The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer


The Fallacious Philosophy of Photo Dumps

The practice of impromptu posting on Instagram does not liberate us from the confines of social media
Photo dumps include pictures of the user alongside unrelated images that they feel define them.

Recently, college students’ Instagram feeds have been saturated with users participating in a trend called “photo dumping” or “photo dumps,” which have risen as a popular Instagram phenomenon for younger users of the platform. While photo dumps — posts where users upload a series of unrelated candid photos directly from their camera rolls — seem to democratize posting and downplay the importance of personal appearances, the trend is actually a continuation of the depersonalizing experience that comes with posting on social media.

Although there isn’t much scholarly research on the practice of photo dumping, a few attempts have been made to define the phenomenon. In an opinion piece for Vogue, Arushi Sinha defines photo dumps as Generation Z’s answer to the “overly-manicured, influencer-led aesthetics” of Instagram. The form of the photo dump is variable, but it essentially boils down to pictures of the user interspersed with pictures that are meaningful to the user. 

The overall post that forms from a photo dump is somewhat of an inside joke for the user — the pictures used are personal and often attached to memories the person wants to indirectly share with their audience, which often includes people who also partook in the experience.

In a video captioned “the art of photo dumping,” TikTok user @mariabethany explained that she uses her photo dumps to showcase outfits, objects and products she’s into at the moment,  foods or drinks she’s consumed, her significant other, her pet dog and finally, pictures of herself posing to look good. The reasoning behind these choices is to “shift away from … vanity,” she said.

In Bethany’s example post, she strategically places random pictures between seemingly candid photos of herself, curating an effortless look for her and an aura of mystique around the eye-catching photos of her friends, husband and dog free of context.  The post is deeper than a simple picture of the user — it’s an exploration of the user’s life through the photos that matter to them.

Photo dumping is formulated as a revolution against the strict, self-conscious paradigm that has been fostered on Instagram, instead favoring an authentic, empowering and off-the-cuff post — posting for the self, not for the audience. However, social media users and marketing websites advise on how to create the “perfect” photo dump to drive up engagement — in fact, these are the top results you get when you search “photo dumps” on Google. Photo dumps are, like any other type of post, a performance that can be likened to advertisements of a user’s personal brand.

Similar to most of my peers on social media, I’ve unconsciously posted my own photo dumps. In a post of mine from December 2022, I start off with a picture of myself where I thought I looked good, followed by a picture of my friend laughing at something out of frame. An artful matcha latte, my friend’s snoozing cat and an out-of-context card from the party game Cards Against Humanity round out the post, which is finalized by a return to myself in another image of my appearance. I didn’t know about the concept of photo dumps back then, but I unknowingly executed the same strategy espoused on TikTok.

Photo dumping is not the innocent rejection of perfection in social media posts: They’re a less obvious and consequently less embarrassing search for the persona of effortless beauty.

My post appears to be random, but my choices are subliminally strategic. I give just enough attention to myself and to the objects in frame to make my audience wonder about what went on behind the scenes. I even include an unexpectedly strange photo of myself — one of my pictures features a reflection of my face comically cropped by a mirror. The photo dump displays my all-encompassing self, flaws and all — or maybe it doesn’t. 

Photo dumps try to be careless and authentic, but their true nature is curated and embarrassingly planned out. I personally selected each photo specifically to present myself in an appealing way. I purposefully made the order look random so that viewers wouldn’t think I spent too much time or thought on the post even though I actually did. I wouldn’t say my photo dump is an accurate reflection of myself, just as one selfie isn’t an accurate representation of what I look like. 

Many studies have linked social media to declining self-esteem. Social media sites create atmospheres where people want to present their best selves — posing, editing and airbrushing are not uncommon practices when creating a post. The rise of the photo dump illustrates our generation’s veering away from the maintained formal aesthetics of Instagram feeds primarily made up of influencer selfies and promotions. It’s gauche to be so obvious about wanting to look good — that’s why photos should be candid instead of posed, or slightly blurry instead of edited to maximum beauty. 

Posts that include multiple quotidian snapshots alongside selfies give the impression that the user doesn’t just look good, but the rest of their life — their friends, purchases, personalities — are as naturally attractive. The inclusion of “unflattering” or imperfect pictures is calculated — posting comfortable errors leads the audience to believe that the only thing wrong in the user’s life is the occasional blunder in photography. Photo dumping is not the innocent rejection of perfection in social media posts: They’re a less obvious and consequently less embarrassing search for the persona of effortless beauty.

Photo dumps may be touted as a rebellion against the antiquated quest for the best selfie because they deprioritize the necessity for obvious perfection, but the format results in users wanting their entire camera roll, or essentially, their lives, to be perfect. It’s not just about what’s in the frame — what’s out of frame and what’s implied by the photos, is equally as important. 

In order to post a photo dump, the user does not worry about how they physically appear in a singular picture; instead, they worry about how their entire persona will be revealed or strategically obscured and how that will equate in their followers’ perception of them.

I’m not arguing against photo dumping — seeing how popular the practice is now, I think that’s a futile effort. What I do reject is that photo dumping is somehow different to any other form of posting. Social media is social media;  no matter how or why you choose to post, the essence of participating in social media is to perform for an audience, whether that be through posting selfies, art, memes or videos of your dog. While photo dumping can be fun, it still plays into the paradigm of perfection created by social media.

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About the Contributor
ANA WINSTON, Former Assistant Opinions Editor
Ana Winston (she/her), FCLC ’26, is a former assistant opinions editor at The Observer. She’s a comparative literature major with a linguistics minor and is equally annoying about both subjects. In her spare time, she likes to read, write, peruse the Criterion Channel and pester her friends about music. Her favorite activity is walking through the Ramble in Central Park while drinking a matcha latte and listening to one of her many playlists.

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