Mary Pilon is a journalist, author of a book about the history of monopoly and previously a writer of sports features. I came across the article ‘Instagram Is Ruining Vacation‘ by Pilon on Instagram and travel photography when reading through my Twitter newsfeed. I’ve identified that Twitter is a valuable research tool when engaging with a topic that is current and still evolving, favouriting and bookmarking articles that catch my eye in order to read them later. This article was one of those finds, it was really interesting to read about Pilon’s interpretation as she included many references to Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’. From her biography on her website, is isn’t clear that Pilon has studied photography in an academic context, neither does it look like she has studied cultural/communicative theory. Yet her article is so insightful and has pointed me towards many different directions that I can pursue for my research project. I’ve identified parts of Pilon’s article that are particularly relevant to what I want to research, or that have given me something new to think about and reflected on them.
There are several key points in this section that I identified, first of all the notable brand name of the iPhone. Despite Apple marketing themselves to a mass amount of people, there are actually few in the world that can afford or justify the outright cost of the device, instead opting to a monthly contract. There is a slight sense of exclusivity or elitism, with the prosperous few able to afford the latest iPhone model, with the rest aspiring to their status. As I’ve explored in previous blog posts, Instagram itself can be considered as slightly exclusive by limiting the features of the application when accessed from a laptop. There is no doubt that the application was created for the smartphone and later the tablet (perhaps it was created with Apple products in mind) and therefore only the smartphone or tablet can have access to all of the opportunities.
The second point about this section, was the fact that Instagram images, specifically those of travel, are often created to show off to the people who aren’t there. Travel images are effectively the digital equivalent of the postcard, a snapshot of an iconic feature of the local area and a small tagline sharing what you’ve been up to when you’ve visited. The ‘wish you were here’ tagline could be considered as changing do ‘oh don’t you wish you were here’. But as Pilon points out, behind the idyllic travel image, is often hundreds of people attempting to make the same picture. Pilon uses the word ‘fraudulent’ when describing the images made by many and actually herself, as they disguise the reality in which they were captured. The debate surrounding photography as truth keeps cropping up in my research and is definitely a concept I feel I should be addressing in my dissertation, as it will give me an opportunity to talk about a cultural phenomenon using photographic theory, which I believe will generate some interesting answers.
This section has confirmed my idea that I should be reading Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ again, with my dissertation topic in mind. Despite some criticising the use of Sontag in writing, as ‘On Photography’ is the obvious choice to go for when considering photographic theory, I believe that because Sontag was writing about photography and the social role of the practice, that it will be very relevant to be research. I especially like the part Pilon quotes from Sontag, describing cameras as ‘fantasy-machines’, as for travel images on Instagram, the photographer is effectively attempting to create the illusion of a fantasy, idyllic holiday. The images on Instagram are meant to inspire the viewers, to aspire to that level of holidaying, just as the masses aspire to be Apple users.
What Pilon is perhaps touching on here with this section is an apparent focus on neoliberal ideology, although holidays are meant to be a relaxing time for the individual, the neoliberal philosophy of the self as business, means that relaxation could be seen as a unproductive or lazy. However documenting the holiday can be viewed as a productive activity, the individual is seeking and identifying moments that they feel they can share to an audience, who will then compliment and aspire to that same standard when they holiday. Or it can be a cosmopolitan notion display of the different locations the individual has visited, to be well-travelled is generally considered to mean the individual has sufficient life experience and the versatility to function in different global environments. After all the most successful companies are multi-national, therefore the most successful neoliberal individuals should display their presence in different global locations.
Empowering the individual is a concept I feel I want to explore; in the Phonar (photography and narrative) module in my third year BA Photography, we discussed the ability of photography to empower the subject, therefore when the individual is making images that reflect themselves and their lives, they could feel empowered by making them. The notion of ‘artistic’ practice is also extremely interesting to me, as I am increasingly thinking that Instagram users are the artists of their own lives. They are visually representing themselves to a potential global audience in a way that wasn’t practiced before digital technology and social media. I have identified John Suler’s book Psychology of the Digital Age would beneficial for me to read in relation to my research project, the library doesn’t currently stock the title but I made a book suggestion and it will likely be in stock soon.
This article has been a really good starting point for me to research in different directions in relation to my research project, which includes:
- neoliberalism, self-branding, photography as productivity
- the artist on Instagram, empowering the individual
- photography and truth, fraudulent idyllic representations
- Instagram and exclusivity
- Read – On Photography, Susan Sontag
- Read – John Suler, Psychology of the Digital Age