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<nettime-ann> Instagram and Contemporary Image: new book by Lev Manovich
Geert Lovink on Wed, 11 Oct 2017 02:01:59 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime-ann> Instagram and Contemporary Image: new book by Lev Manovich


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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

The four parts of the book were posted online as they were written between 12/20/2015 and 12/26/2016. This PDF combines revised versions of these chapters, an Introduction (finished in August 2017), and an Appendix. 

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 YorkNY  10016


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