Curated filters, minimalist design: Instagram is still the social platform for the world’s creativity. Yet this is held in tension with the 200,000-plus brands paying for their squares of advertising. Its solution? Sit an Annie Leibovitz-trained photographer on the commercial team. The Drum meets George Lange – Instagram’s first ever artist in residence.
“Instagram is a platform that everyone wants to be on, every brand needs to be on and it's an awesome opportunity to tell stories in lots of new ways,” enthuses George Lange when The Drum meets him on Facebook’s beach at Cannes Lions.
It’s 9.30am and while the rest of the town is waking up to a hangover, Instagram’s artist in residence has just been tweaking the brand’s giant waterfall photoset, which was causing a little too much splash the day before. Lange has helped curate an immersive activation based around the theme of water, featuring users’ aqua-inspired videos, the splashing photo booth and a freezing cold ice room exhibiting the work of Hawaii’s Sean Yoro.
It’s the second year Lange has been here in person, although back in 2014 Instagram bought 500 copies of his book The Unforgettable Photograph to hand out to delegates. “I’m doing this as a freelancer - I work with other brands separately - but my position is basically having discussions about how to use Instagram in new ways, and - my big message is - in more intimate ways,” he explains.
“I feel like the way that we talk to friends eye-to-eye is the intimacy that you can create on Instagram and I think it's really powerful.”
Lange’s remit isn’t just about helping consumers evolve their use of the platform – it’s about working with brands. He’s based within its Creative Shop, the team responsible for paid campaigns across Instagram and Facebook, and has so far worked on devising, and occasionally shooting, visual campaigns for the likes of IBM.
This kind of thing isn’t a million miles away from Lange’s day job, which involves working for a plethora of blue-chip brands including Coca-Cola, ESPN and HP. He also holds the accolade of shooting the only posed portrait of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates together.
“The simple, visual nature of Instagram lends itself to content that is authentic, story-driven and distinctive,” he says. “I recognised that communicating with consumers meant showing more than just the work created by companies, but giving a look at the human beings who are doing the creating.
“Sometimes some of the best content in one’s feed can be from a brand. I think most brands are so much more amazing things than the stories they share.”
This sentiment is almost word-for-word what Lange has said before about photography in general: he told the Wall Street Journal back in 2013: “I think people are much more interesting than the pictures they are taking.”
This is Lange’s intrinsic ethos and vision for Instagram’s clients – tell the real, under the label story of your brand, or as he puts it, use it as a “daily exploration of what makes this company extraordinary”.
“I have a really ugly car sitting in front of my house,” he says. “It is not anything [special]. But when I put my family in there, and we're going someplace together, and we're safe, and we're happy, it's the most awesome vehicle on the road. And I feel like if we get into the experience of what we're doing every day, and how we're sharing it, that's really powerful.”
Lange has held the position for the past year, and it is not clear whether it will be a rolling or even a permanent job (he simply says it’s “one that is constantly evolving”).
For the time being however, the photographer believes Instagram will continue to thrive as a creative community, despite the thousands of businesses now using the platform as a marketing tool. “The more creative the work is on Instagram - both the paid advertising work and the organic work - the better the platform is, the more powerful it is, the more it connects, the more time people want to spend with it.
“Creativity drives everything, and creativity makes things more interesting and more powerful. Instagram is all over that."
He adds: "I love being around the people at Instagram. They're really into dreaming big and supporting each other to create those dreams.”