Why Have Photo Dumps Become So Popular on Instagram?

Kurt Geiger cowboy boots with a marbled snake pattern peeking out from under a pair of faded dad jeans. Miniature paintings of skylines and sunflowers stacking up on a blue tarp. A 30-foot granite statue of Martin Luther King Jr. standing tall adorned with decorative wreaths. An intimate egg-shaped close-up and a toothy grin.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by VANESSA (@vanessaj.v)

Photo dumps have distorted Instagram’s photoshopped images to organized chaos. Developed during the age of a global pandemic — where restaurants, businesses and borders were closed — people swapped tanning lotion and weekend vacations for hours spent basking in the blinding light of the TV screen. The Instagram trend of posting half-eaten meals, two-year-old memes and grainy photographs quickly emerged. Remember those photos that never escaped the grid of camera-roll recents? Baby, it’s your time to shine. 

But are these disruptive collages of photographs an act of laziness? Will they remain relevant in the social media sphere of these slow-paced, not so roaring ’20s? Maybe they’re a reflection of what could be and/or would’ve been. 

Vanessa Villarreal, a 22-year-old University of Florida 2020 sociology graduate, defines photo dumps as random moments that bring her happiness. As a new resident in D.C., she decided to be a tourist for the weekend exploring the cherry blossoms and local art. 

“Social media to begin with was to have fun, to express ourselves,” Villarreal says, “so don't let the aesthetic get in the way from doing what you think will bring you happiness.”

Photo dumps have helped her become more in tune with her authentic self and act as a reminder not to take Instagram so seriously. Christy Soeder, actor, model and conscious creator, lives a sustainable lifestyle and drew attention to the coastal mountain town Ojai, home to orange trees, llamas and handfuls of lavender in an April photo dump.

Olivia Yallop, director at creative studio, The Digital Fairy, told Refinery 29 that photo dumps are a reflection of a social disconnect among people and the social spaces they inhabit.

"There’s a link between photo dumps and a broader lack of social coherency; they represent the fragmentation of digital self-documentation from unified, premeditated social moments into a series of disconnected and spontaneous shards,” Yallop told Refinery 29.

The coronavirus struck a dagger through Sunday brunches, 21st birthdays, and girls’ trips to Cancún. As depressing as that may sound, it required people to scrape their virtual photo albums for a sliver of something that shrieked spontaneity. That lulled awe. 

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What we found: tasteful plates of tempura and California rolls, long hikes in the great outdoors, and jokes shared among friends — the inside kind, that only they knew about. The albums of Instagram are beginning to resemble the 71-page photo series our parents would post on Facebook for our eighth grade graduation. While their serial posting was due to their inability to delete photos, the posts flooding our Instagram feeds are much more calculated. More meaningful too, believe it or not. 

Okay. I’ll admit, some photo dumps are an excuse to slide in cute night-out pics that never reached Instagram stardom. On the other hand, many are a reflection of the evolved times we currently live in. The pandemic took the very monotonous world and flipped it 180 — forcing the social beings that we are to cram into the four walls of our bedrooms, to wish our grandmas and grandpas happy birthday as they struggled with Zoom, and welcome newborns virtually since only one in-person guest could be present. It made many realize that the way the tree limbs above our heads spin and whirl, the way the cereal aisle in the grocery store always looks untouched, and the way cats perched calmly on windowsills can be truly beautiful. 

There was a time, pre-social media, where pictures were taken not for the immediate consumption of your Insta audience and the lucrative business of likes, but to keep and admire like heirlooms. The distress of the pandemic may have given us an opportunity to look inward — away from the polished highlights and hyper-filtered photos — and toward our authentic selves.

Remember those restaurant coloring books where you’d scribble outside the lines and over the crossword with the four lackluster crayons the waiter gave you? Photo dumps reject Instagram’s urges to edit and filter photos before you post them and embrace the art of imperfection — or the desire to just have an active Insta account. The decision to post a photo dump is made strictly by the person wielding the phone.