Instagram Iran: Digital Photography, Social Change and Politics Under the Islamic Republic

Instagram, the mobile photo-sharing social networking site, is one of the most popular social media sites among Iranian Internet users. From snapshots of urban life to selfies taken at private homes, instagram features Iranians of various walks of life, revealing their intimate and personal lives in digital photographic form. Accounts such as “Richkidsoftehran” showcase the daily lives of rich Iranians, swimming, snowboarding, or driving luxury cars that reveal extravagant lifestyles in urban settings. They reveal multifaceted realities of daily life in Iran, lives that are captured through the lens of instagrammers who share their experiences in creative and visual ways. The argument the paper advances is that instagram photography is a form of visual cultural practice that dissolves the boundaries between public and private, and accordingly entails the potential for politics. As a technology of vision, Iranian instagram exemplifies practices that breakdown distinct normative boundaries within the strictures of social life under the Islamic Republic for new experiences of sociability and togetherness. Such experiences are not always political, but in the context of visual cultures of daily life, and how they are reproduced (or shared) in social media, can become potentially political in the complicated context of society and state relations. As a case study, the paper examines the instagram account of Reihane Taravati, one of the six young Iranians detained for appearing in an online video dancing to Pharrell William’s “Happy” video. Among other cases, it discusses the range of imaging and photographic practices that operate in tandem with shifting practices of self-representation in the public and managed in intricate ways under the Islamic Republic. The paper finally examines the complicated relationship between politics and technology and critically apprises a growing body of literature that views such relationship in binary terms of freedom or censorship.