What can a picture say about the city?

Baltics are one and three. Three political states of Estonia, Latvia and have different cultural heritages, languages and customs. However, their common history also resulted in many common features such as similar architectural environments. Three such common urban morphologies shared by Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius are the medieval cores of the Hanseatic League (“old towns”), the mass housing of the Soviet time and the post 1991 suburban areas – the symbol of the neo-capitalistic Baltic Tigers. In our project we use large number of publicly shared geo-located Instagram photos to explore how people living in these types of areas represent themselves in relation to their spatial environments. Our analysis revealed that each type of urban morphology produces its own type of single or group “selfie.” In old towns of three capitals, Instagram users include architectural landmarks to clearly establish their presence in these iconic spaces. In the Soviet mass housing districts the self is decontextualized. Person’s image occupies most of a photo and background is not shown. In contrast, the photos shared in suburbs represent families in outdoor activities. They favor backyards of private houses and local nature areas, and often show children. These examples show how analysis of geo-located social media such as Instagram images reveals connections between history, built environment, and self-representation, adding new insights to what we could have learned by comparing the architecture between the cities alone.

COMPARE PICTURES BY DISTRICT TYPE

Old Towns

In old towns of three capitals, Instagram users include architectural landmarks to clearly establish their presence in these iconic spaces.

Soviet housing districts

In the Soviet mass housing districts the self is decontextualised. Person’s image occupies most of a photo and background is not shown.

Suburbs

In contrast, the photos shared in suburbs represent families in outdoor activities. They favour backyards of private houses and local nature areas, and often show children.

Old town Tallinn

tallinn oldtown instagram map

Soviet Tallinn

tallinn soviet instagram

Suburb Tallinn

tallinn suburb instagram

Old town Riga

riga_oldtown

Soviet Riga

riga_soviet

Suburb Riga

riga_suburb

Old town Vilnius

vilnius_oldtown

Soviet Vilnius

vilnius_soviet

Suburb Vilnius

vilnius_suburb

Cultural analytics.

Baltigram uses a large number of publicly shared geo-located Instagram
photos to explore how people living in these areas represent
themselves in relation to their architectural environments. Our
analysis revealed that each type of urban morphology produces its own
type of single or group “selfie.” In other words, people’s
representations of themselves are not stable but change depending on
where they live.

Old towns

montage.Oldtown_cropped

Soviet housing districts

montage.Soviet_croppe

Suburbs

montage.Suburb_cropped

Temporal patterns.

The following graphs show the number of pictures posted on Instagram every hour of the week, in each of the three cities. For each city, we show the different trends in each of the three areas of interest – the old town, the Soviet districts, and the suburbs. The trends are consistent across analogous geographic areas in the three cities, less so across different areas of the same city. That is to say, as far as Instagram trends go, the Tallinn suburbs have more in common with the suburbs of Riga, than with Tallinn’s own Old Town.

Old town Tallinn

Weekdays OLD TALLINN

Soviet Tallinn

Soviet Tallinn

Suburb Tallinn

Weekdays SUB TALLINN

Old town Riga

Weekdays OLD RIGA

Soviet Riga

Weekdays SOVIET RIGA

Suburb Riga

Weekdays SUB RIGA

Old town Vilnius

Weekdays OLD VILNIUS

Soviet Vilnius

Weekdays SOV VILNIUS

Suburb Vilnius

Weekdays SUB VILNIUS

Most used hashtags.

The following graphs show the number of pictures posted on Instagram every hour of the week, in each of the three cities sorted by hashtags.

Old town Tallinn

Common tags OLD TALLINN

Soviet Tallinn

Common tags SOV TALLINN

Suburb Tallinn

Common tags SUB TALLINN

Old town Riga

Common tags OLD RIGA

Soviet Riga

Common tags SOVIET RIGA

Suburb Riga

Common tags SUB RIGA

Old town Vilnius

Common tags OLD VILNIUS

Soviet Vilnius

Common tags SOV VILNIUS

Suburb Vilnius

Common tags SUB VILNIUS

The invisible image of the city.

Baltigram shows how analysis of geo-located visual social media such as Instagram images reveals connections between history, built environment, and self-representation, allowing us to learn more about cities than we could have by analyzing their architecture alone. It also demonstrates how Instagram is used today to establish collective “image of a city” using combinations of self-representations and features of the environment selected for inclusion.

Team members.

Lev Manovich
Data and methodology
Raul Kalvo
Data and motion

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