The story of Instagram is nothing short of epic. With only a dozen employees, the humble photography app gained millions of users in a few short years before it was acquired by Facebook for an unbelievable $1 billion. What the social networking giant saw in Instagram is undeniable: that our desire to share daily beauty is insatiable. However, long before Instagram enabled amateur photographers to apply dream-like filters to snapshots, society found its own ways capture the world in pleasantly rendered miniature.
An article in Garden Design documents the 18th-century fascination with the Claude glass, a pocket-sized, metal compact that contained a convex, tinted mirror. When artists and travelers happened upon breathtaking scenery, they peeked through a Claude glass, which acted as a filter by softening and distorting the view. “A world viewed through a Claude glass was a journey through ephemeral snapshots of softly-rendered nostalgia,” writes Anna Laurent. “A blackened mirror reduced the tonal values of its reflected landscape, and a slightly convex shape pushed more scenery into a single focal point, reducing a larger vista into a tidy snapshot.”
British travelers were charmed by the device, using it to ingrain an unforgettable vista into their memory. Today, Instagram provides a similar service, producing instantly memorable photos for users around the world. In some way it’s comforting to know that our modern day fascinations are simply reaffirmations of centuries-old behavior. An iPhone may be radically different from a small looking glass, but our desire to capture, examine and share a beautiful view transcends any format, even if it requires a pricey data plan.