Sobre esa práctica llamada Selfie

Parece haber un creciente interés en los (ahora llamados) selfies: Colegas y amigas (curiosamente todas mujeres) han abierto un grupo de Facebook para crear una red de estudios sobre los selfies (y están preparando un número especial en un journal), Lev Manovich acaba de lanzar (con una cobertura mediática envidiable) su proyecto selfiecity. Daniel Miller, uno de los antropólogos más renombrados en el estudio de internet ahora está interesado en ellos. Es decir, el mainstream de la academia se ha dado cuenta de que hay un campo de estudios emergente. Esto coincide con el impulso que le dio al concepto el haber sido la palabra del año (2013) para el renombrado Diccionario Oxford.

Yo hace años que vengo estudiando y escribiendo sobre lo que para mi era la “práctica paradigmática de la fotografía digital”. Pero no soy, ni de lejos, pionero en ello. Si he de situar el inicio de la reflexión diría que fueron los escandinavos o los japoneses quienes comenzaron a pensar sobre esta práctica fotográfica y esto no es casual, en Japón se introdujo el primer teléfono con cámara y los escandinavos fueron early-adopters, en su momento de los MMS.

Bien es cierto que no había un concepto concreto que nombrara la práctica digital  y todos los que escribimos al respecto, antes del boom del término, utilizábamos el tradicional “autorretrato” y sobre autorretratos hay una cantidad de literatura que no podríamos leer en una sola vida (si se piensa que el autorretrato era una práctica artística desde siempre). Hay diferencias, por supuesto, la extensión, la cantidad, la inmediatez, la espontaneidad, su uso comunicativo y no sólo representacional, su carácter performativo, su combinación con movilidades, conectividades y reflexividades, etc. De todo ello hablo en un capítulo de mi libro y en varios artículos que he escrito con colegas. Mi crítica (por no decir queja) en este momento se sitúa en el vértice de dos vectores: Continue reading

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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.

Imagen de perfil (algunas notas sobre la interpretación de la fotografía)

En estos tiempos en los que la imagen es omnipresente en las sociedades occidentales (y no sólo en ellas), tiempos en los que estamos inundados de mediaciones tecnológicas hipervisuales (que de hecho algunos hasta las estudiamos) vale la pena recuperar una reflexión detonada precisamente por un grupo de imágenes.

Hace unos días participé como “voluntario” (a los colegas de oficina no es fácil decirles que no), en un estudio sobre el cerebro. No quiero reflexionar aquí sobre el proceso, por demás interesante (estar media hora metido en un tubo que escanea el cerebro para después aguantar una prueba que básicamente consiste en elaborar una tarea frente a un monitor mientras recibes descargas electromagnéticas en la cabeza, bien valdría otro post). Lo que quiero apuntar ahora es la forma en la que nos relacionamos con las imágenes. La investigadora principal me regaló un “souvenir”, varias imágenes de mi cerebro….

Imagen Continue reading

“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

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

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

¿Un nuevo régimen de Cultura Visual?

No he tenido oportunidad de explorar esto a fondo ni de consultar la bibliografía adecuada como para reflexionar sobre un “nuevo régimen de visualidad” dentro de los procesos sociales, culturales y psicológicos. Lo que sí puedo pensar (ya con un poco de base en mi trabajo de campo) es que la posibilidad y facilidad de producción de imágenes tiene tanta penetración en las sociedades occidentales que cada vez parece más difícil “ser y estar” sin generar un registro visual de ello. Hace poco en un concierto masivo lo comentaba con una amiga muy querida que estaba impresionada porque ya nadie miraba al escenario con sus ojos sino a través de una pantallita. Ayer me encontré con esta foto y, si lo que dicen los sociólogos visuales es verdad y esta imagen nos sirve como dato, algo está definitivamente sucediendo.