I love taking and seeing photos of snow. As the east coast is enjoying right now, big snowstorms produce a blizzard of images across whatever social networks you use. As I tap through these photos this morning, I have some probably obvious thoughts as to why we take and post and like snow photos.

The Snow Day is exceptional and is thus picture worthy because we tend to document what is out of the ordinary and thus interesting and novel. The photo of snow says look how different things are right now. An image of your car so fully under it all suggests how much the normal flow is disrupted. Look what is happening to me. Look at what I witnessed.

In this way, the snow photo is participating in a larger news event, because east coast weather always seems to be an event worth caring about, which is never not funny to this midwesterner. Thus, we get the time-lapse style photo sets of the accumulation. There’s something to keeping track of the snow’s growth. How high can it go? There’s almost obsessive sports-like statistical attention paid to its progress, the hourly updated predictions down to the inch, the constant updates down to the tenth of an inch, the charting of how close we are to whatever record. The snow is progress, each extra bit making it all somehow more successful, more special, newsy, exceptional, and photographable.

Such a thick snow blanket over your world is a dramatic change of scenery, a shift in perception, and thus provides novelty worth a snap. Everyday surroundings that usually seem to have been already exhausted of their photographic potential are breathed new productive life. By making the mundane exceptional, the snow photo sits happily on any network, from the experience trophy in the Instagram scene to the spaces in between on a Snapchat stream.

And snow photos themselves look good. The white wash makes the image simple and more striking by removing extra elements from the frame. The bright snow provides instant contrast, making any subject pop. The flurries in the wind provide movement and texture and depth. The snow itself falls and is blown into beautiful and unpredictable designs and arrangements, wrapped around the contours of objects so smoothly and lifelike. And some snow photos appear almost black-and-white even when shot in color. Snow is its own photo filter.

Anyone in the snow photo is made more interesting, too. Snow implies effort and adventure, sometimes hardship and discomfort, but most of the images posted right now suggest fun. Snow is itself almost comical when it is too much. For some, snow means time off of work, off of adulthood. It can remind of childhood. So snow photos are often of play, throwing snowballs and diving in. Kids and dogs look especially happy. We get to walk, or ski, down the middle of the street. Rules suspended, we photos of people enjoying the snow dressed in costumes.

Providing extra motivation to take photos right now is that this snow is ephemeral. Like photos of a newly served plate of food, you need to document it now or never. Snow around here is quite temporary: This week’s forecast is for temperatures well above freezing. So, take and share and enjoy snow photos now. It’s not just that snow melts but that it slushes and gets dirty and refreezes into a mess that’s soon soiled and jagged. The elegant formations get shoveled and plowed into piles. The snow becomes more work than play. The novelty and documentary potential gets used up, the snow gets less photogenic, less likeable.

nathan is on twitter and this piece was crossposted from his tumblr

African Burial Ground Monument with Office Building Reflection.
African Burial Ground Monument with Office Building Reflection.

Towards the beginning of Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities, Marco Polo sits with Kublai Khan and tries to describe the city of Zaira. To do this, Marco Polo could trace the city as it exists in that moment, noting its geometries and materials. But, such a description “would be the same as telling (Kublai) nothing.” Marco Polo explains, “The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past: the height of a lamppost and the distance from the ground of a hanged usurper’s swaying feet.” This same city exists by a different name in Teju Cole’s novel, Open City. It’s protagonist, Julius, wanders through New York City, mapping his world in terms reminiscent of Marco Polo’s. One day, Julius happens upon the African Burial Ground National Monument. Here, in the heart of downtown Manhattan, Julius measures the distance between his place and the events of its past: “It was here, on the outskirts of the city at the time, north of Wall Street and so outside civilization as it was then defined, that blacks were allowed to bury their dead. Then the dead returned when, in 1991, construction of a building on Broadway and Duane brought human remains to the surface.” The lamppost and the hanged usurper, the federal buildings and the buried enslaved: these are the relationships, obscured and rarely recoverable though they are, on which our cities stand. more...

A 1916 American Mug Shot
A 1916 American Mug Shot

Visual technologies continue to play an increasingly key role in strategies for monitoring and surveillance in modern capitalist societies in crime prevention and detection, and the apprehension, recording, documenting and classification of criminals and criminal activities. Still and moving ‘visual evidence’ is stored in state archives, used in courtrooms as evidence, and disseminated across almost every major media platform: from the printed press to the World Wide Web.

The relationship between visual technologies and the criminal justice system can be traced back to the emergence of photography and the invention of the camera as a tool for documenting ‘reality’ in the nineteenth century. The camera was widely believed, even more so than today, to be able to objectively and truthfully record social reality. A photograph was perceived to be like a window on the world – a mechanically produced, impartial and literal representation of the real world. more...


