MA thesis 2012

The Status of the Photographic Image in Post Media Cultural Production

University of Amsterdam | New Media and Digital Culture
supervisor: Dr. Joyce Goggin


The praxis and technology of photography have seen dramatic transformations over the last century. The most obvious and eye-catching of these transformations have taken place in the last decade of the 20th century, and mark the shift from analogue to digital photography. Yet another shift is coming into focus all over the web, a shift that was initiated a few years ago with the introduction of the iPhone, and smartphones in general. These mobile devices are much more than just phones, they are communication devices that connect us to the internet, but they are also cameras, personal assistants, hand-held computers that run a variety of applications; they connect us to clouds, store our data and allow us to make the occasional phone call. Social networking platforms such as Facebook and Flickr are dependent on users sharing as much data as possible, since every (re)posted piece of data represents market value for their advertisers. The smartphone has made photography ubiquitous and this process has been intensified by social networking sites that enable users to store and share media in public clouds.

Because photography is a social act that is practiced or witnessed by almost everyone since the beginning of the 20th century, it seems relevant to assess its roots as well as its present status. It is a highly recognizable form of media practice that is imbibed with a sense of aliveness. Photography has shaped and recorded history at the same time. Through the decades photography has been the eye of modernity and has seen many different uses; as hobby, art, commercial practice, scientific and forensic documentation, or as educational, institutional, or judicial tool. The rise of digital imaging has put many of these uses into question. This thesis will focus on the implications of transformations in practice and theory of photography. An assessment of the relative weight and cultural position the photographic image holds in networked society. Is the theoretical framework of post-media useful to better understand the recent transformations and their impact on cultural production? What is the status of the photographic image in post-media cultural production?

While analogue photography might be as good as dead, this is not to say that photography in general is dead, or that the legacy of analogue photography is lost and forgotten. Contrarily, photography today seems more alive than ever. Whether it is called post-photography, post-media photography, social photography, mobile photography, or even iPhoneography, the smartphone has introduced new forms of distributed, ephemeral or everyday aesthetics to the practice of photography, relying heavily on remediations of old media as well as on new developments in digital imaging. The smartphone can produce and distribute photographic images within seconds, providing new opportunities for personal expression and new forms of citizen journalism. Furthermore, user generated content and folksonomic practices such as tagging pictures create market value as well as community value. Cultural production today is a collaborative, distributed, participatory, and interactive experience, and the photographic image plays a central role as post-media vernacular.