other than the traditional ones sometimes."
Instagram is also opening Western eyes to more inaccessible places, Iran for example, where Facebook and Twitter are banned, and accounts such as @everydayafrica are challenging preconceptions. Taylor Pemberton, a designer and creative director, left his home in New York earlier this year to pursue a nomadic lifestyle as a photographer. He eventually found himself in North Korea: "I had this hope that even though the tourism experience is sanctioned, my camera could see past the façade and bring forth the everyday nuances that exist in human life. I think a platform like Instagram is giving people a glimpse into other worlds, cultures, and topics. Like other forms of media, some Instagram accounts create more education than controversy, more conviction than humour."


It's also making us more adventurous with what we eat.
Without Instagram, there would be no food porn.
As with fashion, this is where trends become reality and food writers such as Hemsley and Hemsley, whose super healthy dishes, with their rich and often bold colour palettes, seem almost tailor-made for the format, enjoy huge followings.
However, eating out (and in) has become such a documentable event that many people spend more time trying to get the perfect shot than enjoying the food. "Sometimes I wonder if guests are present at the table when they are obsessing about photographing everything they eat," says Massimo Bottura, chef patron of Osteria Francescana, voted second best restaurant in the world. "One time a guest suggested I change the colour of the plates (from white to black) because he said the photographs would look better."


Instagram has the power to impart rapid fame and there are certainly personalities who seem to exist solely in the Instagram world -- back to that unobtainable constructed reality. But it's also possible for relative unknowns to gain sudden worldwide recognition for the quality of their work. Sam Yeldham's stunning photograph of a newly wed couple stood against a stormy Sydney Harbour recently went viral. "The attention has been positive. I think regardless of the era, all forms of impactful or engaging art will always find an audience," he says.
Online bullying and trolling is rife across all social media of course, but high-profile users, such as supermodel Gigi Hadid, are able to generate significant debate by highlighting their own experiences. "I think it [Instagram] has given celebrities more control over how their own lives are seen," says photographer Greg Williams, who captures the famous in candid moments for his #artofbehindthescenes project.


Social media by nature is a perfect campaigning tool and Instagram's youthful demographic are more active than most, whether on wider issues in society (#ifttheygunnedmedown), or contradictory rules governing social media itself (#freethenipple).
Brooklyn-based photojournalist and activist Ruddy Roye feels Instagram has allowed him to leapfrog media gatekeepers and get his voice heard: "Up until I started using it I was at the mercy of editors. Before, we depended on magazines and television and the Internet to a smaller degree to give us a window into faraway worlds, not so anymore. I use it mostly to highlight the ills of my community," he says.