Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Eye of the Dead Man* (19th c. Photography, Copyright and the Law)

"Prior to the 1890s, [American] courts generally held that the photographic subject was protected from the unauthorized reproduction and sale of their portraits, a ruling that put an odd spin on questions of ownership, copyright, and commodification.[21] The ability to restrain the unauthorized reproduction of one's image was not founded upon the right to 'privacy' (a distinctly American legal concept that would not come into use until the end of the century), but, as this 1884 quotation from the Chicago Legal Times demonstrates, upon the principle of vested ownership in one's image. 'So, if a likeness, once lawfully taken, were, without permission, to be multiplied for gain... it might be considered whether there was not a violation of a sort of natural copyright, possessed by every person of his or her own features, for which the courts would be bound to furnish redress.' In the eyes of the court, the use value of the photograph resided not in the object itself but in the quality of the image captured upon the photographic plate: the photographic subject's 'right to control the market of her own beauty could not have been denied her by any court.'" -Thomas Thurston, "Hearsay of the Sun"

This whole article is really very good, and not least for its attempts to, as Thurston says, "help to establish standards in incorporating primary texts into critical essays, foster collaboration among scholars from different disciplines, and perhaps lead to the development of more ambitious legal-historical hypertexts."

Thurston describes the article as a consideration of "the legal reception of photography as a type of evidence in the appellate cases, legal treatises, and legal journals of the last half of the nineteenth century." I think it is also an excellent case study for a history of the reception of new technologies (which is an aspect of the PhD I'll be starting in October at The University of Chicago, with equal interests in the role of critics in the reception of new technologies, in technology+art, and in the operation and creation of publics).

Thank you Thomas Thurston for the incredibly well researched and fascinating and useful paper. And thank you Anne Galloway for the reference.

*in one of the cases that Thurston describes, a photograph is analogised to the eye of a dead man, because like the eye of a dead man [by which the lawyer means, a murdered man], a photograph permanently fixes the last thing it sees. By comparison—and this is the pointy end of the legal stick being brandished here—the eye of the live man registers only fleeting impressions, unfixed, impermanent, fallible and therefore far less useful (evidentiary) in a court of law than photographs...or the eyes of dead men. As Thurston carefully describes, photographs were not immediately and enthusiastically admitted into courts of law as evidence.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Kinds of Publics Blogs Aren't

Here's an excellent conversation about blogging, which of course, I want to read as a conversation about the kind of public space blogs are, or are becoming:

1. NY Times: "Blogging, as in Slogging" (I won't apologise for the NYTimes' closed subscription model, but I will point you to Tom, with whom you can vent your spleen).

2. Suw Charman, "Stuck in the old paradigm in so many ways"

3. Melissa Gregg, "Soundbites"

and finally...

4. The Observer, "Journalists must stop being in denial: bloggers are here to stay". Thanks to Russell for pointing this last article out to me.

[You'll find some of my comments in the comment thread to Suw's post.]

Friday, May 27, 2005

Opportunity to Rhapsodize

mc gregg says to follow the meme and forget my focus on photography and answer the following questions, and so I do.

[Total volume of music on my computer]
34.36 GB (5679 songs, 21.4 days music)

[The last CDs I bought]
Electrelane, Axes (Too Pure)
The Rey Krayola, Singles (Drag City)

[Song playing right now]
Karlheinz Stockhausen, Helikopter Steichquartett (Helicopter String Quartet)
[I really didn't want this album to be playing when I got to this question. I tried to avoid it, creating new criteria for what "right now" might mean. I worried about its modernism, its academicism, its radically un-hip associations, its potentially astronomical levels of pretension. But, dammit, THAT'S what was playing, and it is an interesting piece of music (maybe merely interesting, as Michael Fried is fond of saying). I'll stand by that, and trust that listing it will just sound like honesty, knowing however that it will not...knowing that, if I'm really honest with myself, I'm caught.]

[Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me]
Gastr del Sol, Camoufleur, "Blues Subtitled No Sense of Wonder:" possibly the best song ever written. I mean it.

Henry Flynt, Back Porch Hillbilly Blues Volume 1, "Blue Sky, Highway and Thyme:" my absolute favourite song that goes nowhere fast and takes 15 minutes getting there. It transfixed me in a coffee shop, where I heard it for the first time.

