Instagram and The Iconic Art of Nostalgia

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So does the sight of this bring a tear to your eye and a lump to your throat? Remembering the happy days and endless hours you shared together? If so your not alone it would seem;

When Instagram released its new logo, and updated app last month, I doubt they expected the strength of the largely unfavourable reaction from the global Instagram community.

Accompanied by a snazzy new video showing the evolution of the cute and familiar box camera to the icon equivalent of Josephs technicolour dreamcoat. Here’s what Instagram said:

“The Instagram community has evolved over the past five years from a place to share filtered photos to so much more – a global community of interests sharing more than 80 million photos and videos every day. “Our updated look reflects how vibrant and diverse your storytelling has become.”

The reaction of the 100 million regular Instagram users was loud and clear and told a rather different story. The internet went into meltdown as they voiced their displeasure. Users called out the design as “looking like something designed by a Samsung Intern”, or ” like something I created in Word Art when I was 10″

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Within hours hashtags #changeitback and #instagramno along with some other rather more visceral phrases were trending.

Memes soon appeared which mocked both the design and its process. Some of them extremely creative.  A  video showing a boy playing with the Gradient Settings in Photoshop on a dated Mac then turns to camera with a cheesy ‘Thumbs Up’ sign, quickly went viral, as did a reworking of Edward Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’ which I think takes the ultimate prize for cleverly summing up the feelings of the majority. ie. That the new Logo was ‘Quelle Horror’!

Scream-memes-of-the-week

But hold that thought and lets back up a minute.

This isn’t the first time a Branding update has fallen foul of public opinion. Corporate rebranding is a notoriously tricky exercise. If you don’t believe me just ask Mega Brand Coke, who have tried several times over the course of their long history to ‘modernize’ and update a much loved ‘classic’ design, and found out the hard way that there is some truth in the old adage ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it!”.

coke

Like the Instagram logo the public reaction to a repackaged soft drink is somewhat predictable. No matter what they may say, people by and large are more comfortable with the familiar, and resistant to anything which takes them out of their personal comfort zone. And the greater the degree of familiarity, the more comfortable the comfort.

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A key component of this equation is of course Nostalgia. In the case of Coke  the ‘Classic’ logo and bottle was the one many of us grew up with. To crack open and swig down a Coke from that familiar curved Glass bottle is for me to be instantly transported back to carefree childhood summer days in an altogether more innocent age where “We’d like to Teach The World to Sing became “We’d like to Buy the World a Coke” without even a hint of irony, The only thing I had to worry about was getting back the return deposit on the bottle. (By the way whatever happened to Deposit on Return? A green idea that was well ahead of its time? but I digress..)

What’s interesting here isn’t just the force of the reaction Instagrammers have displayed to the update, but that one of the key reasons beneath the protests would seem to be Nostalgia. Is that really possible? Nostalgia for Coke (or Pepsi if you pref is one thing), but nostalgia for an online photosharing app barely out of nappies? How can this be?

Perhaps we need to re-evaluate our understanding of what we mean by nostalgia which the dictionary defines as:

Nostalgia

noun

  1. a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.

“I was overcome with acute nostalgia for my days at university”

synonyms:       wistfulness, longing/yearning/pining for the past, regret, regretfulness, reminiscence,remembrance, recollection, homesickness, sentimentality

 

Somewhat ironically these are all elements at play in the conception of the original Instagram logo..But before we get too sentimental and dewy eyed,  wrap your mind around this little-known fact: The old Instagram logo — the square instant camera with the tiny rainbow we’re all familiar with (and are now wistfully remembering),  isn’t even actually the original.

Before Instagram had the iconic logo the app actually brandished a design that looked a lot like a real camera, apparently designed by CEO Kevin Systrom himself.

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When Instagram was about to launch in October 2010, Apple wanted to put the app in the store’s “featured” section. But there was a problem: The original logo — basically a stylized rendering of a real Polaroid OneStep instant camera — was using a trademarked design. So it had to go. Systrom enlisted help from designer and photographer Cole Rise. one of the app’s early adopter users. Rise had recently created a camera-like icon for his own picture sharing app called Uoooo

This icon was itself a nostalgia inspired piece of design based on a Bell & Howell  8mm cine camera from the ’50s..

