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Noted: The Original Instagram

May 4, 2012

by Chappell Ellison

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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.

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3 Featured Comments

  • woods2010

    Michelle Woods from PaperFolkGlasgow said 5 years ago Featured

    Thanks for the article. I hadn't ever heard of the Claude glass before! It is pretty amazing that centuries ago people were still wanting to frame or create a composition out of nature even when such a thing as a camera didn't exist.

  • kristinasmiley

    Kristina Smiley from CreativeEndeavorsKS said 5 years ago Featured

    Excellent article. I find it amazing that no matter how advanced our technology gets, we can still rely on old methods such as looking through a Claude glass to find the beauty that surrounds us. Thank you for the insight!

  • havelovewilltravel

    Rebecca from havelovewilltravel said 5 years ago Featured

    Lovely article, but (with all due respect) just a hint of disconnect. I have nothing against an application like Instagram, in fact, I love that any form of photography still captivates us and encourages us to make a record of our day-to-day cultural activities. One major difference between the Claude glass and a photograph (digital or otherwise) is that the mirror reveals a moment that’s fleeting—it’s simply a mirror. A photograph, on the other hand, can “capture” for all time. Its beauty is in its permanence. Whether a fancy filter is used or not.

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