David Grubbs, The Coxcomb, "The Coxcomb:" the most spectacular and gorgeously controlled train wreck I've ever witnessed. David Grubbs and his French "saloon band" play Grubbs' adaption of a Stephan Crane short story "The Blue Hotel." It's about the strangest short story you'll ever want to read, rendered not a whit less strange or less wonderful in the song. I love to see music be so voracious.

Luc Ferrari, Interrupteur-Tautologos 3, "Tautologos 3 (For Eleven Instrumentalists And Magnetic Tape, 1970):" I'm very not-qualified to talk about this piece. I think it has all the chops and grandeur and precision of (good) academic music and all the drama of a rock song. I got to see Ferrari perform recently and in one slightly glib 15 minute composition he made it abudantly clear what skills, assurance and insight can come from a long life of passionate dedication to one's work (not that there aren't many other viable ways of doing good work—actually, Ferrari sort of re-lit my fire for this more traditional way)

Palace, Arise Therefore, "Arise, Therefore:" the piano!

[Five songs you’ve been listening to a lot recently, from several genres (genres given are from CDDB database)]
Matmos, The Civil War, "Reconstruction" (genre: "electronica/dance" meets Renaissance music, I kid you not): I think this album is incredibly brave.

Shellac, Terraform, "Copper" (genre: NA): one of the funniest songs I've ever heard.

The Sea and Cake, The Fawn, "The Argument" (genre: "alternative and punk"): the intro section of live + programmed drumming (by John McEntire), and the way that intro moves into the song proper. One of the most engaging openings I know.

The Necks, Aether, "Aether" (genre: "jazz"): I just saw them play here in London so they're much on my mind. This is a *very* patient band.

Kevin Drumm, Sheer Hellish Miasma, "Turning Point" (genre: "data"): Data?! Indeed. Be still my beating heart. The album title is neither joke nor irony. That's what it sounds like.

UP NEXT: maybe Katrina will talk about her favourite music to listen to on the bus?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

How to Write a History in One Sentence

"After four decades of big-budget Hollywood disaster films, "It felt like a movie" seems to have displaced the way survivors of a catastrophe used to express the short-term unassimilability of what they had gone through: "It felt like a dream."

-Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag, p. 22


For me, The Cathedral and the Bazaar (Eric S. Raymond) is a far better, far more interesting, far more useful account of the phenomenon that The Pro-Am Revolution: How Enthusiasts are Changing our Economy and Society (Charles Leadbeater and Paul Miller) wants to describe. It's just such a mess, that article. E.g. so, what's a pro-am then? At it's most gaseously expansive, their account seems to include anyone with a hobby, and yet in the main, they don't think it includes many women or working class folks.

Who is this paper useful for? Ah...exactly.

Here's my brutishly reductive reason why Raymond's work is so much better: Raymond is writing in the spirit and within the immanent economies of so-called "pro-am" activities while Leadbeater and Miller are writing in the spirit of pragmatic capitalism—that is, they want to "sell" the idea of pro-ams. Which, as far as I can tell, is a rhetorical style and an audience-address strategy anathema to "pro-am" activities (although Leadbeater and Miller don't characterise pro-am activities with nearly enough clarity or focus to know what might be anathema to them. In fact, one way of stating my problem with their paper is to say that nothing seems especially anathema to pro-am activities as they describe them. But doesn't something need to be, in order for the phenomenon they describe to have any critical-historical bite?).

Does the Shoe Fit?

This has gone around a bit (and been discussed, notably by Jean), but I especially wanted to direct the people who have helped me with my project to this: The Pro-Am Revolution: How Enthusiasts are Changing our Economy and Society by Charles Leadbeater and Paul Miller.

I'm just reading it now. It's leaving me very cold. But I'm curious about how the people it's trying to describe react to it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Here is the Pew Internet and American Life Project's report called "Buzz, Blogs and Beyond" [only click the link if you want to download the pdf].

What a strange report. The authors want to empirically test claims they say are being made, loudly and often, for the significant influence of blogs on Politics and Big Media in America. Their set-up trots out all the chesnuts about how popular blogs are (number of users in the US, number of readers, etc.), and although they nowhere evince out and out suspicion, their impulse to *test* these claims seems to me reactionary from the outset. But let's leave that aside for now.

