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Digital Scrapbooks, everyday aesthetics & the curatorial self: Social photography in female visual blogging (in press)

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Abstract

In this paper, we explore the semiotic dimension of digital scrapbooking. In particular, we look at how technological affordances of social media platforms, such as reposting and scrolling functions, facilitate the creation of a unique form of semiotic artefact—curated visual blogs. We argue that the curatorial practices of digital scrapbooking create a form of aesthetic experience—the aesthetics of the everyday, both for the creator and viewers.We call this phenomenon ambient aesthetics to highlight the social nature of the digital aesthetic experience, that is, a collective aesthetic experience shared by all social media users, and created through collective participation in social media practices, whether as a producer, viewer, and/or curator of digital photography. Through social media photography practices, we experience the extraordinariness of the ordinary in everyday life through a shared subject position in the ‘perpetual now’. This digital aesthetic of the everyday, we believe, is one of essential experiences that shape our existence in the age of social networks.
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Zhao,&S.!&!Zappavigna,!M.!(in!press).!Digital!Scrapbooks,!everyday!aesthetics!&!the!curatorial!self:!
Social!photography!in!female!visual!blogging.!In!F.!Forsgren!&!E.S.!Tønnessen!!(Eds.),!
Multimodality+and+Aesthetics.!!London,!New!York:!Routledge.!
Digital Scrapbooks, everyday aesthetics & the curatorial self: Social photography in
female visual blogging
Sumin Zhao
University of Southern Denmark, Denmark
Michele Zappavigna
University of New South Wales, Australia
Introduction
Female users—adolescents, young women, mothers, (micro) celebrities—have a strong
presence on visual social media such as Instagram, and visual content curation sites such as
Pinterest and Tumblr (Statista, 2017). Seven out of the ten most followed accounts on
Instagram, for instance, belong to female celebrities (Statista, 2018) and the heaviest users of
Pinterest are female users between 25-40 (Chang, Tang, Inagaki, & Liu, 2014). Female visual
posting and blogging practices, in particular selfies, have attracted much scholarly attention
as they provide an important site for investigating gender identities (Aguayo and Calvert,
2013) and power relations (Coladonato, 2014), youth (Fardouly et al., 2017) and celebrity
culture (Pham, 2015; Abidin, 2016), motherhood (Zappavigna, 2016; Zappavigna and Zhao,
2017), consumerism (Pham, 2015), and other prevailing social issues. Existing research, with
analysis grounded in the unique techno, social and cultural context of our time, can be said to
take predominantly a synchronic perspective on female visual practices on social media. In
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this chapter, we offer a different reading by applying a diachronic perspective, which draws
parallels between social media practices and the historical practices of “scrapbooking”i.
Scrapbooks, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, are a book of blank pages
for sticking cuttings, drawings, or pictures in. The practices of scrapbooking have existed for
over 200 hundred years in English-speaking nations such as the UK and the US, continental
Europe, and other countries around the world (Hunt, 2006). Although many scrapbooks were
produced by public figures (for example American suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony and
author Mark Twain) and in late nineteenth century by commercial clipping bureaus (Garvey,
2012), they were compiled predominantly for private and domestic uses by women. Women’s
scrapbooks, together with journals, diaries, and letters have provided insight into the daily
lives of ordinary women and the development of female consciousness throughout history
(Buckler and Leeper, 1991). By way of contrast public writing by women has been relatively
scarce.
Since scrapbooks often combine elements of photo albums and commonplace books
(books of quotes, verses, etc.), there is not yet a clear-cut definition of the scrapbook as a
visual practice in the research literature. Scholars nevertheless have recognised four key
characteristics (cf. Buckler and Leeper, 1991; Garvey, 2012; Hunt, 2006):
They are the ‘curated’ texts: the contents in these books are not produced by the
maker but ‘scrapped” from other sources;
They are highly visual: scrapbooks consist largely of visual artefacts such as pictures,
drawings, photographs, and prints. The visual compositions of scrapbooks are
carefully designed to achieve an aesthetic appeal;
They are autobiographic: scrapbooks are produced in the private sphere and are a
unique record of lives lived day by day;
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They are material as well as semiotic artefacts: the making and reading of scrapbooks
involves making meaning and also involves embodied experiences such as touching
(e.g. textured surfaces of embellishments added to pages).
