Digital communications expert explains

The “photo dump” is a new version of this trend. It feels premature, but the return of such a popular style has happened. The act of uploading multiple photos from a certain period (usually a season or month) or event (such as a holiday) is called a “photo dump”.

A nonchalant caption usually ties together photo dumps. The photos are usually grouped with a calmtitle. However, the poster is expected to give very little or no explanation as to why they selected those images. Even photo editing software Adobe released a guide on how to use them to “inject fun and authenticity into [your] Instagram presence”.

This article is a part of Quarter Life. It’s a series of articles about issues that affect those of us who are in our 20s and 30s. The challenges of starting a career, taking care of your mental health and the excitement of having a child, or adopting a pet, are all part of the Quarter Life series. These articles explore questions and provide answers to help us navigate through this turbulent time in our lives.

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The rise of the dump

Instagram introduced the “carousel feature” in early 2017. This allows users to upload up to 10 images at once. Photo dumps were not seen on our feeds until late 2020. Several factors could explain the photo dump trend:

This is a social reaction to the fatigue of sponsored content on Instagram. It seems like every post is trying to sell something, to quote Vogue: ” you a face serum, an electric toothbrush, or a pair leggings.”

In the midst of the pandemic, few life events were worthy of an Instagram post. This inspired users to celebrate beauty in mundaneness.

Due to the growing frustration with “fakery” filters and other digital photo editing methods, many users seek authenticity when using social media.

The term “dump” suggests that the images were thrown together haphazardly, but it understates how much work goes into Instagram’s post-curation. Erving Goffman, a sociologist, argued that self-presentation is not accidental. All interactions require some degree of skill and decision-making, regardless of whether they are conducted via social media.

The roots of the dump

Technological changes do not wipe away existing cultures. Social rituals that underlie older forms of visual communication and photography have made their way to digital spaces. Photo dumps are largely in line with the conventions of physical photo albums.

Themes are often used to create physical photo albums, such as an event or a vacation. Both of these themes have found their way onto Instagram. Both the album and the dump lose their meaning if the poster is not familiar to you, similar to what happens if a physical album is discovered in a rummage sale.

For dumps, grouping photos according to theme is a popular practice. June Aye/UnsplashCC BY

Photo dumps aren’t the same as tangible albums. Albums, for example, benefit from the space that surrounds each image. This allows authors to create a narrative about their memories. Dumps, however, rely solely on a single caption to link the pictures. These resonances tell us something important about our relationship with Instagram. Perhaps most importantly, they show that Instagram now occupies a much more intimate space in our lives.

It’s very easy to criticize photo dumping. After all, it’s a trend. It doesn’t feel very sensible. And it isn’t “serious”. It has been known for a long time that arranging photos in an album is a deeply personal activity. It allows people to tell a tale and convey social and emotional value, not by the actual images, but rather by how they are arranged.

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