How Instagram made me a better photographer, and person

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Verity Milligan tells how her evolution as a photographer has been aided by people she found on Instagram.

In 2012 I moved to Birmingham and struggled to come to terms with my urban surroundings. Taking to the streets, I decided the best way to make friends with the city was to explore it with my camera – usually in those first few hours after sunrise, when the city is still quiet and the light is at its best.

Having always enjoyed the social aspect of the internet, I began sharing imagery on one of my favourite social media outlets, Instagram. I found that my photography resonated with local communities and individuals further afield, giving life and context to images that otherwise would have only existed on my computer.

I’ve often thought that photography has the potential to be quite a lonely pursuit – the collaborative notions take more effort than, say, filmmaking. Yet, community continues to be one of the most important aspects of my life, both personally and creatively. For me, many worthy endeavours spring from connections, and photography is no different. Through sharing my images, I began to interact with others, and not knowing where that will happen or what that will bring is exciting.

In the last few years, Instagram has become more than just a platform for standalone imagery and instead has helped develop photographic communities concentrating on geographical locations and shared interests. Instagram has helped grow a small community of photographers from Birmingham into a much larger, established outfit of creatives who resemble a traditional camera club in a certain respect, but thankfully differ in many ways. Instagram communities tend to be fluid, lacking a hierarchy and celebrating the diverse work created by the myriad of people shooting on various formats, from iPhones to DSLRs. Instameets provide an opportunity for individuals to break away from the constraints of their phones and actually spend time in the physical presence of other people. The benefits of this are profound; it opens a space for collaboration and interaction, and when you’re shooting in a group of other creatives, new inspirations and ideas can begin to flourish.

Instameets, photowalks and explorations of the city through accounts such as IGersBirmingham have become a mainstay of the social media landscape, with more happening now than ever. Not only do these provide the opportunity to explore parts of cities that otherwise would be overlooked, those connections can lead to learning and growth. My own evolution as a photographer, professionally and personally, has benefited from an existence outside of my own interpretations. Scrolling through the images of others after a meet allows space for reflection on my practice and ultimately incentive to improve my technique.

Instagram has designs beyond the mere collaboration of individuals, and as a platform it of course has a commercial edge, both from a business and individual perspective. However, the by-product of this is the ability to find other likeminded creatives, and the impact of such a collective reaches far beyond the initial participants. A few years ago I struggled to find contemporaries and now I’m lucky to have numerous. It’s made me a better photographer, contributor and, most importantly, a better person.

This piece was first published in The Drum's special 20 April issue which has been guest edited by BMB co-founder Trevor Beattie.

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