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The Currency of Visibility: Visual Subjectivity and Memory on Instagram

digital The Currency of Visibility: Visual Subjectivity and Memory
on Instagram
issue COMUNICAZIONI SOCIALI - 2016 - 1. Snapshot Culture. The Photographic Experience in the Post-Medium Age
title The Currency of Visibility: Visual Subjectivity and Memory on Instagram
publisher Vita e Pensiero
format Article | Pdf
online since 04-2016
issn 03928667 (print) | 18277969 (digital)
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Hashtagging allows Instagram users to articulate individual photographic identities and experiences to larger cultural movements and histories. Photographs are a key medium of digital-native communication. As such, the desire to hashtag a photographic experience on Instagram highlights the evolving nature not only of the visual subject but also of the digital photograph itself. This paper explores how hashtagging allows visual subjects to heterotopically organise their conflated lived and digital experience in both personal and public histories through the panoptic nature of the social network. The Instagram self is an identity constructed simultaneously through the images in the user’s profile and other hashtagged photographs. Each publicly viewable hashtagged photograph becomes part of an individual’s social visibility that also commodifies them, allowing users to barter for panoptic recognition in an exchange of goods – visibility for likes – in which hashtagged photographs affirm the user’s visual subjectivity. In contemporary remembrance culture, the formally ‘ephemeral gestures’ of public memory become integrated into the body of the event’s afterlife through a combination of the caption-like hashtag and the illogical nature of the photograph’s temporality. Furthermore, the additional illogical temporality of the always-here Internet draws attention to the constant re-colonisation of meaning. The nature of visual subjectivity requires the double sensation of seeing and being seen. Contemporary remembrance culture seeks to establish this ‘double-sighted’ construction of the subject as the means to construct the public space, an inherently heterotopic space. We can conceive of the personal Instagram profile as a modern heterotopic museum in a non-place and non-time. Through photographs’ heterotopic nature, with their amnesia of time and space, not only do we archive ourselves but we also enter the archive of culture via hashtags.

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