You Can Be a Successful Instagrammer without also Being a Massive Jerk

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Mike & I recently visited Pittsburgh, where two of his closest friends live. It's only a two-hour drive, & visiting is a great excuse for us to get out of dodge for a weekend & explore another city.

I'd long wanted to visit The Mattress Factory, a modern art museum & incubator located in Pittsburgh Mexican War Streets neighborhood (how's that for the coolest neighborhood name you've ever heard?), & our friends kindly obliged. In particular, I was excited to see the permanent installations by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, whose Infinity Mirrors exhibit is soon coming to the Cleveland Museum of Art.

We showed up around 1pm on a sunny Saturday & were relieved to find that the museum, while heavily populated, didn't feel particularly overcrowded. It seemed like we'd be able to take our time & really enjoy each of the exhibits.


We happened to be on exactly the same touring timeframe as a group of three girls around the ages of 16-20 (I'm 33, man, I can't tell from youth anymore). They were all very dressed up, hair done & wearing full faces of makeup - not your standard museum fare, but whatever?

I first started to get annoyed with them in the Solar Grow Room, artist Meg Webster's exhibit representing "replenishment to [the] ecological threat" of the destruction of bees' habitats. In other words: It's a room full of plants under purple lighting, with cool, shiny, Mylar walls.

The girls were staging a photoshoot in the room, posing behind plants & with plants covering their faces, etc. One of them, holding a professional camera, guided the shoot: "Oh, that's gorgeous. Oh, move your hand & look to the left a little. Oh, this is going to be great with a hazy filter." I purposely walked through the middle of their shoot because I wanted to get to the other side of the exhibit, & they showed no signs of moving or acknowledging that people needed to pass.

I laughed it off because I thought that'd be the last we saw of them, but oh, how wrong I was.

When we crossed the stairwell to get to the next floor, they were taking photos against the Pittsburgh skyline. When we crossed between buildings, they were taking photos on a dilapidated porch. When I finished using the restroom, they were taking photos in an old chair right at the bathroom entrance. At the museum's second building, & we all but begged the docent to hold them back for a few minutes so that we didn't have to encounter another one of their photoshoots.

The worst, though, was encountering them in the Yayoi Kusama exhibit.

The Kusama exhibit is two small rooms, both full of mirrors, so that the dots painted on the floors appear to go on forever (hence the name Infinity Mirrors). It's an amazing photo opportunity, but the more people in the room, the more difficult it is to either enjoy the depth of the reflections or take good photos (because every photo includes, like, everyone who's in the room with you).

The three girls entered ahead of us & claimed the exhibit as their personal photoshoot space.

They monopolized the space in both rooms, laughing & chatting & art-directing. They took sultry selfies with the mannequins in the Repetitive Vision room. They laid down on the floor & shot a series of group selfies, lips puckered & boobs out, that seemed to take forever, effectively barring anyone else from exploring the exhibit.

There was no way to enjoy the exhibit with them in there. Just no way.

My friends & I did, re-enter the exhibit once they'd left so we could better appreciate the art - & take a few quick, unobtrusive photos of our own before leaving so that the looooong line of people behind us could enter. Still, I was livid.

Later, my husband sent an email to the Mattress Factory about our experience, politely suggesting staff monitoring of the museum's most popular exhibits. I'll tag them when I share this post on social media. And I continue to check Instagram to see if those girls have posted any of their photographic masterpieces, if only so I can see if the end result is in any way worth the way they ruined our museum experience.

But it's not about the Mattress Factory, is it? This is a problem everywhere, a problem of people who believe they are above others, above politeness, & above rules. It's a problem of people who believe that getting X amount of likes online trumps being a decent person IRL. This was a particularly egregious example of Internet-driven egotism, but it is, overall, all too common.

Here's the bottom line: If you are taking Instagram photos at the expense of the convenience, enjoyment, & sanity of the people around you, you are being an asshole. Period.

There are so many chill ways to take photos. You can, for example, wait your turn in busy spaces & be cognizant of the amount of time you take up - even if it means you don't get your perfect shot.

You can be kind, respectful, & apologetic of those individuals you interrupt, if you must do so, allowing them the space to go about their day without you right in the center of it. This means not giggling loudly or art-directing at top volume, & allowing people to pass by without holding up lines & experiences.

You can choose less-busy times to stage photoshoots in busy public places (for example, maybe not at noon on a Saturday). You can even - gasp! - take pictures in places that aren't in other people's way at all.

As we repeatedly encountered these three budding viral stars </sarcasm>, I kept thinking about a photoshoot I recently witnessed in Cleveland's Fifth Street Arcades. A dapper young guy, around my age, posed on the seats of a shoe-shine business that was, at the time, closed for business. His friend snapped professional-grade photos of him, stepping out of the way as others passed by. Most of the shops in the arcade are closed on the weekends, so this was a perfect time to stage a shoot that wouldn't interrupt or affect anyone else - & it looked like the photos were going to turn out great.

That is how you do it. And I wish I could find his photos online to tell him so.

Because, look, I'm not saying don't take photos in public ever. On the contrary: Take lots of photos! Show off your city & your self! Be proud! Have no shame in staging public photoshoots! Look damn good on the Internet!

But for the love of God, & everyone else around you, please don't be such a jerk about it. While you're trying to nab the perfect shot, other people are trying to live their lives, to experience their surroundings, enjoy art & scenery & the hustle & bustle of every day life.

And if you are unapologetically in the way of everyone around you? You're doing it wrong.

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