When Instagram Becomes Art: A Look at the W Hotel’s Photography Exhibit in New York

With Internet Week in full swing, I stopped by the W Hotel in Times Square to get a look at the Instagram photography exhibit, a collaboration between the hotel and a photography community called Instagram NYC.

I took an elevator to the lobby, where on display were the works of six artists who had been invited to photograph architecture, street art, and other city scenes using their smartphones and the mobile photo-sharing app, Instagram. The W Hotel opened the event to everyone, selecting the best submissions to display during the exhibit, which is free to the public and runs May 14 through May 21.

The installation is small and, in some cases, the art hangs behind couches and tables where people might be sitting. But if you’ve run yourself ragged attending events and need a quiet place to rest, the lounge area also has a bar and some comfortable places to sit.

My eyes rested on a piece by Brian DiFeo, a mobile photographer and digital strategist who founded Instagram NYC. The photograph was printed on canvas and mounted, frameless, alongside the artist’s other photos. A street-level view of New York City’s towering buildings, the photograph should elicit a wry smile from native New Yorkers. No one who lives here ever bothers to stop in the street and look up, not because it’s a touristy thing to do, but because we know that other pedestrians on their way to work will knock us over if we do. Secretly, though, we’re still in awe.

My mobile snapshot of the print, taken on an HTC Evo 4G and filtered through Instagram, changed the original completely. With and without the flash, and even without a light filter, the colors wouldn’t have come out the same. The tool’s square frame also made it hard to show the entire wall in detail.

In the hands of professional photographers and more talented dabblers, the Instagram pictures were almost as clear as those taken with better cameras. As tablets and camera phones evolve, the picture quality might be sharper. Future versions of the app might even allow for landscape and panoramic shots.

In this case, the light filters and space constraints made the mobile art everything it needed to be: the perspective of one person, standing on the street, squinting in the sun to get a better look.