We refer to a particular type of female social media blogs as ‘digital scrapbooks’, as they
resemble the historical scrapbook in several ways. In this type of blogs, the blogger does not
produce but curate the content of a blog via reposting functions (e.g. re-blogging on Tumblr
or re-pinning on Pinterest). ‘Curation’ here involves the blogger ‘scrapping’ a post from
another source within their unfolding feed of posts to create a new and coherent textual
artifact. The content being scrapped are often visual images, most notably social media
photographs (Zappavigna, 2016). More important, this form of female visual blogging is a
unique record of life as experienced on a day-to-day base in the age of social media. What is
being recorded—as we shall put forward as the key argument of our paper—is foremost a
form of aesthetic experience, the aesthetics of the everyday.
Nevertheless, we do not intend to claim that there is some continuity between historical
scrapbooking and contemporary social media blogging practices. Rather, we use the
scrapbook as a reference point in our analysis of these visual blogs. By comparing the
similarities and differences between the two visual practices, we hope to locate and describe
the semiotic properties of these visual blogs that distinguish them from other forms of social
media practices. Our discussion will draw largely on a qualitative analysis of three popular
Tumblr blogs created by women in their early twenties from the US. These particular
bloggers were chosen as they have a large number of international followers/readers (for
example, one has over 5000 at the time of writing) and have been blogging for over a lengthy
period of time (i.e. five years and more). They have a strong social media presence, yet they
are not ‘influencers’ (Abidin, 2017) who monetize their social media activities. As a result,
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their blogging practices maintain to varying degree the private nature of ‘scrapbooking’
despite taking place in the public arena of social media. We also use examples from Pinterest
and Instagramii whenever necessary.
In the remainder of the chapter, we will first map out the key characteristics of these
visual blogs, paying special attention to the role the social media platforms, as semiotic
technologies (Zhao et al., 2014) play in creating the unique “layout” of the digital scrapbook.
We will then examine the aesthetic character of the blogs through the concept of everyday
aesthetics and the semiotic resources that realize it. We will also discuss the curatorial nature
of blogging practices, and argue that the repetitive nature of reposting itself engenders a
particular form of ambient aesthetic experience.
From scrapbook to digital scrapbook
Scrapbooks can take different forms in different historical contexts (Buckler and Leeper,
1991). Figure 1 is an example of a vintage scrapbook from the Victorian era. Today,
scrapbooking is still a common semiotic practice by women, especially in the U.S (Hunt,
2006). There are many instructional videos on Youtube teaching young women how to DIY
scrapbooks or choose from different templates that are commercially available.
<<Insert Figure 1 Here>>
Figure 1 An example of a Victorian scrapbook.
With the advances in software technologies, “scrapbooks” are now also reproduced in digital
form. Figure 2 contains a digital scrapbook produced using a popular web-based software
application called DigiChic. Contemporary scrapbooks in their digital formats can be seen
both as a remediation—refashioning of new media out of older formats of media (Bolter and
Grusin, 2000)—and a resemiotisation (Iedema, 2001) of traditional scrapbooks. Digital
scrapbooks ‘faithfully reproduce’ the layout template and key visual elements (e.g. personal
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photos) of vintage scrapbooks, while mimicking the textured surfaces of embellishments (e.g.
the dry flowers in Figure 2) through visual texture (Djonov and Van Leeuwen, 2011). These
types of digital scrapbook are often ‘vintage’ in appearance, using traditional scrapbooks as a
reference point for their visual aesthetic. Nevertheless, the photos “scrapped” by the
scrapbook maker reflect modern photographical genres, such as the example in Figure 2. In
this photo, the three pairs of feet, taken from the perspective of the person with blue nail
vanish, are a type of inferred selfie (Zhao and Zappavigna, 2017) that capture both the
presence and the perspective of the photographer or the self (i.e. this is the photographer and
their friends/families from the photographer’s perspective).
