On 30th June, 2021 Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, announced that the new Instagram strategy is to “lean in” to video content, which Mosseri suggested was driving an “immense amount of growth”. 

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A post shared by Adam Mosseri (@mosseri)

This change in the app left many artists, including Lucy Pass, anxious about seeing a decline in their hard-earned follower counts, engagement, and sales - grown from posting engaging, non-video content. 

Instagram started life as an app for artists and photographers, and has been incredibly liberating for artists who, for so long, have had to navigate the rough waters of gallery representation. With a move to prioritise video content over stills, what effect will this have on the artistic and creative community?

Pass and fellow artist Florence Lee noticed that things were changing for them months ago, with their peers also seeing a decline in their engagement, account impressions, sales and followers. 

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A post shared by Lucy Pass (@lucy.pass.artist)

“Around black Friday, things started to feel really difficult,” says Lucy. “I messaged Flo and found that we were both seeing things nosediving and couldn’t figure out why.”

“We would share our data with each other, share when our posts were dipping and then would give each other advice on encouraging engagement, adds Flo. “A large community of artists were seeing their sales dip and there was a correlation: it was everyone who posted stills.”

Black Friday falls in November, so could this just have been down to the fact that consumers were giving their attention to other platforms? “There’s always a dip around Christmas time, so we chalked the downturn up to that.” says Lucy. “But as we got further and further into the year, we realised that something was going really wrong. Only 10% of my following were seeing my posts and I was losing between 30 and 50 followers a day without gaining any. Then artists started telling us that if we posted a video, we would see your following go up again’  

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A post shared by Flo Lee Art (@florenceleeandco)

Lucy and Flo joined forced to launch the hashtag #hereforthestills as a way for artists to carve out a piece of Instagram untouched by the video algorithm. Since Pass and Lee announced this plan on their Instagram feeds on the 6th of July, the hashtag has reached 16k posts, growing by an average of 1k a day. 

Speaking to Talenthouse about the development of this quiet rebellion, and what a platform-centric move away from still images means to artists, Pass and Lee say the change has already affected their engagement, follower counts and sales. 

“Instagram has been an amazing selling tool, and enabled me to connect with my community and my clients in a responsive, instant, and personal way, says Pass. “My blood has not stopped boiling since [Mosseri’s announcement]. Flo and I were, naturally, immediately in conversation about it and #hereforthestills came about spontaneously.”

“It wasn’t planned,” adds Lee. “We decided on the day to put something out there. We wanted to point out that things were becoming much harder, but we didn’t want to be continually moaning either, so the development of this hashtag was a way of putting a positive spin on things. We asked ourselves, ‘how can we form a community inside an app we are already using?’ and ‘how can we still use the app and make it work for us?’’ 

The use of #hereforthestills is growing by around 1,000 posts a day, demonstrating that many artists and art lovers alike are railing against Instagram’s new ‘entertainment’ focus. The hashtag has germinated a fresh community of creatives. 

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A post shared by Flo Lee Art (@florenceleeandco)

“It’s so lovely to see people sharing work and instantly finding new people through the hashtag,” says Pass. “It happened within just hours of us sharing it. After our immediate negative response to the announced changes, it was so nice to do something positive.”

Lee adds, “at the end of the day, we can’t win in a fight against Instagram. This hashtag is about finding a way of working with what we’ve got.”

Both Pass and Lee have professed strongly that they have no real issue with video or reels, but, as Pass pointed out, ‘people shouldn’t be penalised for using a certain tool for a certain thing.’ Lee added, ‘we shouldn’t be chastised for the format our work works best in. It’s so disheartening that a video of me making cardboard corners did three times better than a still image of a finished painting, especially as the artwork is why people are drawn to my page in the first place.’ 

Through the creation of #hereforthestills Pass and Lee have carved out a part of Instagram that works for them and, by doing so, are subtly rebelling against the algorithm change. What was born out of frustration has developed into a virtual space which fosters community and cultivates support for new and established creatives alike.  

Follow Kate Reeve-Edwards on Instagram