Artist Pete Ashton has carried out an experiment which saw him take a picture, upload it to Instagram, take a screenshot of the uploaded Instagram and then repost it on Instagram. He did this 90 times.
The results are a fascinating insight into image degradation, showing that an image can start its journey on the internet in one form and end it as something entirely different.
Ashton explains on his website the probable processes that are going on as each image is screen grabbed, cropped and then re-uploaded onto Instagram:
- Instagram app renders JPEG on iPhone screen.
- Screen capture creates PNG from pixel data on screen.
- App converts PNG into editable format.
- App saves edited (cropped) image in some format (JPEG?) and sends to Instagram server.
- Server converts and optimises image into JPEG for transmission across network.
- App requests data and renders JPEG on iPhone screen.
Ashton took inspiration for the experiment from artist Alvin Lucier who, in 1969, recorded himself narrating a text. Lucier then played back the narrative, recorded that and kept the process going until there was nothing left but white noise.
Called 'I Am Sitting In A Room', Lucier's experiment was one of the more popular experiments to show signal degradation.
In an attempt to bring Lucier's finding into the modern age Ashton tested the experiment with Instagram and found that as with the audio, the image was being slowly degraded down into its simplest form.