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  • Frank Scalici

Instagram, the modern contact sheet.

Before I begin by discussing why I believe Instagram has become the modern contact sheet, I’d like to start by analysing the importance of Instagram’s layout. Instagram as we know it is by far one of the largest platforms in today’s social media environment. It is both a tool for business as well as content creation, yet when we take a step back and view this platforms layout it presents itself as uncomplicated, one might even say minimal. Instagram’s grid system is actually so basic that we in tern find it challenging to work with a platform that restricts our ability to ‘explain things further’.

Aside from the short bio at the very top of an individual’s profile, the grid system is our first interaction with someone’s account. And as consumers on this platform we expect the latest content to be exhibited every time we access a particular hashtag or genre of content. We have become in a sense curators and judges of specific strands of work, so when you access an account within the first 20 seconds or so, association have been made as to if this profile is worth a follow, a like or a larger amount of your time. It may be harsh to say that Instagram’s grid system is cruel, it favours those photographers and creators with an understanding of relationships between images. In a sense it is so elementary in nature that it forces us to truly scrutinise what content is worthy for exhibition. There is one exception to this rule however, as a photographer or content creator you have the ability to choose what content best suits your feed regardless of your audience’s interaction with that specific post. Your objective in this instance is to recognise the relationship between images on your feed and highlight a profile that showcases this, even if it means sacrificing an image which is strong contextually but weak when paired with others.

This idea of balancing control between Instagram over the most basic of social media presentations is what essentially determines your audience’s fondness of a set of photographs. Note: I did not state that it determines an individual following you, liking your post or commenting. Your relationship with Instagram is to gain the attention of particular groups of people within your niche, to extent their time on your feed. Which leads me to discuss the most recent change in Instagram’s algorithm and what photographers should be focusing on when accessing the type of content that will boost their page, and that is ‘reach’.

As previously stated, the time an individual spends on your feed the more likely it determines a positive outcome, the goal of the content creator is to therefore extend that time and I believe that ‘reach’ plays a big part in this, as it ‘refers to the total number of unique accounts that have seen your post or story.’ I.e. The more reach the more engagement and the more attention payed to the type of work present on your grid. The nine-tile system may be plain and simple, yet its layout is fundamental in creating a strong first impression.

I titled this article ‘Instagram, the modern contact sheet’ because of how much it reminded me of a traditional film contact sheet. Where a photographer would have to physically develop their roll and spend a much larger amount of time processing and scrutinising their work. And while the physicality of having a photograph in front of you has been diluted, the notion of self-criticism is still very much present with Instagram’s grid system, the key difference being that a much larger group will be exposed to your work. I would like to conclude that photographers should therefore approach Instagram’s grid like a contact sheet. That this should not determine the type of work they produce but rather how this work has been curated.

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