An open letter To Kevin Systrom co-founder of Instagram

Since there isn’t a good way to email Instagram I posted this message to their facebook page. It stayed there about 30 seconds…

To Kevin Systrom

co-founder of Instagram

Dear Kevin,

I am a long time National Geographic Photographer and let me start by saying how much I like Instagram. I like the service, I like the community, I like the feedback from followers. I like watching my photojournalist colleagues work in the field in real time.

Instagram or a similar service will redefine publishing and journalism.

Like most of my colleagues from @Natgeo I have suspended publishing on Instagram in protest of your proposed Terms of Service.

The issue for me is not so much about IG “selling” my photos. Without model and property releases the images are worthless for advertising. I have a little more concern about editorial use. Could IG hypothetically license Michael Christopher Brown’s photos from Goma to an online magazine? How about Ben Lowy’s photos from Newtown? Without their consent, without their knowledge?

My real concern is IG’s seeming intent to use its user’s names and information to sell products. A lot of established photographers have existing relationships with companies in the business.

This is a real threat to an established professional particularly when margins in the editorial business are so thin that more and more of us are relying on corporate sponsorships to make living.

Here is an example, right now Adobe Lightroom is helping sponsor ThePhotoSociety. It is a great relationship. Adobe give us some money to help run the site, we provide a subtle endorsement and they also provide a software discount for our subscribers. Most of us use lightroom at some point in our workflows so this is a win-win. If IG can simply aggregate our meta data (which includes what software we used) and then sell us to Adobe that win-win scenario no longer includes ThePhotoSociety. The examples go down hill from there. Canon sponsored shooters selling Nikons, Nokia photographers selling iPhones, VII agency photographers selling Magnum workshops…

This is a rapidly evolving landscape. IG’s ability to reach people is fantastic. I am gratified that tens of thousands of people enjoy and are moved by my photos. I am happy that thousands of people follow @salvarezphoto and hundreds of thousands follow @Natgeo. However, I’d like more control over my information than IG is giving.

Professional photographers are business people and we understand that IG is a business first and foremost. However, there have to be economic underpinnings for all our businesses. I don’t think that asking for a tiered system –one where you can sign up for free and have your info used any way IG sees fit on one side and a paid service where your information is your own on the other- is too much to ask for.

Perhaps Instagram cannot support such a system. Maybe it is not a place for people who rely on their images and their reputations for their living. If that is the case just let us know so we can close our accounts and move on.

No I don’t want to give up 72,000 “likes” on my last @natgeo photo but if the TOS don’t change I might have to.


Stephen Alvarez


About the author

Stephen Alvarez is a photographer and frequent commentator on the role technology and photography play in our interconnected world. He is founder and director of the Ancient Art Archive (