Thursday, September 01, 2005

Dogs, Cats, Mappr, Hamster

I'm working on the paper which is addressed more to a sociological audience and I'm encountering a problem in the writing which is probably, actually, THE (social, cultural, photographic) problem the paper itself is trying to describe and do justice to. Right now, there is very little about my argument this is specific to photography. It could, at this point, as easily be about blogs. And that's fine, insofar as I see much in common between online photography and blogs (I see them as part of the same political moment), and insofar as I've been writing about blogs as well. But it's a shame, insofar as I believe the public for photography functions differently than the public for blogs or vlogs or links or audioscrobbler or etc. In other words, it seems like I'm losing an opportunity to talk about how publics work, specifically, in relation to photographs (something which many people have addressed, although rarely in those terms, e.g. Susan Sontag and Walter Benjamin are two famous photographic commentators whose central concerns were, in a way, the promises and risks of a photographic public).

I'm able to talk about photographs and photography as they exist discursively, in the various literatures about them. The problem is, I can't figure out how to talk about the specificity of a single photograph, in a way which accounts for its representational, pictorial, compositional or aesthetic qualities—when, and this is the key aspect, when that photograph is networked (posted online). All the models available to me seem inadequate. Which is exactly what I'm trying to write about: viz. how photographs function, once they are networked, once they go public. But, so, then, if I'm right about that, how do I deal with images? Specific, engaging, strange, ordinary, banal, everyday images. Like this one, my favourite photo on all of Flickr. Anything I think to say about a photograph seems absolutely impoverished by all the possible uses to which that photograph might be put, later, on down the line of its public existence. Like mappr. And hamster soduko. And flickr city.

Photographic analysis, pictorial analysis, as I know it, seems to rely entirely on representational accounts, accounts which in the main look backwards, into the past of a photo, and those just aren't working for me at all. They seem to close their eyes to all possible uses, relegating them to that maligned realm of mere utility. Or trying to account for them all in that magnanimous gesture of identifying a diverse, unpredictable, powerful readership and multiple interpretations. But what is IN an image, what an image is made OF, has to matter. Images of cats circulate differently—instigate different publics— than images of dogs.

[Thanks to not_susan for helping me "nut this out" or "...through." Which is it Australians? "Nut it out" or "nut it through"? The devil is in the prepositions you know.]
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