Thursday, October 28, 2010

Photography and/as network

"Digital Images, Photo-Sharing, and Our Shifting Notions of Everyday Aesthetics" by Susan Murray,
"Online Photographic Thinking" by Jason Evans, &
"The Practice of Everyday (Media) Life: From Mass Consumption to Mass Cultural Production?" by Lev Manovich

    In "Digital Images, Photo-Sharing, and Our Shifting Notions of Everyday Aesthetics" by Susan Murray, Murray begins her discussion by talking about the free popular photo-sharing website Flickr, which allows people to view thousands of images by  using groups, tags, keywords, batches, etc. Flickr has more functions than commercial photo sites. With Flickr, not only can you upload images but you can interact with tags, notes, a contact list, and groups with discussion boards. It is a social networking site that can be shared between professionals and amateurs alike. Murray basically argues about how the use of things like this allows more people to engage in “the everyday” and photography is no longer just about family portraits on holidays, but everyday objects that can be made to look interesting even by amateur photographers. This changes our relationships to the everyday.

    To make her point, Murray gives a brief history of amateur photography, which seems to have spread with the invention of Kodak’s roll film camera invention in the late 1880s which was very easy to use. This made photography more than just a “leisure/consumer activity” but a social one that was liked for its artistic qualities. of This birthed two kinds of amateurs: ones that photographed for fun and ones that considered themselves artists but not professionals (which were photographers working in a studio). Through Kodak’s advertising, amateur photography became defined as something to be used for artistic purposes and for capturing special moments of life. Snapshot photography was popularized and the division between the artistic photographers and the ones who took pictures for fun or at events.
    The next shift in popularizing photography was in the 1950s in which people were not just encouraged to take pictures of everyday life postwar, but it also could be used to make money and create an even better life, when photography magazines offered money for specific types of pictures.
    The next biggest shift in photography was the use of the digital camera. The shift was huge - by 2004, 28 billion digital photos had been made - 6 billion more than film photos made in that year. But instead of talking about the social function and aesthetics of digital photography, the issue at hand was of indexicality, as we learned a few weeks ago from the last few readings. The 1990s became “post-photographic” with digital. Some people were unsure of the uses of digital (like Don Slater in 1995 who noticed that private images were not really mainstream yet) and some people believed it would revolutionize photography (like Lev Manovich in 1995).

    Murray goes on to say that photography  has usually been talked about in regards to “history, memory, absence, and loss.” She notes, using quotes from other authors, that photography has been used to preserve a moment in time, and people like Barthes and Bazin say that photography records death or “embalms” something since the moment captured no longer exists, and that is a main aspect of photography. But the use of digital and sites like Flickr add more functions, more to do with transience than loss. The way Flickr functions is with the promise of new photos always being added, adding contacts, constantly returning to photo streams to look for new work (in which the most recent always shows up first). Old work is moved to the end of the stream, making it temporary in a sense and making the Flickr into a sort of diary for the user. However, groups tend to not tell a story but hold photos that all share some main characteristics. It has been noticed that the most popular content on Flickr revolves around this new category, called “ephemera” in this reading and mainly has to do with finding beauty in the everyday, encouraged by digital technology and social networking. The disposability of digital images and there not being a need for film allows a person to photograph whenever they want, and not just save expensive film for “special moments.” The idea that photography “embalms” a moment of death is no more, since there is already a temporary aspect of digital. The “everyday aesthetic is fleeting.” Again, this brings up the argument of indexicality and whether or not digital images can be indexical because of their temporary nature and how they can be manipulated. However, Murray does not care too much about the issue of indexicality and does not think that the “lack of the indexical” is what makes digital photos more temporary. (I’m on her side here.)  Though plenty of amateurs see how easy it is to manipulate images, that does not  necessarily make them question the truth of digital photography constantly.

