Lev Manovich

Subjects and Styles in Instagram Photography (Part 1)

What are some of the types of Instagram photos today and how they relate to the 20th century photo culture? Based on the analysis of fifteen million images shared on Instagram in sixteen global cities during 2012–2015 carried out in our lab, this text presents the analysis of three common types of Instagram photos. We call these types “casual,” “professional,” and “designed.”

“Casual” photos are similar in function to personal photographers of the 20th century: they are created for friends, they privilege content of photos and ignore the aesthetics. Both “professional” and “designed” photo type are examples of what Alise Tifentale calls “competitive photography.” The difference is whom the authors compete with for likes and followers. The authors of professional photos aim for “good photo” aesthetics established in the second part of the 20th century, so they compete with other authors and lovers of such “classic” aesthetics including many commercial photographers. The authors of “designed” photos associate themselves with more “contemporary,” hip,” “cool” and “urban” lifestyle choices and corresponding aesthetics, so this is their peer group on Instagram.

This first part of the text explains why Instagram platform is perfect to study contemporary photography; discusses the importance of differences in content and style in photos shared in different locations worldwide, and then focuses on “casual” photo type.
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