Is the latest social media phenomenon Instagram, a leap towards the new concept of “Photographic Communication”?

‘Selfie at The Top of The Rock’ by Shelley Gibb is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Today, society revolves around online social media and networking. Individuals rely heavily on communicating online as opposed to face-to-face. The concept of photography isn’t something that we relate direct communication with, however in the past years along with society’s increasing obsession with mobile phone technology (Salehan, 2013), photographic communication has revolutionised the way society shares their media. Recent social networking application ‘Instagram’ (, made possible the concept of a social networking tool through the use of photography rather than private textual messages to a recipient. Mikko Villi’s concept of ‘Photographic communication’ discusses the immediacy of photography and the notion of ‘disposable photography’, thus, coinciding with the service that Instagram offers to it’s users.

What is Instagram?

  ‘Instagram’ is a social media phenomenon that revolves around the concept of photo and video sharing on a public or private domain. Although having recently introduced a desktop website form of the application, it’s original and most common form is used via smartphone. Bursting into popularity in 2012, Instagram revolutionised the way in which individuals shared, documented and publicised their photographic memories. The application entices it’s users by providing digital filters to apply to photographs which make them look increasingly more visually pleasing, thus, turning any one who owns a smart phone around the globe, instantly into an amateur photographer. Being affiliated with the likes of ‘Facebook’ ( and ‘Twitter’ (, the application is easily accessible by anyone and everyone who engages in social media via smartphone all whilst demonstrating user-to-user photographic communication.

‘Selfie’ by Paško Tomić is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What is ‘Photographic Communication’?

Photographic Communication is the concept of relaying messages via multimedia as opposed to text (Villi, 2010). The theory is further elaborated, by assessing the time in which a photograph is taken compared to the time that it is actually shared to an individual. Through research, it was found that more individuals are inclined to send photographs via message instantly after taking the actual photograph in an attempt to avoid delay and loss of meaning (Villi, 2010). Although this is valid research, since the introduction of Instagram and social networking sites, the ‘immediacy’ of sharing photographs has changed drastically. Trends that are emerging across the application involve weekly photograph sharing that is devoted to events of the past, more commonly known as ‘Throw-backs’. As many as over 215 million users have associated their photographs as a ‘Throw-back’ on the application.(Knibbs, 2013). This proves that there is a growing trend of using digital photographs via social working as a memoir that depicts ever lasting meaning rather than an instant photograph sent via text message that only lasts a few moments.

‘The throwback thursday’ hashtag, proving to be popular with over 200 million tags.

How has Instagram enhanced and changed our perspective on typical social networking communication?

  Instagram has developed a social network that was dependent on text to relay a message, into a network that can do the same via photography. The site has implemented a number of characteristics that has enhanced the way user’s communicate, an example of this is the phenomenon that is ‘Hashtagging.’ With the concept originally deriving from Twitter (, it has become a predominant feature of Instagram, allowing users to view photo’s that contain the same hashtag they have applied to a particularly photograph. The notion of hashtagging is Instagram’s main point of communication on a global scale. Hashtagging is a strong example of Villi’s concept of ‘communicating the now’ (pp. 98), in which he depicts the notion of a photograph being sent instantly and communicating a moment that has only just recently occurred. Hashtagging coincides with this, as with just the simple click of a hashtag link, a user is taken to a page containing every single photo on the entire Instagram database that has been affiliated with the same tag, on an instantly refreshed basis. In most cases and depending on the popularity of a specific tag, a user is able to view a photograph that has been taken on the other side of the globe, as soon as the photo is published. This has not only enhanced our perception of photographic communication, but is has completely changed it. It has provided an alternative to costly multimedia messages, provides a personal database for each user, and documents photographs in a way that creates lasting memories as opposed to sending photo’s via text, that only last for a moment (Villi, 2010).

‘Lots of Hash’ by Michael Coghlan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

How does the application coincide with Villi’s concept of ‘disposable photography’?

Mikko Villi’s concept of ‘disposable photography’, coincides with Instagram and how photography is regarded in today’s society. With the vast expansion of digital technology, photographs have increasingly less value. This is due to the fact that digital photography doesn’t involve printing every single photograph captured, unlike film, which is far more cost-efficient. The concept of disposable photography is the notion of a photograph having less value as a similar photograph can essentially be captured on a digital device (Villi, 2010). This is evident when it comes to Instagram as users have the option of deleting any photo they choose. With an individual taking on average over 5 photographs of the same thing before they are satisfied with a single image to upload (Smith, 2014), disposable photography is an evident feature of the social networking application.

‘Hitech Selfie’ by Nestor Ferraro is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Instagram is a social networking phenomenon that has influenced the ways in which society communicates on a local and global scale. It is important to consider how far photography has come, especially in regards to photographic communication, to understand the success and popularity of Instagram. With the application drawing in over 40 million monthly users (Smith, 2014), it is evident that the notion of communicating via photography is appealing to its users. Mikko Villi’s concept of photographic communication provides a strong argument to compare the concept of Instagram to. Photographic communication and disposable photography are both key factors that have revolutionised the way society shares their photographic media via social media platforms; in particular Instagram.







Reference List:

‘Lots of Hash’ by Michael Coghlan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 Mohammad, S. (2013).

Social networking on smartphones: When mobile phones become addictive. Computers in human behaviour, 29 (6), 2632-2639.

‘Selfie at The Top of The Rock’ by Shelley Gibb is licensed under 
CC BY 2.0 ‘Selfie’ by Paško Tomić is licensed under CC BY 2.0 Smith, C (2014).

By The Numbers: 80 Interesting Instagram Statistics. Retrieved June, 11, 2014 from       stats/#.U54_yF4xFSU Villi, M. (2010).

Near-time photographic communication. In M. Villi (Ed.),  Visual Mobile Communication: Camera Phone Photo Messages as Ritual Communication and Mediated Presence (pp. 83-99). Helsinki: Aalto University.


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