Tag Archives: sontag

Apertures Matter (a brief response to ‘Stories In Focus’)

my bad photo with lots of bokeh blur will get lots of facebook likes

Stories In Focus, posted by Sarah Wahnecheck two days ago, is a brief exploration of Bokeh that strikes me as a great start to something bigger. This is just a quick followup, asking Sarah and others to think more about the reality that amateur, documentary and news footage is increasingly coming to look like art films, specifically the effect of having one thing in sharp focus with the rest blurred and out of focus. (more…)

Living Pictures? Lytro’s Photos Are Barely Alive

I wanted the photo above to be an example of the new so-called “living pictures” that have garnered much recent attention. However, Lytro has not provided proper embedding code so I can only post this screenshot of a living photo. I highly recommend clicking on the photo or clicking here before reading along.

Update: the code now works, so before reading on, click the photo above. Click around various parts of the image and watch the focus change.

Okay, by now you have experienced a living photo. You see it, but you can also make it come alive; touch it, change the focus, reorient what is seen and focused on. Some might even argue that you get to decide the meaning of the story the image tells. This post asks: what would it mean if we start posting living pictures across social media? Might it change how we take photos? How might we differently interact with social media photography when we can manipulate the faces of our friends and engage with the images in a new way?

It has been my contention that photography can teach us quite a bit about social media. Not just because there are so many photos online but because photography serves as a familiar and grounding reference point to the newness of social media. Photography situates the novel and sometimes disorienting ways we are documenting ourselves online with a technology that did the same offline more than a century ago.

I have written about Susan Sontag’s description of photographers being always at once poets and scribes when taking photos to describe how we create our social media profiles in a similar way. I have used the concept of the “camera eye” photographers develop to discuss how social media has imbued us with a similar “documentary vision.” I also described how the explosion of faux-vintage photos taken with Hipstamatic and Instagram serve as a powerful example of how social media has trained us to be nostalgic for the present in a grasp at authenticity.

Here, I want to discuss what many are calling “revolutionary” and the next “big thing” in photography: the so-called living pictures linked to above developed by the Lytro company that have just entered the consumer market with cameras shipping early next year.

Lytro “Living Picture” Technology

This is not an essay so much about the technology but instead the implications of (more…)

Rethinking Privacy and Publicity on Social Media: Part I

This essay, like the one I posted last month on faux-vintage photography, is me hashing out ideas as part of my larger dissertation project on self-documentation and social media. Part II will argue that the media also overstate how public we have become, sensationalizing the issue to the point that the stigma associated with online imperfections erodes more slowly. It is no stretch to claim that we have become more public with social media. By “public” I mean that we are posting (1) more pieces information about ourselves online in (2) new ways (see the Zuckerberg Law of Information sharing), and are doing so more (3) honestly than ever before. We are connected to the web more often, especially given the rise of smart phones, and new layers of information are being invented, such as “checking in” geographically. And gone are the days when you could be anyone you want to be online; today we know that online activities are augmented by the physical world. People are mostly using their real names on Facebook and nearly everything one does there has everything to do with the offline world.

But we are not as public as this suggests. We need a balance to this so-called triumph of publicity and death of anonymity (as the New York Times and Zygmunt Bauman recently declared). “Publicity” on social media needs to be understood fundamentally as an act rife also with its conceptual opposite: creativity and concealment. And I am not talking just about those who use false identities on blogs (see Amina) and pseudonyms on Facebook, those with super-strict privacy settings or those who only post a selective part of their multiple identities (though, I am talking about these folks, too).  My point applies to even the biggest oversharers who intimately document their lives in granular detail.

I’ll describe below how each instance of sharing online is done so creatively instead of as simple truth-telling, but will start first by discussing how each new piece of information effectively conceals as much as it reveals. (more…)

The Faux-Vintage Photo: Full Essay (Parts I, II and III)

I am working on a dissertation about self-documentation and social media and have decided to take on theorizing the rise of faux-vintage photography (e.g., Hipstamatic, Instagram). From May 10-12, 2011, I posted a three part essay. This post combines all three together.
Part I: Instagram and Hipstamatic
Part II: Grasping for Authenticity
Part III: Nostalgia for the Present

a recent snowstorm in DC: taken with Instagram and reblogged by NPR on Tumblr

Part I: Instagram and Hipstamatic

This past winter, during an especially large snowfall, my Facebook and Twitter streams became inundated with grainy photos that shared a similarity beyond depicting massive amounts of snow: many of them appeared to have been taken on cheap Polaroid or perhaps a film cameras 60 years prior. However, the photos were all taken recently using a popular set of new smartphone applications like Hipstamatic or Instagram. The photos (like the one above) immediately caused a feeling of nostalgia and a sense of authenticity that digital photos posted on social media often lack. Indeed, there has been a recent explosion of retro/vintage photos. Those smartphone apps have made it so one no longer needs the ravages of time or to learn Photoshop skills to post a nicely aged photograph.

