← Back to Articles

Instagrammism and contemporary cultural identity

This is the third part of Lev Manovich's book "Instagram and Contemporary Image." All book parts are being published on as they are completed during 2016.

Book Text: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Creative Commons license. Images copyright belongs to their respective authors.

Millions of people around the world today use digital tools and platforms to create and share sophisticated cultural artifacts. This book focuses on one such platform: Instagram. It places Instagram image culture within a rich cultural and historical context, including history of photography, cinema, graphic design, and social media, contemporary design trends, music video, and k-pop. At the same 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 also demonstrates how humanistic close reading and computational analysis of large datasets can work together by drawing on computational analysis of 16 million Instagram photos shared in 17 global cities during 2012-2016.  

Summary of Chapter 3: "Instagrammism and contemporary cultural identity":

When cultural trends emerge and become popularized faster than 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.”) Cultural identity today is established via small variations and differences – and also hybridization among already established positions. (For example, if the first part of the 20th century was about radically conflicting “isms” – cubism, suprematism, surrealism, etc. – then the 21st century so far is about variations on single larger trends such as minimalism in design.)

Photography today – and Instagram platform in particular – gives young people at least as much power in crafting unique identities as music. And in comparison to writing music, Instagram is much easier to use. To establish a visual style, chose particular subjects and compositions for your photos and use Instagram or VSCO app to apply the consistent edits, filters, and presets to all of them. Between different subjects, compositions, color palettes, contrast levels, and other adjustments and filters, the number of distinct styles that can be created is very large.

“Subcultures,” food preferences, and fashion styles give people basic tools to establish and perform their cultural identities. However, digital cameras, network platforms and editing and publishing tools as exemplified by Instagram provide an important mechanism to further refine and “individualize” these base identities.

Article  2016