[artinfo] Lev Manovich: Instagram and Contemporary Image

Geert Lovink geert at xs4all.nl
Wed Nov 15 10:14:04 CET 2017

Instagram and Contemporary Image: new book by Lev Manovich

This is the first in-depth study of Instagram combining methods from 
art history, media studies, and data science. The study relies on the 
analysis of 16 million Instagram photos shared in 17 global cities 
carried out in Manovich's Cultural Analytics Lab since 2012.

Download free PDF: 

Instagram and Contemporary Image is released online under:
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Creative 
Commons license.

Book summary:

Millions of people around the world today use digital tools and 
platforms to create and share sophisticated cultural artefacts. This 
book focuses on one such platform: Instagram. It places Instagram 
image culture within a rich cultural and historical context, 
including histories of photography, cinema, graphic design, and 
social media, contemporary design trends, apps, music video, and 
k-pop. At the same time, it uses Instagram as a window into the 
identities of first truly global generation connected by common 
social media platforms, programming languages, and visual aesthetics.

The book is an experiment to see how we can combine traditional 
"qualitative" approaches of media theory and art history with 
quantitative analysis that uses "big cultural data" and computational 
methods. Manovich is drawing on the analysis of 15 million images 
shared on Instagram in 16 global cities during 2012-2015 carried out 
in his Cultural Analytics Lab, publications from many other labs, 
Manovich's own informal observations from using Instagram for five 
years, and his direct observations of mobile phone photography 
cultures during 2010-2015 in 58 cities located in 31 countries.

Outline of the book parts:

Part 1: Casual Photos
The first part explains why Instagram platform is perfect for 
studying contemporary photography; discusses the importance of 
differences in content and style in photos shared in different 
locations worldwide, and then analyzes the "casual" photo type. Most 
photos shared on Instagram until now belong to this type. They are 
similar in function to personal photographs in the 20th century. 
Created for friends, they privilege content and ignore the aesthetics.

Part 2: Professional and Designed Photos
The second part focuses on the "professional" and "designed" photo 
types on Instagram. Both 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 
aesthetics including many commercial photographers. The authors of 
"designed" photos associate themselves with more contemporary/hip/ 
cool/urban/slow lifestyles and corresponding aesthetics, so this is 
their peer group on Instagram. I analyze aesthetics and content of 
designed photography to show how talented young creators word wide 
explore the affordances and limitation of Instagram medium.

Part 3: Instagramism
The third part proposes that Instagram and digital photography 
provide important tools for establishing cultural identities. Today, 
as cultural trends emerge and become popularized faster than ever 
before, people's answer is to develop small variations, rather than 
trying to make something really very different (i.e., opposite of 
modernist "make it new"). Since Instagram allows for a variety of 
individual photo styles, achieved through systematic choice of 
subjects, editing adjustments, filters and other controls, it serves 
as a perfect platform for identity creation.

Part 4: Themes, Feeds, Sequences, Branding, Faces, Bodies
This part discusses the "aesthetic society" where production and 
presentation of beautiful images, experiences, styles, and user 
interaction designs are central to its economic and social 
functioning. Aesthetic society is also the one where urban/social 
media tribes emerge and sustain themselves through aesthetic choices 
and experience. If in the modern societies carefully constructed 
aesthetic lifestyles were the privilege of the rich, today they are 
available to all who use Instagram, VSCO, or any other of 3000+ photo 
editing apps, or shop at Zara, H&M, and other retailers that offer 
clothes with a contemporary sensibility at low prices.
Our mailing address is:

Lev Manovich
PhD Program in Computer Science, The Graduate Center, City University 
of New York (CUNY)
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY  10016

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