H I ___, H O W A R E Y O U ? T H I S I S A L I T T L E R A N D O M.
The growth of social media has created a new form of online phenomenon within gay culture: Instagays, gay men who have thousands of followers on Instagram. Instagay accounts form a new community space for gay men, incorporating fans, followers, commentators and spectators. Gay communities online seemingly use the historic iconography and visual language surrounding the idealised male body to generate a vast following online. Therefore, the highly sexualised and idealised male body functions as a commodity within online gay communities, with Instagays using their bodies to gain attention, which may not be entirely beneficial to their own wellbeing or that of their followers. What are the potential “unsafe complexities” of social media, as a safe space, especially when saturated with highly sexualised selfies?
The photographic project Hi ___, how are you? This is a little random? is conducted by a gay researcher and photographer embedded into the growing Instagay phenomenon via Instagram. The project endeavours to investigate how social media enables users to present an idealised version of self, by controlling the way they are viewed by others online. This is explored by taking portraits of Instagays from within their home setting. Attempting to capture an alternative, and potentially more genuine, representation of each, away from their celebrated, idealised and often sexualised Instagram performance, social media following and online persona. Are individuals different to their online personas or are they merely creating an exaggerated and idealised version of self online? Where is the line drawn between “authentic self” and social performance?
Social performances can be undertaken for a present or assumed audience, one another and even oneself, as some individuals become so engulfed by their own performance they become convinced the persona created for the sake of others is an accurate representation of self. The practice of photographic portraiture and its contribution to the project aims to explore the ideology and assumptions of capturing an accurate representation of “authenticity”, with assumptions that a photograph of an individual in an unguarded and private setting allows the potential to capture an accurate likeness on camera. However, it is difficult for a portrait photographer to capture authenticity within an idealistic world, as many individuals walk around with prepared personas for social interaction.
Through the collaborative practice of portraiture photography conducted within the homes of Instagays, the project aims to examine the limits and complexities of “safe spaces”. The home plays an essential role in the safe exploration and assertion of gay men’s sexual identities. Therefore, home is an important space for gay men as it creates feelings of intimacy, self-expression, privacy and security which are normative meanings of home for all individuals. The privacy and control the home offers allows individuals to determine the level of access it affords outsiders, therefore, creating a secure space for identity exploration free from outside judgement. This rational was the reason behind choosing the home setting as the location for each portrait to be captured.
All participants were contacted via Instagram. However, refusal became an intricate part of the project since invitations were often declined or ignored. The blank pictures, as empty portraits, testify such refusal while making the invisible lines between the online space and the real world visible. Through analysis of social media and Instagay aesthetics within the context of gay iconography, this project aims to examine the limits and complexities of online spaces for gay men. Additionally, the project discusses the potential online spaces hold for community safety, before confirming that like a physical safe space, the new Instagram space is not free from community politics, prejudice and struggles. But are Instagays merely using the iconography of the idealised male body to generate a vast following online? Or are there invisible lines between their offline and online persona?
Are individuals to varying degrees always performing in the era of social media for an invisible and assumed audience online?