Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Photography's Old and New Sites

Many people, including two recent email interviews I've done with Daily Images and Donut's Daily Daguerreotype, talk about the internet being the main place where they intensively or intentionally view other people's photographs. Of course, they, like everyone else, see photographs all the time. But in order to see photographs as photographs (this is one way to articulate the distinction here), the web is their primary site. Some mention laziness or convenience as the reason for this. Others say that they find photographs on photoblogs to be more interesting. Here's how one person said it: "I think it's because online portfolios are more personal, more unique. People have the freedom to show whatever they want, whereas galleries tend to show work that is perhaps bound to certain rules. They tend to be good technically, but boring."

There's a lot to comment on and take issue with here. For right now, I'm trying to hold my attention on this in relation to the historical arc of photography:

-from a late 19th/early 20th c. popular recreation, but one where the taking of photographs was far more visible, publicly, than photographs themselves;

-to a medium inching towards the achievement of art status alongside its popular status, and therefore, gaining a new set of sites (galleries, books), a new critical language, a new nexus of comparisons (inevitably, to painting, but also to documentary, to film, etc.);

-to a (now) newly popular medium, digital, comparatively cheap, embedded in a new set of behaviours and rituals (than, say, the ones Bourdieu looked at in late 20th c. France), but which also sits along side other categories, old and new: journalistic photography, art photography, stock photography.

And so, here is evidence of some sliding between categories and modes of viewing: for a lot of people I've talked to, their experience of viewing photography as a medium (seeing photography as such, alongside its content, its iconography and etc.) is an online experience , whereas this was formerly a mode of looking most often fostered (I'm guessing) by art photography, photography in galleries, in books, etc., where the site itself tends to point to the photographicity of photography (not that it's not possible to have the experience of photography as such in, say, the morning newspaper, but I don't think this is the common practice, the ordinary language of photography). Does the internet, as we experience it visually, focus our attention on medium more generally: the textuality of text, the aurality of sound? Is this one of its effects? It's too large a question, however interesting. But within the public life of photography, more specifically, I can start to see where this attention to medium, paired with the familiar experiences of looking for content and tone (photos of people, photos of a birthday party, photos of the family trip to Mexico), is starting to change how photography functions.

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