Their metric and their method, it turns out, is right there in the title: it's all about "buzz." It will come as no surprise then that the study was led by Dr. Michael Cornfield in collaboration with a company called Buzzmetrics. Put tersely, "buzz" is "a lot of simultaneous talk" (p. 2). But the most we get about it is the still pretty terse: "Buzz is the sound heard in public when a lot of people are talking about the same thing at the same time" (p. 3). Then they go on to briefly list some of things "buzz" can do: affect sales, alter behaviour and perceptions, embolden or embarrass, and "move issues up, down and across institutional agendas."

With "buzz" as their metric AND the primary phenomenon being measured, their study has some circularity problems. If "buzz" is defined at all, it's defined tautologically: "buzz is the sound heard when...". Yes, but, how do people hear it, how does it get amplified or distorted or disrupted? What are its mechanisms, its modes of circulation? But, ok, let's leave that aside too.

What do they find?

1. "Blogger power is circumstantial: dependent on the sorts of information available, and contingent on the behavior of other public voices."
2. "Political bloggers were buzz followers as much as buzz makers."
3. "Bloggers may have been positioned in the fall of 2004 [when they conducted their study] as a guide for the mainstream media to the rest of the internet."
4. "The key contribution by the bloggers in the "Rathergate" scandal consisted of providing forums accessible to all internet users in which facsimilies of the memos could be examined and discussed."

Subsequently, the tone of the paper is measured, but it's as if they're having to try...very...hard to stay neutral. When they cede some measure of influence to blogs, they do it begrudgingly. You can whiff it in those findings from the "executive summary" above. And I'm not the only one who has noted it. So we get this article, whose key "take-away" from the Pew study is telegraphed in the title: "Blogs May Not Be as Influential as Some Think".

Aside from the questions we might want to ask about this need to measure, test and confirm/deny the vaunted "influence" of blogs (which I've written about in "A Welcome for Blogs", forthcoming 2006, Continuum), I have two basic reactions:

1. The concept of "buzz" seems to belie (to bury rather than represent) almost everything interesting about the way that blogs operate.

2. The study admits of a very narrow scope for "influence:" to be influential on their terms a blog or set of blogs must be seen to (measurably, quantifiably) set the agenda for popular discussion. That is: lead discussion, be originary, avoid being derivative. This seems to me to impose a hegemonic model of influence (in which there can only be leaders and followers) on a form of public discourse which, in some quarters, is doing a lot to challenge that very model. So, while we hear a kind of tactful schadenfreude in the finding that "Political bloggers were buzz followers as much as buzz makers," if the study were more attentive to the characteristic rhetorics of blogging, it might recognise in that finding not only a unique form of influence (to "follow" is to relay), but also the ways that bloggers are part of a larger process of changing how we might define, recognise and assess influence, in the first place.

Monday, May 23, 2005

What's the Question

The question I'm asking myself a lot lately is: how are photographs public (or, how do photographs uniquely form and circulate within publics, or, is there anything unique about the way photographs operate within publics or are they just one cultural text among many, including tv, books, comics, films, newspapers, speeches, etc.)?

I'm reading a lot of Habermas and Arendt. I'm not sure that's helping.

Warner gives these characteristics of publics:

-things (text or speech or performance or etc.) must *circulate* within a public (circulation is probably the key feature in Warner's terms; also, incidentally or not, one of the key features of internet-based photography)

-they must circulate among strangers within a public

-public things, to be public, cannot exist solely within preexisting frameworks (e.g. political parties, identity groups)

-as members of publics, we have to understand ourselves as both individually addressed _and_ part of the anonymous public whole (cf. sermons and lyric poems are meant to be apprehended privately, even if this voice is only a fiction perpetuated by the text; the goal and defining characteristic of public discourse is circulation)

-membership in a public is based on activity not on classificatory schemas (what we do, not who we are)

-public discourse is contemporaneous and oriented towards the future (by addressing contemporary events, it opens up possibilities for change)

-no single text (radio show, puppet theatre, photograph) constitutes a public; a public must put texts in relation to other texts; there must be a history and an implied future

-publics must be aware of themselves as publics

I think the more interesting and more specific question for my project is probably: how has the relationship between publics and photographs changed? How has the way that a photograph addresses a public changed? How have new practices of photography (e.g. blogs, flickr) changed the nature of publics—the publics of photographs themselves, but also, perhaps, publics more broadly.

