The Modern Day Daguerreotype

by susanedotcohen


Susan’s First Instagram Photo*

I am prefacing this piece by saying that my time as an Art History minor at Barnard gives me the authority to write about the daguerreotype and art in general. Although that is far from a true authority, I feel that the minor is enough of a credential to create a parallel between the daguerreotype and a modern photographic phenomenon. If my Art History minor is not strong enough then I am invoking my Barnard degree. A liberal arts degree should allow me the authority to create connections throughout the course of history. 

Just as the daguerreotype created the ability to capture images in a new way, our phones are changing the way we capture images once again. No longer do we need to carry around a digital camera when our phones take HD photos. Photos that are so crisp and clear that they look semi-professional. Case in point, this photo of a buffalo burger taken on my phone. The photo looks straight out of Bon Appetit. The photo was not staged, but looks as though it could have been staged. The avocado happened to be present when the photo was taken.

Buffalo Burger

Beyond just equipping us with camera power, photo culture is changing in America thanks to an app on our phones – Instagram. Instagram, as my friend explained to me, is for artsy photos. I am taking the word artsy straight from such friend. This does not mean that artsy photos do not end up on Facebook in vacation albums. However, Facebook is very different from Instagram. Facebook is more concerned with the principle of ‘let me show you what I did today’. If ‘let me show you what I did today’ happens to be artsy then so be it. Facebook encourages stalking and not the creation of art. Instagram is art centric. It encourages the world being viewed as a photographic canvas. A pretty tree becomes a reason to stop and take a photo.


I stopped and took a photo of this tree.* 

Instagram did not create the the world being viewed as art. The world has always been the ultimate source of inspiration for artists. Just look at sublime art where nature is front and center. For the average person, Instagram helps us see the world as art. Look a pretty tree. I should photograph the tree. The tree is now art. Let me share my art.

Once we have captured that art, the app is our chance to show off our best work. A chance for that work to be liked. In a sense, Instagram is our gallery. A gallery for the masses. With this principle a foot, each photo is not just a photo. It is a chance for Instagram fame even if our fame is just from our friends.

Instagram’s future is unclear. It may come and go like the daguerreotype. However, like the daugerreotype, Instagram is leaving its imprint on photography and how humans experience photography.

*I prefer to take photos on my phone’s camera and then upload to Instagram. I felt it was important to be honest on this point.