The mobile phone camera has become an embedded tool of protest. It has given rise to the citizen journalist and is a key mechanism by which surveillance is countered with sousveillance. In a New Media & Society article earlier this year, Kari Andén-Papadopoulos names this phenomena citizen-camera witnessing. This is a ritual through which bodies in space authenticate their presence while proliferating images and truths that contest with the stories told by The State.  The citizen camera-witness is not merely witnessing, but bearing witness, insisting upon articulating, through image, atrocities that seem unspeakable. Indeed, as W.J.T. Mitchell compellingly claims: Today’s wars and political conflicts are to an unparalleled extent being fought on behalf of, against and by means of radically different images of possible futures.

The failure to indict Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown and the protests that continue to follow, set the stage for drastically different futures. The way we tell this story will guide which future is most plausible, most logical, and most likely.   more...

antigone-july2013There’s a song from the musical Avenue Q that famously proclaims, “The Internet is For Porn”—but really, anyone who’s been paying attention to the post-“Web 2.0” era knows that isn’t true.

These days, the Internet is for cats.

Furthermore, I propose this corollary: Smartphones are for documenting cats. Whether through T. gondii or through their unrivaled documentability, cats actually rule the world. Cat people know this, and anyone who’s ever spent time with cats knows that cats know this. Rewrite the song: The Internet is For Cats.

My cat, however, is not a fan of the Internet. more...


Over the last couple of weeks, a YouTube video (above) of New York artist Richard Renaldi has continued to populate my Facebook News Feed. Renaldi’s project Touching Strangers is such that he positions strangers together in an intimate poses and photographs them. Despite lack of prior contact, these photographs depict what look to be quite sincere expressions of emotion. Moreover, the subjects interviewed in the video say that they feel some sort of connection towards those with whom they posed. This is certainly moving, admittedly interesting, but as a trained social psychologist, not very surprising. It does, however, offer interesting implications for people’s oft-spouted rants against in-authenticity and identity work on social media.

Let me begin by discussing the sociology of the work. I will them move on the implications for authenticity in light of new technologies. more...

Lewis Powell (1865)
Lewis Powell (1865)

Go read “Dead And Going To Die”, a beautiful essay by Michael Sacasas posted today at The New Inquiry on the subjectivity expressed by people in old photographs. Part of why subjects look different in these images is they are expressing a different subjectivity to the camera lens. As the photographic gaze went from novelty to ubiquity, we’ve collectively oriented our selves to the camera differently. more...

 Blurred and Cropped Version of "Grabbing 100+ Boobs at Burning Man 2013"

Like many Burners (and non-Burners), I was outraged when, yesterday, an image with variations of the title “Grabbing 100+ Boobs at Burning Man 2013” went viral. In light of the public distribution of these photos, I think it’s imperative for the public in general, and Burners in particular, to have a focused conversation about a range of important social issues including the meaning of consent, rape culture, and slut shaming.

I do not know what each woman in the photos consented to and what problems may arise if they are recognized by people they know from contexts other than Burning Man, so I am reluctant to link to or share the image. However, because it is difficult to discuss the issues in question here without making specific references to the content of the photographs and because most of the harm from distributing the image has probably already been done, I have cropped and anonymized a small portion of the long gridded image here.


via https://twitter.com/mattdpearce/status/331096177393160193
image via https://twitter.com/mattdpearce/status/331096177393160193

I’m fascinated by the cover of yesterday’s Sunday New York Times. Fixated on the image of Boston Marathon suspected bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I was momentarily unable to notice the words surrounding it. I was a little stunned, then angry, then captivated. The image, not just the Instagrammed selfie of Dzhokhar, but this photo within the culturally significant New York Times front page, is endlessly sociologically fascinating.

For some, this cover provokes anger more...

From Haley Morris-Cafiero's Wait Watchers project
From Haley Morris-Cafiero’s Wait Watchers project

Last week, Hailey Morris-Cafiero, a photographer and college professor, wrote an article for Salon.com about an ongoing project, five years in the making.  Morris-Cafiero’s project is to document those who mock her because of her body size. She selects a public venue, sets up a camera in full view, and has her assistant snap photos as Morris-Cafiero engages in the world under the derisional gaze of fatphobic publics. One image shows a teenage girl slapping her own belly while intently staring at Morris-Cafiero eating gelato on a sidewalk in Barcelona; another shows two police officers laughing, as one stands behind her holding his hat above her head; a third shows her sitting on bleachers in Times Square, a man a few rows back openly laughing at her as his picture is taken.  The project is called “Wait Watchers.” more...