    Murray also explores the idea of  being able to comment on photos on sites like Flickr. Such a large community of uses, and subcommunities within that make it difficult to distinguish professional from amateur on comments. She says “the hierarchical relationship between hobbyist, serious amateur, and professional does not really exist on these sites.” however, “good” photos are rewarded for composition, color, lighting, etc. The “ideal” flickr photo is influenced by the Flickr blog where work is posted. But photos taken with a camera phone can be just as valuable as those taken with a high-end SLR - for abstractness, simplicity, etc. in fact, many images are well-liked for their “low-end” look. There is space for “perfect and imperfect” images, though it must be taken into account that there is degradation of image quality that comes with digital when images are scaled down.(The fact that images of all kinds on Flickr can be found valuable in some way is similar to the kinds of photos taken with film cameras in the 1950s for events and enjoyment.. not all those images may have been "perfect" by everyone's standards but a blurry picture of grandma at a birthday party could be valued once she is gone..)

    Overall, Murray makes a main point at the end when she says that  digital has not created revolution with a “loss of authenticity” as predicted, but has changed the way people interact with photography.

    “Online Photographic Thinking” by Jason Evans opens up with how he is “under whelmed” by the lack of advantage taken of the internet and its possibilities by photographers. The most striking thing he says in the first few pages, to me, is “If an audience is what you prefer (as opposed to a physical thing like a book or a show as the testimony to your photographic talent), then the Internet is for you.” But he does say that it is not for everyone.

    When it comes to digital vs. analog, Evans sees it as “two sides of the same coin,” which I totally agree with. He goes on to say that photography is full of mechanical revolutions, and digital is just the most recent of those. And to say that no images can possibly work well on the internet would be a lie considering the outrageous number of porn sites on the web the year before this essay was written, according to Evans (and I would imagine by now that the number has gone even higher a few years later).

    Evans then describes a variety of websites with photography projects that  make him enjoy photography online. But he does not mean to say that only the internet should be used for photography or that someone should choose either analog or digital, but they can even be combined.

by Christophe Agou from

by Kevin Beck, from


    Included in this reading are a few letters written in response to him. One writer, Amir Zaki, responded saying that more professionals do not make use of the internet as much because it is not time yet and these kinds of things happen slowly. With the internet, failure and rejection is not really at stake, and in that case, it may not always be taken seriously.  There is not as much structure on the internet as in “real life,” for lack of better terms. Nicholas Grider replies by saying that the internet distribution of photos will not replace the current art market because the art market thrives off of selling the artist; with the internet, viewers see the work but have little connection to the artist. The audience does not know where to look or what name to remember. David Weiner says, “Without much ef-fort I can go from the temporality of TheDailyNice to Evans’s portfolio site and make a connection from there to “this guy also shot Radiohead,” and from there all kinds of context can be added in. The “risk” of this is that Jason Evans no longer really controls the context and I’m free to make all kinds of associations that may or may not be productive to appreciating his work.” I feel like this can also be applied to all the sites Evans mentioned that he liked; in all those sites, the authors of the site and even the photographs have no control over context anymore and anyone can make any kind of assumptions they want, some of which may never have been intended. On, a gallery showcases a man posing with a different girlfriend in a different picture - and there are many pictures. What kind of assumption can we make about this man? Not everyone thinks it's a good idea to have one significant other after another after another...

from, and yes, I did have to make a screencapture of this to get it..

    In The Practice of Everyday (Media) Life: FromMass Consumption to Mass Cultural Production?”, Lev Manovich says that a new universe has been created due to the web and the ability to share things on it. Media has become social media. This is related to the term “web 2.0” and there are 2 relevant points he wants to make about this term and how it relates to social media: 1. There was a slow shift in the 2000s of more people accessing content produced by nonprofessionals instead of professionals and (but that does not mean the web only consisted of amateurs making and accessing content) 2. The internet shifted from being a publishing medium in the 1990s to a communication one in the 2000s. (what constitutes “communication” is discussion through comments, posts, ratings , reviews, photos, videos, etc - all “user generated content.”)

    He then goes on to talk about how much content is created by taking from professional content already existing, for example, anime music videos. (As much as I loved anime in my pre-teen years and even a little while after, I can’t find it in me to post one of these as an example. They made me cringe even when I was 14.) This is somehow related to the fact that the objects people in society use are mass-produced and are often “remixed”/customized/mixed and matched with various parts from different sources, like clothing (very rarely does someone wear every piece of clothing from one designer shown in one outfit in a fashion show). Digital products and web interfaces are often designed with the intention of the user customizing them. Websites like MySpace, Flickr, Livejournal, Facebook, etc. were designed to accommodate the explosion of user-generated content and to let it all be “remixed.”

