Module 5: Image Workshop
In module 2, Introduction to Digital Methods for Disability Studies, we were introduced to the work of Jean Burgess and began to develop a foundation for our developing platform analysis skills. This section builds upon your developing platform analysis skills by interrogating the and of . While our platform analysis in this chapter focuses on Instagram, these skills are broadly applicable. We encourage you to apply these skills to other platforms as well.
Sample Platform Analysis
Let’s walk through a sample platform analysis with the work of Ananya Rao-Middleton.
Ananya Rao-Middleton, known in the Instagram world as @ananyapaints, is a disabled artist and activist with an expressed interest in the lives of disabled women and people living with invisible disabilities. Ananya’s Instagram can be found at https://www.instagram.com/ananyapaints/ and her website is https://www.ananyapaints.com.
In analyzing Instagram, it is important to note that users must include between one and ten images in a post. Users cannot opt to create a post without an image. Thus, the platform demands that users include visual elements in their posts. This is a constraint for those who have un- or under-addressed visual access needs or who are not inclined to share some or all of their content in a visual format. Instagram’s centering of the visual can also be understood as having great affordances as well. The visual nature of Instagram offers visual artists and illustrators like Ananya an opportunity to place their art at the forefront of their social media activity.
Platform Analysis – Ananya Rao-Middleton
An overview of Ananya’s Instagram account reveals a beautiful array of brightly colored images that may make the viewer feel cheerful and engaged. Ananya’s illustrations primarily feature people of color, which, in returning to the stock photo exercise, responds to an urgent need for more representation of disabled people of color. The figures in Ananya’s illustrations are also diverse in terms of gender, mobility/accessibility aids, and body shape and size. Ananya’s content consists primarily of her original illustrations but she also includes some photographs and videos of herself engaged in everyday activities.
Ananya’s use of Instagram is intriguing as she explicitly expresses an interest in advocating for those with invisible or non-apparent disabilities. Here we can see the ways that platform affordances and constraints are not always easy to untangle. In one respect we can understand the platform’s image requirement as a constraint; the experiences of disability and disabled bodies that Ananya is interested in sharing are often the bodies of invisible or non-apparently disabled people. Capturing experiences of chronic pain or the impact of anxiety in a visual form can be difficult. The flip side of the coin is that once Ananya finds ways to express invisible or non-apparent disabilities in her art, viewers have the opportunity to engage with these experiences in a different way, to see visual testimony of the impact of non-apparent disabilities.
Now that you have engaged with a sample platform analysis, it is your turn to put your skills to the test! Navigate to one of the Instagram accounts below and perform your own platform analysis. Think about what you can say about Instagram generally and the individual Instagrammers individually. You can find some sample questions to guide you through your platform analysis after the descriptions of the model Instagram accounts, but feel free to add your own.
1. Kam Redlawsk @KamRedlawsk https://www.instagram.com/kamredlawsk/
Kam is a Korean-American artist, writer, and advocate with Hereditary Inclusion Body Myopathy (today known as GNE Myopathy). She is an advocate for inclusion and access and uses social media—among other tools—to challenge ableism, including ableist stereotypes about disabled people. (website: https://www.kamredlawsk.com/about)
2. Chiara Francesca @chiara.acu https://www.instagram.com/chiara.acu/?hl=en
Chiara Francesca is an acupuncturist, organizer, artist, immigrant, and former teen parent living with a disability. From their website: “Their clinical focus is on mental health, trauma, CPTSD and queer/trans health. She is committed to making healthcare accessible and in building collaborative healing spaces.” (website: https://www.chiaraacu.com/about)
Pick one of these media makers and answer some of the questions below:
- What are the affordances of Instagram? (what does it let users do?)
- What are the constraints of Instagram? (what does it not let users do?)
- How is Instagram accessible?
- How is Instagram inaccessible?
- In what ways can Instagram be harmful to users?
- Who owns Instagram? Who benefits from our content?
- When you post a photo, who owns the rights to that image?
- What is the broader culture around Instagram? Which demographics are targeted by Instagram? Who is excluded?
- How do these makers use Instagram to advocate, educate, and centre disability?
Additional Questions for Discussion:
- Consider the censoring of feminine nipples on Instagram and the politics and power dynamics that shape the circulation of images of bodies in the digital sphere.
- Who gets banned from Instagram?
- How have Instagram Stories changed the way we use or engage with the platform?
- What does the phenomenon of ‘Instafame’ and the practices of self-promotion and competing for followers and likes tell us about social media use under late-stage capitalism?
What a digital platform, technology, or site allows us to do
The limitations that a digital site and/or medium impose on us
A photo and video-sharing social media platform, currently owned by Facebook/Metaverse