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Instagram-ing Tibet: Cellphone Photography

Jan 9th, 2013Asia, Design, International, Photos & Videos, Tech

This short reflection illustrates how Instagram has become a portal for some journalists to quickly share photos of their travels and build a community online for their images.  How cellphones continue to transform reporting.

This originally appeared in the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting’s Untold Stories Series.   


Sean Gallagher

“Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us” — Oscar Wilde

I’ve never been one for keeping a diary. My parents encouraged me to keep one from a young age, but numerous half-filled notebooks are evidence of my failed attempts. Early on however, I realized that photography and the experience of looking at an image were much more effective in helping me to remember where and when I was at a certain place, but most importantly, what and how I was feeling when I was there.

This past summer and autumn, I traveled across the Tibetan Plateau, documenting some of the threats from climate change to the people and ecosystems of the “Roof of the World.” As I traveled, I carried with me my iPhone, along with my normal professional equipment.

For the past year and a half I have been taking pictures with my phone, mostly using it as a way to document smaller moments, or objects and things that I just wanted to record as a reminder for myself. This new tool has become my diary.

There has been a lot of debate recently about the role of cellphone photography and its impact on the professional world. Some see it as detrimental; others, as a new tool for story-telling.

I see it as the latter, a new tool that I have been able to experiment with, to play with, to help me think slightly differently about my approach to my work. Many of the images that I take with my phone have been captured in a manner that could not have been possible with my normal equipment. I don’t see a conflict in the images that I take with the different systems.

The other factor I have enjoyed with the rise of cellphone photography is access to a brand new audience who may not have discovered my work before. I share my mobile uploads through Instagram (, where I have found a large community of people who are interested in the work I do and the issues that I cover.

This gallery presents a selection of my images from the Tibetan Plateau, taken with my iPhone, presenting an alternative view of my coverage of the issue and a personal record of moments from my travels.


For the full collection of photos please go to A Tibet Plateau Diary. 


2 Responses

  1. Omar Paulo says:

    that is an interesting thought. Instagram photos, or on a more general sense mobile phone photos as a personal diary. much of the fanfare today is about getting social, but definitely the same mobile tool can be used for thought and self-reflection.