“Out with the old; in with the new.” This is the way that one of the best-known photographers on Instagram, Richard Koci Hernandez, chose to announce that he will delete all of his images from the photo-sharing social media platform on Dec. 6.
But though the move may surprise some, it has been brewing for some time in Hernandez, and ties in with his firm desire to start fresh.
“What I really wanted to do was a lot more dramatic,” he told TIME. “I wanted to delete the originals as well and move on. I was kind of standing on this photographic cliff and my wife and friends pulled me back from that cliff.”
Nourished by the idea that photography should have a finite lifespan, Hernandez says he felt dismayed that the Internet didn’t “really respect time in the way I think it should.”
“Of course, who am I to impose rules on the Internet,” he adds. “I don’t want to sound too pretentious but I’ve always felt that my photographs shouldn’t live forever. But it seems to me that the Internet is increasingly allowing things to live forever.”
Hernandez likens his move to that of a young social media user looking to expunge his or her past. “A teenager on Facebook or Twitter is going to say and do a lot of dumb, immature things. Does he want to be remembered by these things? Probably not. In the same way, my photography and my work on Instagram is an evolution of who I am as a photographer. And on my Instagram feed, there’s some immature work there, and it’s there forever.”
Hernandez also felt his success online had prevented him from experimenting with photography. “When you have a large following, you begin to feel a particular sense of responsibility,” he says. “You begin to feel – I’ll be honest – a pressure for what you do. Sometimes I felt that maybe I couldn’t explore other avenues of photography and share them because that wasn’t what my audience wanted.”
And while he feels photography has grown in importance, with a lot more people taking it seriously, he also believes that photography has been devalued. “I think I began to take it for granted,” he says. “When there was a Henri Cartier-Bresson show in my local gallery, it was an experience. The show was only on for a certain time and then it was gone. If I wanted to hold on to that experience, I could buy a print or a poster. But the experience itself was over. Instagram doesn’t [offer] that experience. I began to take the work of other photographers for granted because I felt like it was always going to be there.”
But the Berkeley-based photographer doesn’t plan on abandoning Instagram. “I love Instagram,” he says. “It’s been the single, greatest thing to ever happen to my photographic career. I love the community; I love following other photographers; I love answering people’s questions. I’ll step away from it for a little while, but I will be back. It might be in a week or in a month. I really don’t know.”
Richard Koci Hernandez is a California-based photographer and an Assistant Professor of New Media at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Instagram @koci.