“Instagram has changed the way people see the world,” claims co-founder Kevin Systrom

Speaking at a private event at the National Portrait Gallery on 17 September, Systrom explained how Instagram was originally designed to make it easy for people to share images. Yet, “for some reason it has become this itch that you have to scratch,” he said. “It’s everywhere. It’s become a common element of life.”

Social media in general, he added, and Instagram in particular have also changed the way entire industries communicate with their customers, citing the example of the fashion world which has been transformed in recent years. “Social media has changed fashion. If you look at the Sartorialist and how Scott Schuman covers fashion – it’s everyday fashion on the streets. We all have a camera in our pocket now, and I could snap a picture [of someone with a outfit I like or someone with a nice hat], bring all these images together and show them instantly online. In some way, it democratises how fashion spreads across the world. All of us can participate.”


He continued: “For Instagram specifically, I’ve noticed up-and-coming fashion designers are [now] finding a platform to get their looks and their clothes out into the world. We never really set out to create a platform for commerce, but in some ways Instagram is becoming that platform.”

In professional photography, Instagram has also had a strong impact with an increasing number of photojournalists using the image-sharing mobile platform to build large groups of followers. However, Systrom isn’t looking to capitalise on that popularity among professional photographers, he told BJP following last night’s National Portrait Gallery talk. “We’ve never been a professional photography medium necessarily. That being said, we love when professional photographers use us, whether it’s their more casual side, or a fun experiment on the side, or when they’re featuring their photography in square format.”

“The way we love to engage is by building great products that work with lots of different people,” he added. “That’s the way we want to engage. Instagram is not a market for selling [photography] but I’ve seen an amazing amount of people using their account to promote their business, their photography practice. That’s been inspiring to me.”

Asked whether a boundary between artistic use and commercial use of the platform should be set, Systrom didn’t believe a boundary needed to be set as long as the right balance is found. “I think that if Instagram were full of commerce and there were ‘buy now’ links everywhere and that is all you ever had, I don’t think it would get to the true spirit of communication that I was talking about before.”

Systrom’s National Portrait Gallery appearance came a few weeks after photography organisations in the US and Europe united to campaign against Instagram’s terms of use, which, they argue, are too far reaching and unfair to users – especially professional photographers. Read BJP’s full report here.