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The Alarming Homogeneity of Instagram Travel Photos

Attack of the Instagram clones: by collaging together virtually indistinguishable travel photos from unrelated Instagram accounts, “Insta Repeat” reveals how social media undermines originality.

From Insta Repeat. All images courtesy Emma Sheffer.

Instagram travel accounts — which tend to showcase photographs of sweeping, saturated landscapes with nary a body in sight (save for, maybe, the photographer’s blushing lover) — have changed travel: social media-fueled tourism is real. The images on your phone and whatever envy they provoke are, apparently, a great impetus for getting on a plane.

But the ubiquity of such accounts has rendered even the most striking among them utterly predictable: most feature a cleanly-hued morass of pine trees, clasped hands, aquamarine water, and still-exercising-on-vacation #fitspo. Browse through the app long enough, and most Instagram travel photographs start to look invariably the same, save for a filter shade a couple degrees higher or lower.

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Hand hold 🤝with girl

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Insta Repeat, an Instagram account advertising “Déjà Vu Vibes” — the way another account might herald wanderlust vibes — aggregates images from various unrelated travel accounts into collages of nearly indistinguishable photos: twelve disembodied hands holding a leaf; twelve white girlfriends reaching back for their photographer-boyfriend’s hands; twelve drone shots of snowy treetops; twelve alarmingly meta handheld phones, mid-photograph, capturing a scene in a scene. Currently, Insta Repeat features 112 posts; the first was a collage of centered photographs of people in canoes, taken from behind, vistas stretched out before them like new horizons.

Emma Sheffer, the filmmaker managing the account, told Hyperallergic over email: “I think we all constantly see imagery pop up around us that is familiar, but on Instagram it seems to be almost encouraged by the monetization of popularity. I was interested in this and the growing repetition in images and the reasons why they were continuing to be popular and continuing to be produced.”

According to Design Boom, Instagram’s influencer market value will reach 2.38 billion US dollars in 2019, which makes the fact that I’m writing about influencers, even indirectly, feel slightly painful. In our email exchange, Sheffer went on: “Social media is a popularity contest. Popularity has never fostered risk taking or originality. I mean, think about high school.” (It’s the truth. I shuddered in response.)  “Overall, I’m not trying to be the arbiter of what photos have value and what don’t. I am just making observations about the homogeneous content that is popular on Instagram. I also think there’s an incredible amount of value in emulation both when someone is learning and continuing their craft. Improving upon and building upon what has been done, I think, is an important part the evolution of art. However, what I am particularly interested in on Instagram is that popular, established ‘top’ content creators are following a very strict aesthetic framework with very little deviation. This goes beyond mere emulation and learning.”

Even outside of those popular content creators, it’s true that those tiny images, over and over and over, have taken on wildly similar qualities, a growing language of sarcastically abbreviated captions, casual self-aggrandizement, dewy skin. Perhaps there’s something accidentally poignant, too, about so many small boats, leaves, and thin bodies moving nowhere — frozen, free of dynamism, and unwittingly timeless by virtue of their easy mimicry. It’s a testament to Insta Repeat’s artistic appeal that the collages form their own pretty, recapitulated gradients, over and over, then still fall as flat as their dimensions.

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