Book Review: Pics or It Didn’t Happen
By Emma Coyle
Pics or It Didn’t Happen Images Banned from Instagram is a small square book, published by Prestel, but unmissable in bubblegum pink. It is shaped like the square format images from Instagram from which its content is generated. This book is a collection of images that were removed or banned from Instagram. The book starts with the Instagram Community Guidelines in full which give readers an understanding of the images that will follow. Many of the images included seem to make sense for why they were banned regardless of any personal beliefs on the topic but others have no rhyme or reason to them. A person in a hood holding a phone to their ear, or pictures of mouths don’t seem to violate the content rules of Instagram.
Pics or It Didn’t Happen isn’t intended to be a all encasing survey but merely a question asked by those who collected the images from users–why these images? Following the Community Guidelines, there are essays by the editors, Arvida Byström and Molly Soda, and a foreword by Chris Kraus, along with several other essays on the topic. This written section of the book gives context for the two hundred some pages of photographs that follow.
The images in the book unexpectedly all have a common feminist aesthetic. That aesthetic within these images is defined as a particular subset of feminist dialogue, regarding body image, personal representation, sexuality, and the nature of bodies that don't comply with traditional standards. It leaves the reader considering how the burden of censorship falls and whether it is uneven or if this book is merely representing a particular aspect of censorship among one community. Photos of disembodied hands covered in sticky fluids appear in multiple places, one looks like it could be blood or berry juice staining fingers and in another the substance is viscous and almost seems to shimmer. Between these images there are scores of nudes and partial nudes. Going from page to page, the vast quantity of photographs is overwhelming and starts to make the experience into a whirlwind, much like scrolling through Instagram feeds for hours.
The pages are filled with images of all different sizes. The way that the images are paired with and surrounded by small pastel hearts make the supposedly controversial nature of the photographs accessible and less overtly confrontational. Despite the book’s design softening the images it only makes them more impactful. It allows the reader to start questioning the rationale behind this censorship, and serves as a catalyst for conversation.
This book is a product of the online social networks that dominate most people’s lives. It is a meditation on censorship, the ways that people want to represent themselves to the world, and what it means to have an outside party deciding what aspects of your personhood are not fit for public consumption.