Belln Howell

The story goes that Systrom wanted to buy this logo but Rise didn’t want to sell, and instead agreed to rework the design , coming up with the box camera Instagram logo in about 45 mins. And then continuing to iterate over the next few months, adding details like adding an overhead lighting effect, and detailing the room reflected in the camera lens ( if you look closely you can see a window).  The final logo version shipped with Instagram 2.0 in 2011 and the rest as they say is history..

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All 4 years of it.

Which brings us back to the new icon, and perhaps helps explain why the initial reaction to it has been so unfavourable.

Whilst the new logo retains recognisable elements of the old one, notably the box camera shape in outline, along with circular lens, it strips these elements down to a bare bones minimalist level, whilst at the same time subverting the rainbow striped bars into a rather cliched gradient fill, and one that fails to include all the colours of the rainbow at that. The result feel somewhat akin to viewing the corpse of an icon that died of starvation, lying in its white casket after having been badly dressed by the undertaker.

The new logo makes no concessions or nods to the physical world of light, photography and real, albeit antique cameras, and so a direct connection is lost..

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Now there are very good arguments for screen based User Interface design that is clean, simple, functional, and doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. Chief product designer at Apple Jonathan Ive ,the man behind the design of the iPhone, has rallied against Apples own OS interface design team for their Skeuomorphism, -that is the tendency to deliberately make something new look like something old and familiar.

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But the Instagram update has adopted a very anti-skeumorphic approach not only in the design of revamped logo, but also in streamlining the look of the interface and the associated filter operations that make the app what it is. In Instagram’s words; we refreshed the user interface with a simpler, more consistent design that helps people’s photos and videos shine.

And so we have a UI that is stripped of almost all of its colour, black replaces blue  and Meanwhile, the notification icons are red and no longer orange. The new black and white design is supposed to put your photos and videos front and centre with fewer distracting elements around it, and brings the app in line with other modern interfaces that emphasize lots of white space and minimalism.

instagram-ios-old-new

Which is all very well, but the criticism being levelled by users here is that there’s nothing distinct about it anymore. It’s become too minimal/ too generic and even too bright.

One designer moans;  “ I could gripe about how snow-bright the editing sliders are — especially when you’re editing a post in a bar or dimly-lit restaurant and don’t want the screen illuminating your entire face so intensely.”

So you can just how sensitive some people are on these matters!

Instagram wants its users photos and videos to shine and some of then cry that they shining too brightly! And so they were probably always on a hiding to nothing no matter whether their logo morphed Skeumorphically or just plain skewed!

In a neat twist which brings things full circle, when given the opportunity to design a real camera in the form a special one-off for Leica, Ive came up with something distinctly “retro’- eg. does this Leica Red M remind you of anything?

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And then of course there was the Polaroid Socialmatic which actually took the logo and turned it into a real (if not very good) Polaroid camera.

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But perhaps we shouldn’t judge too harshly. The ‘Red’ Leica M sold for a handsome $1.8million when it was auctioned  for Charity at Sothebys.

Nostalgia it would seem is Big Money. And Instagram is for all its warm social media we are a ‘community’ fuzziness is BIG business

SO let’s see. They say a change is as good as a rest. But my money says that we haven’t yet seen the back of the old Instagram logo fully. Except here.

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Insta India

Featured

 

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Somebody, I forget who exactly,  ( I will Google it in a minute ) said something like;

“The point of photography is to teach us to see”.

For the past 6 months or so I’ve been posting to Instagram on a regular (almost daily) basis. Mostly these are images of life in Chennai and in particular around my neighbourhood of Besant Nagar. Essentially they are vignettes of the stuff of everyday life here that I see when I’m out for a walk or taking an auto ride or whatever. So they are very much of the moment and a bit of an eclectic mix of  street-photography/portraits/documentary. I tag the collection ‘Insta India’.

