​What do 16 000 photos say about Moscow

The most ‘masculine’ statue, places ‘most photographed after sunset’ and other results from an urban anthropology study of 16 000 images uploaded to Vkontakte.

Once a photograph is uploaded to social media, it ceases to be part of one’s private archive and becomes public property, as well as an object of study for researchers.

There have been many attempts to study photographs on the scale of Big Data — take, for example, the numerous well-publicised projects by Lev Manovich’s Software Studies Initiative. Evidently, using the results of one study of the huge online archive of photographs to make conclusions about society at large would not be a good idea. It’s fair to say that our society is not evenly represented online: a 19-year-old woman may be posting her selfies daily, but it doesn’t mean that the same goes for a 65-year-old man. Nevertheless, we can learn a lot about cities and their inhabitants from the results of such studies.

Darya Radchenko, deputy head of the Centre for Urban Anthropology, Strelka KB

“Quantitative and qualitative analysis of a big volume of photographs uploaded online allows not only to describe the typical practices of amateur photography, but also see the city through the eyes of its visitors, define the key interests associated with it, important objects and ‘blind’ spots, obstacles restricting the use of certain zones”

Quite surprisingly, even a Muscovite can feel like a tourist in his or her own city, for example, when transported from the familiar environment of a microrayon to the Gorky Park or the Pushkin Museum located in the city centre. So it’s not accidental that in many Russian cities when locals residing on the outskirts decide to visit the city centre they call it ‘going to the city’. A ‘local’ tourist takes just as many photos as a tourist coming from a different city, it’s the photographs themselves that differ.

Grigory Revzin (Russian journalist and architectural critic. — Ed.) in his Snob magazine interview said: “To my mind, the best indicator of the quality of a street is whether it becomes a popular location among the street fashion crowd. The best street in the city is the one most popular among models and fashion bloggers for having their picture taken and uploaded on Instagram. Thanks to the research conducted by the Centre for Urban Anthropology, we can now tell which streets are more often chosen for walks around the centre of Moscow: infographics show the percentage of selfies and portraits taken on each street.”

Even Jane Jacobs once noted that the attractiveness of a street doesn’t depend on time of day or season. By analysing the level of photoactivity at night one can define how healthy the street is and whether it is considered safe enough.


The most ‘masculine’ statue. This turned out to be the statue of SS. Cyril and Methodius on Slavyanskaya Square. Almost only men have their photographs taken next to it, be it winter or summer, day or night, crowded or empty.

What makes ‘small water’ better than ‘big water’: the fountain on the Chistoprudny boulevard is photographed twice more often than the pond also located there. It might have something to do with the Moscow tradition of preferring to bathe in fountains and not in ponds.

Two writers. The Mikhail Sholokhov (famous Russian 20th century writer. — Ed.) monument on Gogolevsky boulevard is four (!) times more popular than the statue of Nikolai Gogol also located there.

What to photograph? People walking down Kuznetsky Most prefer to take pictures of the Bank of Moscow building, the former San-Galli passage and graffiti on the fire wall of house №12.

The riddle of the cow. The most popular locations for photography are not just famous places of interest. There are more images of people standing next to the trademark cow statue at the entrance to the Moo-moo restaurant near Smolenskaya tube station than of people posing with the Peter the Great statue.

Left and right side of the New Arbat avenue. The even side of the avenue is where Moskovsky Dom Knigi bookshop and October cinema are located, the uneven side — where the Vesna shop is situated. The uneven side from Arbatskaya Square to Novinsky boulevard is more popular for walks, especially among tourists. It is also the more photographed side of the avenue — even those standing on the even side prefer to take pictures of the uneven side. During big celebrations such as the May Day parade, people make sure to take their places on the even side to be able to photograph the event with the uneven side in the background: it’s the famous book-shaped houses lit up in different colours that attract their attention. This means that the uneven side is more lively during nighttime than in daylight. The uneven side is generally considered a prime location for romantic walks and eating out or clubbing.

Kids on the ring. There’s a distinctive ‘kid’s route’ in the Boulevard ring: it goes through the Gogolevsky, Nikitsky, Tverskoy and Strastnoy boulevards. Children appear on 15% of all photographs taken on these streets.

The secret of Izmailovsky avenue. Once a year this quiet street becomes alive: the students of Bauman Moscow State Technical University traditionally gather here to celebrate their graduation. They take rides in plastic wash basins attached to cars with ropes, covered in beer and with lit up pyrotechnic flares in their hands. If it wasn’t for the photographs they posted online, we would have never found out.