In general terms, uploading and circulating visual content on social media entails intricate decisions regarding self-presentation and calculated performances of identity.
The Chinternet Archive is a collection of tens of thousands of digital images that artist Michelle Proksell has been collecting over years of everyday use of Chinese social messaging app WeChat. These images all come from public WeChat accounts that Michelle finds through a location-based function of the app called “People Nearby”. By regularly exploring the social media profiles of individuals in a one-kilometer radius from her geographical position, Michelle has been able to collect visual content shared by WeChat users in several Chinese cities as well as ten countries around the world. From filtered selfies to cheesy graphics, and from recurring themes of vernacular photography to emerging genres of postdigital aesthetics, the images collected in the Chinternet Archive offer precious and intimate insights into the everyday lives of Chinese digital media users. This essay introduces Michelle’s collection, presents various research projects and artworks through which the authors have made use of the archive, discusses the potentialities of working with visual content as well as the dangers of appropriating found images in the era of ubiquitous photography.