Images of outstretched hands, of feet dangling off mountaintops, of people standing at the edges of cliffs, in front of crashing waterfalls, at the bows of canoes, and in the middle of open highways — we can all easily picture these because we see them every day. We’re presented with the same set of photographs that are only slightly different. They’re featuring the same subject, framed in the same way, and edited with the same filters. But they’re captured by different people — so why the repetition?

@insta_repeat is dedicated to this very question. Though the Instagram account’s creator chooses to remain anonymous, they’re speaking out about the inherent replication of images that comes with the popularity of social media — and they’re doing so in a comical way. Just look at their bio: “Déjà Vu Vibes. Wander. Roam. Replicate.”

We caught up with the creator of @insta_repeat to chat about the inspiration behind the account, the commonplace adventure photos scattered across social media, and the ways viewers can hold others (and themselves) to greater creative standards. Here’s what they had to say.

A photo grid of people in a canoe
A photo grid of tents

When and how did you start @insta_repeat?
I started the project this summer by screenshotting a bunch of images that I thought were comically similar — the “canoe shot” in particular — and then it seemed like the logical next step to put them together in a composition. From there, it just made sense to share them.

What was the motivation behind the account?

I think it’s common for us to see imagery pop up around us that is familiar, but on Instagram, it seems to almost be encouraged by the monetization of popularity. I was interested in this phenomenon, as well as the growing repetition of images and the reasons why they’re popular and continue to be reproduced.
A photo grid of people standing in front of a waterfall
Where do you think these standardized adventure photo “templates” originated, and how did they become so widely used?

I think they originated from something genuine, by people actually going to these incredible places and taking good photos. Most of them are well-shot with simple compositions that are visually compelling, even in a small thumbnail with atmospheric filters and color correction. I think they became “templates” when they grew in popularity, thus creating the cycle of familiarity and repetition. Now, in this photography genre, these templates are the gold standard for what a “successful” image should look like. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Do you think that social media encourages a copy-cat or unoriginal culture?

Totally — I think social media has become a popularity contest. And, in my eyes, popularity has never fostered risk-taking or originality. That said, I think you can find mimicry anywhere and it isn’t always bad. Certain platforms definitely make the spiral into homogeny smoother, though.

A photo grid of red houses
A photo grid of people standing in the middle of a road

Where do you think inspiration ends and replication begins?

My point is not to highlight the similarity in Instagrammers’ vacation photos. Of course people are going to take the same photos of famous landmarks or geographical features, or venture to interesting places that they see on other people’s feeds. That’s why I’m not doing grids of the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Eiffel Tower. The adventure photographers that I feature consider themselves just that — photographers — which implies a level of artistry. But these accounts aren’t showcasing that. They’re selling a lifestyle, and through these images, this lifestyle is monetized by brand sponsorship. This is what I find interesting and what I want to explore further. I want to discover how it all works and feeds upon itself.

How do you think photographers can keep themselves in check in this regard?

I don’t think it’s necessarily the photographers who need to check their standards. If the point of their work is to sell products, along with a particular lifestyle, why wouldn’t they continue repeating themselves? It’s working. I think we need to remind viewers to keep themselves in check and grounded in reality. If they want to produce real art, they should look elsewhere for inspiration, and if they want a glimpse of what’s actually out in the world, they shouldn’t look to social media.
A photo grid of people in an ice cave
Do you think that we’re moving further away from these repeated images or that they’re becoming more common and accepted?

I think they’re becoming more common, for sure. In fact, people often leave comments that say things like “it’s not their fault that these images are the same — no one can be original anymore” or “it’s too hard to be original nowadays because so many pictures have been taken.” This notion that “everything has been done” is absolutely insane to me, and I disagree with it wholeheartedly. There is infinite potential for original work — the notion that everything has been done is lazy.

What message do you hope to convey to your followers?

I don’t have a specific agenda in mind, or at least nothing that I want to force on people. As of now, it’s just an observational account that makes connections and comparisons between pages. I simply hope it sparks meaningful conversations about transparency in social media and originality in art.

A photo grid of people in the wildness wearing red
A photo grid of people driving

Do have any thoughts on this repetitive photo cycle? Join the discussion in the comments below!

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Hailing from the foothills of Northern California, Kacie is a writer and an editor who's worked on everything from quarterly surf magazines to art books, novels, lookbooks, city guides, and shoddily printed zines. She's a bit of a story junkie, but we forgive her for that. To view more of her work, creep her website and Instagram.