- By Ben Fraternale
I love flipping through old Facebook photos, reliving otherwise forgotten moments, but one thing stands out as I click through the past: I’ve used A LOT of photo filters. Everyone has. With the advent of Instagram and editing apps, few photos make it to social media that haven’t been doctored in some way. These alterations range from brightening an underexposed shot to completely filtering it with dramatic coloring, adorned with a gaudy border.
When I look back on these shots, sometimes I wonder if the memories they encapsulate would have been better served raw, with no layering of colors, vignettes, or borders. When you upload photos to Facebook, that might be the final version of that memory you ever see again. Even the cloud can’t preserve everything, whatever filter you chose based on your tastes in 2010 will be the photo you have to look at in 2016.
Many people might never consider this, but Facebook is the true “family album” of the present. With fewer photos physically printed than ever, what you post of your summer vacation will be the thing you look back on in a decade. If you’ve badly distorted it with unattractive filters you thought looked cool in the moment, that might be a regret down the road.
The preservation of reality in photographs is a very journalistic mindset. The wire service Reuters recently banned RAW image files from contributing photojournalists in favor of out-of-camera jpegs. RAW image files can be heavily modified, so Reuter’s mandate that their pictures “must reflect reality” made these flexible files journalistically dangerous. Before camera phones and photo apps, images largely stayed untouched by the majority of casual camera-owners. Now, our cherished memories have the “Valencia” Instagram filter obscuring the true image.
Artistic expression is a beautiful thing, it’s what iPhones have made so accessible to the masses. Everyone takes photographs and most people enjoy tinkering with them, something unthinkable in the pre-digital era. However, maybe some memories shouldn’t be interpreted artistically.
Go ahead and look through your old Instagram and Facebook photos. If you find it disappointing that pictures of your family have a grunge filter, or are cropped square with a thick border, maybe that’s something to consider next time you upload a shot. You might thank yourself for years to come.