Exploring my identity in years of photos


While at ITP I have done a few projects that explore the undercurrent of my identity and self that gets captured in the technology I use. A majority of these projects have focused on the analysis of text, such as how I am messaging people and the words I use with them. But more and more images, and specifically photos, are being used to represent me and capture my identity, so I chose to investigate what pieces of my e-unconscious is captured through the photos in my Instagram feed.

To begin analyzing my feed I needed access to my entire archive from Instagram, and a way to get the hundreds of photos individually from my profile. To do this I had the immense and amazing help of Aaron Montoya, who sat with me and wrote an Instagram scraper from scratch in Python, using Selenium. With the scraper built, we could download years of images posted to my Instagram profile in seconds.


The next step was to begin analyzing the photos and looking at the story they told, but just simply looking at the data held within the photos could be meaningless without a level of context to place them up against. So, I created a personal timeline of phases within my life that were happening during the period in which I was posting to Instagram, to look at how what was actually happening in my life and how I was portraying my life told a story. 


  1. Young and in Portland: Last half of undergrad

  2. Life getting flipped over: Graduation, Ending a five year relationship, parents splitting up

  3. Figuring out my New Life: Going on tour, moving into a new home, starting my first studio design job, new relationship 

  4. Making a move: Leaving PDX for NYC, starting ITP, living in New York


With these phases as a backdrop for context I began analyzing the content of each of my photos using Clarifai's general image recognition model



The Clarifai model spits out a long list of what it sees in the image, which mostly consists of very surface level insights, letting you know what is literally there. This could be problematic if you are hoping for the model to give you a deep insight on it's own, but it felt perfect for what I was looking to achieve. My Instagram stream exists in a very surface space of my identity anyways, I think I am making very curated and conscious decisions with what I am posting, but when those surface representations are paired with context of my actual reality the unconscious decisions begin to reveal themselves.


  1. Young and in Portland: Where I thought I was a young, adventurous, slightly crazy student in this point in my life what I was portraying to the world was someone who was not concerned with showing social moments, very solitary, supremely focused on making art & design work. 

  2. Life getting flipped over: While the foundational parts of my life felt as if they had been ripped out from under me during this time my feed was one of showing stoicism, a lot of images showing moments of reflection and nature, which then moved into photos of women I was spending time with - definitely trying to compensate for something.

  3. Figuring out my New Life: When I reflect on this phase I think of it as a time of deep introspection and a calm time of working out what my new reality could be looking like. My photos, however, show this time as an extra long summer vacation, one of non stop movement, different spaces, lots of faces, and more pictures of myself.

  4. Making a move: This time of hard work, focus, and change has been portrayed in a completely different light, almost looking as if it is a perpetual celebration with a huge uptick in photos of social moments with others and exciting travel.



Skylar JessenComment