Let me just give one example of what I mean. Think about the circulation of photographs before photographs started to appear online in significant numbers. Consider a paper photograph. When I am holding a paper photograph, I might be looking at the only printed copy of that photograph in the world. Or, maybe it's been printed and re-printed and given as a gift and hung on a wall and.... The point is, under normal conditions, I just won't know. So, where is the public for any given photograph, under these conditions? One of the important characteristics of publics is that they must be aware of themselves as public, i.e. as a collection of strangers, among whom certain texts circulate, referencing contemporary events, etc.—otherwise, there is very little potential for them to act. [For now, I'm bracketing a conversation about photographs which circulate as art, in galleries and collector's homes and etc.] Can we talk about a public for paper photographs in the same way we can talk about a public for digital, internet-based photographs? Of course, even the lowliest snapshot taken 60 years ago circulated within families and among a families' set of close friends. But this is public in neither Warner's, Arendt's nor Habermas' senses. Bourdieu's sociology of photography (a study conducted in the 50's and 60's) considered the circulation of photography as class and class difference, but this is different than the circulation of photographs. Bourdieu et al do not discuss at all the circulation of photographs—as if there was no such circulation at the time, or as if it wasn't important, if there was.

In contrast: when I look at a photograph on flickr, I know that there are potentially as many reproductions of that photograph as there are users of flickr. There is massive circulation (not just through users, but through groups and tags as well). There is what Warner calls "stranger relationality" (more than most people know what to do with). There is contemporaneity and an eye towards future uses (future viewings, new tags, new groups, etc.).

The idea here is not to check off Warner's list in order to identify what does and does not qualify as public on his terms. The idea is to notice (if only by one set of criteria, although I find Warner's a powerful set) quite specifically how photography is changing, and what kinds of changes, in turn, photography is effecting.

To gesture at a few more examples, it also strikes me that online photography significantly alters a photograph's mode of address (who it addresses and how—something Barthes writes a lot about); the temporality of a photography (how it exists in time: how it calls up the past, how it evokes or implies death, etc.—something else Barthes' writes about, but also Benjamin); and a photograph's relationships to other photographs (this one seems obvious, but is an important point vis a vis publics).

Meaghan Morris II

[warning to those who come here only for the scintillating commentary on contemporary photography: there will be no edifying photographic payoff on this post. In that sense, it's a bit off-topic for this blog. I think Meaghan Morris' work warrants it.]

A little bit more about this, because it's worth it. Meaghan Morris is the Chair Professor and Head of Department in the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. In 2000 (I think I'm remembering that date correctly), she left Australia to take up that post, having been long interested in issues of race, nationalism, and globalisation, and seeing in the move an opportunity to explore what it might mean to do cultural studies (how it might usefully annoy or test the concept of culture) in Asia, in an only-just-post-colonial country, in a linguistically mixed environment, outside of the Anglophile world where cultural studies is so thoroughly (self-)centred. She talked at some length about the politics of publishing and translation, and how these conspire to excuse Anglophile readers from reading non-Anglophile literatures. So, she gives an example, rarely do we (Anglophiles...this is the word she used) engage contemporaneously with, say, Chinese scholars who publish in Chinese. Language and geography seem to stand in the way, if not something like Culture itself (the marketing team for an American publisher might say: "what market is there in the US for contemporary work on China?"). And when we do get or make the chance to so engage, it is often necessarily in translation (Morris expressed her frustration with intellectuals who assume their audiences will be literate in more than one language; for a majority of the world, she says, literacy in a single language is often a significant accomplishment). And in translation tends to mean, although need not mean: several years if not decades later, with all due excuses made in the new introduction for all the ways in which the piece (typically a book, not a stand-alone journal article) fails to address its new local readerships. In this context, Morris then spoke about a journal called Traces, which she has edited and written for, and which appears in simultaneous four-part translation (Korean, Chinese, Japanese and English), every single issue. No mean feat, that. Think about the logistics. So the talk was about what it means to do cultural studies in linguistically mixed environments, with a strong implication being that the world is just such an environment, and yet (in cultural studies and elsewhere) is rarely conceived of and written for as such. Morris' strongest and clearest call to action was for "intellectuals" (she made a point of specifying intellectuals) to actively take up the task of engaging with scholars across the world, not just in the Anglophile world.

