Once a photograph is uploaded to social media, it ceases to be part of one’s private archive and becomes public property – as well as an object of study for researchers. There have been many attempts to study photographs on the scale of "Big Data." Take, for example, the numerous and well-publicised projects by Lev Manovich’s Big Data Lab. Evidently, using the results of one study of the huge online archive of photographs to make conclusions about society at large, is not necessarily a good idea. It’s fair to say that our society is not evenly represented online: a 19-year old woman may be posting her selfies daily, but it doesn’t mean that same goes for a sixty-five year old man. That said, we can learn a lot about cities and their inhabitants from the results of studies such as these.
According to Darya Radchenko, Deputy Head of the Centre for Urban Anthropology at Strelka KB, "quantitative and qualitative analysis of a big volume of photographs uploaded online allows us to not only describe the typical practices of amateur photography, but also see the city through the eyes of its visitors, define the key interests associated with it, important objects and ‘blind’ spots, obstacles restricting the use of certain zones.”
Quite surprisingly, even a Muscovite can feel like a tourist in their own city – when transported from the familiar environment of a microrayon to Gorky Park or the Pushkin Museum located in the city centre, for example. So it’s not accidental that in many Russian cities when locals residing on the outskirts decide to visit the city centre they call it ‘going to the city’. A ‘local’ tourist takes just as many photos as a tourist coming from different city, it’s the photographs themselves that differ.
In an interview with Snob magazine said, Grigory Revzin (a Russian journalist and architecture critic), said: "To my mind, the best indicator of the quality of a street is whether it becomes a popular location among the street fashion crowd. The best street in the city is the one most popular among models and fashion bloggers for having their picture taken and uploaded on Instagram. Thanks to the research conducted by the Centre for Urban Anthropology, we can now tell which streets are more more often chosen for walks around the centre of Moscow: infographics show the percentage of selfies and portraits taken on each street."
Even Jane Jacobs once noted that the attractiveness of a street doesn’t depend on time of day or season. By analysing the level of photo-activity at night it becomes possible to define how healthy the street is, and whether it is considered safe enough.
- The most ‘masculine’ statue turned out to be the statue of St. Cyril and St.Methodius on Slavyanskaya Square. Men, almost exclusively, have their photographs taken next to it – be winter or summer, day or night, crowded or empty.
- What makes ‘small water’ better than ‘big water’: the fountain on Chistoprudniy Boulevard is photographed twice more often than the pond also located there. It might have something to do with the Moscow tradition of preferring to bathe in fountains.
- Two writers: The Mikhail Sholokhov (a famous Russian 20th century writer) monument on Gogolevskiy Boulevard is four times more popular than the statue of Nikolai Gogol, which is also located there.
- What to photograph? Most people walking down Kuznetsky prefer to take pictures of the Bank of Moscow building, the former San-Galli passage, and graffiti on the brandmauer of House No 12.
- The riddle of the cow: the most popular locations for photography are not just famous places of interest. There are more images of people standing next to the trademark cow statue at the entrance to the “Moo-moo” restaurant, near Smolenskaya metro station, than of people posing alongside the statue of Peter the Great.
- Kids on the ring: there’s a distinctive ‘kid’s route’ in the Boulevard ring: it goes through Gogolevskiy, Nikitskiy, Tverskoy and Strastnoy boulevard. Children appear on 15% of all photographs taken on these streets.
- The secret of Izmailovsky avenue: once a year this quiet street is transformed as the students of the Bauman Moscow State Technical University gather to celebrate their graduation. They take rides in plastic wash basins attached to cars with ropes, covered in beer and with lit up pyrotechnic flares in their hands. If it wasn’t for the photographs they posted online, we would have never found out!