The Bleak Reality of the Instagram Experience

Photography has long played a crucial role in how we shape the narrative of our lives. Milestones are documented, creating an archive that can be looked back on for years to come. But the value of facilitated photographs—whether a carnival’s fake backdrop of Niagara Falls or giant stilettos at the Happy Place—are a bit more difficult to parse. The photos are blatantly staged and not attached to important life events. Rather, they’re about creating evidence of having participated in a grandiose hypervisual event that mirrors that one-upmanship of social media.

But there is still a difference between old carnivals and the current crop of pop-up experiences. Carnivals and fairs always featured a range of activities for their guests—there were games, rides, prizes, and wonders of all kinds. Photos were a treat, a way to remember a well-rounded day. Guests at pop-up experiences appear to be there for one reason only: to document themselves in a place that has been carefully designed to give every attendee the exact same photos and, by extension, the same memories.

The Walrus