<<Insert Figure 2 Here>>
Figure 2 An example of a digitised scrapbook produced using a software application
The type of digital scrapbook we are focusing on here is different from those produced using
software technologies, as it is not a ‘faithful production’ but a ‘refashioning’ (Bolter &
Grusin, 2000) of historical scrapbooks. It refers to a certain type of visual blog/board on
Tumblr and Pinterestiii that adopts the layout options made available in the platforms, rather
than the traditional templates of scrapbook. Nevertheless, the underpinning semiotic practice
is the same—to ‘scrap’. What is ‘scrapped’, or to use social media terminology, ‘blogged’ or
‘posted’ is predominately visual artefacts from various sources.
<<Insert Figure 3 here>>
Figure 3 An example of a Tumblr page
A typical Tumblr scrapbook consists of four main elements on its homepage:
Title of the blogiv
Description or Tagline: Typically an inspiration quote or literary quotations.
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Navigation resources: e.g. Links to other social media, liked posts (from other
blogs), and the history/archive.
Posts
Site buttons, e.g. Tumblr and follow
Figure 3 is an example of a Tumblr digital scrapbook, created by a young American woman
in her early twenties. At top of the layout is the Title of the blog. This is typically
accompanied by a Tagline or Descriptionv, and the Title-Tagline block creates an identity for
the blog. While we do not aim to provide an exhaustive account of the semantic choices of
titles and taglines, we nevertheless observe two styles of Title-Tagline block. The first is what
we call an inspirational style, for instance, the example in Figure 3 where a few lines of
verses from On being oneself by American poet E. E. Cummings is used. The verses together
with the title of the blog signal the desire of the blogger to fight for the ‘essence of the self’,
in other words, the expression of an essentialist view of the self (Callero, 2003). Another type
is the ambient style, where the Title-Tagline block reflects the visual aesthetic style of the
blog, e.g. Delta Breeze.
The Tumblr platform also allows the creation of an Avatar in the Title-Tagline block, an
option usually not taken up in this type of digital scrapbook. Below the Title-Tagline block is
the Navigation section, including links to other social media accounts of the blogger, themed
(e.g. coffee) pages, pages containing “liked” posts from other blogs, the feed of the blogs the
blogger follows, an ask section (where the reader can post a question to the blogger), and an
archive of the posts (shown in chronological order of posting), etc. The main section of a
Tumblr scrapbook largely contains visual posts, often featuring inspirational or literary
quotations. The front page may also include a selection of comments from readers and their
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responses and will sometimes embed auto-played music. Around the edge (top) of the layout
are site buttons, such as the Tumblr logo and the follow button.
A Tumblr digital scrapbook has three key features: 1) visualness; 2) the curatorial nature of
the content, and 3) the reliance on the affordances and constrains of Tumblr platform.
1) Visualness: As a whole, Tumblr is predominantly a visual social media (e.g. Bourlai, &
Herring, 2014, Tiidenberg, 2016). While the Tumblr platform facilitates seven types of
posts (see Figure 4), 78.11% posts are photos (Chang et al., 2014). Digital scrapbooks are
both a product and a producer of the ‘visualness’ of Tumblr.
<<Insert Figure 4 here>>
Figure 4 Types of Posts allowed in Tumblr
2) Curated content: The photos used in a digital scrapbook are not created by the blogger
but reposted from other sources, predominantly other Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest
blogs. Reposting is not simply a technological function but a process of curation.
