After photography?

“Once the world has been photographed. It is never again the same” (Fred Ritchin)

I just finished the book “After Photography” of Fred Ritchin. Somebody told me, about this book, that it was the “On photography” of the XXI century. Although I enjoyed it very much, I would say is more the “Being Digital” of photography. Ritchin, deeply knower of the photography insights, stands from the point of view of the mainstream photography, especially the photojournalism, and discusses the future possibilities of digital photography. Although an extraordinary book from the journalism point of view, and a serious commitment voice with the possibilities that digital photography could bring for the critical social media, it seems that his analysis lacks something which I think is the main force in the changing of the social meaning of photography: the people and their cameras in the everyday life.

Is not that he’s not aware of this, but he is more interested in the mainstream media and the “serious” photography. Even more, I felt that, at least in his book (I just started to follow his blog), he still talks like if photography was just one universal thing. This is one of the conclusions so far in my research, to think about “photography” doesn’t make sense anymore, even with the “traditional” labels (photojournalism, artistic, snapshot, etc.), and pushing it little further even genres are getting blurred (portrait, landscape, etc.). Photography is many things, not just one. He acknowledges this when he points:

The digital photography potentially will be so thoroughly linked to a multiplicity of media, both as recipient and producer, that communication of whatever kind becomes more important than the singularity of the photographic vision. The pixelated photograph’s ephemerality on the screen and its easy linkage, as well as the impression that it is just one communicating strategy amount many, reduce the individualized impact of the photograph as it appears on a piece of film or paper. Rather than as “photographers” for the most part these kinds of image-makers will be thought of simply as “communicators (p. 146) Continue reading

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Ceci n’est pas une recherche du flickr

Foucault, in his fascinating, and beautiful, essay on Magritte’s famous painting, tells us that, the trap of the “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” paint is that the letters are not letters but calligraphies, which means that they are not naming anything but just happened to be there set in a position that we, as viewers, understand as a contradiction between the drawing and the meaning of the statement. Foucault’s thoughts are extremely tempting to follow but I’ll resist (this time). My point today is something else. A few days ago, in the AoIR list, Mayo Fuster, a colleague from Berkeley, asked about people doing research on flickr. My name popped out (thanks Ismael, or should I say: Dr. Peña?) and this made me think about my own work.

Flashback from the field I

I’m sitting in a bar with ten or twelve photographers. I’m in a bar because they decided to get together here and drink a few beers after a day at work (and, as an ethnographer, well, you know, I have to do what they do). None of them are carrying cameras and this could be a “regular” group of people, just one of several groups in this busy night at the bar (Barcelona is just like that). Nonetheless, here are some of the core members of the group I’ve been participating with for several months. There’s no trace or discussion in flickr about this “getting together”, it is a casual thing: I got a phone call, some other people were contacted by email and, another couple were luckily enough to found each other with someone at some local store and decided to join him. Discussions are multiple and, although they tend to be photography-centred, some of them range, from the last sports results, to gossips about other people in the group. Probably this will not be important at all except for one thing. They decide, at the end of the night, to organize a photowalk that, as soon as later in the night, will become a post in the group. That post would take, eventually, to several pictures taken, the integration of new members to the group, more beers and, definitely, a sense of belonging and identity. Continue reading

Digital Photography and Picture Sharing: Redefining the Public/Private Divide

The text that Amparo Lasén and I started to work for Copenhagen´s AoIR last year is finally published. Thanks Amparo and thanks Larissa.

Here´s the Abstract

Digital photography is contributing to the renegotiation of the public and private divide and to the transformation of privacy and intimacy, especially with the convergence of digital cameras, mobile phones, and web sites. This convergence contributes to the redefinition of public and private and to the transformation of their boundaries, which have always been subject to historical and geographical change. Taking pictures or filming videos of strangers in public places and showing them in webs like Flickr or YouTube, or making self-portraits available to strangers in instant messenger, social network sites, or photo blogs are becoming a current practice for a growing number of Internet users. Both are examples of the intertwining of online and offline practices, experiences, and meanings that challenge the traditional concepts of the public and the private. Uses of digital images play a role in the way people perform being a stranger and in the way they relate to strangers, online and offline. The mere claims about the privatization of the public space or the public disclosure of intimacy do not account for all these practices, situations, and attitudes, as they are not a simple translation of behaviors and codes from one realm to the other.

Social Shaping of Technology, the case of Samsung´s new camera

I read that there’s a new Samsung camera coming out to the market. The special feature this point&shoot camera has is that it integrates a small LCD screen on the front.

Social Shaping of Technology, is an approach that:

In contrast to traditional approaches which only addressed the outcomes or ‘impacts’ of technological change….examines the content of technology and the particular processes involved in innovation…… It explores a range of factors – organisational, political, economic and cultural – which pattern the design and implementation of technology.” (Williams and Edge, 1996).

Vision that is shared by other approaches like  Social Informatics that also suggests:  “We view the design …..not simply as one of artifacts, Rather, the interplay of social assumptions and practices that are reflected in technological design features” (Kling, 1999, p. 213)

I would suggest that, the case of the Samsung’s new camera could be seen as a clear example of these  type of approaches. Although this statement could seem rather simplistic, is based upon a year and a half of ethnographical fieldwork on digital photography practices in Barcelona.

One of the things that digital photography brought to the imaging creation practices is the opportunity, because of the cost-zero once having the equipment, of shoot as many photos as you want (or the battery and card could handle it in one session). This possibility, along with the technical feature of the LCD screen, opened the practice of photography based on “trial and error”  and speeded the whole process. That way, the photographer freed herself of constrains of time and the expertise needed to take desired photographs.  One of the results of this practice was another  that have had exponential rise in recent times: the self-portraits. The design of camera’s software and hardware, tend to facilitate this practice, for example adding a small mirror in cameraphones or incorporating “face detection software” (designed originally for surveillance). With the new LCD screen on the front, the Samsung camera attempts to solve, in a technological way, a common “social” practice.

Now, if that will increase the “narcissism”, that’s another story, and this is not the place to discuss it.