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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.