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To Dump or Not to Dump?

Photo: Emilia Petrarca

In 2017, Instagram introduced a new feature that was actually not new at all: the slideshow. Also known as a “carousel,” it allowed users to share up to ten photos or videos as a single, swipe-through post, liberating them from the tyranny of having to choose one perfect photo to upload to their carefully curated grid. Some people took this newfound freedom as an opportunity to get creative, using the format to share infographics and meme compilations. Others, however, got — in the eyes of some — a bit too fast and loose, birthing a new genre of Instagram post now gorgeously referred to as “photo dumping.”

This was, definitively, the Summer of the Photo Dump. People were out and about experiencing things again, but after a year of black squares and “Ten Ways to Be Less Racist” slideshows, and still in the midst of a pandemic, they were perhaps still harboring some anxiety about experiencing these experiences and sharing them with the world. “Dumping,” as opposed to old-fashioned posting, is a way of participating in the Instagram economy without seeming like you’re taking it too seriously; of being simultaneously curated and carefree. One friend likened to posting on Tumblr; others have compared it to early Facebook albums. To share one nice-looking photo of your life is to say: I want you to know that I have a nice life. But dumping ten shitty photos (with maybe one enviable image buried in there) is the lifestyle porn equivalent of sharing a smiley-face-shrugging emoji.

What constitutes a dump? In my opinion, it must be at least five photos long. Three is a short story. Four means you couldn’t make up your mind. But simply posting five photos in a carousel a dump does not make. Take Kim Kardashian’s slideshow of her trip to a private island with her closest inner circle, for example. These images are clearly taken by a professional photographer. They used flash. People are posing with one leg in front of the other. The caption includes a hashtag. This is not a dump; it is a brochure.

Compare that to the work of a true dump master: Dua Lipa. Dua has been dumping for a while now, but this summer she really hit her stride. What makes her dumps so good is that they feel like they’ve come directly from her camera roll. She’s taking us along for the ride, showing us every blurry angle of an innocuous moment in her life and the incredible outfit she wore while experiencing it. She gives us disgusting photos of food; a bird’s-eye view of her foot; her friends who we don’t know. She makes her absolutely bonkers life seem kind of normal. Or maybe not normal, but lived. As in, not staged.

The end of summer is peak photo-dumping season. You’ve been OOO and allegedly “unplugged,” accruing a backlog of vacation photos that must be shared in order to prove to yourself and others that they actually happened. So you dump. But because vacationing — and being out in the world in general — was still so fraught this year, people dumped harder than ever before. It was dump deluge. So much that, ironically, it began to seem rote. “Getting in my summer dump before the rest of you,” wrote one person I follow the Friday before Labor Day weekend.

As with all good things that happen organically online, it seems that the photo dump — a practice born out of decision fatigue — has inevitably cultivated its own sense of fatigue. Have our dumps gotten too curated? Too forced? Is posting a photo dump after Labor Day like wearing the color white? “It’s trying too hard to not be a try hard,” said one of my followers when I put out a call for strong opinions on the subject. “Just post things as they happen!”

That said, some people still love a good dump. “They’re organized and give more depth to a moment,” said one friend. “It’s an opportunity to use my photography BFA!” another half joked. Me? I’m happy to keep swiping. You can learn a lot about a person from their dump.

This Was the Summer of the Instagram ‘Photo Dump’