“Performing photography practices in everyday life” (New article)

My paper: Performing photography practices in everyday life, written with Elisenda Ardèvol, has just been published in Photographies. It is a small paper that was presented at the Helsinki Photomedia Conference last year (2012). I want to thank Martin Lister for the invitation to submit it and to Sarah Kember for her wise comments and recommendations for the paper.

It is kind of strange that someone publish two papers in the consecutive numbers of the same journal but I’m honored and happy for that. Here’s the abstract:

This paper presents a number of examples from an ethnographic fieldwork with a group of amateur photographers in Barcelona. Based on Practice Theory approach, as a theoretical framework, the article stands as an example of the study of photography that moves away from a representational or semiotic approach towards a performative one. The examples described show how different practices enable and enhance mediations that are material, visual and digital at the same time and how these practices are performed by the group while they shape their collective identity.

Some notes on “virtual ethnography” (text in Spanish and English)

The Barcelona Center for International Affairs has just published a monograph from a Training Seminar, we participated few months ago. Along with Elisenda Ardèvol, we wrote a small article titled: “Digital Technologies in the Process of Social Research: Theoretical and Methodological Reflections Through Digital Virtual Ethnography” and it´s available online.

Here it is in English

Aquí el texto en Español.

Domestic digital photography: a note on ethics

A guy is about to die and somebody and, instead of helping him, a photographer shoots several images. This is already shocking itself but not that strange when it comes to news-making. There are thousands of extremely violent images that capture these unfortunate situations (just to mention one, one of the most famous photographs of the Vietnam War is precisely the “decisive moment” when somebody is killing some other human being, and I phrased like this not as a moral statement but as a way to subtract the political and ideological elements of the image). I addressed this issue in a former post (in Spanish). The question goes beyond news’ ethics (although it is absolutely imperative to have a deontological debate about it), and this is the key of this “note”. The discussion about what photography is becoming in everyday life goes beyond journalism (or “civic journalism” for that matter). People is photographing everything and, in many cases, using photography as a “social currency” in “social network sites” to gain social capital (success, acceptance, etc.). This use of photography almost as a currency seems to be increasing and I frame it as a hypothesis.

Then the question that seems relevant is: is photography becoming an obsession?  Not in the medical terms but in the most capitalist way of shaping everyday life (and this connects to free/emotional labour discussions). With the proliferation of images; the quest of a special image, the risks taken to shoot it and the extremely constant shooting, become imperative. The other day, a twitt was posted: “Your child is being eaten by a camel. Do you a) save your child or b) take a photo”. Domestic photography use to be ritualistic and performed in special moments, with the digital affordances, domestic photography moved to the banal, the common, with a movement towards an “aestheticization” of the normal but that seems to be turning to a more slippery terrains. What are we willing to do for a great photo?

The other day I found this video:

I don’t even know what it advertises but I have the feeling that it’s playfully accurate, while exaggerated, of how people is valuing photography nowadays. If everything is photographable and we all take many images with the same equipment (that is mainly in our pockets along with internet connection), then the outstanding, the extra-ordinary, the unique becomes a highly valuable asset, in the most economical terms. We should probably reflect on this.

Creation and Control in the Photographic Process (New article online)

After of what could be seen as ages (we completed the first draft in 2010), the paper that Eric T. Meyer and I wrote for Photographies is finally published (online first). This is a very special paper for me because it is the first peer-reviewed paper, in English, that I signed as a first author. I want to publicly thank Eric, first because although the paper was equally written by the two of us, he was as kind as letting me sign first while he is the one with the astonishing academic trajectory. And second because his detailed corrections, ideas and experience shaped the paper in its final form (fixing my mistakes and handicapped use of English language). I also want to thank the editors: Liz Wells and Martin Lister for their patience, and specially Martin for his comments, support and kindness. Also, I have to mention the great work of Melanie Smith as the responsible for the edition.

Here’s the abstract and the link to the article. And here’s the link to the postscript in case you’re interested in the text.

This article underlines some aspects that relate, on the one side, to the technological devices necessary to photography production and, on the other, the kind of practices that shape and are shaped by those devices. It discusses how those relationships have shaped different visual regimes. Based on theoretical approaches like Science and Technology Studies (STS) and the Socio-technical Interactions Network (STIN) perspective, the article starts with a brief historical description focusing on the production of photos as a three-step process:

1) infrastructural elements of image production; 2) technologies of processing images; and 3) distribution/showing of images. It is proposed that photography has had four moments in this history. Finally, the article discusses the latest socio-technological practices, and proposes that the iPhone is the best example of the kind of devices that are possibly opening a fifth moment in photography technologies.

Sarah Pink’s prologue to “De la Cultura Kodak a la imagen en red”

Sarah Pink, one of the world’s leading figures in Visual Anthropology and Visual Studies, wrote the prologue for my book. Since it is written almost as a review, I reproduce it here with her permission and in English. I want to publicly thank her for her kindness, support and interest.

