This photo has been reposted to Instagram over 20 times, but it’s only a quarter of the way through photographer Peter Ashton‘s destructive new experiment, I Am Sitting In Stagram. Ashton documented a portrait of composer Alvin Lucier as it decayed over the course of a 90-round Instagram reposting spree. Each time a photo is uploaded to the site, it loses some quality—but the effect isn’t really obvious the first time, or the second time, or even the third time around. 90 screenshots and reposts later, however, the resulting blob of desaturated image artefacts is a stark visual representation of just how limited technology can be.
Ashton named the experiment I Am Sitting In Stagram as a throwback to Lucier’s 1969 experiment I Am Sitting In A Room, which involved the artist recording himself, then recording that recording over and over until all that he could hear was indecipherable noise, just like Ashton’s own mess of a final photograph.
See Ashton’s process and the results of a follow up experiment with a new photo in the images and video below.
Here’s a copy of the first photo he uploaded to Instagram:
…and here’s what the photo looked like after 90 saves and uploads:
Here’s what the generation loss looks like as a grid of images:
Ashton chose to do 90 iterations because that way he could fit a 6 frame per second time-lapse of the degradation into Instagram’s video limit.
There are some photography buffs out there who believe the simple act of uploading a photo to Instagram immediately degrades it. In a way, they’re actually right, in that the actual photo file is compressed and manipulated to fit into the Instagram infrastructure.
Artist Pete Ashton wanted to demonstrate this fact, so he decided to take a page from the book of another artist, Alvin Lucier. “I Am Sitting In a Room” is a project done by Lucier decades ago where he said a short monologue into a recorder, then played it back in the room, re-recording it over and over again. As it degraded, it became less and less recognizable as a human voice. And basically, the same thing happens here, only with a photo rather than an audio recording. In fact, Pete’s project is actually called “I Am Sitting In Stagram.”
It’s important to note that Pete hasn’t added any of the controversial Instagram filters during this process. He’s simple uploading, screen grabbing, then uploading again until the compression artifacts and degradations leave it a complete and total mess.