Photo-futurology et al

Posted: February 22nd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Adam | 4 Comments »

A recent visit from a good friend prompted the creation of an impromptu, non-virtual Flickr set on my apartment wall. A collector of found images, my guest is most interested in family snapshots and poorly printed or otherwise novel postcards. Most pictures bear the scars of water damage, poor print process, time, or all three. All told, some 150 images were uploaded to my non-multitouch interface viewing surface with eraser-putty and artist tape. The concept behind all this was merely to see all the images next to each other, without their being any contextual relationship in their placement, so as to examine their collective attributes. In the course of this process, a number of interesting and contemporarily-relevant questions arose.

1). As our visual memory is increasingly replaced by photography and the amount of photographs we take keeps apace with booming imaging technologies, are we diluting our cerebro-visual faculties? Is the imagination becoming little more than a Rolodex for a pool of external photos, or will the proliferation of LCD screens and image-sharing networks work to the benefit of collective creativity?

2). Assuming whatever entity out there that is spidering the Infobahn and backing up every page and image (there is such a thing, right?) survives the apocalypse, what will our descendents/aliens make of our digital leavings? What picture will the MySpace portraits and Flickr sets of nations paint for future archaeologists? Will they think we are vapid, trinket-obsessed, globalized zombies, or will the weight of billions of jpegs preserve us as remarkably as the pyroclastic flow of Vesuvius?

3). What is the importance of things that suck? Some years ago, before Irony bore so heavily down on popular culture, the avant-garde contingent adopted the role of its anti-heroes as a kind of performative critique of normative society. Inevitably, the trappings of this playful yet effective role-reversal were stripped of their conceptual fabric, diluted and re-sold en masse to the public under the “Hipster” trademark. Despite having lost some of its inertia, does the purposeful and conscience adoption of the “sucky” aesthetic still hold an important place in the conversation of contemporary culture?

4 Comments on “Photo-futurology et al”

  1. 1 elisabeth said at 7:18 pm on February 23rd, 2008:

    nice to see something happening with this killer domain name.

  2. 2 mathias said at 7:47 pm on February 23rd, 2008:

    Interesting post & a a crucial element to explore about the the technological transformations of modern aesthetics. In response to part one, though, I wonder if it is right to say our visual memory is “replaced” by photography–seems a touch “good old days.” We train ourselves into metaphors of memory — the visual product of an objectified memory does not replace the synaptic functions inside our skull. Whatever metaphor we use for memory, filing cabinet, rolodex, cinematic, etc, they are only attempts to organize the actually function of memory, which can not be visualized.

    I think the way public storage of the objects we associate with what memories look like make a kind of interconnected memory matrix. It’s a given that most of what we “remember” has very little connection to the actual events that we lived through, and is instead a kind of constantly self-revising construct of ourselves. The preponderance of images therefore provides a nearly infinite pool of visual images for us to associate with memories. In this way the lived experience becomes less involved in the myth of the individual & more of a space of connectivity & relational associations.

    We can have memories that can associate with a wider & more intimate set of visual moments than any other humans that have ever lived. In that way I think we can better understand the cosmopolitan nature of lived experience.

  3. 3 Zach said at 11:03 pm on February 24th, 2008:

    Co-sign on most of what mathias said.

    I’ll also add, on the more broad subject of expanding hard drives, terabytes of information at the fingertips, Wikipedia and its ilk, and the nature of learning and living in the “Information Age”, this idea, which I remember hearing on the radio a few years back: In the past, a major obstacle in learning was simply the problem of gathering the information, whether that be from rifling through encyclopedias, searching through card catalogs, or contacting knowledgeable people on the subject. That is changing somewhat, so that with the internet, information is readily available on pretty much subject. So, one could argue that where the most successful students (not referring to school students so much as students of life in general) in the past were the ones who were the best at accumulating and storing knowledge, the most successful students of the future would be those that are adept at synthesizing the wide swaths of info that is now available and processing it into something that is meaningful. Keeping that in mind, the advances in internet organization (, etc) and search engines (google, duh) are pretty interesting to examine.

    I’m not sure how much of that really has to do with the original post, but looking at the 150 images on your wall made me think of how to best make sense of piles of information.

  4. 4 Adam Ryder said at 3:34 am on February 27th, 2008:

    Absolutely. Although the iPhone is quickly becoming commonplace and unremarkable, I’m still fascinating with them and have yet to really use one. With it’s novel selective “zooming” on Safari, it seems to be the *real* first portable internet device. With this advent, now more than ever, the datastream all around seems almost palpable. The gap between information desire and information access has now been conflated so much as to be almost non-existent. I agree that those who will fare best in the future will be those who know how best to select from an infinite amount of information sources.

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