photo courtesy Beth Chucker
Previously, I wrote about how having cameras constantly in our hands, be it in the form of a phone or laptop, is effecting the way we take pictures and therefor see our world. Then I posted some thoughts about how the immediacy of digital photography also changes us by elimminating time for reflection. Now, I want to address the fact that a photograph is now inseparable from its distribution.
We all have access to a sophisticated commercial distribution platform, which is built specifically to incentivize the constant publication of images.
The digital photograph's insistence on distribution shifts the relationships between the participants involved in a photographic engagement. The priority in the photographic moment becomes to the audience or end viewer of the images rather than to the subject of the image. When this relationship becomes secondary to the relationship between the photographer and the audience of "friends of your friends" we create a very different kind of photography.
Vernacular photography, today, has more in common with commercial photography because it is dependent on an audience’s reaction for its relevance – in contrast to the purely personal documentation created for the purpose of sharing amongst small groups of friends and family, as was the way with its earlier non-digital uncle. Amateur in its photographing but professionalized in its distribution, digital photography professionalizes the casual photographers sensibility in the way that it prioritizes the relationship of the photo taker to the photo's eventual audience above their relation to the subject in front of their lens.
In order to share these photos you must use some kind of third party tool. Be it email or any number of photo sharing services, the sharing of personal photos becomes an opportunity for commerce. And it is not the kind of commerce which makes more objects from photographs, like paying to have photos printed on mousepads and mugs for grandma, this is about about the collection of data from each friend who you want to see your birthday party photos. By doing this, we allow for our personal communication to be used as a medium for commerce (or are we using a medium of commerce as our personal space?). It is something we have grown far too accepting of, we are loosing something of value when there is no way to participate in such communication without involving commerce.
For me this is a big big biggie and relates to a lot of timely topics, in particular "social media" as a bajillion dollar business. The idea of private individuals sharing personal information in a public forum that is privately owned and sometimes even publicly traded, seems so clearly ethically dodgy to me, anyone else concerned about how this will play out down the road?