Curation, as Potter (2012) suggests, is a multidimensional authoring process, which
involves collecting, cataloguing, arranging and assembling for exhibition and displaying,
etc. In the context of Tumblr visual blogs, to curate is to collect and select semiotic
artefacts from other blogs and social media platforms and then to rearrange the artefacts
using technological affordances of the platform (See 3 platform-based practices). What is
distinctive about digital scrapbooks (in contrast to other forms of digital curatorial
practices as discussed in Potter & Giljie, 2015) is the absence of language as a resource
for creating cohesion and coherence. In other words, the blogger relies purely on ‘visual
taxonomy’ to categorise the images and create a coherent texture for the blog (and we
shall return to this point in later sections of the chapter).
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3) Platform-based practices: Digital scrapbook practices are facilitated and constrained by
the technological affordances of different social media platforms. As a comprehensive
account of the technological functions and affordances of Tumblr is beyond the scope of
this paper, we shall focus on three relevant features. The first is the share button that
allows one image being reposted from one blog to another (e.g. the re-blog button on
Tumblr), and from one platform to another (e.g. by using the Pin button on Pinterest, a
user can repost an image onto Tumblr). Share buttons (e.g. ) can also be
embedded on external websites. In addition, major platforms allow users to link their
various social media accounts, facilitating the flow of textual artefacts between sources.
As a result, a photo often has a long digital trajectory. The second feature is the ‘endless’
scrolling function, which is a default choice in Tumblr. This function allows posts to be
shuffled randomly each time a page refreshes. Unless the function is switched off by a
blogger, photos on Tumblr blogs do not appear in the chronological order of posting (a
chronological view of posts appears in the Archive/History). The final feature relevant
here is theme choice, i.e. the layout template offered by blog platforms (Kvåle, 2016) for
free or to be purchasedvi. While there are many different styles of theme, digital
scrapbooks we have analysed tend to adopt for a clean minimal layout choice, as shown
in Figure 3.
The three features glossed above highlight the interaction between the technological
affordances of a social media platform and the semiotic practices emergent on the platform.
The highly visual nature of Tumblr digital scrapbooks means that to achieve a cohesive
texture as well as an authorial or curatorial voice, a blogger needs to rely largely on visual
rather than verbal resources (such as coherence and cohesion) (Van Leeuwen, 2008). While
visual semiotic resources such as layout and colour are often used to create coherence and
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cohesion in new forms of writing the creators of Tumblr scrapbooks do not tend to draw on
these resources, because the layout of the front page is randomly decided and the template
background is minimalist. The key resource a blogger relies on is a result of the reposted
photos (of which they are curators but not authors). So, what is the key principle that
motivates the textual or curatorial practices of digital scrapbooks and how is this principle
realised semiotically? It is to these questions that we now turn.
Aesthetics of the everyday
The key principle underpinning the curatorial practices of Tumblr digital scrapbooks, we
argue, is aesthetic, more precisely the aesthetics of the everyday. Everyday aesthetics is an
emerging concept in the philosophy of art and aesthetic theory, which aims to capture the
relation between aesthetic judgement and ordinary daily experiences, between aesthetic
experience and everyday practices (cf.Melchionne, 2013; Saito, 2001; Dowling, 2010;
Puolakka, 2014)vii. In this paper, we follow Leddy’s definition and see everyday aesthetics as
“the way in which the ordinary can be made extraordinary” (2012: 260). In particular we take
inspiration from Murray’s study of photo-sharing on Flickr (Murray, 2008), in which she
argues that the main purpose of socially shared digital photos created by amateur
photographers is not about rarefied moments of everyday domestic living, but concerns “an
immediate, rather fleeting display of one’s discovery of the small and mundane (such as
bottles, cupcakes, trees, debris, and architectural elements)” (2008: 151). For us, the digital
photo reposted on Tumblr scrapbooks similarly creates an aesthetic of amplified ordinariness.
In other words, the curatorial principle for selecting these photos is that they amplify our gaze
on the small and mundane. We recognised three ways in which photos in digital scrapbooks
create this amplified ordinariness: 1) the imagined subject; 2) the intimate object; 3) the
poignant present. We shall discuss these strategies in turn, focusing on the semiotic resources
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for realising each of them.
