The InstaEssay Archive: Past, Present, and Future

By Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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1. Prologue: What is an InstaEssay?

Beginning in April, 2014, a number of writers began to utilize Instagram beyond its common use as an application that enables the creation, stylizing, and sharing of personal photographs to a particular group of friends, acquaintances, and followers, and rather as a journalistic tool. In particular, writers like Jeff Sharlet and Neil Shea have paired their photos with short narratives, constrained to 2200 characters by Instagram’s caption limit. The effect is similar to that of “Flash Fiction”—short, impactful self-contained stories—except that these stories are true and paired with a photograph of the subject. While the genre is called by a number of different names, most people refer to the form as “InstaEssays.”

A variety of media outlets have begun to pick up on this trend and locate it within the scope of literary journalism. The website “Longreads,” which typically collects and syndicates long form reporting and essays, collected Sharlet’s #nightshift series and included an essay by Sharlet on the work. There he refers to InstaEssays as “Snapshot Journalism” and locates its lineage within the frame of comic books, which use words and pictures, and snapshots, which, he points out anyone can take. Sharlet concludes …read more

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