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If you're one of the many people who've signed up to Dry January, Veganuary or simply a healthier diet this month, you're probably feeling smug and virtuous.

But chances are, while you're sipping that spirulina-enriched green juice, your eyes are simultaneously glued to the vacuous stream of celebrity and influencer guff that is Instagram. Through social media - and modern life in general - we're force-fed tens of thousands of hyper-retouched, sexually gratuitous and highly addictive images every day. So, while the food on your plate might be wholesome and healthy, your visual diet is the equivalent of a greasy burger, with fries, nuggets and a full-fat Coke on the side. And in the same way that sort of food would lead to bloating, heart burn and eventually a triple bypass, those images will probably leave you depressed and frustrated.  

Which is why M&C Saatchi has partnered with photographer/director Rankin and Marine Tanguy, founder of MTArt Agency to launch Visual Diet, a campaign exploring the impact of imagery on mental health, which aims "to promote a balanced visual diet and prevent bingeing on overly-processed, body- and mind-negative content."

 

An image from the Visual Diet site

 

“Imagery, like anything else, can be healthy or harmful, addictive or nutritious. And now, more so than ever, this has become a massive issue with the huge cultural impact of social media," states Rankin. "Every platform is full of hyper-retouched and highly addictive imagery, and it’s messing people up. As a photographer, I feel like my medium has been hijacked by people that are misusing and abusing its power.”

The initiative, which is being led on the agency side by Mimi Gray, M&C's head of visual content, will explore the issue at an exhibition to be hosted at the agency this month. It will feature five inspiring artists, including Clémence Vazard, who will be showing her lightbox self-portrait, previously on display in Paris, together with an audio piece - "Hey Siri, why don’t I look like that girl on Instagram?" - specially created for Visual Diet from testimonies collected from young women sharing their experiences of social media. 

 

 

In addition, a digital poster, which uses AI technology developed by M&C Saatchi, will read people’s reactions to different images as they walk past. The poster will be 'fed' with a range of content, from journalistic photography, to sports, celebrity, art, illustration and everything in-between. Logging all interactions, both positive and negative, from people’s facial expressions, the poster technology will score each image with a positive engagement mark, killing off those that receive negative feedback. 

People will also be able to vote for which images they feel have a positive or negative effect on the associated website and view reactions to the installation in real time.   

“I believe in the positive value of inspiring visuals, especially those created by artists," says Tanguy, who recently gave a TEDx Talk on the subject [below]. "I hope people start seeing the effect of these visuals on their mental health as our campaign raises this awareness. It’s time to stop consuming daily the visual content of a Kim Kardashian (120 million followers as we speak) and move over to a more inspiring visual diet. It is such a joy to see my TEDx talk becoming a campaign that can affect thousands, if not millions, of people.”

 

 

 “We live in a time of overwhelming visual stimulation and it is impossible to have control over all the imagery we are exposed to - from advertising and editorial to images on the news, even on our friend’s social media pages," adds Gray. "We are all content creators now, and we all share the responsibility. So, how do we make people consider the side-effects of their uploads before they hit share - whether they are an influencer with 100K followers, or a high-school student with 200? We need to take back control over our visual diets by challenging the way we currently consume imagery and interact with social media.” 

The Visual Diet exhibition takes place on 24 January at M&C Saatchi's offices, followed by a panel discussion.

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