    Manovich then discusses communication through media and how oftentimes, factual content, opinion, and conversation often can’t be clearly separated,” for example, in blogs: with so much reblogged content and discussion in comments, the original thing posted may eventually be forgotten. The interesting thing about the conversations is that anyone can take part in them at anytime from all over the world and theoretically the conversation could never end. And some kind of media can also be replied to with another - for example, video replies to videos on YouTube.

    The exchange of “tokens” in conversation is important as well - giving “facebook gifts” and things of that nature to signify an interest in someone. Gift-giving and the “exchange of tokens” is an aspect of all cultures and this social media culture is no exception. But the meaning behind the token may not always be clear.

    He then asks the question, “can professional art survive the extreme democratization of media production and access?” but it may be a silly question since modern art has never before been as successful as it is now. All over the world more and more spaces are being used to showcase contemporary art.

     I can completely relate to this whole communication thing via sites like Flickr, but I would have to say that the readings for this week left me with this huge impression of digital social media and digital photos and videos and websites are so temporary that they make you forget the past and everything posted in the past... I would have to disagree in this case. Just this week my friend Jennifer Avello went back on her Flickr and tagged a photo she took of me in fall 2008 for studio I - her first photo taken in a studio setting. I looked at the photo and remembered the whole experience and my learning of lighting in photography since then and related it to myself right now... and with the mention of Livejournal in these readings, I suddenly felt like going back to my journal from when I was 13, then 14 and just entering high school (somehow I remembered the password) and I completely had this super vivid flashback of the past (one I didn't really want to have, but it makes my point)... so I can't say that all this user generated content is all that fleeting and disposable, but I guess not everyone is like me and would choose to go backwards every now and then and look at "old stuff."

     All of these readings made me really feel like some people (like these writers) analyze all this stuff way too seriously. But it did make me really think about the evolution of websites and interaction on the web from when I first started using it till now. I actually use it less now for communication than I did when I first got online, but I think that might not be the case for everyone. I use facebook just like "everybody else," but I can stand to be away from the internet long enough to interact with art and people in the physical.

     Evans feels like the internet should be taken more advantage of by photographers. Professional photographers, that is. But I also agree with the response that it is not time for it yet. I share my fine art photography online in order to get it seen, but somewhere down the line, I would like it to be in books, in galleries, purchased by people, etc. and the "lack of structure" on the internet may be very harmful for people who want their work taken seriously. What if the internet was around when Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa? I do not think he would be all that flattered by all the parodies and manipulations one can find just by typing "Mona Lisa" into Google and pulling up all the images.

     Also, when Evans says "If an audience is what you prefer, then the Internet is for you," I feel like that is exactly what people have in mind when using I once was sort of active on that site and I am pretty sure that literally thousands of images are uploaded every hour, and even tens of thousands per day, if not more. So much of it is work appropriated from other work (like wallpapers using other peoples' photos, other peoples' photoshop brushes, etc.) Among the VAST sea of artists and works of art on the site, not that many gain an audience, but the ones that do certainly get very LARGE ones.. similar to flickr. This site definitely changes the way we interact with photos and art in general because you can really get stuck here looking at everything for HOURS, and no matter how much "crappy" art and pictures you look at, you just can't seem to pull yourself away and you just sit at your computer and don't even talk to anyone during the whole time you're there. Maybe I'm just speaking from my past experience, but I don't think these kinds of sites help advance photography in any way or help people get "real" "good" interaction with art because oftentimes you're not even posting anything, just browsing... and browsing... and browsing. And when people actually do receive comments on their work, those are kind of like "tokens" of encouragement for the artist to keep posting work.

     Manovich asks, “can professional art survive the extreme democratization of media production and access?” and I would have to say that this "extreme democratization of media production and access" does help in some cases. As we learned from Joanna for her artist presentation, Lauren Simonutti was rejected by the Edelman gallery but kept posting on her blog and on her Flickr and eventually she was contacted by that very gallery because her work finally reached their standards and they most likely saw it on the places she was posting it.

 ...And now I'd like to apologize for my very opinionated reflection - sorry!

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