For a long time I had ignored Instagram as just another Social Meeja gimmick that was mainly for kids who want to post selfies, and whilst it’s true that for many, Instagram is just that, it’s also surprising (or it was to me at least) just how many great images and photographers there are on Instagram. And OK it’s a format which is best suited to viewing on the sort of mobile device on which these images mostly originate, but so what? Where’s the rule that says that great photography, creativity and innovation only apply to those photographers who shoot on a Hasselblad and print on Fine Art paper?

Apart from the fact that it is fun. Social Meeja is taking a bit of stick these days, and I’d be the first to agree that Facebook book is probably best suited to those that can’t face a book, and Twitter is for the ‘Twitterati”. But if we discount the Selfie Lovers then Instagram is at least an online community of creative people who are more interested in sharing their work, and learning from that of others than with the number of likes or followers they have.

Having said that you can follow me on Instagram @meelius and like my Insta India series here 🙂

https://www.instagram.com/meelius/

 

PS: “Photography helps people to see.” – Berenice Abbott

Back To Bastakia

This is one of my favourite places in Dubai if not the planet. And when ever I am in Dubai I always find myself drawn to Bastakia, where I can lose myself for hours in the alleys and architecture of a Dubai gone by..

Bastakia (0r Bastakiya if you prefer the local spelling) is a hidden corner of Dubai and pretty much the only part of the city that harks back to a heritage that sadly has all but disappeared in terms of the rest of the urban fabric of the city. Once slated for demolition also, thankfully somebody in the government planning department  had the good sense to place a heritage order on them, and preserve at least a little history in a city that is all to keen to build ever tackier and taller shiny metal and glass towers which really have little place in a desert climate.

The Bastakia courtyard houses are the true vernacular for this part of the world. They are solid and substantial, and at the same time cool in a very literal sense. The thick walls are actually a unique form of concrete built from crushed corals, mixed with sand and stone. Finished with a sand render they provide the the perfect heat sink to Dubai’s intense sun.

The design of the houses follow a traditional plan based around a central courtyard. The wind towers are on the corner (s) of the building and are designed to pull the rising warm upwards and conversely send cooler air downward whereby it can circulate through the interiors keeping the climate within relatively cool. Its a clever yet low-tech and low energy solution to building climate control. Best of all it creates a beautiful and humanistic housing design, with an engaging and highly visual aesthetic, which for the architectural photographer amongst us is a delight.

I’ve spent many a happy hour wondering round the (increasingly) trendy Bastakia heritage houses. Many of which have now been turned into art galleries, cafes, and even a hotel.

So the next time your in Dubai, do yourself a favour, and see if you cant persuade the wife or better half to leave the Mall for a few hours, and wonder over to Bastakia for an authentic time travel experience which will reconnect you with Dubai gone by.

 

One Night in Bangkok

Workshops in Chennai

 

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Im going to be conducting several introductory photography  workshops in Chennai in March and April, more details coming soon…

Workshop Sign Up!
Yes Count Me In For a Workshop in Chennai
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Insta Karma

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Sunday afternoon. Besant Nagar beach or Bessy as it’s know colloquially.

31 degrees. Hazy and Hot.

I have just bought a T-Shirt for less than the price of a Latte in a London Starbucks.It’s a ‘Superman’ T-shirt.  Bought with irony in mind and 300 rupees from my wallet.

The exact cost of the T -shirt is 295 rupees. I still have the 5 rupees change clasped in my hand as I exit, and see Our Man.

Actually I had seen him on the way in, his hand outstretched toward me. But at that moment I was a (superman) on my way to rescue That T-shirt. So I did what I normally do in these circumstances. I ignored him.

Now I exit the shop in my new persona, and  I am feeling guilty. I have just bought a T Shirt at a price that can only mean its been stitched by 1000 Bangladeshi orphans  for a dollar and a stick of chewing gum. What to do?

