Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Instagram Photography of Havana: Nostalgia, Digital Imperialism and the Tourist Gaze

Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (2021), 98, (1), 87–107.

Abstract

This article proposes to add Instagram photography to a historical visual mapping of Havana during a period of renewed visibility. Further enabled by the features of Instagram’s format to ‘age’ photos and highlight specific textures and colours, These images draw on and contribute to a nostalgic vision of an exotic, underdeveloped Havana. Instagram photography emerges as an important touristic mode of imagining and experiencing the city. Yet despite the aesthetic overdetermination of these images, their captions and hashtags often stymie any suggestion of political meaning. Nevertheless, the networked image, organized and anchored by metadata such as the geotag and hashtag, further cements the signifier ‘Havana’ to the photographic image, and confirms the city as worthy of the gaze. Lastly, the paper reflects on the broader profile of those creating and circulating Instagram images of the city, arguing that a relative lack of access to digital technologies in Cuba has resulted in a strongly asymmetric gaze from the outside in.

Este artículo propone agregar la fotografía de Instagram a una cartografía visual histórica de La Habana durante un período de renovada visibilidad. Gracias a las características del formato de Instagram para ‘envejecer’ las fotografías y resaltar texturas y colores específicos, estos retratos contribuyen a la imagen nostálgica, exótica y subdesarrollada de la ciudad. La fotografía de Instagram surge como un importante modo turístico de imaginar y experimentar la ciudad. Sin embargo, a pesar de la sobredeterminación estética de estas imágenes, la sugerencia de algún significado político a menudo se ve obstaculizada por sus títulos y hashtags. Sin embargo, el mosaico de imágenes ‘en la red’, que se organiza y se ancla por metadatos como el geotag y el hashtag, enlaza el significante ‘La Habana’ con la imagen fotográfica y confirma que la ciudad es digno objeto de la mirada turística. Por último, el artículo reflexiona sobre el perfil de quienes crean y circulan imágenes de la ciudad en Instagram, sosteniendo que la falta relativa de acceso a las tecnologías digitales en Cuba ha dado lugar a una percepción fuertemente asimétrica desde el exterior.

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Author details

OGDEN, REBECCA