Snap happy

Last week three VIPs took a moment in the most important and publicised event in the world that day to capture their own image on a smartphone. Little did they know that this would become the most circulated and reproduced images from Nelson Mandela’s memorial and one which would spark debates on society, photography and what Michelle Obama thought of it all.

It’s a strong statement in our society when a smartphone is the resounding topic of such a momentous event and one which prompted the Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries to ask whether camera phones are killing photography.
(You can read his article here: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/dec/13/death-of-photography-camera-phones?commentpage=5)

Jeffries observes that smartphone photography encourages laziness, we don’t stop to consider the shot but are more concerned with capturing the moment than capturing unique angles, compositions and lighting for the perfect image. Smartphones are putting professional photographers out of business, in the same way that the rise of photography in the 1850s meant that many family portrait painters lost their livelihood.

The wave of popularity for smartphones holding ever more sophisticated cameras has meant that the value of a good photograph, let alone a printed one, has diminished and any old person on Instagram claims themselves to be a ‘photographer’. Photography can now be held alongside the fast fashion, throwaway culture that we live in – the mentality that if we take hundreds of photos in five minutes of an event, somewhere within them will be the one we intended to get… or close enough.

We have lost the little rituals in personal photography, such as considering a shot at an event because we only have 26 photos on a roll of film or waiting a week for photos to be developed. The equivalent of having a photo of our family in our purse is now having them as your iPhone background. Hundreds of photos will be forgotten or lost on hard drives and psychologists even argue that there is such a thing as a ‘photo taking impairment effect’, where the act of relying on a camera to record memories means that you subconsciously store the memory to a lesser extent than you would have otherwise. We are suffering experientially just for the sake of a phone full of photos.

It all seems a bit doom and gloom as far as photography’s concerned, but there’s a whole other side to the story. Despite the rise of platforms such as Instagram, a person with a smartphone is not qualified to call themselves a ‘photographer’ and more than a person who can doodle can call themselves Michaelangelo. There is definitely a blurring of the lines between personal and professional photography, but it’s far from being killed off.

Digital photography has brought photography to the masses; as with anything put into the mass market, the quality is bound to suffer, but that doesn’t mean that the craft of taking a ‘proper’ photograph is lost. Digital has taken away the expense of buying, developing and printing film and it allows people the potential to capture great images, even if they’re not the kind of images you’d want to be put in your wedding album.

It has often been said that ‘the best camera you have is the one you have with you’. Naturally a DSLR will always beat a smartphone camera but they are a huge effort to carry on your person at all times, whereas you’re more than likely (if you own one) to have your smartphone readily accessible in a pocket or bag. Yes, the process of photography has changed in terms of the everyday person but we, as human beings, often use our personal, less than professional photographs as a means to connection.

Social networking has allowed us to share with more people and over vast distances more than ever before, and it also allows us to share our photographs – there is often no photo limit and the platforms are usually free to use. We are encouraged by others and it’s often a shameless form of self-promotion with users plugging in to the rise of ‘hey, look what I’m doing/where I’ve been’ photography. Our society loves to be able to see things in our friends’ lives and be able to pass comment on them remotely, we’re often not too bothered about high-res images, excellent lighting or inspired composition.

In the 21st century as a culture, we are recording our own history in an unprecedented way. In September Facebook revealed that its users have uploaded more that 250 billion photos, and are uploading 350 MILLION NEW PHOTOS each day… That’s an average of 217 per person, per day. (http://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-350-million-photos-each-day-2013-9). It’s a momumental amount of data and proves how obsessed we are with documenting our daily lives, from what we have for breakfast to the oddly dressed person we saw on the tube.

We have an incredibly casual approach to taking photographs and a lot of them will be irrelevant to look back on in 20 years time but it’s still an interesting insight into daily lives, I’d rather see a picture of what someone had for dinner than read constant status updates where they tell me they’re bored/hungry/tired.

But I don’t believe that photography as an artform will die as long as there are those who want to learn the craft and consider photographic composition and lighting rather than just being concerned with just getting any photo that hints at the intended meaning. The landscape of photography is adapting and advancing with technology, but this is a natural step for progression. Fashion photographer, Nick Knight, champions the iPhone as a great tool in his photography and the iPhone Photography Awards show that not all smartphone users are taking endless photos of their cats.

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A selection of winning photographs from the iPhone Photography Awards 2013. (See more at https://www.ippawards.com/index.html)

Of course there is potential in smartphone photography, so long as the elements that are photographed are considered, but photography as a profession will still sit on a level higher. Personally I wouldn’t hire someone with an iPhone to take my wedding photos, no matter how qualified they may be, but perhaps we need to see this as an opportunity or a new path within photography rather than a disaster for the industry.

Maggie – one of a few notable female icons of our age

If you’ve listened to the radio, turned on the TV or tuned into any type of social media or online news feed then you will know that today is the day that Margaret Thatcher died.

Now I’m no politician, nor am I a historian, so I know very little about her politics or her time in office but after today I have come to the conclusion that she is rather like Marmite, people either love or hate her. This post isn’t concentrating on that though because I, unlike many people whose opinions I’ve seen today, don’t think it’s fair to comment when I don’t know the facts. As for those who don’t know who she is… I have nothing to say to you.