Make amends obviously. Settle the balance with the Universe ASAP!

I thrust the 5 rupees into his still outstretched hand. And he looks at me. And mumbles something in Tamil which I don’t understand at all, but I don’t have to because his eyes say it all. THANKYOU!

I nod back and mumble make my exit, and hustle into the Puma sportswear shop (shorts to go with my T-shirt).Five shop assistants who were enjoying a languid Sunday afternoon doze just a few seconds ago jump to attention at a whistle from the security guard and start trailing me around the shop. Which is enough to drive me back out in under a minute.

And anyway I’m no longer interested in shorts. I can’t get this guys face out my head. I have to get his picture!

Fortunately he hasn’t wandered far. And I watch him for a few more minutes as he totters around the Sunday afternoon visitors to Besant Nagar beach imploring each of them to part with their Hard Earned. But people are not interested. Or at least they are more interested in enjoying the many and assorted foods ,sweets, trinkets, attractions and other assortments that Bessy has to offer to a punter on a Sunday afternoon..

And it Still HOT! But for once these bright southern Indian skies are not blue. The sun is up there alright, but its usual fierce gaze is dissolved and diffused behind the huge billowing clouds that have been growing ever higher all morning.

Bad news for a day at the beach. It looks and feels as though these same clouds are going to dump their contents downward any moment now. But the plus side of this is that the light is softened and subdued. Good for portraits.

I cross the street to our man. Phone camera at the ready (the best camera is the one you have with you) He turns and stretches his hand out again, and then recognition dawns and a slightly puzzled look crosses his face.

I say “Hello’ and ‘I gave already’ in a weak attempt at humour. But he clearly  doesn’t understand and replies in a stream of Tamil which I don’t.

‘Can I take your picture? ‘ I ask. Pointing to the phone and holding it up toward him. More torrents of Tamil..A nearby couple have been watching/ laughing at our exchange, step in and  intervene and translate, and apparently permission is granted. ‘He’s saying Ok you can take his photo!’

So. It’s the Decisive Moment. I step towards him, and bring the phone up to eye level. But the bright sky behind him means all I see on screen is a silhouette. ‘Hang on! Wait a sec..’ I say. More torrents of Tamil but the tone is bemused, as is the expression of the translator couple still watching and giggling off to one side. Who’s this idiot foreigner who can’t even use his camera phone? I finally find the exposure settings in the camera controls and notch it up a couple of pegs and Wwwwhoooaa! Suddenly That Face fills the screen, and I know before I have even clicked the shutter that I’ve struck gold.

I take 3 or 4 shots in quick succession, moving in a bit closer each time, and then I’m done. I give thanks and bow my appreciation to our man, and in return he smiles and makes a blessing like motion with his free hand.

And just for a moment. All is well again with The Universe. 

And I really am Superman!

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Shard Panoramic 1

I spent Saturday afternoon at Tate Modern -still my favourite Gallery in London, though Im not convinced the Herzog DeMeuron extension currently under construction is A) A good idea, B) A good design. But lets see..

Anyway upon leaving and crossing Sir Norman of Fosters Millenium (wobbly) bridge we were treated to a truly magical sunset which bathed the Urban Landscape scene down river in Golden Light, whilst illuminating a dramatic cloudscape as a scenic backdrop of the kind which would have had Turner doing cartwheels. Anyhow you get the picture- all in all a must do Photo opportunity.

Once again the adage the  best camera is the one you have with you, proves to be the case, and once again its the iPhone.

So I thought I’d try a wee experiment and see if I could produce anything approaching a decent quality panoramic image using

A) Photoshop stitching

B) DMD – a clever little iPhone app which allows you to shoot a panoramic on the fly so to speak and does the stitching in-situ.

So heres the results:

So heres the first – Photoshop Job

Heres -the 2nd -also Photoshop  but a bigger stitch -12 images & a different iPhone origination -mine had run out of battery so I borrowed my friends!

and finally the DMD image -a little fuzzy perhaps but not bad for a handheld instant panoramic.