The imagined subject
One of the most distinctive features of photos used in digital scrapbooks is the prevalence of
selfies, more accurately photos with the visual structure of a selfie that may or may not be a
selfie in its original source. Figure 5 includes two examples of these “selfies”. On the left is
what can be classified as an inferred selfie —a type of selife in which body parts such as
hands or legs infer the presence of the photographer (Zhao and Zappavigna, 2017: 12). In this
type of selfie, the visually respresented body parts do not carry respresentational meaning
but function to indicate an intersubjective prspective of the photographer—their perspective
on technologically mediated representation of the self’s perspective of certain phenomenon (a
meta-meta-perspective) . In the example on the left in Figure 5, for instance, the presence of
the lower body part and the hand holding the book indicate the presence of a self, which is
presumed to be the photographer, whereas the representational focus of the photo is the book,
the coffee, and the view of the garden. More precisely, the representational function of the
photo is secondary to its aesthetic function, as ultimately what the photo respresent is a self’s
discovery of the fleeting joy/beauty of reading rather than the concrete objects (the book, the
coffee, or the garden). In short, the ordinary experience of reading is amplified through the
intensive and technologically-mediated gaze of a self.
<<Insert Figure 5 here>>
Figure 5 Examples of the imagined subject (selfie and quasi-selfies: inferred)
We have repeatedly used ‘a’ in front of ‘self’ to emphasis the fact that who the self is
in a selfie is not important. The discussion of selfies often assumes a conflation between the
photographer and the represented participant. In effect, whether they are the same person is
not important and often cannot be taken for granted (Zhao and Zappavigna, 2017). The image
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on the right in Figure 5 is a good example to illustrate this point. The visual structure and the
aethetic function of the photo is almost identical to the one on the left. Yet a closer
examination reveals the subtle difference between the two. In the photo on the right, both
hands of the person are holding the coffee, which means it is highly unlikely (though not
impossible) that the person is also the photographer. Yet, as in a selfie, there is a conflation of
the perspective of the photographer and the represented participant. This type of photo is not
considered a selfie in selfie literature (cf. Walker-Rettberg J, 2014, Zhao & Zappavigna,
2017). However, from a social semiotic viewpoint, they bear simliarity in visual structure to a
‘real seflie’, we thus call them ‘quasi-selfies’.
In the context of Tumblr digital scrapbooks, there are instances of both ‘real’ and
quasi-selfies. Real selfies tend to be reposted from private accounts on Instagram and are
sometimes tagged as #selfies in the source postsviii, while quasi-selfies tend to have their
origin in professional blogs, such as food blogs. What fasinating here is not whether a
particular selfie in a digital scrapbook is real, but why selfies are used at all. Since all photos
are reposted and not produced by the authors of the digital scrapbooks, all selfies are by
nature ‘fake’. For us, ‘fake’ selfies are a key semiotic resource for creating an aestethics of
the everyday. What these selfies create is an intensive gaze of a self, or a subjective gaze.
The representational meaning of the photo is muted, while the subjective experience it
represents is amplified. In other words, these selfies capture the discovery of the daily
mundane experience of the imagined subject.
The intimate object
In their description of visual ‘grammar’, Kress and van Leeuwen (1996) have developed a
sophisticated account of the ways in which the interpersonal meaning of an imagine can be
realised through various combinations of resources, such as social distance (public, social and
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personal, etc.) and gaze (offer or demand). The interpersonal meaning of images without a
human participant is understood largely through the notion of modality—the truthfulness of
representation. The photos reposted in Tumblr scrapbooks include a large amount of images
of inanimate objects, many of which are fetishised in contemporary social media discourse,
for example coffee (Zappavigna, 2014). These objects are often shot from an “aeriel” angle,
as illustrated in the photos in Figure 6. While traditional aeriel shots are used to capture
landscapes from airbone devices, the aeriel viewpoint on objects/food is a semiotic resource
for creating a particular ‘interpersonal meaning’, which we term the intimate object.
