Instagram, pictures and perceptions



The almost compulsive habit of taking pictures and posting them on social media has radically changed the way we look around and consider things. Two examples: food and Africa.

Travels, shopping, events, merry occurences or sad moments. Everything seems to be less real if it cannot be shot and bounced off, trying to capture the attention of those following from their own smartphones. The sharing and likes mania, particularly dealing with Instagram but also other platforms such as Facebook or Pinterest, is now cross-generational and cross-cultural, and ended up in transforming the perception of the world around us.

Let’s talk about food. The Instagram flow is almost unlimited, with millions of pictures posted every day and night by food bloggers, food lovers or mere food eaters. According to some recent estimates, the #food hashtag accounts for over 346 million images, #foodgram for more than 11 millions, while #foodporn goes over 200 millions. Any kind of food is shot and posted, from traditional to fusion dishes, in any situation, from Michelin renowned restaurants to streetfood, without forgetting home cooking. If #glitterfood is going out of style, latest trends are #uglyfood, that is dishes with non-conventional appearance, and #darkcuisine, with highly brave mixing or unusual blending, and even some doubts about their edibility.

The truth is Instagram and co. contributed to change perceptions, as well as eating habits. Some food categories have lately become very popular (look for avocado, mango, blueberry or matcha, that are supposed the be the most Instagram-friendly ingredients), and new diets have been legitimized, unfortunately not always healthy. Restaurants are not immune to social food effects, and many decided to have brand new menus or furniture to make themselves more likely to be pictured and shared.

The phenomenon goes well beyond food, and it is such powerful to impact the storytelling of a whole continent such as Africa. Looking forward to fighting stereotypes and breaking isolation, lots of young talented photographers – from Zimbabwe, Morocco, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana – are leveraging social media to capture the diversity and energy of many areas and cities that are experiencing tumultuous growth.

Someone is documenting the evolution of traditions and new female roles, someone is picturing new lifestyles, someone is focusing on innovation and modernity. “Africa is a very complex place. The struggle aspect has been captured by many people over the years. We do not need to discount the bad things that are going on; however, there is a life and a vibrancy here. We need to paint a fuller picture of what Africa is”, said the photographer Zash Chinhara to BBC Culture.

Be it food or culture, social media seem to activate the same mechanism, taking images and spreading them to build new meanings. That’s a mechanism we should be aware of, and learn how to use it.


Picture: “Solar eclipse”, credit Nana Kofi Acquah