Instagram reminds me of a strobe-lit party sprawling down an infinite corridor. Frankly, I find it a little overwhelming.
You may start off somewhere familiar, with a small group of friends, but before you know it, you’re bumping into famous photographers, stumbling upon a lecture about women in art history or an archive of public-domain art works, or getting lost amid imagery that swings rapidly from cheerful to moody and back again.
As my colleagues have recently documented, Instagram can take you all over the world. But what I really appreciate about the platform is the feeling it gives you of peering into someone else’s half-conscious mental cinema, and I use it, mainly, to keep up with artists whose work I’ve encountered IRL. Here are five of my favourite accounts.
Farah Al Qasimi (@frequentlyaskedquestion)
Working in Dubai and Brooklyn, photographer Farah Al Qasimi chronicles the vivid textile patterns, jarring culture clashes and shimmering plastic garbage — as well as occasional moments of genuine connection — that characterise our image-saturated times. (Qasimi recently said she was interested in the “anthropological sense of unseen boundaries,” especially in the UAE.)
But she brings to her project the intensely focused eye of a nature photographer. Even an image of a group of baby birds dyed pastel colours is constructed with what seems to be open-minded wonder at the complexity of our lives and technology and a basic optimism about making sense of it all. Needless to say, it’s an approach that works well on Instagram.
Morgan Bassichis (@morgankindof)
Morgan Bassichis always brings the same generous energy to a performance, whether it’s a self-reflective stand-up set or leading a crowd in protest songs. But nothing I’ve seen has been quite as charming or perfectly formed as the “quarantunes” that this performance artist has been posting since mid-March.
These snippets of song — delivered in tight close-up and accompanied by an electronic keyboard — encompass a full range of pandemic reactions, though always with a comic veneer. One assures some of our more negligent political leaders, “Our grandmothers will eat you alive”; another simply asks, “How was your day?” Altogether they offer quick-action doses of common humanity.
Bedwyr Williams (@bedwyr_williams)
Criticism, satire, portraiture — they all spring from pointed observations like the ones in Welsh artist Bedwyr Williams’ Instagram cartoons. Illustrating handwritten captions with quick ink-and-brush drawings, Williams conjures distinctive art-world characters in revealing moments. (“Clever art couple starting a huge argument after three glasses of Malbec each.”)
Many of his takes are pretty cutting, but there’s something like love, too, in just how particular and whimsical they can get. (“Mawkish children’s book illustrator secretly hates the saddle of husband’s unicycle.”) As funny as they are when you recognise the types, I suspect they’re even funnier when you don’t.
Mitchell Algus (@mitchellalgusgallery)
At his long-standing Lower East Side gallery, artist Mitchell Algus specialises in bringing overlooked treasures to light. With galleries closed and social distancing in force, Algus has been shooting photos from his car, collecting eerie, fascinating images of unusual buildings in the New York region, all without a human in sight. (Be assured that he’s scrupulous about keeping his car door shut until he and his wife return home.)
He annotates some — like the Horgan Academy of Irish Dance, formerly Waterbury National Bank, in Naugatuck, Connecticut — with interesting background details; others, like four idiosyncratic houses on the Jersey Shore, he leaves to speak for themselves.
Al Freeman (@alfreemanjr)
You might know Al Freeman’s “comparisons,” side-by-side pairings of well-known art works with found photography from the internet. One memorable example puts; Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,; Picasso’s famously raw portrait of five Barcelona prostitutes, next to a shot of four grinning, naked, ridiculous-looking dudes.
Comments about sexism, misogyny and cultural appropriation hover around this juxtaposition, if that kind of thing interests you — but it’s also just disconcerting and funny. Freeman’s Instagram presence, heavy with reposts of strange and embarrassing pictures from other people’s feeds, has a similar vibe. Following it lets me keep in touch with the sordid crackle of contemporary digital culture from what feels like a safe critical distance.