Above: A view of the like icon on an Instagram. Credit: Oscopic.


What is this thing we do called liking? Asks my colleague Diego Ferrari. Is liking an impulse? A compulsion? A pleasantry? Likes have become almost a primary adjunct to the still photo image--even more so than the ubiquitous hashtag. If I post a photo on Instagram it begins to accrue likes. The more interesting, original, poignant, funny, etc., then the more likes I will probably receive from others. Liking a photo requires the user to tap on an icon of a heart. Liking a post is a way of acknowledging and encouraging a user. Likes are an index of humanization really: a record of all the people who have scrutinized a post and found it to be pleasing. A list of likes is a basic record of the people who feel that they have gained something, however slight, from seeing one's post. Of course, for some users, liking is an automatic response--some people like almost every photo they see. Others are more judicious and like only a small proportion of the posts that they see. In a way, liking relieves the weight of a duty. Once the posts of my friends have been liked, I can relax--I have done my required interactions. From a photo-history perspective this phenomenon of a photo displayed, together with a statistic for the number of people who like it, is very new. Will this popularity indexing become pervasive? Will liking take its place in the photo-art gallery too? Today, if we want to see a photo liberated from such encumbrances as the hashtag, the like, and the comment, then the place to find it is the art gallery wall. This is one environment where we can still encounter a photo-image in repose, surrounded only by the warm glow of cultural cachet.

(4 December 2019)