Thursday, January 20, 2005

Poppy Thinking

More on my conversation with

We talked about the internet as a new medium for photography, a place where one can see thousands of people's personal photographs on any given day. I'm curious about what this does to the internet as a public or pseudo-public space. Indeed, what this would do to any public space (your local mall paper-posted with thousands of enlarged photographs from people's family albums?). As Sontag is constantly saying (allow me that present tense, please), along with Flusser and, in his own way, Don Slater, our experience of day-to-day life is an experience of photography. But it's never quite been an experience of people's personal photography. "Personal photography?" Leaving aside for the moment issues of aesthetics and iconography, of medium and institutional networks (all common forms of distinction), personal photographs are different than journalism or art photography or most other types of photography for the simple fact that they are personal, and to me, that means that they mostly don't get seen or shown outside a close circle of intimates. They have their own networks of circulation—not private exactly, but intimate, close, sometimes affective, less like commodities and more like rumours. And this form or level of distinction is exactly one thing I think the presence of personal photography online might be changing, which is to say, invalidating. [Displacement, or a mix-up of circulation networks, is one way to account for the appeal of Dave's found photographs, as well as for the melancholy of Barthes' writing on photography.]

So, we talked about the experience of seeing personal photography online and described a feeling of overcrowding (to be fair, she had many reactions to all the photography out there; I'm just picking out one). I think it's fair to say that (here, at least) hers is a photographer's point of view, and her reaction is aimed at people who post photographs in photography communities. Many, many people are posting their photos to photography communities these days (e.g. livejournal's), and if anything, I understate the case to say that the standards of quality (and quality is one thing that was talking about) one finds there are extremely diverse. Which can make the internet a difficult place to browse; sticky; possibly boring or unappealing; even annoying. Full of distractions and what one thinks one doesn't want. Many art forms are confronting this situation. So many writers; so many photographers; so many web designers and illustrators. It's like the mob has come to every medium. On one side, people herald the "democratization" of art and cultural production; on the other, people decry the loss of standards (and as a result, the internet gets painted as a space for "amateur" production, in contrast to galleries and books, the spaces of rarified, legit cultural production). But both responses assume that all forms of cultural production *want* the same thing: audience, recognition, upward mobility. I'm not sure they do. And I think that if we assume that they do, we help to create a cultural economy of scarce resources, where everything out there seems to clamber for the same forms of recognition, and nothing seems adequate—not our attention spans nor our capacities for appreciation. Suddenly, it is consumption and not production that appears to be in short supply and ill-equipped. Interesting. But it also makes me think that "production" and "consumption" aren't going to help us think about this moment (a point that Jean has been pressing for months).

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