Pope Francis is on Instagram since March 13, 2013
Pope Francis “landed” on Instagram Saturday, March 19, 2016. In reality, figure out one thing right away: Pope Francis was already on Instagram. In the sense that he is from when he looked out for the first time from the loggia for blessings, immediately after his election. We must in fact understand that we are not on the social network only when we open a personal (or institutional) account, but when others talk about us and share our words and our presence on their social network
From when Pope Francis looked out from the loggia for blessings, photos with cell phones and tablets were shot that immediately ended up on social networks and therefore even on Instagram Currently, we have many accounts that carry his name that post photos and short video that view him as a star. But the more relevant presence is that which is due to the many who post and share images on their personal accounts.
Today photos can be distinguished by a hastag, that is, by a word that identifies the content preceded by the character #. And so, many post with hashtags, even multilingual: #PopeFrancis #PapaFrancesco #PapaFrancisco #PapstFranziskus #PapeFrancois #ПапаФранциск#PapaFranciscus #PapiezFranciszek #FranciskusPåve #PapaFrancesc#PausFranciscus #교황프란치스코 #PausFransiskus. So just do a search for a hashtag, one or all, and see how the Pope is by now present on Instagram.
And we can add something: precisely the images shot by the faithful relate this Pope in all his pastoral and symbolic strength. The images that portray him at his best even at times are not the ones that come out well for the faithful, “clean” and clear, but those “dirty”, even blurry and moved. The Pope of the people is related by the people who catch not only the gestures but also the context of the gestures from within. And in this way, exactly, the Pope is already on Instagram from the first beyond anything official.
The pastoral logic of the selfie on Instagram
But there was a special moment of this process: when Pope Francis welcomed a group of scouts, boys and girls, who arrived at St Peter’s from the oratory of St Fiorenzo di Fiorenzula d’Arda (Piacenza) August 28, 2013. One of them drew out of his pocket a telephone and shot a selfie, that is a self-portrait taken with the frontal objective. He thus photographed himself, his friends and the Pope in the midst of them, and he loaded it on Instagram, exactly.
It was one of those “dirty” photos and not clear like we mentioned before. From then on, the social network is populated with young people who have taken a selfie with the Pope. If politicians and diplomats take a protocol or so-called hand kissing photo, the young people take a selfie. And the Pope accepts this communicative dynamic. Why? Because it is pastoral, adapted to whoever he encounters. The Pope loves to ensure that his conversation partners are not passive receptors of an event. With a normal photo, the Pope is the protagonist and you document him. With a selfie you are with the protagonist Pope of that event. This does not diminish his authoritativeness at all, but the closeness he creates, to the contrary, increase it.
Then, more than “communicating”, Pope Francis creates “communicative events” in which you feel called to actively participate. In this sense you are before a reconfiguration of language that poses different accents and new priorities.
Why the photo?
Because the photo speaks. I do not mean to solely say that it has symbolic value, but primarily it is an object for sharing. Sharing your own photos is a gesture that allows sharing a piece of lived life. And today there is no more need for a camera. All the smartphones, that are iPhone, Android or Windows Phone or even others, are by now equipped with an objective of a certain quality. Having a smartphone in your pocket means then also having a camera handy. This technological evolution is giving life to a genuine revolution of the human experience of photography that consists of the fact that today you can photograph in any instant of life. And the action of photographing has become—at times in a cumbersome way, certainly—part of the experience of an audience or a papal event of any type.
The “camera” is obsolete as an object, or better yet is reserved to the click buffs. The professionals and especially the reporters who practice the so-called “phonographia” are multiplying, as a matter of fact. The characteristics of this photographic experience is in the fact that the shot is only the first moment. The second moment that follows this is the post-production, that is the elaboration of the photo thanks to numerous applications that allow modification even to applying filters: it is an action that allows elaborating an image to adapt it to one’s own view. The third moment consists in sharing: any elaborate shot can always be shared on social networks.
Therefore: shot, elaboration and sharing. Pope Francis enters into this ordinary dynamic of communication at the social time.
In the last years, specific social networks for photo sharing are even born. The best known of them is Instagram, precisely. But others are also born each with some special features such as Streamzoo, Pixir-o-matic, Hipster, PicYou, and others.
Photography is a democratic gesture
Then, photography becomes a “democratic” gesture and open to sharing. The logic of the social network, married with that of the shot, has transformed photography from “memory” to “experience”. They shoot the picture to “see” better what you see and to share the experience that you are having at the moment with your friends The snapshots become pieces of a “lifestreaming” narrative. Sharing live photographs develops a flow of images that is not thought of as being archived, indexed, memorized. The photos overlap, are replaced, gradually as they are posted in succession. More than the creation of memory, then, it is to shape the experience and share it. And here we find a genuine monogram for the pontificate: the realism of the experience and the strength and warmth of the sharing.
The presence of the Pope on Instagram was already guaranteed by the News.va official account. Now his personal presence offers another level, higher and more visible, of the “identity” that will be able to allow extending the physical “piazza” to that digital.
How will it change the way to talk about the faith in the time of the symbolic and shared snapshots?
But here’s a broader and more general question raised by the Pope’s presence on Instagram: How will the way of talking about the faith change in the time of symbolic and shared snapshots? We don’t know and we are certainly living it: the faith is expressed and shared thanks even to the photo. This is why Pope Francis “lands” on Instagram. Because in this flow of images you can discern a “desiderium naturale videndi Deum” (the natural desire to see God). There are various experiments in this regard by the interesting names such as “Framing God in all things” or “Picturing God”.
Not only: #theology has even become a hashtag used enough on Instagram. The expansion of symbolic expression certainly will have an impact even on our capacity to talk about the faith in the culture of the digital.
It is an interesting path for groups and communities to tread: which images to talk about the faith? Which hashtags, that is key-words to use? The Church has a long tradition of visual catechesis in times in which literacy was limited. And this tradition can tell a lot to people of today in the search of images to express their desire for a full life, as well as transcendence.