Wednesday, May 25, 2011

We Are the Pop Art of Our Internet Times - The Cultural Significance of Facebook Photography

A classic from Quakecon 09, entitled "Glasses and Myspace are for Dorks."
    I like myspace-style, self-taken, in-front-of-the-mirror, you-can-see-the-cellphone-camera-in-the-shot photographs.

  There. I started the blog. I was trying to think of a clever way to begin, maybe pull in some social commentary. But the truth is, I don't really want to say that Facebook and celebrity culture are creating a detrimental effect on society, giving everyone a venue from which to over-indulge in gross displays of self importance. I don't want to say that, because everyone is saying it. I also don't want to say it because I am a fan of social media-style photography - the easily mock-able icon of our times.

Fefe - she's tech savy, game playing, zombie killer.. and also my successor as XFX Girl.

  Think about all the times you've heard the myspace-mirror shot scorned, or used in a snarky remark. Or used as the subject of a cartoon or parodied on Youtube. I can mention "those girls who post pictures of themselves posing in the mirror", and everyone knows exactly who those girls are. But I've got those photos. And you probably do too. The things we make fun of incessantly.. well, there's a pretty good chance that those things are our very culture.

Christa and I always said "You know you had fun if you've got the picture to prove it..." Why not prove you're having fun, right here, right now, in real time?

  I like old photos because they are a glimpse into the time. I analyzed the the old checked curtains in the background, the flannel shirt my dad is wearing in an early 80's 110 photo. I stare at the corn shucks at my great grandpa's feet. I flip through the boxes of photos at antique stores sometimes, looking at scenes of people who aren't anything to me in particular, and I look at the clothes and the poses and the objects that give the photo some sort of setting.

Even classy blogs like In Pursuit of Pretty Things do it.

The Facebook shot shows us living in "the future". It is a world where everyone carries their own little piece of technology. We can show or share something across distance instantaneously, we can have visual conversations across the space that separates us and the cultural differences that come from that space. With the death of film as the primary way to document our lives, we now have greater leeway - we do not have to ask the question "Is this special enough to keep through the rivers of time?" We can document insignificant moments - the very moments that I wonder about as I look at old photos, the moments that photographs were not then spent on.

Photoshoot styled to look like Facebook photography - Kitagawa Keiko for Cybershot S006- more at Unleash the Geek.

  I know that some people are concerned with the "reality tv" nature of internet culture - everyone wants to be famous, or just act like it on Facebook. Everyone has a podium from which to create their own image. And that is what I think is great about the current we are swimming in. There is a readily available canvas there in the digital era. There is no need to create visions which lack an audience. With the ability to easily reach viewers, there lies potential for so much more than poserism and blatant sexuality. Yes, those things are seen in the digital sludge. But if given a blank space that can be easily shaped into whatever you choose to present, why not make it beautiful? Why not choose carefully the things to document? And at the same time, why not choose haphazardly the moments to capture... because we cannot quite know in the moment the importance of the things that we think are far too casual to be art now.

PoppyD's What I Wore Today is almost nothing but this.. and its awesome.

  But I digress. When I was twelve, we took posed photographs carefully, trying to clear any disruptions in the frame, and arranging every variable to get the most of the finite 24 spaces we could use. When I was 14, the internet was a luxury which I sometimes got to take a turn at at school, choosing topics of research papers just for the purpose of being legitimately allowed to read something interesting online, and when I was invariably pulled away from it I would think "If I had the internet constantly available, how could I ever be bored?"  When I was 15, I ran with my sister and our friends to a stranger's farmhouse looking for help after a car wreck - an event which inspired my dad to get us cellphones at a time when pagers were still a status symbol.

The glimpse into Stacia's room is clean, clean, clean.

Now, I carry a tiny computer in my back pocket. I customize its capabilities with an infinite number of free programs. I have never had to think about whether or not its memory may be filling up with photos from its camera, which takes pictures that look as if they were taken by a device that is primarily a camera. But I carry three other cameras as well, 90% of the time. The blue digital point-and-shoot with a flash that can blaze through the dim of bars and clubs, the tiny hand held Vado video camera with a purple patterned finish, and the serious looking "real" video camera that is still, in this day and age, the size of your palm. I edit video easily, only ten years after I dreamed of being able to go to college to learn the unapproachable skills of turning footage into something coherent. Yes, I set out to participate in my contemporary times, and I have done it up.

Dancing in Miami.. putting the dress on the interweb.

The visible cameras in these photos give an insight into the personal, portable technology that is now common place in our lives. It is so common place, that the cameras, or more often, cellphones, in these shots are attractively colored or adorned. Objects which - even within my lifetime- would once have been thought a novelty on their own are now so normal that we individualize them to combat their normalcy. I value their appearance in the photographs from a strictly historical standpoint - we preserve pictures of things which rapidly change, which will be cast off. And then there's something philosophical about the brazenness of not even attempting to hide the fact that a photo was self taken, or by extension, that the viewer is looking at a photograph and not simply being drawn into a scene.

This actually is from a gift guide hawking the phone. But its so culturally relevant, they're even using the theme to sell shit!

 In the 1920's, there was much concern about the Charleston, the unruly girls, and the illegal booze. Its hard to argue that no one was ever harmed by alcohol or brazen sexuality. But out of the climate that undoubtedly did provide some people with a hard surface to wreck themselves upon also came the insight of Fitzgerald and Edna St. Vincent Millay. It is with that faith that I continue championing the social media style " mirrored self portrait with digital camera" and the internet uploading 3g culture it represents. Its the faith that I can both participate in and document my times and the culture around it, all the while maintaining the perspective to see outside of it.

I <3 Droid photography THIS MUCH.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. I dig the iconoclastic references to pop art, although, I hardly think the canon camera is one that fits in the images. Ohh, Fefe is the icon... I get it now :)