This paper examines the social rules and conventions of photography practices on visual social media platforms through revisiting the concept of gaze. More specifically we analyse how 25 participants in so-called Instagram take-overs make sense of and perform photography as an embodied visual practice situated in time and space. Hence, approaching that which is seen on Instagram from the viewpoint of how it was produced enable us to understand the role of the technique as well as social conventions and personal competence in performances of photography. Instagram takeovers are commonly used in participatory communication strategies to increase the engagement of various publics. Here we draw on different takeovers, albeit with similar purposes of improving the internal as well as external images of two public organisations, a city and a hospital.
By gaze we mean certain institutionalised ways of looking at, sensing, and comprehending images on the Instagram platform. The concept of gaze may however refer to different things. Most notably is perhaps the sociologist John Urry’s (1990, 2002) formulation of the tourist gaze to describe the learnt ability of how to see things, which is a collective and culturally shared ability (see also Foucault, 1977). The tourist gaze includes the distinct, striking, unusual, and extraordinary. These values are used and reproduced in advertisements, place promotion and by the tourists. In later texts about the tourist gaze, Urry and Larsen (2011) emphasise the social aspect of tourist photography. This definition of tourist gaze makes the concept useful when practices of photography are studied in order to discuss social conventions and norms of that which is seen. It makes it possible to demonstrate and discuss parallels to other visual norms and practices.
The paper addresses the pre-conference theme on mobile (in)visibilities by examining Instagram photography as a performance disciplined by gazes. The findings of the study point to the tensions between different gazes and how they discipline how participants imagine the organisation in photographic practice. Hence, the inclusion of social media in communication strategies does not necessarily reinvigorate images of the organisation, since conventional gazes govern images on social media. The study elucidates how a visual practice is socially constrained, which results in that only certain aspects of the organisation are made visible and regarded as photo worthy, while others remain unseen.
- disciplinary power