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Meet Time’s Instagram photographer of the year

Didn't even know there was such a thing as an 'Instagram photographer of the year?' Well there is, and Time is giving out an award for it.


Kate Knibbs


Posted on Dec 19, 2013   Updated on May 31, 2021, 11:25 pm CDT

Time awarded the AP’s chief Asia photographer David Guttenfelder as their Instagram photographer of the year—and it’s a wise choice

Instagram doesn’t suffer a shortage of talented photojournalists, but Guttenfelder’s feed is unique (also… look at his bio, his career is full of jet-setting intrigue, he’s like some sort of camera-wielding modern Indiana Jones except instead of callously highjacking cultural artifacts he, you know, respectfully photographs stuff).

Guttenfelder’s AP post allows him unprecedented access to North Korea, and he regularly updates his Instagram with snapshots of daily life in the hermetic nation that offer the most intimate portrayal of life in the DPRK available, capturing an unvarnished humanity often obscured by the country’s despotic, belligerent political leadership.

What makes Instagram photography great? You might prefer photos from the accounts of people with exclusive access to remote places, regardless of how professionally they compose their shots. Or you might admire an impeccably captured and filtered image for its aesthetic finesse, with content a secondary concern. Taste, of course, is subjective (well, mostly—my mom will never convince me that her mayonnaise-and-peanut butter sandwiches are anything other than objectively revolting—but I digress).

The best Instagram photography is a happy marriage of content and aesthetic; it uses the photo-sharing app’s tools in the best possible way to share thoughtfully selected snapshots. And nothing more ably utilizes what Instagram is capable of than photographer David Guttenfelder’s captivating feed.

Guttenfelder has rare access to North Korea, and he’s one of the only foreign photographers allowed to shoot in Pyongyang, the capital. A lesser photographer in the same situation would certainly gain attention for the exclusive subject matter, but Guttenfelder’s deft eye for moments allows him to pinpoint just the right images to share of the notoriously closed-off country.

Guttenfelder belongs to a camp of photographers who embrace Instagram as an opportunity to share images in a unique way, but the merits of Instagram and other social media photography sharing has been the subject of debate among professionals. Facebook recently appointed a photography liaison specifically to ameliorate members of the community who take issue with the current dynamic between Facebook and photographers—but tension persists, and some photographers are still opposed to Instagram and other photo-sharing tools.

“I believe it’s a deft move by Time to even have such an award,” explains Daniel Berman, founder of the Mobile Photography Awards. “Clearly, Guttenfelder knows what the smart pros know: mobile is a different category. We see shots today, because of smartphones, that otherwise simply wouldn’t exist.”

Photo via Zhimin Pan/Flickr



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*First Published: Dec 19, 2013, 1:49 pm CST