The Student Issue |


Aileen Blaney

It is worth thinking about photography alongside the digitisation of media and the internet’s transformation of how all kinds of Knowledge and information are produced and distributed. For example, if we recognise in photographic images a basic grammar for social media, then photography’s contribution to how millenials, and indeed older generations, talk to each other, perform to a public, and earn social capital —which in turn garners its own economic exchange rate —begs consideration. For those who are increasingly using social media to build their own personal brand identity, the image-upload button has become an indispensible tool in a marketing of the self. By way ofjust one example, Facebook has reported that more than three hundred million photographs are uploaded onto its site every day, meaning that the site currently hosts more than 140 billion images. Photography then is very much part of a contemporary media ecology, one in which images are coming at us in an exponentially greater variety of ways than ever before. The contemplation of the photojournalistic image in a magazine, or product photography in print advertising’s heyday is very different to the targeted pop up retail advertisements stalking online users —these computational pathways into the inner folds of our daily lives are demonstrative of what the algorithm has done for expanding the remit of photography in every day life.

While all this suggests that photography is everywhere, photography is also said to be dead. Undeniably, digitisation of media and, increasingly, of our hves, has led to a decisive break in applications and understanding of photography; what we continue to call photography belongs to a different genotype to that of its analogue ancestor. This evolutionary pathway can be partially tracked along numerous and interconnected technological shifts: from film to files; from print to screens; from still to networked images. While every enhancement in imaging technology in the past has altered the visual landscape —from the influx of print media in the 19zos to the omnipresence of the television screen in the 195os —the Internet has changed our cognitive sensory experience of the image to an unprecedented degree. If we are to talk about photography today, we need to consider the networked image as part of the story of photography, and the Internet as belonging to the medium of photography.

In a WiFi connected world, Danish scholar Mette Sandbye’s proposition that the ‘that-has-been’ temporality of photography described by Roland Barthes gets revised to a ‘what-is-going-on’ one is persuasive; the image that refreshes subsequent to a swipe down the screen of a smartphone is connected more to the live feed than to its form and function of record in the past. When photography is so shaped by computational technologies, the luxury of not engaging with their impact on visual culture is not an option in the educational context. Equally, in an age when everyone supposedly is a photographer, how we teach photography becomes a moot point. And if so, much of photography practice on the Internet is exhibitionism and endless repetition of the self, what is the impetus in engaging with this in the classroom? That is not to say that there is no educational value in this regard, but what this constitutes nonetheless needs to be identified and looked at critically. In a world where image-saturation is the norm, what are we asking students to themselves produce, in visual terms, and critically reflect on? Nearly three decades ago, German photographer Joachim Schmid said, `no new photographs until the old ones have been used up’. But of course this was a provocation, and he soon came back with another slogan urging his contemporaries to ‘please make more photographs’. However, the original complaint has renewed relevance today and we need to use the classroom to debate the merits in clicking photographs when there are already so many orphan images in circulation. And yet, depite all the cliched images stored on memory cards and living in the cloud, photographers find new subjects and use technology to visually renew older ones, the contemporaneity of which would open up a whole other discussion.

Beyond and preceding the Internet, photography has been applied in so many fields; photography education would need to reflect all those uses, including the snapshot, commercial photography, in governance and so on. There are relationships between the selfie and snapshot photography and between commercial photography and art photography and between reportage, documentary and the ID photo, to name but a few. These connections are important and so you cannot understand art photography for instance if you simply ignore its surrounding practices and fields.