I’ve noticed that today has unearthed hundreds and hundreds of images of ‘the Iron Lady’, but there are a few that keep appearing again and again. Photos that will, undoubtedly, become the ones that stand the test of time and be brought up when she is spoken about in ten, twenty or fifty years time. The photos in question are a mix of official and non-official photographs that show her professional front as Britain’s first woman prime minister and reflect her personal life, which was predictably well documented from the time she left Downing Street in 1990 to her death today, 8th April 2013.

We are a society who are obsessed with the photography of those who we deem to be ‘celebrities’. Celebrity culture is something that is far too complex to explain today but most people would understand the term without having a clear definition – it is the lifeblood of countless magazines, newspaper columns and gossip blogs – and it has fathered an interesting breed, the paparazzi.
These are the journalists who are not interested in quality stories and reporting honest facts but with photographs of those in the public eye; they try to capture every possible moment in the hope that something controversial will happen which will earn them the big bucks. And these are the kind of people who capture our female icons today. 

The first image which has stood out has been the one taken outside number 10 Downing Street when she first became Prime Minister in 1979, she is pictured with her husband Denis.
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Relations with the USA were built up by Thatcher throughout her time in office and her friendship with Ronald Reagan, the President at the time, was another element of her career which has been documented by photography; she is pictured here in Washington, November 16th 1988.
Imageand of course the day wouldn’t be complete without a photo of a tearful Thatcher leaving Downing Street in 1990 when she was defeated by the Conservative Party and replaced by John Major

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After this photograph there are countless others documenting her as she grows older and her health slowly starts to fail but it is interesting that the three above are those which keep reappearing. It made me think about other female icons of our time, not the trashy celebrities like the Kardashians and the cast of The Only Way is Essex but women  like Princess Diana and Kate Middleton (or her lesser used title, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) who is arguably the most photographed woman in the world at the moment.

I was very young when Diana died and my interest in her funeral was largely based, as a five year old, on indignation that children’s tv programmes weren’t on for a week. However as I have grown older and especially with the speculation around Kate’s marriage to William, I have come to realise how iconic a woman she was. Again it was interesting to see which photos of her were brought up around the time of the royal wedding by those analysing whether William’s marriage would be affected by that of his parent’s.
As far as I can tell Diana’s iconic photos show three particular perspectives on her life. Diana the princess turned royal embarrassment, Diana the mother and Diana the style icon.
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If we thought Diana was photographed a lot, Kate has had it even worse. Even before she became royalty she was hounded by the press for being William’s girlfriend and is pictured here trying to escape the constant media attention on her 25th birthday.
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Of course this is not an iconic image, merely a demonstration of how the paps get their best shots. Her first iconic photo could be said to be the moment William first noticed her on the catwalk for a fashion show at St Andrews University but their first official photo has to be on the announcement of their engagement in November 2010 (the dress she wore sold out within 24 hours and started a ‘little blue dress’ trend)
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and then it would have to be their wedding and the infamous ‘balcony scene’ which was hailed as much more of a success than Diana and Charles’ forced kiss on their wedding day many years before

Kate has already followed in Diana’s footsteps as a style icon, at every official engagement she is photographed and her outfit scrutinised, especially now she is pregnant. There will always be the unofficial photos of course, many of which have caused scandals at the Palace over media intrusion on private holidays that the couple have embarked on, but these will be the photos that will be brought out in years to come and mark the lives of those iconic women in the media spotlight.

Time spent that otherwise might be forgotten

Is the title of a piece of textiles/photography work that I came across the other day, by artist Diane Meyer. On her website (http://www.dianemeyer.net) she says of this particular series:

‘This series is based on photographs taken at various points in my life and arranged by location. Sections of the images have been obscured through a layer of embroidered pixels sewn directly into the photograph. The embroidery deteriorates sections of the original photograph forming a new pixelated  layer of the original scene. The project refers to the failures of photography in preserving experience and personal history as well as the means by which photographs become nostalgic objects that obscure objective understandings of the past.’

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There were two things that struck me about this project:

  1. My personal interpretation
    I hold an interest in psychology and this project really made me think about her mention that photographs can ‘obscure objective understandings of the past’. My family is a big collector and creator of photo albums and, as a child, I used to love looking at the photos of when I was a baby or a toddler and asking who people were, what we were doing and where we were in those photos. The answers gave me a picture in my head that I held onto and, when looking back at the photographs years later, that picture came back to me and I started to think that I could actually remember when it was taken because the details had been relayed to me so many times in the past. 
    I’m not entirely sure of the science behind it but I think it is widely agreed that not many of us remember events before we are over the age of three so I started remembering times in my life that I would look at a photograph and think ‘I remember that’, when really all I remember is being told the details at some point. 
    As a young child (between the ages of one and two) I lived in Sierra Leone while my father was working as an ophthalmologist in Freetown, there are a few albums taken while we were out there and there is one photo that I remember specifically and that is of me helping our housekeeper, Moses, to do the laundry in a big red tub outside. 
    I have seen that photo so many times and asked so many questions about it that I feel like I can remember being there, when the reality is that I can’t; if my parents mentioned another event that hadn’t been recorded through the camera lens but happened around the same time, I would have no idea what they were talking about. Anyway, I’m definitely rambling on now so I will leave it at that.
  2. The contrast between the two mediums
    This caught my eye because of how the outcomes appear at first glance or if seen from a distance. The beauty of them, for me, is that your brain automatically fills in the pixelated/ embroidered gaps so that you can make sense of the photograph without having to see it in great detail to begin with.

JCDB x