Do Hashtags Transform a Photo Into More Than Just a Photo?

Mike Rugnetta over on PBS’s Idea Channel asked an interesting question in last Wednesday’s episode: Is a tagged Instagram photo more than just a photo? Or, if you will, do hashtags add something (context, meaning, the ability to connect to a community) to photographs, thereby transforming the photo as we know it into a “different entity?”

The Idea Channel is a PBS show on YouTube that examines the connections between pop culture, technology and art. Each Wednesday, Rugnetta starts by saying “here’s an idea…” and then presents you with an opinion or perspective that you might not have gotten before.

Previously, we shared Rugnetta’s idea that Instagram was the greatest thing to ever happen to photography — the majority of the people who commented on that post responded with a simple “no.” This week, the show expanded on that initial idea by arguing that hashtags turn Instagrams into something more than just photos.


The video specifically examines three common hashtags — #latergram, #tagsforlikes and #nofilter — diving into what each of these tags say about the photo they’re attached to, and the implications for photography as a whole.

Rugnetta also drives home his point by asking us to think about how different our experience of famous old photos would be if we only knew them attached to tags, comments and likes the way Instagram snaps are.

It’s an interesting idea, and one that might spark a little bit of debate over the merits of tags. Are they just search enhancers, there to help you find unfiltered photos, or are they a way to “chronicle our changing relationship to Photography.” Let us know what you think.

  • Banan Tarr


    Next question.

  • Marc Osborne Jr

    Hashtags are a punchline. This manic youtube vlog frenzy style of video really #latergrams my #attention and make me #tune-out what is probably a great spoken essay.

  • Jason Kim

    this video was not made for the petapixel demographic

  • Syuaip

    I wonder what happened to the plain old caption..

  • Jake

    How are #s different than a title?

  • Jamie De Pould

    Because they’re clickable

  • Bruce Walker

    Nah, not buying this argument. (That’s assuming I was able to actually understand the argument after wading through the Saturday morning cartoon ads style presentation.) Hashtags are just a braindead way of attaching tag metainfo, and that ain’t new (Flickr et al). Plus, as many have noted, captions do most of what is ascribed to hashtags here.

  • Joey Miller

    Instagram wasn’t made for the PP demographic. Obviously everyone here is too old and set in their ways to understand how important it has become.

  • wideNCawake

    instagram is not the best thing that has ever happened to photography, but not the worst – most photos posted will disappear under a sea of saturated content and become irrelevant.