11 ways in which Instagram improved my life in 2015.

I’ve come over all BuzzFeed and decided to blog a list of my own. Probably slightly more irreverent than most of my posts, the topic is nonetheless one that is important to me. Instagram.  Some people hate it, finding it vapid and inane. But I love it. With no forethought or expectation, I signed up last April, and rapidly became a huge fan. What I didn’t know was that Instagram would soon enrich my life in  these unexpected ways:

1.Permission to be creative. I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking that I wasn’t as creative as truly creative people. I was dismissive of instagram, thinking it was for fashionable people, young people or celebrities. I am definitely not fashionable people. I’m older than the main demographic of instagram (55% of instagram users are believed to be 29 or under)  Still, after hearing about it for a few years, I finally signed up. I started posting pictures of things I liked. Buildings, mostly. Buildings in my home-town of Cumbernauld, photographs of Glasgow and any other places I happen to visit. When I figured out hashtags properly, I gathered a following and then I was hooked!

Me being all creative with filters and that.

Might have filtered this just a little…

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2.Like-minded community. Instagram hashtags are a gift. If you have a thing for windows, (either the glass-filled,framed viewing device kind or the computer operating system kind)  there’s a feed for that. If you have a thing for organising the ingredients of your dinner or the contents of your handbag  in alignment (#knolling,  it is so pretty) or street art or rich kids or death metal or seals or  cats there is a community of hashtaggers all about that very thing. Instagram makes it easy to find your tribe.

3. A portal to the big wide world. I follow some beautiful accounts all over the world. Plenty right here in Scotland. A lifestyle blogger in Japan. Street photographers in San Francisco, Hong Kong, New York and Edinburgh. Psychogeographers in Detroit and Norwich.  The list is endless. Reciprocity is important on instagram, and makes the experience much more rewarding.

4. New Opportunities. In 2015, directly as a result of instagram I was gifted some brilliant opportunities. I was asked to take photographs at a friend’s wedding. I learned that I both love taking pictures of weddings and that I have a lot to learn about taking wedding photography. I also got some photos in online articles, here and here. Without my instagram habit, it’s hard to see how these opportunities could have come up.

Wedding Snap.

5. New hobbies. Clearly, I do like taking photos or else I’d not have bothered with an app like instagram. But instagram, in conjunction with the decent quality of the camera on my ever present smartphone, switched me on to photography in a big way. The user-friendly filters, by their existence, introduced me to concepts like saturation and contrast in a light-touch way. The newfound passion for photos also led to a new camera. Via instagram, naturally, I found a photography club where I hope to develop my technical ability and improve my photography skills.

6. Sanity. 2015 was like all the other years in that stuff that I’d have preferred not to be going on went on. Normal, tricky real-life stuff with family, relationships, work and studies. The gravitational pull that instagram exerted was stabilising.  When things got a little bit too much, it was always easy to find time to get a few decent pics and post. Reading and following up on comments provided an opportunity for enagagement and escapism.

Escapism through the medium of people watching.

7. Collab with your InstaFam. Or what we call in the real world, making new pals. The ability to connect (see point 2) with like-minded people means conversations that don’t normally crop up take place easily over a photo. Sometimes, if that person is nearby, you might arrange to meet them in the safety of a well-frequented city-centre establishment.  Then you can just nerd out wandering and taking photographs.

Collab with my InstaFam

Focused.

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8. Postivity. This might not be true of all instagram accounts, but not once has anyone ever said that a photo of mine was a bit rubbish. That doesn’t mean that all my pictures are brilliant. Some have less likes than others. But all the positive energy means I never feel discouraged. And that’s a nice feeling.

9. Random and fulfilling conversations. When out on wanders, taking pictures, I now tend to notice all the other enthusiasts. I’ve sparked up conversations with with pigeon-fanciers, train-spotters,photographers, business owners and graffiti artists. Having a hobby of your own somehow grants you access to ask people about theirs.

10. Walking more. Walking feels like travel, everything else is just transit. On foot, you are free to duck in and out of buildings or take a shortcut over fences and through fields. Breaking the rules (though never breaking and entering- that’s illegal!) helps you find the previously unseen. And, I’ve mentioned it before- getting to know a place on foot absolutely explands and enriches your horizons.

11. Paying attention. I know that much controversy abounds about the use of social media for carefully curating your life and editing out the bits that aren’t so glossy. But in many ways, I’m hoping to do the opposite. I’m not opposed to a beautiful landscape shot of the Scottish hills, or a glistening neon cityscape. But there is joy to be find in tiny moments and unusual places. Having the focus of instagram, ‘the need to feed’ means I work hard to really look around. To go slow and observe. I’ve been richly rewarded, finding tiny little artworks tacked on a door-frame in the East End, or spotting a leading parkour artist hanging on a bridge over the River Clyde. It’s a real incentive- you never know what awaits you.

Parkour.

Onlookers.

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How do you use your Instagram? What do you think- is it life enriching or soul-sucking?

 

 

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Psycho-what? The practice of psychogeography as I see it.

