A Grid of Pixels

Above: A grid of green and magenta pixels. Credit: Hautala.

Forty Kilometers

The number of users on Instagram is approaching one billion accounts. If each user were to submit a 20cm x 20cm photo-print of their profile photo to me for the purposes of creating a single massive physical photo (a composite photo-grid depicting every user on one flat sheet) the completed photo-mosaic would be the largest photo-image ever made.

Each single square meter of my final photo would contain five rows of five portraits and so 25 images per square meter. Therefore one square kilometer (the same as one million square meters) would include 25 million photos. And that being so, my final completed composite image depicting every Instagram user (as of 2018), would be 40 kilometers across by 40 kilometers high.

It is commonplace to hear super-generalized critical dismissals of Instagram users' ability in photography and overall motivation. Often heard complaints include: the photos posted are too self-centered and self-indulgent (to wit: the selfie); the photos show the user to be caught up on a treadmill of consumerism (pictures of luxury goods and purchases, etc.); photos posted on Instagram are mostly trite, vacuous, or cheesy cliches that don't say anything original.

Such complaints are often laced with a sort of frustration ("What's happening to photography??"). The reality of Instagram posts is that they are so profuse that not many generalizations can really be made! The number of users posting to the site is around fifteen percent of all humanity. It can be argued that these are the wealthiest fifteen percent in that they own a smartphone. But I don't accept any such simplistic claim. As Ai Weiwei's Human Flow evidenced beyond doubt, many displaced persons--"refugees"--own a smartphone (it is often the only possession they have left).

The impression that can be gleaned is that the breadth of photos on Instagram represents an overview of all human activity with a camera--including porn and criminality (claims made by Facebook about the sanitization of social media are demonstrably untrue). The photos on view offer then a tapestry of human snapshot photo-images in all its diversity, strangeness and banality. Beyond such opening remarks very little else can be generalized (about what types of images are made). The pictures uploaded to Instagram are photos made of anything-and-everything ... proliferating at the rate of at least three billion new ones per day.

(1 February 2018)