<<Insert Figure 6 here>>
Figure 6 'Aerial’ shots of coffee and food: Variations on a theme
Intimate objects are another key semiotic resource for creating everyday aethetics. In this
type of image, what is important is not the truthfulness of representation, but the degree to
which an imagine can transfer the ordinary into something extrodinary. The aeriel angle is an
effective semiotic resource as its provenance is aeriel landscape shots, which have
traditionally been used to capture the beauty and vastness of landscapes from an angle that a
human can not usually witness without the assistance of aeriel technology. An aeriel shot of
daily mundane objects such as coffee also implies the focused gaze of an imagined subject, as
we have to sit up straight and bend our neck to be able to observe our food or coffee from this
kind of angle. Through this attentive gaze, we form an intimate relation with the object which
is then captured and this intimacy amplified through the digital photograph.
The poignant present
A third semiotic resource for creating everyday aesthetics drawn upon in digital scrapbooking
is the digital filter (see also Chapter 15). These filters manipulate various visual parameters,
in a manner reminiscent of conventional photographic filters. Traditionally, filters were
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physical devices, usually glass or plastic disks, positioned in front of the lens to achieve a
range of photographic effects, most often in relation to colour balance. Other techniques were
used during the printing process in the darkroom, for example ‘dodging’ or ‘burning’
(allowing more or less light to hit the photographic paper), used to manipulation tonal
reproduction. Digital filters applied by photo editing apps (e.g. Hipstamatic) or within social
photography apps (e.g. Instagram) echo many of these traditional processing and printing
techniques via algorithms defining how the image is to be adjusted. At the time of writing,
the Instagram app includes 40 filters (see Figure 7 for examples of the filters). Each of these
apply a set of visual adjustments to the original image, for instance, the X-Pro II filter
increases the contrast and warmth of the image, and adds a vignette.
<<Insert Figure 7 Here>>
Figure 7 Examples of Instagram filters Applied to an image
Resemiotization of visual features suggestive of analogue photography has generally been
interpreted as part of a tendency in digital images that are shared online towards “countering
the hyperreality of digital flawlessness” (Lüders et al., 2010: 960). The prevalence of filter
technology has also been approached in terms of dimensions such as social desire to augment
the ‘artistic’ value and authenticity of “bland digital snaps” (Lüders et al., 2010: 960), though
their use has been question in some domains such as journalism (e.g. in relation to the
authenticity of a reported news event) (Chandler and Livingston, 2012: 3). The most
commonly noted function is appeal to a kind of faux-nostalgia, which (Caoduro, 2014: 74)
terms ‘instant nostalgia’, that invokes the feel of analogue photography. However, despite
construing a visibly dated/retro/vintage aesthetic, these images do not directly invoke a
definite referent such as a particular place or time (Alper, 2014). This kind of indeterminate
nostalgia is particularly useful for selling things to consumers (Chesher, 2012).
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Filters appear to play a role in establishing social bonding and group membership
(Bartholeyns, 2014). For instance, they may be used to visually augment the body in ways
that are highly valued in particular communities, sometimes contributing to problems relating
to body image. In ‘pro-ana’ (pro-Anorexia) communities filters are used to make the body
more angular and appear thinner. This kind of ‘thinspiration’ (thin inspiration) includes
visually accentuating protruding bones. Users will attempt to visually legitimate these kinds
of visual patterns via invoking visual patterns seen in art or fashion photography (Caoduro,
2014). In the context of Tumblr digital scrapbooks, filters function in a similar way, that is, to
augment the values of “intimate subjects” such as a cup of coffee or an avocado toast,
accentuating the aesthetic aspect of these daily objects.
