In an essay for The Awl called "The Triumphant Rise of the Shitpic," Brian Feldman gave name to a defining aesthetic of the social internet: Shitpics are image files that have been put through a wringer of so many screencaps, shares, reuploads, and Instagram filters that the ugly digital artifacts introduced by those processes are as central to their identities as the images themselves. With his project I Am Sitting In Stagram, artist Pete Ashton takes the rise of the shitpic to its apocalyptic conclusion.
Named after a conceptually similar landmark work by the composer Alvin Lucier, I Am Sitting In Stagram has Ashton uploading a photo to Instagram, taking a screenshot on his phone, uploading it again, screenshotting it again, uploading it again, and so on, until the image goes from recognizable portrait to pulverized heap of pixels. Sped way up, the process looks like this:
Ashton isn't using Instagram's filters when he uploads; ostensibly, the image shouldn't change at all in its journey from his phone's hard drive to the photo-sharing cloud. But each step in the process—some data compression here, a file-format change there—creates an incremental decay that gets foregrounded as it's repeated over and over. Ashton explains on his site:
Things that are (probably) happening:
- Instagram app renders JPEG on iPhone screen.
- Screen capture creates PNG from pixel data on screen.
- App converts PNG into editable format.
- App saves edited (cropped) image in some format (JPEG?) and sends to Instagram server.
- Server converts and optimises image into JPEG for transmission across network.
- App requests data and renders JPEG on iPhone screen.
The first, 20th, 50th, and 90th iterations of the Alvin Lucier portrait in the video are below.