This Notable Instagram Account Embraces the Photographer’s Role in Documentary

“I’ve come to hate writing captions. I don’t like telling people how to read an image,” Stacy Kranitz writes in—where else?—a caption on her Instagram account, which, in December, Time named the best of 2015.

Kranitz may not like writing captions, but she’s quite good at it. For many of her more than 80,000 followers, they’re part of what makes her account so appealing. That’s because Kranitz’s unconventional approach to her captions is the same as her approach to image-making. In both, she openly acknowledges the link between her work and her own experience of making it.

That’s how she ends up with complex, unsettling captions like this one, which describes not only the moment depicted in the photograph but the events that preceded it and followed it: “I went to the liquor store to buy some beer and found this guy slumped over near the door. The cashier explained that he is the neighborhood drunk. He hangs his jacket on the fence so he doesn’t conk his head on the ground when he passes out. A few minutes later some firemen came by to take him to the hospital. They said he has been in the neighborhood for 20 years. Now I’m home drinking beer trying to stave off feelings of loneliness and he is on his way to the emergency room. #alcohol

Loneliness, in fact, was what drew Kranitz to Instagram in the first place more than three years ago.

“It was toward the end of a four-month-long stint in central Appalachia living out of my car, and I felt kind of disconnected from people. I saw a number of people were using Instagram and I sort of just joined in. Immediately I connected to my friends and they could see what I was doing and I was feeling less isolated from them,” she said. 

Since then, a blurring of life and work has defined Kranitz’s Instagram. It’s also defined her documentary projects, including studies of Appalachia, violence, and American re-enactors of Germans in World War II, which we featured on Behold in 2014. She often comes to know the people she photographs as friends and sometimes as lovers. 

The work on her Instagram is less “controlled” in its execution than her some of her documentary projects, which tend to develop over the course of years, and she means for it to be taken more lightly. Nonetheless, thanks to the Time distinction, Kranitz has a lot more eyes on her account these days, including strangers who are more critical of the way she interacts with and represents the people depicted in her work. But the joy she takes in Instagram, she says, hasn’t changed.

“What I love about Instagram is it’s incredibly unhinged. It’s immediate and raw and it’s crude and gritty. It’s more of a sketchbook or a diary, so it’s meant to be not politically correct and slightly off kilter.”