I was introduced to psychogeography as part of my community development studies. The exact practice is contested, with no simple agreed definition. But I ‘d like to tell you about what I think it is, and why I think it matters. In the interest of giving context, there’s a decent explanation of psychogeography here . If you get really interested, I’d recommend books such as Merlin Coverley’s ‘Psychogeography’ John Roger’s excellent and comprehensive website ‘The Lost Byway’; Lynsey Hanley’s ‘Estates’or John Grindrod’s ‘Concretopia’.The last two focus on post-war developments in housing and public buildings, but both feature in-depth studies and consideration of urban areas- important elements of psychogeography.  If you are looking for the more academic origins of the subject, read Guy Debord , from whom the term ‘psychogeography’ is derived.

So, back to me. What exactly is it that I get up to on this psychogeography nonsense? I was completely intimidated in the beginning. Firstly, the name sounds pretentious. It did not sound like the sort of thing a working-class woman from a housing scheme (me) would do, even one who was at University. When first asked to carry out a ‘derive’ (a sort of free flowing wander through a cityscape) as part of a course, I thought that I was pretty observant and completely aware of my surroundings. How much harder could I really look, I thought. But time constraints and convenience meant that I was reliant on taking familiar routes to places I knew well. Yes, I was in Glasgow city all the time for work and study, but I stuck to straightforward routes and the main thoroughfares. Psychogeography demands closer attention, a tuning in to your surroundings. The idea is to wander aimlessly through an urban area, the aforementioned derive, giving in-depth contemplation to all that you experience. Psychogeography requires that you have some time to explore, and encourages you to follow unknown paths. Go to the same places at different times. You don’t plan your route. This I found a little daunting at first, but most people are only ever a smartphone away from a map. Or a human away from advice. Are you Intrigued enough to start your own psychogeographical walk? Some things you could consider as a starting point:

  • When you are walking, notice who surrounds you.  Are there women and children present? Older people?  Are people their for work or leisure? Is the area  diverse or populated exclusively by one ethnicity?
  • Look for indicators of social class and divides too. Security guard in the store? Doorman in the entrance way? What pubs have smokers standing in the doorway as opposed to shielded and discrete designated areas?
  • Stop and look at street art. What are the messages in both the officially acceptable (yes, the city council funds most of those beautiful beautiful building-sized murals) and the ‘illegal’ kind, graffiti tags on railway bridges and in city lanes; vinyl stickers slapped on street furniture.
  • Look at litter with the same interest. The debris you see is often indicative of the people who frequent the area even when no-one is there. [In one example, I saw lots of lidless, polystyrene coffee-cups littered a fairly prestigious, seemingly residential area of Glasgow. It didn’t make sense. Returning on another walk at lunchtime, I discovered it was the debris of the pupils from a fee-paying school. They feasted on chicken nuggets and noodles from a nearby corner shop at lunch time. I had to be there at two separate times of day to make the connection]
  • If the street is clean, why? Whose image is being upheld? Are there council workers visible? If not, why not?
  • Engage all of your senses. Certain sounds and smells will stress you, others will calm you- this will change how you interact with a space.
  • What buildings are in the space? Can you enter them freely or are they out of bounds? If so, who gets access and why? Are there abandoned buildings? If so, how does that change the space?
  • What about evidence of retail growth, industrial decline, gentrification?
  • What are the features of areas where  people freely congregate? What is lacking or present in other spaces that prevents people from congregating?

What exactly is the point of all this walking, this wandering and wondering? I quickly realised, from the very first derive, that I was not fully engaged with the spaces I used.  Psychogeography incites new discoveries  and promotes critical thinking. For community development professionals, activists, and ‘ordinary’ citizens alike. Psychogeography hopefully encourage new insights and perceptions of the places that shape us. It should consolidate some existing beliefs and challenge stereotypes. You’ll probably make sobering discoveries. For example, early on, I found that certain prestigious city centre shops and malls are seconds away from loose communities of rough sleepers, amongst the city’s most vulnerable people. To uncover findings like this, you have to deviate from the safe,pedestrianised encouraged and’endorsed’ routes; you have to explore. I hadn’t exactly conceived that those without homes would congregate neatly on the periphery of the city by night to spare others the discomfort of the homelessness problem. But I certainly didn’t imagine that people would bed down at the back door of Glasgow’s luxury retail outlets. Retail premises, incidentally, which take up vast amounts of space and lie unused, with the lights on, by night.

Over time, your endeavours will excavate themes. Control, visibility, order and disorder, claimed and contested spaces (see John Gaventa on this). Discrimination and segregation. Permissions, omissions and transgressions. Beauty and decay. If you get hooked on psychogeography (almost certain) your familiarity and freedom within a space will grow.  Your ability to traverse the city by your own two feet will hopefully astound you, the radical realisation that many places are walk-able by the time you wait for and use a bus will be heartening. The streets will seem to shrink as your knowledge expands. And with the emergence of understanding, your ability to prompt change will increase significantly. I can’t tell you how exactly, because I can’t predict what will affect people most. Perhaps you’ll be moved to document your findings or become more politically aware. Maybe you’ll seek out like-minded people or get involved in activism.  Maybe you’ll feel sickened by the amount we consume and spend in the literal face of others’ adversity. Maybe you’ll go to places you thought were out of bounds. Certainly, all of the above have happened to me.  I’ve already written that I believe places are part of what makes us ‘us’. Irrespective of your background, we all have a stake in shaping the places in which we live, travel and work.  We just need to give ourselves permission to believe it. From exploration, comes insight and understanding. And with understanding, the impetus to act.