Filters can be used to render the documented moment more ‘poignant’, and to render
the image less banal. For instance, this might be achieved by invoking the ambience of ‘retro’
filters of past eras (e.g. the characteristic visual imperfections of polaroid photography). This
may in turn invoke the cultural value that tends to be ascribed to objects from past eras: what
Lüders et al. (2010: 960) describe as “the added emotional value provided by a temporal
distance that is made visible by a dated aesthetic” (2010: 960). For example, the images in
Figure 8 invoke the fading of an old photograph over time, as it would “appear to us in the
present” (Bartholeyns, 2014: 60). Curators of Tumblr digital scrapbooks will often attempt to
keep the ambience construed by a particular style of filter constant across their feed of posts
to create a kind of aesthetic cohesion.
<<Insert Figure 8 Here>>
Figure 8 Examples of images invoking the fading of an old photograph.
The term ‘poignancy’ rather than nostalgia appears to capture this aesthetic value that filtered
images aim to accrue via amplified ordinariness. Rather than a resolvable nostalgia for a
particular time period, these images appear to be render “more poignant the present moment,
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in particular the banal, everyday present moment” (Fardouly et al., 2017). However, filters
can also paradoxically remove or ‘freeze’ this nowness, creating a sense of universality or
atemporality. They appear part of an array of technologies available for documenting
experience ‘as it happens’ that has given rise to “documentary vision” where “[w]e come to
see what we do as always a potential document, imploding the present with the past, and
ultimately making us nostalgic for the here and now” (Ging and Garvey, 2017: 12).
Ambient aesthetic and the curatorial self
So far, we have explored the semiotic dimension of digital scrapbooking. In particular, we
have looked at how technological affordances of social media platforms, such as reposting
and scrolling functions, facilitate the creation of a unique form of semiotic artefact—curated
visual blogs. We have argued that the key function of digital scrapbooks is to create an
aesthetic of the everyday, and have illustrated the three core aesthetic values of digital
scrapbooks and the visual semiotic resources for creating them: respectively, the imagined
subject (inferred selfies), the intimate object (aerial angle) and the poignant present (filters).
In the final section of this chapter, we aim to draw on our semiotic analysis and reflect on
how a diachronic perspective—drawing parallels between contemporary blogging and
historical practices of scrapbooking—can help us understand the social dimension of visual
blogging on social media.
In her study of nineteen-century scrapbooking practices, Garvey (2012) observes that
scrapbooks “led the way in materializing an understanding that information was detachable,
movable, sortable, and not wedded to the context in which it had been published” (2012: 24)
and transferred “the ephemeral to the preservable” (ibid, 220). It was a means for private
individuals to “curate” content for themselves in a period when information was rapidly
expanding due to advancements in commercial print technologies. Digital visual scrapbooks
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on Tumblr function in a similar way, where social photographs (Zappavigna, 2016) are
treated as removable artefacts. Through the process of reposting, social photographs are
removed from their original context, be it an Instagram account, a Pinterest board, or a food
blog, and recontextualised in individual digital scrapbooks. A selfie hence no longer concerns
the self but an imagined subject.
Like historical scrapbooks, digital visual blogs are deeply embedded in the techno-
social culture of its day. The spread of camera phones and social networks has given rise to a
ubiquitous visual culture and various associated semiotic practices. As of 2016, 3.2 million
images are shared everyday on various social media platforms.ix The role an individual plays
in emerging visual practices is often described as “prosumer” (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010)—
simultaneously the producer and the consumer of semiotic artefacts. Our analysis points to a
different form of participation: curators. While curation is traditionally associated with the
professional activities of curators in the institutional context of museums, art galleries, and
exhibitions, it is now being used to describe a variety of textual practices in the digital
context (e.g. Potter and McDougall, 2017). Digital scrapbook makers are curators, as they do
not produce the semiotic artefacts in their blogs, rather they select by scraping images from
other sources to create a new, coherent, yet evolving, textual artefact. The curatorial practices
are facilitated by platform technologies such as such as re-posting, scrolling, and account
linking.
