Gray’s Anatomy – It’s Not Really A Cloud

Friday is here again and that means just one thing at, Richard Gray’s Gray’s Anatomy Column. This week Richard discusses the recent downtime at Instagram and considers the unthinkable. Over to you Richard. (Foreword by Joanne Carter).

‘Instagram was down briefly yesterday morning. There was quite a long outage a few months ago when the world seemed to stand still. People began, quite literally, to twiddle, if not their thumbs, then their fingers, aimlessly. And the photos posted by people just prior to the outage enjoyed hours of exposure on all their followers’ screens. I had to look at a plate of sweet and sour chicken for three hours. Yesterday’s downtime lasted only 10 minutes or so, but it reminded me that Instagram’s photos do actually sit on real computers somewhere. I always imagine them housed in a bunker in a barren wasteland in Iceland. When their servers go down, a woop-woop alarm goes off and a red light on the wall starts flashing and a dozing security guard with an Instagram logo on his cap springs into action and grabs a huge red phone to alert the four-man team in Silicon valley, who then get a crack IT diagnostics team dressed in black military fatigues (an Instagram logo on their backs) to fix the problem.

This may be somewhat fanciful, but what is true is that our pictures do actually exist on a hard drive somewhere. It’s not an actual cloud. And unless something awful happens to Instagram (perish the thought) or to Iceland (I haven’t been, but I’m sure we should perish that thought too), that picture of sweet and sour chicken is an actual little jpeg file. You can go to Statigram and simply drag and drop a copy onto your own hard drive. But the operative word in that description is “little”. Your original photo is compressed and stored at a fraction of its original size. So if you want to print off your picture and put it on the wall, you’ve got to hunt down the original. Or if you want to do a book of your Instagram pictures, although it’s tempting to use the convenient bridges that exist between many online publishers and Instagram to source your photos – again, a fraction of the size, a fraction of the pixels.

Iceland is quite small, so if ever Instagram goes high res, it might have to open a new server centre in Greenland. And hire a second security guard’.



© Richard Gray – ‘Somewhere in Iceland’

Richard's mobile photography has been exhibited around the world and published in various magazines and on many websites. He launched the world's first live course in iPhone photography in early 2012 with Kensington and Chelsea College. He has given workshops with The Photographers' Gallery and British Journal of Photography. Sport England recently commissioned him to cover various of its Sportivate initiatives with the iPhone. A keen observer of this new photographic genre, his writing has been widely published (most notably in The Guardian) and he writes a blog (iphoggy-bloggy). With a big camera, he specialises in music photography ( and syndicates to Press Association (with both big and small cameras).


  • Janine Graf

    I’ve been to Iceland, you’d love it Richard! And I’m really enjoying your articles!