A recent project by Thailand-based photographer Chompoo Baritone has the internet abuzz, and it should. Baritone’s project does exactly what good art should do: it makes you think. The photo series depicts a full scene, and then shows the deceptive square frame of a perfectly staged Instagram photo.
It’s telling that my Facebook newsfeed has been inundated with links to this project with added comments of “YES” and “Reminder: don’t compare yourself to other people’s Instalife.” This resonates with people, because duh—we’re all tired of how social media turns us into insecure comparison addicts bent on proving our lives are artsier, more adventurous, and much, much more “authentic.”
This project comes right on the heels of the discovery and wild popularity of Socality Barbie, a fantastic parody Instagram account that is way more authentic than yours. I’ll be honest, the account’s tagline, “That PNW Life | Adventurer | Coffee Drinker | Jesus | Authentic Living” gave me a little heartburn—wait, mine doesn’t say that, right? It’s a jarring reminder that maybe our millennial search for authenticity is getting tied in a few too many consumerist knots with our products, clothes, and fashion sense.
But I’m actually not here today to deliver another diatribe against the ills of social media, or even to delve deeper into how we soothe our ache for meaning with materialism, likes, and Instagram double-taps. I’m here to argue for the little square frame, the little bit of perfection surrounded by chaos, and the little pieces of art in our everyday lives.
In Defense of the Perfect Square Frame
When I was in my undergrad, I took an excellent class on digital rhetoric. Before I started that semester, I probably couldn’t have defined digital rhetoric, but by the end I had some nuanced and helpful thoughts on the intersection of technology and our daily lives. One of these thoughts was this: every form of social media and technology comes with a set of rules.
The rules of each technology may be written in something as stable as code: for instance, I’m simply not able to delete someone else’s Facebook post, but I can delete my own. Other rules are based on “suggestions” written into the website: they’re like stone paths through a yard, gently nudging you to take a certain road. Example: sure, I could save lengthy journalism pieces to my Pinterest boards, but with the site’s emphasis on visual appeal and the categories suggested, why would I?
HERE IS THE FIRST UNSPOKEN RULE OF INSTAGRAM: SHOW ME SOMETHING PRETTY.
With editing tools, the app sets you up to filter, beautify and alter reality. With its uniform, distinctive square frame (only recently changed with the latest update), Instagram invites you to do what everyone else is doing: create some art with that computer in your pocket.
Feature image by Hoai Anh Bino via Unsplash.