Being anti-Instagram still is being Instagram-ish
Being anti-Instagram still is being Instagram-ish
03 FEBRUARY 2020 8:30 AM

Some hoteliers are rebelling against the notion that everything from their office chair to the lobby needs to be Instagrammable, but the real paradox is that hotels should not be real for many travelers. Is there space for all of us?

I recently received an email titled “Most Instagrammed sights of 2019,” which was very useful in that it immediately canceled any plan I might have had to visit the Eiffel Tower, Shanghai’s The Bund or Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which picked up the three top spots in that order.

The news release in the email continued by saying that 55% of those traveling, or at least 55% of those the news release writers questioned, said that going crazy social media-wise enhanced their experiences.

Apart from the annoyance of seeing a million mobile phones pointed in various directions, I understand that, as travel often really only begins when you return home and sift through your photos. In 20 years your memories of being in, say, Dubai largely will be determined by the photos you take as the other memories not immortalized in digital form inevitably fading.

A few sharp memories—a wonderful lunch in the sun of Tuscany, a ferry jaunt across the Bosphorus to Asia, as examples—will stay front of mind without a photo accompanying it, but others fade. It is inevitable.

As proof, go back somewhere decades after you first visited, and see if it all makes sense and is as you remembered it.

But Instagram, I’d say, is harming memories and experiences by being so obviously stage-managed and sensationalist. Nothing is real anymore, less so than what was not real before.

There is a backlash, it seems.

Hilton brand Hampton by Hilton recently hired a “realist in residence,” photographer Ian Weldon (his photos on his website are, in my opinion, very good, and he is often hired to specifically take non-staged wedding photos), to document “real” travel at its hotels and to immediately veer away from anything that seemed fake.

A way of doing this, I suppose, is to take photos of people when they do not realize you are, but most people do realize when a lens is pointed their way and, as we all do, act consciously of the fact. Plus, is there not such legal stipulation that one asks permission, especially if they are to be used in any way that could be considered commercial?

Any anti-Instagram movement must be careful not to be Instagram-ish by default, or it lacks credibility.

And what is the point, ultimately? To make us think hotels are real, when they probably are not, when many of us might want to go to them to escape our very real realities?

People stay at hotels for very real reasons.

Who knows? I just know such approaches are mired in contradictions.

InterContinental Hotels Group is in on the act via its Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants brand and has done some hiring of its own, namely Fotografiska New York, with the partnership unveiling a—wait for it, this is classic news release stuff—“curated multi-dimensional photography pop-up installation titled ‘Stay Human’ … “(which) will feature an accompanying reimagined audio guide that enhances the photography through evocative sound design and a first-person narration from each artist on the inspiration behind the work.”

IHG added its plan was to make photography more accessible and inclusive, which I am translating as meaning less Instagram-ish, which could also be said to now be too formulaic. Work for this projects comes from photographers Evelyn Bencicova, Elizabeth Bick and Kelia Anne MacCluskey.

The suggestion is that Kimpton hotels are not formulaic either.

Hoteliers no doubt want to provide both Instagram-like and real life, but that is rather like saying the anti-hero is not a hero, too.

Here’s to giving space also to people who want neither and would prefer to create their own experiences and memories.

That’s possible, too—just probably no longer near the Eiffel Tower.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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