Newsflash: some of us (myself included) don’t have Instagram. Not that I can’t snap a decent picture. My favourite shots include one of a monkey, posing in the style of Rodin’s Thinker, on a boulder in Zambia. For me, the fun of photography is the need to act quickly – to nail that perfect shot before the opportunity passes, and to take a photograph that provides some kind of insight into the destination in question.
Which is why I politely declined the opportunity to take a picture sprawled over the stack of super-sized, plastic, pastel-coloured lollies I recently came across in Salvador, Brazil. I found the offending ice creams in a beautiful Bahian house dating back to the 1900s. In 2017, it was purchased by ice cream entrepreneur Natanael Couto, who spent £500,000 restoring it, before turning it into the Solar Amado Bahia Museum of Ice Cream. Its fantastic selection of carefully curated exhibits, including ancient ice cream freezers, made the presence of the plastic lollies, dumped carelessly in a room stripped of all its original features, even more random – a fact acknowledged by my sheepish-looking guide. “They’re for the Instagrammers,” he said, rolling his eyes.
I chose not to take a picture with them, not just because it appeared they’d been so hastily painted that I feared the paint wasn’t dry, but precisely because they were plastic super-sized lollipops. They provided zero insight into the history of either the building or the business. What they did provide, however, was a reminder of the ironic fact that the obsession with creating Instagram-friendly backdrops merely feeds into people’s obsession with taking photos of themselves. Proof of this is the interactive element so commonly seen.
Take the recently opened Dessert Museum in the Philippines capital, self-described as “the most Instagram-worthy museum in Manila”, although how it qualifies as a museum is beyond me. The eight interactive rooms have all been designed to make the photographer the star of the show, whether it’s the donut room (enter expecting an insight into the history of the snack and you’ll be sorely disappointed), reached via a sprinkles-covered slide, or the gummy bear room, where you’re encouraged to dive into a bathtub of gummy bears. My advice? Bring a family-size bottle of anti-bac spray.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking the UK’s escaped the obsession with Instagram-isation. London is home to Ballie Ballerson, a Shoreditch (obviously) bar with glowing UV murals and ball pits. Slogans on the wall encourage visitors to “get balls deep”. Hilarious. I haven’t been in a ball pit since I was six and I’ve no desire to repeat the experience, let alone be photographed doing so. Elsewhere, residents of a particularly colourful Notting Hill street recently begged Instagrammers to stop impromptu photoshoots, complaining about armies of amateur photographers dragging accessory-stuffed cases down cobbled streets at 6am. When an Evening Standard reporter turned up to investigate, she found blogger Camilla Lovell (who’d brought her own photographer and changing tent) preparing for a photoshoot. “Notting Hill makes up half the entries on any ‘best Instagram spots in London’ list,” she whined in defence.
Perhaps the residents should give her a heads up about (and perhaps group together to purchase her a one-way flight to) The Other Place Guilin Litopia, which recently opened in China. The hotel’s suites have clearly been designed with Instagrammers in mind, whether it’s the Maze room, with MS Escher-esque staircases disappearing into thin air, or the bright pink, optical-illusion-filled Dream Room. Ironically, the hotel describes itself as “a place where you’re free to find peace of mind”. Once you’ve snapped the perfect selfie, of course.
And, sadly, it doesn’t look like the obsession with Instagram-friendly backdrops has run its course. In July, organisers of Latitude festival were criticised for dyeing a herd of sheep pink and releasing them onto the campsite, no doubt to the joy of Instagram-loving festival goers desperate to add a sheep selfie to their timelines. Then there’s Mystudenthalls.com, which recently revealed its list of the UK’s most Instagrammable halls of residence (thus rendering The Times Higher Education World University Rankings obsolete). London’s Stay Club Colindale, which claimed the top spot, has public areas filled with scarily-bright neon artwork (hardly great for hangovers) and Glasgow’s True Student halls, which came fifth, has a slide connecting the first floor with the ground floor (who said students were lazy?).
My advice? If your favourite photo from Salvador is a selfie showing you perched on a plastic lollipop, or your most memorable experience in the Philippines is the hour you spent writhing in a bathtub of gummy bears, do us all a favour and stay home. Blag your way into your local soft play, or paint one wall of your house pink and strike identikit poses to your heart’s content. Angry parents and screaming toddlers can all be photoshopped out, after all.