There are tools and there are rules. The delineation for use, in the physical realm, is straightforward. A hammer to cut wood? Dumb. A saw to hit nails? Useless. Laws rule, and you can’t break what physics controls. The digital world, though, works with more nuance. A smartphone and a social app? Guidelines, at best.
Snapchat, the fastest-growing social network among Millennials, exists with few restrictions. And, in the recent years of its proliferation, the majority of the social media world dove face-first into selfie filters and ironic stickers. But that is not the only way to use the platform. It can also be leveraged not only to offer a “raw” take on behind-the-scenes life (in its own irony, often carefully considered), but to be approached in the same way artists have approached tools for years: considering the constraints and working with them to achieve an overarching aesthetic vision.
“I don’t like giving it away; I don’t want it to show everything that I’m doing. I like little hints.”
In the eyes of Neave Bozorgi, a photographer based in Los Angeles, Snapchat is not a cesspool of self-infatuated individuals sharing mundane moments. It’s an opportunity for awareness — concentration. Bozorgi considers the app a disposable camera. A low-res, simple, straightforward tool, and one that requires, through its limitations, user concentration. As such, the challenge becomes conveying beauty through the simplicity of the tool. That arises from framing, perspective, and an eye for what surrounds the user. Snapchat as concentration, not distraction. The result, for Bozorgi, is an uncluttered narrative of a 24-hour period told in compelling photographs and videos, conveying his aesthetic sensibilities. They’re miniature films, miniature slide shows. It’s not the only way the tool can be used, but it is an elevated way to approach it. To further explain how Bozorgi uses the app (and his iPhone 6) to his artistic advantage, he elaborated on a few key points.
Don’t think of it as Snapchat. “The approach that I have with Snapchat is treating it as a disposable camera. I’ve been going through this thing for the past year where I’ve been trying to set aside my phone more. So as soon as I see a thing that I like, I take a picture of it, then put away my phone. For me it’s about observations; it’s about becoming more aware of the present and taking a photo of something that would normally go unnoticed in my life. And so I’ve been trying to capture more of those.
“Snapchat doesn’t have much technology, so it’s kind of like using a film camera on your phone. You literally have to make do with what you got, and I like that challenge a lot. Snapchat lowers the resolution, it doesn’t have much freedom, and as soon as you zoom in, it’s pixelated. So, it’s a weird and challenging channel to try to capture beautiful things.”
Take pictures of pictures. “I don’t do it often, but every once in a while, I take photographs of my photography books. And then, sometimes, I go to my computer and pull up photos that I saved. I like that because I can make commentary based on the photos. It could be about war, or it could be about sex, or it could be stuff. It’s fun to construct images in a way where it’s like a scrapbook with Snapchat.”
Details, not the obvious. “When I go to museums and public places, I look around and I can see what people are drawn to and what they would photograph. But the things I’m drawn to are like the corner of a room, or how the light is coming in from outside, or a reflection of something on something. I’ve moved away from broad picture kind of stuff, and I’ve gone deeper into photographing details and the smaller parts of life.
“I was in Vegas last weekend, and I had a huge set, and even though it would have been really exciting to record all the dancers and the whole chaos of the shoot, I took pictures of little moments and little corners and small details. I don’t like giving it away; I don’t want it to show everything that I’m doing. I like little hints.”
You can’t take too many photos. But take good ones. “I don’t feel like I’m clogging people’s feed. If somebody’s looking at my story, they’ve chosen to be there. If somebody’s bored by the time they see the third, fourth photo, then that’s their deal.”
If it’s not good, don’t post it. “I don’t really consider much, but what I do consider is that I don’t upload trash. If it’s something I don’t find good, then it doesn’t go up.”
Join the revolution. “I hope that by people seeing these little moments that I’m capturing in my life, people will start paying attention to what’s going on in front of them in their life. I am starting to get Snapchats from people that are playing music and recording the shadow on their wall or on their table. And they say something like, ‘I’m really enjoying the mood today.’ And that makes me the happiest because it’s like ‘Oh shit, you saw what I did, then you saw what’s going on in front of you and now you’re doing the same.’ And that’s fuckin’ cool.” Snapchat for social change? “Yeah, a revolution — one snap at a time.”