Saturday, December 5, 2015

More Ephemera

This is a follow on to the comments on the previous.

Those of us who style ourselves Serious Photographers, or Serious Observers of Photography, have a strong tendency to dismiss vernacular photography. Always have. These days, even as it becomes more and more obvious that the increasing tide of vernacular photography should indeed be dismissed, I think exactly the opposite is true.

Consider an analogy to language. We have mighty novels, moving poetry, important essays that shape public discourse, and so on. We also have teenagers talking. We do and should weight the former as more important individual pieces of language. A couplet of Shakespeare had shaped humanity more than two lines of casual chatter between two 13 year olds.

There are at least two worthwhile items to note here, however:

1. To weight Shakespeare more is not the same as to quietly wish the 13 year old would stop saying things. Our society, our world, is formed almost entirely through social interaction, through communication. As our society is becoming ever more digital, ever more online, much of that social interaction is visual.

2. Nobody with any sense would judge the chatter of teenagers, or other casual conversation, against Shakespeare. Nobody pans the babble of children on the grounds that it is terrible poetry. To do so would be absurd. The chatter is trivial and weightless, yes. Virtually all sonnets written this year will have hardly any more weight, however, no matter how well-built they are. They will be much better sonnets than the chatter, but this does not in and of itself render them weighty.

Instagram and the like are made of of trivialities, of weightless pictures, which we should not judge by our standards of photography, as those standards are worse than irrelevant here. Instagram and so on are a new thing, a new way to communicate. Whether I say "I hate Taylor Swift", or post a selfie on instagram, or share a funny clip on YouTube, I am communicating. Those who hear me will know me, or at any rate my public image, a trifle more than they did before. Each triviality connects us by a new, trivial, amount.

We could drop any individual instagram "Favorite" out of the universe without the slightest impact. We could probably drop a million idle words of chatter, a million instagram photos, a million Facebook status updates, and lose nothing. But nonetheless the aggregate matters, the aggregate is, to a large degree, what our society is made out of, for better or for worse.

I, for one, was surprised and delighted to see instagram being used in a warm, personal, in-person and very much real life, catalyst for very real, very human, interaction and conversation. Perhaps there is hope for us after all.

1 comment:

  1. Making value judgements on anything leads humans to make all sorts of (sometimes tragically bad) mistakes. No photo is really any better or worse than any other photo. The value in anything lies in its personal interaction with you, how you respond, what memories or ideas it can conjure up in your brain. My "best photo in the world" is probably not going to be yours. So why all this worry about "trivial photos" and "Important Photos"?