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Designing and Living Instagram Photography: Themes, Feeds, Sequences, Branding, Faces, Bodies

This is Chapter 4 of the new book by Lev Manovich, "Instagram and Contemporary Image" (2016). The book methods combine traditional qualitative approaches of humanities and computational analysis of 16 millions of Instagram photos in 17 global cities carried out in Manovich's lab Cultural Analytics Lab since 2012.The book chapters are being released online under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Creative Commons license.


Instagram is the perfect medium of the "aesthetic society." In such society, production and presentation of beautiful images, experiences, styles, and user interaction designs is central for its economic and social functioning. Aesthetic society values space designers, user experience designers, architects, photographers, models, stylists, and other design and media professionals, as well as individuals who are skilled in using Instagram, other social networks and blog platforms, and media editing, creation, and analytics tools. “Using” in this context refers to creating successful content, promoting this content, communicating with followers, and achieving desired goals.

Aesthetic society is also the one where urban / social media tribes emerge and sustain themselves through aesthetic choices and experience. In the words of Michel Maffesoli who developed analysis of “urban tribe” already in 1980s, “it refers to a certain ambience, a state of mind, and it is preferably to be expressed through lifestyles that favor appearance and form.” And the ambience and state of mind, as I argued in Chapter 3, is exactly the “message” of Instagramism. 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 2000+ photo editing apps, or shop at Zara which offers cool, hip and refined styles in its 2200 stores in 88 countries (2015 data).

Article  2016