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Is Dave Burt Damaging Instagram?

I discuss @London’s latest ‘Instameet’;

If you're just not that into photography, or you'd prefer to be used as a free marketing tool for the day — it’s apparent @London Instameets are the meets for you..

Some would say that's a rather strong opener. It may be. But we'll spend the rest of this piece exploring what drove me to penning those words to page.

The @London Instagram feed — currently run by a chap called Dave Burt, was acquired and taken over after getting in touch with Instagram. The handle wasn’t being used. The account was dormant. Dave had bigger ideas. He wanted the account. He wanted to use it to promote photography and to “celebrate London”.

It’s come so far. Or has it?

After following the feed for a few weeks I decided to go down to an Instameet to see what all the fuss was about. It was organised by Dave Burt and select @London disciples on a website called MeetUp, weeks in advance.

The day came. I hopped on the bus up to Piccadilly Circus and approached the Eros statue with 10 minutes to spare. Upon arrival I was greeted with an overwhelming feeling that I shouldn't be here. A feeling that I wasn't part of this clique. This cult. This all-hail-the-London-feed movement. I stood back, looking reserved but secretly overly observational.

I witnessed a group of about 40 people awkwardly struggling to figure out what the fuck to do or who the fuck to approach.

Despite delay, the leader arrived.

Santa hats were given out by a budding young Instagrammer called Jacob. He seemed like a nice guy and has a semi-decent feed that's worth a follow.

I received my Santa hat and paused in thought.

Did this mean I was in? I was part of it? I was Dave Burt's newest recruit?

We stood around like lost tourists for another 20 to 30 minutes until the almighty leader started trying to get our attention by shouting. He mentioned that we all need to tag (and hashtag) the hell out of a Central London establishment to any pictures taken throughout the day.

I began to feel like a digital billboard. A free one.

After taking one or two overly cringeworthy pictures to mark this momentous occasion, Dave said he'd meet us at the end of the walk.

Where's he off to? We thought. It was a freezing cold day but there’s no excuse for sneaking off. I imagine he was making his way to the hotel we were all due to turn up at later in the day. The establishment we’d been told to tag. The hotel who are probably laying on something nice for him in return for the free promotion from the naive masses he’d managed to lure in.

Rumours were that he was sneaking off with the mistress to sample the hotel’s finest offerings. The consensus was that he had his feet up, or leg over. Somewhere.

Anyhow, we were left following Jacob around the pre-planned route. A route I must add, that provided little inspiration to a creative mind.

We passed down Haymarket and down onto Trafalgar Square and then onto Whitehall. Along the way we all got the chance to infect the internet with yet more unoriginal shit shots of London landmarks like Elizabeth Tower. Or to the masses, Big Ben.

It was at this point I realised this Instameet wasn’t about “posting content that celebrates London, informs London or entertains London”, at all. It was about blatant promotion. Promotion of a business. 

#communityfirst and all that.

I sat, or rather, walked it out for a little longer until the sun faded and the heat in my fingers seemed to fade even faster.

I left just after the group had turned left off the south side of Westminster Bridge, to approach the London Eye — no doubt, resulting in a datacenter somewhere on earth filling with more Nashville or Brannan filtered shots of the most expensive ferris wheel in Europe.

I half expected to get the opportunity to shoot something different. Something new.

The walk wasn’t about photography, or meeting people. I’d say 80% of the attendees were genuinely disappointed at the format of the meet. And the other 20% were probably just there in hope of possibly one day getting close enough to the leader to have their photo featured on the @London feed. Probably in-between a photo of Jamie Oliver’s new book and a Belvedere Vodka gift set.

I love photography. I’m passionate about good photography. I’m passionate about creating great content and collaborating with others in a clique-free community, without a product placement or venue recommendation in sight.

I hope the Instameetees become wise to it. I hope the product placers come up with more creative ways to get end users to think about their kit. I hope London establishments find new ways of getting Instagramers through their door.

The @London feed offends photography, and the passion for it. It’s lost direction. It needs to engage a wider community, re-post a wider range of talent. The feed itself, has become dry and repetitive. 

Let's just pray the feed is not actively getting people out shooting with "I hope this gets featured on the London feed" on their minds - narrowing creativity. Take your own pictures. Shoot your own style. True talent shines through in the end.

After all, how many more angles of The Shard can we fall victim to?

By Joshua Preston