"But I shot it with my phone" is not an acceptable excuse for a bad photograph. Sure, in the right hands a cell phone camera can take great photographs – but that does not seem to be the case when it comes to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Instagram account.
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At the beginning of his career as Israel’s ambassador to the UN, and later on in his successful political career, Netanyahu was considered a whiz at television appearances. He learned from the Americans everything he needed to know to get elected in the broadcast age. Years later, he made the transition to the Internet, learning how to feed the online nation with bits of information that would keep it focused for days on his desired agenda.
Some examples: His “Let’s talk dugri” (Israeli slang for “straight talk”) comment at the UN and his meme-inspiring cartoon-style drawing of a bomb at the UN. Then there’s the “Bibi Gump” meme, which used a photo of Netanyahu smiling as he watched Gilad Shalit hugging his father when he returned from captivity.
But the prime minister’s official Instagram account is awful. A new microblog called Bibi InstaFail collects and publishes the worst photos posted there. “Give me lots of Bibi and a bit of Hagel,” the anonymous blogger comments on a photo where Netanyahu is seen in profile while the image of American Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is cut off. A photo with insufficient light showing Netanyahu with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin appears with the caption “Men of the shadows.” A blurry photo of the prime minister being interviewed in his office is captioned “The prime minister demonstrates the danger of radiation in the Iranian nuclear program.”
“For several months, I’ve been seeing the embarrassing photographs on the official Prime Minister’s Office Instagram page and getting annoyed with the dismissive attitude of his staff,” the blogger, who works in the new media and asked to remain anonymous, told Haaretz. He started his blog the morning after the InstaBibi used Instagram’s video feature for the first time — to publish a clip that had been filmed vertically (“You traded a blind photographer for one with a stiff neck,” a user named eyalhevroni commented).
“This attitude shows contempt for both the surfers and the medium,” says the blogger. “For a television interview, Bibi spends hours going over briefings, preparing, getting made up and so on. But on Instagram, you’ll find every embarrassing picture that looks like it was taken by mistake. Bibi’s no great expert on the digital world. Everybody knows that. But I’d expect him to hire media people who understand the importance of social media and took it seriously.”
Watch Netanyahu's Instagram photos
The problem starts with the photographers who take pictures of Netanyahu for his various Internet accounts. “The prime minister’s Facebook page is full of pictures that are no good,” writes Yonatan H. Mishal, at the Seventh Eye, a media criticism website (in Hebrew). Mishal, a photographer and former coordinator of the photo desk at the New York City-based newspaper The Indypendent, adds, “Sloppy photographs on different forums and of different sizes, with no uniformity and at low resolution, taken with a blinding flash, are shown with an utter lack of styling and with carelessness that could have been fixed easily, even with cropping. The texts are well-written, but when it comes to the photos, it seems no one gives them a second look or bothers with minimal editing or even color-correction.”
To make matters worse, whoever manages Netanyahu’s account doesn't even use the tools Instagram provides for improving photos, as Liat Zand wrote on Feeder a year ago just after Netanyahu’s account launched.
“Unfortunately, the unknown photographer doesn’t use the filters (or so it would seem), tagging, sharing on Facebook or any other advantage social media provides for photographs," Zand wrote. "Some of them even have banal captions (‘The whole country is covered in flags’ or ‘Making a toast to the State of Israel’). In the creative world of Instagram, these photographs are mediocre, and every one of them gets only a few responses on average and a few dozen likes.”
Meanwhile, the blogger who started Bibi InstaFail says he doesn't have high expectations of Netanyahu. “He won’t bring peace to the Middle East, he’ll keep on breaking the weaker sectors of society and weakening the middle class," he says. "He’ll keep on making the tycoons stronger and giving gifts to people in high places. So for heaven’s sake, he should at least hire someone who knows how to hold a camera.”
The video starts off with a blurry shot of Netanyahu, sitting in his office, being filmed sideways. "Not like that, rotate it," the prime minister instructs the cameraman, who proceeds to turn the camera the right way up. "Internet friends, this cannot go on any longer. From now on, I am taking matters into my own hands," he continues, and then tells the cameraman to "Give me that, please. Give it to me." The video then cuts sharply to a shot of a whiteboard, filmed sideways, upon which the following words are written: "From today on, photos are in focus."