[Also: Nervous speakers of the world, take heart. Early in her talk, Morris was relying heavily on her glass of water and finally explained: "This always happens to me, in every single talk I've ever given for my entire life...just at this point in the talk. I must breath now." At which point, she did: just stood there, sipping and breathing. All very endearing.]

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Meaghan Morris Lecture: One Fine Welcome

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Cowfish in the City

Thanks to cowfish for a long afternoon chat in a cafe that I knew, but didn't know I knew. I had been taken there once, when I had first moved to London (Sept. 2001), but my guide and friend and host had followed such a circuitous route that I've never again been able to find that spot, even though I remembered the inside of the cafe well, and even though I've come to know my way around that area (the City) well. It was nice to have present connected geographically to past. Cowfish helped me connect some other things as well...more on that subsequently.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Do we want norms or do we want Knapster?

I met with Knapster today at the Tate. Tate at the Knapster. Knapster at the Tate. Anyway. Knapster runs a flickr group called "Public Space and its Discontents", so we each had a lot to say about public space, or (in the language I've adopted from Michael Warner via Arendt via Habermas) about publics.

This is how Knapster and his co-admin James_C describe their group:

"This group is interested in how people use, abuse and subvert 'public' spaces. Now that we lead sedentary indoor lives, public spaces are often neglected or strictly controlled and regulated. We are interested in how public spaces can be used for 'unexpected' purposes other than their design...."

Part of what I understand Knapster and James_C to be saying here is that people's experiences of outdoor public space are often either punitive or normative. Punitive in the form of laws and social prohibitions (de jure and de facto prohibitions). Normative in the form of injunctions that tend to standardise and restrict behaviour. There are a few things we can still do in public without fear of any sort of reprisal: we can shop, we can drive, we can read...if we make sure to read only in a place where idleness justifies the reading as passing time rather than, say, "loitering with intent." To say it this way may be to exaggerate the case, but it is probably not wrong.

The internet—well, let's be more conservative and specific—flickr is, of course, also sometimes normative (e.g. the etiquette of adding contacts) and punitive (e.g. flame wars in some groups), but I think that is not people's primary experience of whatever kind of public flickr is, or is becoming. Knapster and others describe the surprise one feels at getting one's first comment. The encouragement, sure, but also the sense of sudden and intimate connection (a funny sort of intimacy, sure, but I'd still want to call it intimate) with someone you not only didn't know, but didn't know you could ever know. But I'm thinking here less about "social networks" or "communities" (although probably much could be said about these kinds of entities). I'm thinking more about how an action in public (e.g. posting a photo to one's flickr home page, making a comment on someone else's photo, joining a flickr group) ramifies in all sorts of unexpected outcomes, which themselves then generate new behaviours and new activities and new uses for photography and etc. and etc. This is how I'm coming to understand the concept "public" in relation to online photography. It could be encapsulated in the question: How do publics act on us?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Rapt by Train Set in Karlsruhe

INCITE + friends

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Public Sociology

This an experiment and a collaboration and a kind of outcome of the research I've been doing.

Public Sociology

This week, I've been working with George Grinsted at the RCA. Who is excellent, by the way. What we've done is rough and the product of 3 days working together. But we both think it interestingly tests what it might start to look like if, say, Sociology, started to work with its own data in the way that flickr-ites work with their photographs and bloggers work with their lives and thoughts and audioscrobbler users work with their music interests, and etc. That is, by making their work more and more usefully public.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

What Kat said...

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Nearly Last Pretty Long List of People to Thank

Khalid and his fascinating group Muslim Cultures
emma b
Who is Looking

(and for the interview that almost was: antgirl)

I have a few more interviews to do, but I'm fast approaching 50, the proposed goal. Which is a lot.

Last week was the Privacy Workshop.

Today my essay for Day to Day Data is due (if the link is broken, give it a day or so; the site is moving home).

Next week is the RCA Interaction Design/INCITE collaboration, where I'm happily paired with George.

Then, I'll have five months to try to make some sense of it all—and post here more.
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