Think All the Photos on Instagram Look the Same? So Does She.
For some photographers, Instagram has been a massive success story, allowing them to build a direct audience of hundred of thousands, if not millions, of followers. The direct publishing platform has created fame and opened up monetization possibilities (from ads to workshops to merchandise) that would otherwise be unavailable.
Savvy photographers are attuned to the types of photos that tend to attract higher engagement. In a sense, a successful Instagrammer’s role isn’t dissimilar from a gallery owner or merchandiser for a poster company – they know what sells and they push those types of images.
But like the movie industry’s obsessions with orange and teal, publishing what people like leads to visual sameness. And because influencers are traveling to the trendy places, the visual sameness often occurs in the same locations.
In reaction to the trend, the @insta_repeat account was created. The account is the brainchild of a 27-year old female filmmaker and an artist living in Anchorage, Alaska who has opted to remain anonymous. Her account has featured some of the biggest influencer names and her stated purpose is to “critique originality in media creation.”
We spoke via e-mail.
What motivated you to create the @insta_repeat account?
I live in Alaska constantly see imagery pop up around me from “adventurers” and “explorers” from around the world on Instagram. I don’t know how many times the red cabins in Hatchers Pass can be posted before people get bored. Overall, living here, in a popular destination for these outdoor images motivated the Insta_Repeat account.
However, the specific spark of the idea for the account came from the abundance of canoe images. Every time I saw one of those canoe photographs on Instagram it reminded me of this compilation idea until actually got around to making the account. Full disclosure: I have been photographed in a canoe and I have made photographs in a canoe… We all have things in our pasts that we are not proud of.
There’s a lot of mimicry on Instagram. Is the account meant as criticism? What, if anything, are you trying to accomplish with the account?
There is a lot of mimicry everywhere in media, not just on Instagram. A purpose of Insta_Repeat is to critique originality in media creation through the lens (pun intended) of this one “genre” of Instagram photography accounts.
One could argue that no photo is truly unique. Is there something specific about the appearance of these images on Instagram that make them a ripe target?
What makes these images unique targets is the specific genre these accounts I feature fit within. It’s this genre of adventurous and creative living, tagged with phrases like “liveauthentic” and “exploretocreate” that seems so ironic and thus an interesting target to me.
The account is relatively new, and so far you’ve focused primarily on outdoor scenes – whereas there are many visual trends happening with fashion, food, etc. What was the impetus to restrict the subject matter early on?
It’s not just that these images are repetitive, like you said earlier, there’s a lot of mimicry everywhere on Instagram. The genre specifically is important in my mind which is why I focus on these “adventure” accounts.
How long does it typically take you to throw together a collage, and what’s your process?
I am not sure how long it takes for one because I do them all in big batches. First, I follow a bunch of accounts that fit into the aesthetic I’m going for. Then I go through them and screenshot everything that I think looks generic. Then I pull all those screenshots onto the computer and sort them into categories and make compilations from there. It actually is pretty easy because there is a lot of material to work with.
You tag the photographers whose images are featured. Was this an attempt to give credit, spur a reaction, or something else?
At the end of the day, these photographs I feature are made by people who deserve credit. I don’t ever want to make content without giving credit to the source. However, when someone blocks me, I can’t tag them, at that point I don’t worry about it.
Speaking of which, some of the photographers have left some unkind comments. What’s your reaction to the vitriol?
I actually think it’s awesome how much positive feedback I have gotten, even from people I feature. It is encouraging when someone can laugh at themselves and “the game”. It reminds me that we don’t all have to take our work so seriously. In terms of the negative comments, every time someone gets into a fight in the comments section or someone that I feature that has a ton of followers comments (even when it is negative), I get a boost in followers. I think it has to do with the Instagram algorithm or something. Anyways, I say keep it coming!
Ari Versluis and Ellie Uyttenbroek created the Exactitudes project in the 1990’s to de-emphasize individuality. Their project was about the people depicted in the photos, whereas you’re arguably making commentary about the photographers who shoot these images. The shift perhaps reflects how easy it is to both travel and take pictures nowadays. Meta question: Do you think your account exists because of this confluence of events?
