The cultural logic of photo-based meme genres

Limor Shifman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Scopus citations


This article probes the cultural meaning of contemporary meme genres that are based on photographs. The analysis looks into the broad dimensions of truth and temporality, as expressed in three prominent genres: reaction Photoshops, stock character macros, and photo fads. Based on patterns shared by these genres, it is argued that photo-based memes function as both modes of hypersignification, wherein the code itself becomes the focus of attention, and as prospective photography, wherein photos are increasingly perceived as the raw material for future images. Finally, combining the two frames, memes are conceptualized as operative signs - textual categories that are designed as invitations for (creative) action. While these three qualities were also evident, in one way or another, in traditional forms of photography, they have emerged as governing logics in an era marked by an amalgamation of digital photography and participatory culture.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)340-358
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Visual Culture
Issue number3
StatePublished - 20 Dec 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), 2014.


  • Photoshop
  • image macros
  • internet memes
  • meme genres
  • photo fads


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