News,  Publications

Should Instagram go to War?

It’s an ongoing debate: Should photojournalists use apps like Instagram as they document conflict? And how should they use them?  Kate Knibbs engages with Mary Alper’s work on conflict photography through mobile apps. Reproduced from Digital Trends (Click here for original) 

Consider Nick Ut’s photograph of a naked young Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalmed village, the thousands of photos of atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib, or Ken Jarecke’s chilling photo of a charred Iraqi soldier during the first Gulf War – each simulated on digital Polaroid paper in between photos of cocktails and kittens on an Instagram feed.  Meryl Alper from “War on Instagram: Framing conflict photojournalism with mobile photography apps”. New Media and Society. Published online  September 18, 2013

It’s a thorny situation. And Meryl Alper adds another layer to the debate as she looks at whether photos taken from a soldier’s point of view and made to look flawed on purpose are ethical. In a paper called War on Instagram: Framing conflict journalism with mobile photography apps, Alper addresses the debate and concludes that photos meant to simulate a soldier’s day-to-day experience are ethically questionable. Alper doesn’t have a strong opinion on whether using photo filtering apps like Instagram or Hipstamatic are bad or good in a larger photojournalism debate, but she does find the way embedded photojournalists use these tools to portray war from a U.S. soldier’s perspective problematic.


(New York Times photographer Damon Winter’s award winning photo taking with Hipstamatic)

She argues that the decision to use professionally shot photographs to represent the experience of a soldier is bizarre considering the amount of documentation going on from the soldiers themselves. “Just considering the wealth of material that soldiers themselves take, that can be judged as portraying whatever message they portray, I think it’s a fuzzy area when those tools are also in the hand of photographers,” she says. “And there’s this assumption that photojournalists, because they have training or ethical obligations, that their photos are somehow in this higher tier or a different category than the same sorts of photos that soldiers are taking with the same sorts of tools….Instagram and Hipstamatic add more complexity to what we’re trying to interpret, even though war itself is inherently uninterpretable.