‘Instagram isn’t a business. It’s like knitting or doing the crossword.’

By Michel Gaubert
Illustration by François Berthoud

A letter from… Paris: We like. - © System Magazine

My work is all about sharing. When I do music for a show, I like to expose people to things that they might not know.
I used to put videos, images, music, references from cinema or architecture up on Facebook, but then someone told me Instagram was ‘better’. So I joined, and after three or four months, I had about 50 followers. I didn’t really know how it worked. But then a couple of months later, I had five – no, nearly 10,000 followers. And today, I have 43,000 followers! And I probably only know 200 people, maybe 50 of them I know really well from the fashion business. 

When I first got all those followers, I was overwhelmed
– I thought about closing my account, or making it private. Yet after a while, when people began tagging their friends, I saw there was a real audience for it. And I started to really enjoy searching for images that I knew were going to get a lot of likes. It’s similar to when I’m DJ’ing, and I know that a record is so hot that it’s going to drive people crazy. It’s satisfying. 

Instagram provides a space for me to share aesthetics and points of view in a language outside of musical discourse. I do a lot of research for my work. I have a lot of images and piles of magazines at home that I haven’t seen for years, and I wanted to put them online. And then I started to look around blogs and Tumblrs, and I discovered a whole bunch of people who do amazing things. Sometimes I take an artist’s work, but I don’t want to say, ‘This is an amazing new work by so and so.’ Because I think now all these images belong to everyone. It’s not that I lack respect for the effort that was put into making these images, it’s just the way things work now. Everything can be appropriated. The same applies to music. 

I don’t want to use Instagram just to promote myself. Instead, I want to show another side of me, to people who only know me by my music. So I suppose you could say my personal life is quite removed from what I post online. Someone called me today from a newspaper in France, asking how many people worked on the account. So, sometimes I feel I need to put a face to the account, so people know it’s not a factory.

What I value about Instagram is that everyone can do their own little thing. I like Riccardo Tisci’s account because he doesn’t post anything about his work, or fashion – because most of the time with people in his position, it’s channelled through a PR. On Francisco Costa’s account, he posts images from his travels – it matches what he does, but in another dimension. I also like Hans Ulrich Obrist’s, because it doesn’t have anything to do with him. You would think that someone like him would post the most amazing art, yet it’s always just some weird text. So, for people who always have to be careful about their image, I think it’s a kind of release, to show people there’s another side to them. 

But I don’t like it when people are too ostentatious, or when they’re trying to promote a product they’ve been given to please a PR. Or say, sometimes you’ll get 25 pictures of the same thing, like the finale of a fashion show. I don’t see the point of doing that. I think Instagram should be a witty take on things, it shouldn’t have adverts, or be an advert for yourself. It should be personal. 

Every day, I spend nearly an hour collecting about 25 to 30 images that I find on blogs, and chose one to post according to my mood. Sometimes my comments are a little sarcastic, but it’s done in a light-hearted way. Like when I commented on pictures of Lana Del Rey with ‘Lasagna Del Rey’ or ‘Llama Del Rey’. I have nothing against her, but I was poking fun at her as I think she’s been manufactured to be a product. A lot of people ask why I post pictures of Madonna from the 1980s with the tag #wheniwascool. Because to me, Madonna was a goddess in the 1980s. But when I saw her last video, I thought the music sucked, and it seemed as though she was trying to compete with Rihanna or Britney. And I think she’s much better than that. 

Some people have launched a career from their Instagram account. The Russian blogger Mira Duma could post a picture of a cookie on the floor, and it’s going to get a million likes. I don’t really know what that means. For me, my account is a hobby, like knitting or doing crosswords backstage at catwalk shows are for some models. It’s not a business, though lots of magazines and visual companies have asked me to work on projects with them – whether they see the light of day is another matter. But the fact is, Instagram is both very stimulating and challenging. Its power lies as a door and a mind-opener for many of us, one with no limits other than its trivial content policy rules. I think it’s really funny when people stop me on the street, like two 15-year-old girls did the other day, and say, ‘Are you Michel Gaubert? Can we take a picture with you? You’re our Instagram God!’ I like how social media can reach so many people. But I don’t want my account to ever be a literal diary or become too personal – I still want to remain a mystery.

Taken from System No. 3.