In this essay, I hope to show how faux-vintage photography, while seemingly banal, helps illustrate larger trends about social media in general. The faux-vintage photo, while getting a lot of attention in this essay, is merely an illustrative example of a larger trend whereby social media increasingly force us to view our present as always a potential documented past. But we have a ways to go before I can elaborate on that point. Some technological background is in order. (more…)

The Faux-Vintage Photo Part III: Nostalgia for the Present

I am working on a dissertation about self-documentation and social media and have decided to take on theorizing the rise of faux-vintage photography (e.g., Hipstamatic, Instagram). To start fleshing out ideas, I am doing a three-part series on this blog: part one was posted Tuesday (“Hipstamatic and Instagram”) and part two yesterday (“Grasping for Authenticity”). This is the last installment.

taken recently, this is a simulated vintage image of a simulation

With more than two million users each, Hipstamatic and Instagram have ushered a wave of simulated retro photographs that have populated our social media streams. Even a faux-vintage video application is gaining popularity. The first two posts in this series described what faux-vintage photography is, its technical facilitators and attempted to explain at least one main reason behind its explosive popularity. When we create an instant “nostalgia for the present” by sharing digital photos that look old and often physical, we are trying to capture for our present the authenticity and importance vintage items possess. In this final post, I want to argue that faux-vintage photography, a seemingly mundane and perhaps passing trend, makes clear a larger point: social media, in its proliferation of self-documentation possibilities, increasingly positions our present as always a potential documented past.

Nostalgia for the Present
The rise of faux-vintage photography demonstrates a point that can be extrapolated to documentation on social media writ large: social media users have become always aware of the present as a potential document to be consumed by others. Facebook fixates the present as always a future past. Be it through status updates on Twitter, geographical check-ins on Foursquare, reviews on Yelp, those Instagram photos or all of the other self-documentation possibilities afforded to us by Facebook, we view our world more than ever before through what I like to call “documentary vision.” (more…)

The Faux-Vintage Photo Part II: Grasping for Authenticity

I am working on a dissertation about self-documentation and social media and have decided to take on theorizing the rise of faux-vintage photography (e.g., Hipstamatic, Instagram). I want to start fleshing out ideas and will do so with a three-part series on this blog: I posted part one yesterday (“Hipstamatic and Instagram”) and tomorrow I will post the third and final part (“Nostalgia for the Present”). [Update: Read the full essay here.]

If you use social media then you probably have noticed the recent proliferation of faux-vintage photography, often the product of smartphone applications such as Hipstamatic and Instagram. I describe in part I of this essay posted yesterday what faux-vintage photography is and noted that it is a new trend, comes primarily from smartphones and has proliferated on social media sites like Facebook, Tumblr and others. However, the important question remains: why this massive popularity of faux-vintage photographs? I will tackle this question today, and in part III tomorrow, will conclude that the rise, and potential fall, of faux-vintage photography illustrates larger points about social media in general.

What I want to argue is that the rise of the faux-vintage photo is an attempt to create a sort of “nostalgia for the present,” an attempt to make our photos seem more important, substantial and real. We want to endow the powerful feelings associated with nostalgia to our lives in the present. And, ultimately, all of this goes well beyond the faux-vintage photo; the momentary popularity of the Hipstamatic-style photo serves to highlight the larger trend of our viewing the present as increasingly a potentially documented past. In fact, the phrase “nostalgia for the present” is borrowed from the great philosopher of postmodernism, Fredric Jameson, who states that “we draw back from our immersion in the here and now [...] and grasp it as a kind of thing.”* (more…)

The Faux-Vintage Photo Part I: Hipstamatic and Instagram

I am working on a dissertation about self-documentation and social media and have decided to take on theorizing the rise of faux-vintage photography (e.g., Hipstamatic, Instagram). I want to start fleshing out ideas and will do so with a three-part series on this blog: I will post part two (“Grasping for Authenticity”) tomorrow and part three (“Nostalgia for the Present”) Thursday.

a recent snowstorm in DC: taken with Instagram and reblogged by NPR on Tumblr

This past winter, during an especially large snowfall, my Facebook and Twitter streams became inundated with grainy photos that shared a similarity beyond depicting massive amounts of snow: many of them appeared to have been taken on cheap Polaroid or perhaps a film cameras 60 years prior. However, the photos were all taken recently using a popular set of new smartphone applications like Hipstamatic or Instagram. The photos (like the one above) immediately caused a feeling of nostalgia and a sense of authenticity that digital photos posted on social media often lack. Indeed, there has been a recent explosion of retro/vintage photos. Those smartphone apps have made it so one no longer needs the ravages of time or to learn Photoshop skills to post a nicely aged photograph.

In this essay, I hope to show how faux-vintage photography, while seemingly banal, helps illustrate larger trends about social media in general. The faux-vintage photo, while getting a lot of attention in this essay, is merely an illustrative example of a larger trend whereby social media increasingly force us to view our present as always a potential documented past. But we have a ways to go before I can elaborate on that point (see parts II and especially III of this essay). Some technological background is in order. (more…)