Instagram, you've been fun, but you're ruining my holidays

American photographer Slim Aarons might be called the first Instagrammer, even though he died in 2006, long before the photo and video sharing social network was founded.

Celebrated for photographing the beautiful, rich and famous doing what they naturally did by the poolside, on yachts and in the manicured gardens of grand estates, Aarons characterised his work as "people doing attractive things in attractive places."

His images of wealthy fashion icons Babe Paley, C.Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness and a generation of mid-century jetsetters frolicking at the Villa D'Este, The Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc have influenced decades of celebrity portraits and social photography and had an impact on the way luxury hotels and homes are photographed. He was a pioneer of the social portrait where the location is as important as the sitter.

While Aarons didn't put himself in the photo, except for the occasional self-portrait, the concept of beautiful people in beautiful environments lives on in travel Instagram, where no location is safe from a lissom body emerging from a swimming pool or a fit young couple in cowboy hats and big boots hiking up a ridge overlooking a spectacular canyon.

Aarons shot for popular magazines such as Life, Harper's Bazaar and Town & Country. He possibly might have liked Instagram, and his archive, posted at @slimaaronsofficial has 24,000 followers. Although his relaxed, naturally lit and cool images are not much like the hyper-manipulated photos many Instagram influencers publish, he was selling the same thing - sex and envy - in his advertising work.

These days, "selling" is the key word, though. What I mostly see on Instagram as I scroll through is a commercial marketplace of self-promotion and straight-out promotion, where it's difficult to tell what is genuine and what is not, what is photoshopped, filtered and tweaked and what is raw, honest and real.

Now, "real' is admittedly a questionable value, and sometimes fake is fabulous but I wish it wouldn't all feel like a glitzy shopping mall.

Amid the posts of professional influencers and manipulators there are nakedly commercial promotions. What was once an entertaining place to share snaps with friends, family and people with the same interests has turned into a commercial juggernaut that's so crammed with irrelevant ads and "follow" recommendations it's like wading through knee-deep porridge. It's more than annoying.

Instagram is also the home of fast fashion and fast gimmicks, thoughtless, impulsive shopping which is wasteful and adds considerable amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.


What's really irritating, "Instagrammable" seems to now be the benchmark which we use to judge everything, including hotels and destinations. I'm besieged by press releases about hotels that are "Instagram-worthy" as if it's the main thing that counts when you choose a hotel or destination, ahead of service, comfort, culture and price point.

According to my extensive research, the top "Instagram-worthy" hotels in the world are the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which already has more than 2.5 million posts so far in 2022 and the swimming pool atop Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, 57 floors above the bay. Also rating highly are perennials such as the pastel pink Beverly Hills Hotel (which just celebrated its 110th anniversary) and the Villa D'Este on Lake Como in Italy, which were, interestingly, hotels where Slim Aarons shot regularly.

Here's the thing, though. You stay at an "Instagrammable" hotel or visit an "Instagram-worthy" destination and you spend your time Instagramming it.

I am guilty of this. Recently in Fiji, I could barely settle on the beach without the need to pick up my phone and Instagram a picturesque fishing boat puttering by, a worker shimmying up a coconut palm, a funny-looking cloud. It didn't seem possible to just lie there and enjoy the scene, the warm breezes, the rustle of the palms. Goodness knows, I don't have millions of followers, yet it felt like an obligation. But to whom?

I hope I share good information on the social network but I admit there's an element of "look at me" in it, even if the only parts of me I ever show are my toenails.

Can you really "be" in a place when you constantly feel the need to photograph it, edit it, caption it, draw on it and share it?


Instagram, you've been fun, but you're ruining my trip.

Instagram @bymrsamos