In his analysis of the politics of platforms, Gillespie (2010) argues that platforms have
become the curators of public discourse. Our study of digital scrapbooking has shown that
curatorial practices can occur at private and individual levels. In digital scrapbooks, what is
being curated is not the public discourse but the aesthetic value of the self. In this sense,
digital scrapbooks, like historical scrapbooks, are a form of self-expression, and deeply
private. However, in the context collapse (Marwick and Boyd, 2011) environment of social
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media, this self is not the creator/producer, the reader/consumer, or the curator of the images,
but an imagined subject. What the analysis of digital scrapbooks illustrates is the unique
ability of social media photographs to place the viewer constantly in the position of a self.
Simply put, they amplify subjective experience and create a curatorial self, a subject that is
constantly being curated and curating.
Ultimately, the curatorial practices of digital scrapbooking create a form of aesthetic
experience—the aesthetics of the everyday, both for the creator and viewers. Like everyday
aesthetic experience created through material objects, digital aesthetics relies on recurrence
and routine (cf.Melchionne, 2013). An image is reposted from one source to another, images
with slight variations in visual structure are reposted again and again on the same blog, blogs
are updated and viewed constantly. The aesthetics of digital scrapbooks thus does not simply
reside in the photos themselves, but also in the non-stop posting, updating, reposting, and
viewing practices of social media. We call this phenomenon ambient aesthetics to highlight
the social nature of the digital aesthetic experience, that is, a collective aesthetic experience
shared by all social media users, and created through collective participation in social media
practices, whether as a producer, viewer, and/or curator of digital photography. Through
social media photography practices, we experience the extraordinariness of the ordinary in
everyday life through a shared subject position in the ‘perpetual now’. This digital aesthetic
of the everyday, we believe, is one of essential experiences that shape our existence in the age
of social networks.
While we have focused on the aesthetics of visual semiotic practices in this chapter,
we would like to close this chapter by questioning if and how our individual aesthetic
experience through producing and ‘distributing’ (i.e. acts of reblogging) visual signs is
intrinsically linked to the platform-dominated late capitalistic economic. That is, can digital
aesthetics be truly divorced from the economic and political in the ‘semiotic capitalism’
!
!
18!
(Lazzarato, 2014)? We hope this following query from an anonymous reader to the curator of
a digital scrapbook will provide the starting point for addressing this question:
“hi, I found a picture by you which were posted on Tumblr back on xxxxxx. Is there any
chance you know what the name of the duffle bag is? Post number xxxxxxxxx.”
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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
i!For!a!more!content-oriented!comparison!of!historical!and!social!media!practices!in!relation!to!
diaries!see!Zappavigna!M.!(2016)!Social!media!photography:!construing!subjectivity!in!Instagram!
images.!Visual+Communication!15:!271-292.!
ii!Photos!from!one!social!media!platform!are!often!being!reposted!to!the!other.!In!the!case!of!
reposting,!we!track!the!origin!of!each!image.!!
iii!We!focus!on!the!reader!interface!or!“appearance”!of!the!blogs,!as!most!social!media!platforms!
make!a!distinction!between!user!and!reader!interfaces.!!
iv!We!removed!the!title!of!the!blogs!and!other!identifying!elements.!As!these!blogs!often!include!
links!to!the!users’!personal!Instagram!accounts,!where!personal!and!family!photos!are!posted.!We!
also!used!Tumblr!instead!of!Pinterest!as!the!former!is!“public”,!that!is!login!is!not!required!to!access!
the!reader!interface.!
v!We!removed!the!title!of!the!blog!so!they!cannot!be!identified.!!
vi!Interestingly,!there!are!different!templates!of!scrapbooks!as!well,!which!can!be!commercially!
purchased.!!!
vii!The!notion!of!everyday!aesthetics!and!how!it!can!be!understood!theoretically!is!an!issue!debated!
by!philosophers!and!is!beyond!the!scope!of!this!paper.!!
viii!Arguably,!even!in!these!instances!it!is!not!100%!certain!these!are!indeed!selfies!taken!by!the!
photographer!of!themselves.!!!
ix!https://www.brandwatch.com/blog/96-amazing-social-media-statistics-and-facts-for-2016/!
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