A poetic ode to the path of the sun – on Instagram

Instagrammers who chase the sun with their cameras testify to its ceaseless grip on our lives. Interactive designer Michelle Chandra plots this out on a map.

Instagram users are photographing the world at a rapid pace, adding 70 million photos every day to an ever-expanding image archive. This is Michelle Chandra’s raw material. A recent graduate of New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Programme, she created All Our Yesterdays, an interactive platform that explores what photography means today in our increasingly connected global world.

“The photo data created by Instagram users allows us to connect photos that would have been previously seen as separate and isolated,” she says. “Photography is now a social act that connects strangers around the world. It has become a global conversation.”

“All Our Suns”, one of the projects that is part of All Our Yesterdays, explores our ideas of time against the backdrop of sunset and sunrise photography.

Chandra created a timezone map plotting out all photos tagged #sunset or #sunrise uploaded to Instagram in the past day. The user can hover over a point on the map to see the corresponding photograph or search for a location and zoom in on photographs taken at their favourite city, park, or landmark.

“We live in a world that follows a fixed idea of time, a standard synchronised time held in place by time zones, clocks and calendars,” she says on her site. Instagram, however, opens a window on thinking of time in a different way.

Instagram users reveal a different idea of time, a richly textured irregular time in which the setting sun and end of the day for one individual is the beginning of the day for another, a never-ending loop.

The closer a user is to actual sunset or sunrise time when uploading a photo, the larger the point on the map.

Social media for Chandra represents another step in the evolution of our understanding of time.

“We achieved a new kind of synchronicity and connectedness across space, divorced from the sun and the Earth’s irregular rotation. Now as we move seamlessly between time zones, our only awareness of the sun’s hold on time are the photos we take of the sunset. We have replaced a local sense of time and place now with a global one.”

Her project is a poetic ode to the path of the sun. “Instagram users who chase the sun with their cameras testify to the sun’s ceaseless grip on our lives. Since antiquity we have followed the path of the sun, the moon and the stars to track the passing of time. Time itself though may just be an illusion constructed by our minds.”