Imágenes revueltas: los contextos de la fotografía digital (paper)

Junto con Elisenda Ardèvol Piera, acabamos de publicar un texto en el monográfico sobre Fotografia i alteritats de los Quaderns-e del Institut Català d`antropologia coordinado por Nadja Monnet y Enrique Santamaría.

El resumen a continuación yaquí el texto completo:

Este artículo pretende reflexionar sobre las posibilidades que abre Internet para el estudio de la cultura visual contemporánea a la vez que plantea una serie de cuestiones teóricas, éticas y metodológicas sobre la fotografía digital y su uso para la investigación antropológica. Internet puede considerarse actualmente como uno de los mayores archivos de fotografía o como un banco de imágenes inmenso al cual podemos acceder instantáneamente desde cualquier buscador. Sin embargo, esta perspectiva supone la descontextualización de las imágenes, que aparecen así de un modo revuelto; alteradas.

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“Cibersexo” (visual) revisitado

Dos cosas sucedieron para hacerme escribir este post. Por un lado una estudiante de Colombia me hizo una entrevista interesada en mi trabajo de investigación sobre cibersexo. Por otro, que me topé con el interesante texto de Ori Schwarz: Going to bed with a camera: On the visualization of sexuality and the production of knowledge.

La trayectoria de Internet ha sido claramente de un medio textual a uno multimedia (o multimodal como apuntan algunos autores). La digitalización de los procesos, la convergencia y la masificación de aparatos de producción audiovisual, junto con el crecimiento en la(s) conexión(es) a Internet, ha dado como resultado que nunca en la historia de la humanidad se hayan producido tantas imágenes como ahora y nunca hayan podido ser vistas por tantas personas. Hasta ahí todo más o menos en el sentido común, ahora bien ¿cuál es la relación entre estas transformaciones y el ámbito de la sexualidad y la intimidad?
Schwarz traza un breve análisis histórico y propone que la relación entre visualidad y sexualidad es relativamente reciente. Por ejemplo, siguiendo a otros autores menciona que en el siglo XVIII la idea de la sexualidad estaba más relacionada con el tacto que con la visualidad y las relaciones solían llevarse a cabo en la oscuridad e incluso con alguna ropa puesta. De ahí reflexiona cómo la visualidad, de la mano de corrientes psicológicas, la publicidad, los medios y la “espectacularización” han hecho de la sexualidad una cuestión mayoritariamente visual especialmente con la pornografía como industria y como objeto. Continue reading ““Cibersexo” (visual) revisitado”

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?”

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.

Fotografía y Cultura Protética (lectura de Lury)

Recién termino uno de esos libros que requieren varias lecturas para digerirse. Prosthetic Culture: Photography, Memory and Identity de Celia Lury (un libro que por cierto está descatalogado en papel y sólo se encuentra como e-book).

El libro es un ensayo notable (que hace algunos años podría ser enmarcado en el pensamiento posmoderno) sobre lo que ella llama Cultura Protética y que parte de la idea de que el individuo y su identidad no están prefijados sino que se constituyen mediante la negociación a través de la experimentación. Ella apunta:

La adopción de la experimentación como técnica del “self” hace posible una relación con el individuo producido (incluyendo las características definitorias previas como la conciencia, la memoria y la corporización [embodiment]) en los que aspectos que previamente parecían (natural o socialmente) estables, inmutables o más allá del control personal (self-control) son cada vez más sitios de toma de decisiones estratégicas, asuntos de la técnica o la experimentación (p. 1)

Utilizando a la fotografía como eje conductor de su análisis, casi filosófico, apunta la estrecha relación entre la construcción de la mirada y la generación de conocimiento(s). Siguiendo el planteamiento de Walter Benjamín y de Donna Haraway entre otros (la bibliografía es impresionante) reconstituye la capacidad del sujeto y de “lo social” de autogenerarse (también utiliza a Luhmann) a través de mecanismos que ella relaciona con la idea de prótesis (muy cercana a la idea de cyborg de Haraway). Para ello, establece cómo la imagen, especialmente la fotográfica, ha sido clave en ese desarrollo con la idea de mimesis.

La mimesis involucrada en el ver fotográfico es entendida como una provocación a la mediación corporal en la inmediación, una mediación que es tanto metamorfosis como coincidencia. Es una relación metonímica operando dentro y fuera de la representación, dentro y fuera del cuadro, y que tiene el potencial de permitir la disasociación de los sentidos que disturba la coherencia del individuo debido a su preocupación cn la sensación que escapa al sujeto de la representación (p. 5)

Por lo que se generan biografías prostéticas (y elabora ejemplos que van desde la exposición “La familia del hombre (sic.)” al uso de la fotografía para la implantación de memorias falsas.

Una de esas lecturas complejas y retadoras que, en la tradición de los ensayos sobre el papel de la fotografía en las sociedades modernas (Sontag, Barthes), ofrece una perspectiva sugerente sobre la capacidad de la representación y la mirada fotográfica para construir subjetividades.