The Exactitude project is incredible and surreal and I see the comparison to it. However, Insta_Repeat is shifted towards the process of creating imagery as opposed to the individual. I am interested in exploring the choice to make an image that has, in essence, already been made.
Sort of a tangent question here related to the same topic: does anyone know if IG posts like this are being used by geologists or other researches to study change in an area over time? Social media likely hasn’t been around long enough to see significant change, but I’m reminded of all the times I’ve heard older generations say something like, “you should’ve seen it back in my day.” In a generation or two, it might be very easy to see high resolution detail of what certain locations looked like at a previous time. Glacial melt, water levels, and vegetation, etc. – as well as quantifying visitors and impacts related to increased popularity (positive or negative) – could be monitored easily and thus proving these repeat shots useful to data analysis over time.
Tour de France footage has been used to document global warming. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/07/climate-change-cycling-bike-race/
So disappointed Photoshelter would highlight/promote this type of shaming. No need to knock others down, I like to say.
I agree…We’re ALL critics. I’m no different and I spend much too much time criticising other people’s work. The important thing is to be creative one’s self.
This is not shaming, no one is saying it’s bad, it’s visual indexing of a cultural phenomenon. Even the creator of the account admits she’s “guilty” of it.
Interesting premise and a thoughtful analysis on “originality”. I was one of first 1,000 users on IG in Oct 2010, eventually posting some 23,000 images before my acct was deleted shortly after FB acquired it (!!). Current IG is unrecognizable from original – it used to be a place for serious photographers and newbies to share inspiring images. Now it’s all commercial, fake, stylized and driven by $$$, ads, influencers and clones (as @insta_repeat says).
I stay because of small loyal following of my unique streetphotography images. I don’t pay any attention to what others post. I share my vision of what interests me – and as all my images are candid, shot in the moment – I have no canoes or red barns to add to the collection.
Thanks for an enlightening article.
“I stay because of small loyal following of my unique streetphotography images.
I don’t pay any attention to what others post.”
Well – just found me a new instagram to follow – this is awesome and hilarious
I have taken tens of thousands of images over the years. Very very few of them would I describe as creative or original. Most of them are much like the images in this article. They mean something to me. I took them for myself. They are memories of places I’ve been, sites I’ve seen, hikes I’ve taken. They will comfort me in the nursing home when that time comes. But I doubt that they are of any interest to anyone else. It’s for this reason that I don’t have an Instagram account or Flickr or any web presence whatsoever. True originality and creativity are very very rare. We are all artists to some extent, and engaging in artistic endeavors is truly good for the soul, but most of us are just plain ordinary. Be the best you can be, but don’t expect to be the next American idol.
Hilda Becker of our times. Objects are no longer real as so photographs.
“A purpose of Insta_Repeat is to critique originality in media creation through the lens (pun intended) of this one “genre” of Instagram photography accounts.”
Humhum… Does this girl now the video Cliché made by Hierophante (2016) and Instravel made by Oliver KMIA (Feb 2018) ?
She’s just doing exacly what she’s denounciating :/
Relax delicate hipsters…we’ve all taken these humblebrag photos – You are not being “shamed.” when you put something out there don’t cry when it gets noticed. I’ve been making images for 30 years and they don’t always get the reaction you want. In fact, any reaction is a surprise. this seems like a little harmless fun and a good reminder that we may not be as special as we think we are.
She should start doing them 3×4 vertically so images are bigger, so it’s easier for the old folks with bad eyes to see.
if I want my images critiqued, I will go to where the professionals are and not some nameless 27 year old……….she is basically generating revenue by using OTHERS images, under the guise of critiquing them……..lame
Thanks for your comment. I disagree. She is providing social commentary through examples (and is a working professional). Anonymity is no difference than what Rob Haggart did with aphotoeditor.com.
I didn’t know I was supposed to stand on the white car