About photography materiality and online/offline liminality

I just came back from the EASA conference in Maynooth, Ireland. Along with Elisenda Ardèvol, we presented our theoretical framework (practice theory) and my research on digital photography practices at the workshop: “The Rewards of Media“, organized by John Postill and Philipp Budka. So far, so good. Interestingly, the best came once the conference was over (not only for the wonderful night with friends at the Market Place, the surprises and then the great pub discussion about the relationship between Catholicism and cultural common features, Thanks Paco!), but because I was able to see and talk with some photographers at the “Peoples Photography Ireland“, a public exhibition of camera club photographers.

Although in my work I haven’t been able to work directly with institutionalized amateur photographers (since actually, what I propose in my dissertation is that flickr is becoming one mayor bridge between photography institutions and a wide range or photographers, from snapshotters to amateurs and professionals), it was very interesting for me to see them in action. I was expecting to find some “Dublin flickr group” exhibiting but it seems that only “old fashion” clubs were participating. Of all the thoughts that came to my mind, there’s one I want to make here.
We have been discussing for ages the problematic relationship between the concepts of online and offline in the Internet Studies. But what was very interesting for me watching the exhibition, was to see how digital (sometimes online) practices had intermingled, in a playful way, with the material and physical exhibition, materiality that, by the way, permeated some of the characteristics of online photo platforms (galleries in flickr, face”book”, etc.).  I’ll show some examples of it with few comments. Continue reading “About photography materiality and online/offline liminality”

Photography and “realism”

A few months ago, I read Fred Ritchin´s book : “After Photography” of (I wrote a post about it). In that book, Ritchin was interested on the possibilities that digital technology could bring into photojournalism. He set the example of a project he did with photographer; in this project, they put the photos of the second “in context”, meaning that they told the story of how each photo was taken, linked with each other to give more information about the images.
A couple of days ago, I saw Standard Operating Procedure, a magnificent  documentary of the filmmaker Errol Morris (which by the way you can see it online), the film is an amazingly well done account of the history of the torture photos of Abu Ghraib. It takes, somehow, Ritchin´s premise about the possibilities of digital photography, since the people who are the main characters in the documentary, are precisely the people who made the photos. While the film is just good enough as a documentary, my point is about the discussion between realism and digital photography. In the 90´s, there were several voices talking about how digital technology will end forever the accurate representation of reality that was one of the main characteristics of photography. Some talked about “post-photography”, and some even said “photography was dead“. Although the debate seem less important in the current agenda on photography, at the same time, the pervasiveness and wide use of photography had opened new paths for “realism”.

Susan Sontag, one of the main contemporary thinkers on photography,  wrote a text about these photos that begins with the statement: “Photographs have an insuperable power to determine what we recall of events”, therefore, she continues: Abu Ghraib´s photos were going to be what people will recall of Iraq war.  Since: “the horror of what is shown in the photographs cannot be separated from the horror that the photographs were taken”, it becomes very relevant the fact that the photos were not shoot by professional photo-journalism but the actual soldiers in charge of the prison that were doing snapshots of their everyday life. Morris documentary takes us to the “context” of how, when, and why those photos were taken. In front of the “dead of realism”, announced by several “thinkers”, the snapshots of the digital era reminds us that reality will probably be still photographed. I’ll keep a quote of the military researcher of the photos: “Photographs are what they are. You can interpret them differently, but what the photograph depicts is what it is”

“Networked images”. A conversation with Anne Beaulieu and Sarah de Rijcke´s paper

I just finished the reading of the paper Mediated ethnography and the study of networked images — or how to study ‘networked realism’ as visual knowing of Anne Beaulieu and Sarah de Rijcke, that they presented at the Visual Methods Conference. What I would try to do now is to relate some of their thoughts with my own work in the spirit of exchange and share. I’ll do it in a personal and reflexive way more than to establish an academic critic of their work (which I found fascinating and useful).

The relationship between STS studies and research in cultural domains seems to be a difficult and  it has not been more explored (cfr. Couldry). In my own work I have tried to set a link between cultural production and the role of technology in its shaping. While there seems to be several works from STS that relate photography with technology (de Rijcke, Meyer), they all are settled in institutional and organizational environments. Therefore, the changing and shaping of image technology seem to be goal oriented since this use is framed by the institutions whose borders are relatively easy to trace. On the other hand, there is a huge corpus of research in photography as a cultural object. Not only related to the aesthetics but also many works that are interested in the circulation and “institutionalization” of those images, for example in the art field (Becker, Bourdieu). There is also a third corpus that reflects on the “impact” of new photographical technologies in the changing of society (for example how the Kodak Brownie camera created a new form of photography: the snapshot). My trouble is that these three fields are disconnected from each other and I need elements of the three of them to explain my fieldwork. The first (STS) is very aware of the mutual shaping between technologies and practices but lacks to incorporate the content, meaning and aesthetics of the images in their analysis. And also, they don’t seem to be interested in how people put their desires and tastes in the creation and circulation of those images. The second corpus (that we could call cultural circulation or social uses of photography) is concern precisely with these elements in order to understand the creation of visual elites and power, but seems to have a naive approach to technologies that make this possible. The third one (Social impact), is too technological deterministic and barely useful in an ethnography of the mediations.

With the emergence of digital technology, a greatest “networked complexity” is added to the equation. Continue reading ““Networked images”. A conversation with Anne Beaulieu and Sarah de Rijcke´s paper”

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 “After photography?”

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 “Ceci n’est pas une recherche du flickr”

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.