Prologue 

Sarah Pink, April 2012

Edgar Gomez Cruz’s work responds and contributes to an emergent strand in scholarship around Communications and Media characterised by theoretical and practical turns away from the semiotic and towards the ethnographic, experiential, habitual and non-representational. In doing so it participates in the process of re-defining this field of scholarship in relation to a series of key theoretical and methodological moves that cross social sciences and humanities literatures and invite new interdisciplinary understandings of digital media. The geographer Nigel Thrift’s formulation of non-representational theory, he writes, ‘takes the leitmotif of movement and works with it as a way of going beyond constructivism’ (2008: 5). Such approaches, like that of the anthropologist Tim Ingold, have key critical implications for visual culture studies (see Ingold 2011: 316). They enable us to understand how the relevance of photography in the world goes beyond the visual content of images themselves and is bound up with their relationship with the multiple other things that are on-going in the worlds that they are part of. In this context alternative theoretical approaches have opened up new avenues through which we might comprehend digital photography. Indeed Ingold provocatively poses the question: ‘Should the drawing or painting be understood as a final image to be inspected and interpreted, as is conventional in studies of visual culture, or should we rather think of it as a node in a matrix of trails to be followed by observant eyes? Are drawings or paintings of things in the world, or are they like things in the world, in the sense that we have to find our ways through and among them, inhabiting them as we do the world itself?’ (2010: 16). The same of course should be asked of the digital photograph. Likewise conventional approaches to the study of digital photography through visual content are revised through the turn to practice theory, which has become an influential paradigm in sociology. Practice theory offers an analytical lens that turns away from the focus on culture. Instead as Andreas Reckwitz puts it: Practice theory ‘decentres’ mind, texts and conversation. Simultaneously, it shifts bodily movements, things, practical knowledge and routine to the centre of its vocabulary’ (2002: 259). These theoretical moves thus create a context where we have new and inspiring tools and frames through which to think about digital photography and the persons and things with which it is co-implicated in the world. Indeed to develop a contemporary study of digital photography involves departing from conventional analytical techniques in the study of the image. In doing so it moreover calls on scholars to follow the increasing urge towards working across and beyond the confines of traditional academic disciplines. Continue reading “Sarah Pink’s prologue to “De la Cultura Kodak a la imagen en red””

Image-based research workshop in Vienna

I just came back from Austria where I was invited by the Iconicom project (thanks Maria and Aglaja) of the University of Vienna. We had a great (in)formal workshop about image-based research that turned out to be a very theoretical and epistemological in the issues we dealt with. I presented my work on digital photography practices and discussed some methodological and ethical issues and some of the findings. In the second part of the workshop, I wanted to raise the question of ethics and how they approach it in their research, after which they presented their very interesting research on images (snapshots and political ones). We had some nice critical engage with each other’s different points of view. For me the big challenge is how to combine the formal characteristics of the images (in a more semiotic fashion) with the concept of practices that I’ve been using in my own work. At the end, the important thing is that we realized how our research is complementary in many ways and we opened the door for future collaboration (although I’m deeply interested and looking forward to read their paper on the concept of “authorship”).

I had one day of snow, one sunny day, Apfelstrudel, Klimt, Bier and met some great people that are already friends. Vienna Style. So, danke schön.

ImagenFrom the series: “Vienna Calling”

On the construction of a blackbox: iPhoneography

What I found to be the most interesting statement in this presentation (and that is in line with a paper Eric Meyer and I wrote and submitted for “Photographies” journal) is in these two statements:

“When we talk about iPhoneography, we’re not just talking about the photography part…(but the) integration and the asimilation of the shooting the filtering and the sharing”

“Technology was not something I did but it was something that I was”

Abstract “Photography as a networked practice in everyday life”

(accepted for the Digital Cameras as a Nexus in Everyday Life event. Helsinki. November 28-30)

Photography as a networked practice in everyday life: the case of a flickr group  in Barcelona

Edgar Gómez Cruz PhD.
Elisenda Ardèvol Piera PhD.
Internet Interdisciplinary Institute

The use of digital photography is transforming in great stance the role of photography in contemporary societies (Okabe & Ito, 2003; 2006). This paper is based on an ethnographic fieldwork of one year and a half with a group of photographers in the site flickr.com. The group, named “SortidazZ” is an amateur and snapshooters group in Barcelona.

In this research, digital photography is understood using a complementary approach: The Practice Theory approach (Reckwitz, 2002; Schatzki, Knorr-Cetina & Von Savigny, 2001) and as the sociotechnical network (Bijker & Law, 1994). Following Larsen:

Photography is so evidently material and social, objective and subjective, that is, heterogeneous. It is a complex amalgam of technology, discourse and practice. Photographic agency is a relational effect that first comes into force when a heterogeneous network of humans and non-humans is in place. (2008, p. 145)

The goal of this paper is twofold. On the one hand it discusses the main digital photographic practices of a heavy user group, and second, it describes the way the group is constituted and formed as a collective identity performing those practices. Two critical conclusions are proposed: the traditional role of snapshot and amateur photography is changing, from a memory device to a connectivity practice and from having a primary social cohesion role to be a key element in new groups formation. And second, that the formation of a “social network” goes beyond the specific technological platforms of mediation (flickr, Facebook, twitter, etc.). Although the studied group was born in flickr, their consolidation requires several instances online and offline where digital imagery practices plays a key role on it.

References

Bijker, W., & Law, J. (1994). Shaping technology/building society: Studies in sociotechnical change. Cambridge, Mass.(EUA): MIT Press.

Larsen, J. (2008). Practices and Flows of Digital Photography: An Ethnographic Framework. Mobilities, 3(1), 141-160.

Okabe, D., & Ito, M. (2003). Camera phones changing the definition of picture-worthy. Japan Media Review, 29.

Okabe, D., & Ito, M. (2006). Everyday Contexts of Camera Phone Use: Steps Toward Technosocial Ethnographic Frameworks. In J. Höflich & M. Hartmann (Eds.), Mobile Communication in Everyday Life: An Ethnographic View (pp. 79-102). Berlin: Frank & Timme.

Reckwitz, A. (2002). Toward a Theory of Social Practices. European Journal of Sociology, 5(2), 243-263.

Schatzki, T., Knorr-Cetina, K., & Von Savigny, E. (2001). The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory. London: Routledge.