Something much more interesting happened to me this weekend. Me and tinyjo were interviewed by a sociologist working for Surrey University about using photos in online journals (and, by extension, online generally). The research was partnership work with some commercial firm interested in new applications of mobile technology, so there was also talk about phones and other instances of small tech you might find about a modern human, as well as plenty about how generally we approached journalling. I don't know how useful anything we had to say was, but among the questions were some which made me think about stuff:
[notes following an interview with Kris Cohen, Sociologist]
When I first started out joining LJ photo communities (and also when I started contributing to the mirror project), for every single one I had some photos I'd already taken in mind for it. urban_decay was going to get West Pier at Brighton, toycamera was going to get the Action Sampler Rothkos, color_theory was going to get the hair photographs and so on. In all these cases, I've not done what I originally intended to. Instead I've taken the odd shot from recent films, sometimes ones I took with the community in mind, but more often just things which accidentally cleaved to what I saw as the aims of the community. In fact, I've found that the shots I've taken with an online spot in mind have often come out poorly, as if the intention were fighting against the photo. I'm usually pretty down on intention, always shooting without looking or using bad tools or out-of-date film or shooting in poor conditions or with little preparation. It's my argument that I'm trying to catch the photos I can't see, but like all great artistic statements that's only really a small part of the truth. If I see something interesting I will try and catch it, and sometimes I'm successful and sometimes I'm not. But my treasures are always the photos that I didn't see, the ones which only start to exist when I look at the print for the first time.
Matt recently told me to go to Borders and read about Mario Giacomelli, a famous photographer who (among many other things) modified cameras to remove "unneccessary" controls, and in the introduction there was a lot about how he used the camera like a painter, not like a photographer, and perhaps it was this being at the top of my mind that led me to thinking (when we were talking about why neither Jo nor I referred to ourselves as photographers) that I regarded my cameras as just more tools, like my inks or pencils or coloured pens, with their own advantages and disadvantages, for getting closer to ... and there I tailed off. To what? He prompted. I said something like what I see or art or what's there or the picture but the truth of the matter was I really didn't know. Maybe if I knew what it was I was looking for, perhaps I wouldn't be so driven to keep on looking.
Though Giacomelli wasn't so excited about fiddling with his camera, he spent hours in his chaotic darkroom, making prints look just right. Early in the conversation, I'd mentioned correcting photos in Photoshop several times, and when Kris caught up with it I wasn't surprised. "Some people see it as cheating," he said. Though I suppose I'm not a big one for purity anyway, it always seems a bit silly to me not to correct the problems put into a photo by scanning (or transferring from a digital camera), resizing, or inappropriate/poor quality processing (I don't do any of my own processing, and the machines often interpret what needs doing to a photograph differently from me) and though I don't post extreme rescue jobs on LJ, I have on every website I've been paid to produce content for, and some I haven't, where the photos mattered enough. To decide that dodging and burning in the darkroom's OK but because it's a computer you're working on you're being bad always strikes me as an odd double standard. And the web's forgiving, of course, in a way that print just can't be, and will let your fuzzy/slightly off-focus/blurry photos through without comment, but if your colour pictures come in muddled with neutral (grey) tones (as is often the case from scanners or digital cameras) it shows it proudly, and suddenly you aren't doing the original shot justice at all. Perhaps it was that I was just down the corridoor from the photographers at Oxfam that always made me put the best effort into making their photos look as good as humanly possible when they were put onto our website, but, whatever, the habit's there, and it's stuck, and if that's "cheating" well so be it.
He was also very interested in audiences, about who I'd be posting my photos for and why? I surprised myself by how adamant I was that I was writing publically but not for an audience; writing that (unlike the stuff I have to do for work) is there to please myself, but was that true for the photos? Certainly I take them to please myself, but posting them really *is* sharing them and the yay! factor is marginally greater on the (few) comments I get on my photos. So, why? We pushed it around a bit, and there were a few different reasons. Things like the gig photos or photos from parties I'm posting to share with dispersed friends (and I'd expect people who don't regularly read my journal to look at them), and that's straightforward enough. Other photos are just of something neat and I'm posting them to spread the joy -- show other people something that made me happy. Oddly, quite a lot of my toycamera shots fall into this category, which leads me to wonder if I'm not approaching the community a bit wrong. Some things get posted in the same spirit as some of the entries, to fix the memory, though I'd say that's rare. There's a sense in which the action of taking the photo fixed the memory already, though putting it online allows me to surround it with comment and link it to other things and share it with other people. But that still leaves a lot of photos unaccounted for, both on LJ and elsewhere. The photos that are trying for something else, and then we're back into the same question again, what are you trying to get closer to?. Maybe related is that unusally (in the photo communities I'm part of, anyway) I comment on the content of photos rather than just saying Cool! or asking technical questions (which seldom interest me, though I'll occasionally ask if something is bothering me) even though I don't know if people like it when I do this (probably they just think Mad Englishwoman! and respond politely) because when I look at a photo, that's what I'm there for, really.
There was lots more to the conversation, like the fact that Kris keeps a blog, but there aren't any photos in it yet (I told him he should start a photo blog about studying photo blogs, like he hadn't heard that one before!) and an empty-your-handbag moment when he quickly asked us about what we habitually carried around with us, and some talk about old and new tech (Jo and I have very different views!), the tool-toy divide, and about that guy I saw in Bodyworlds, waving his ability to photo-message around.
Kris also complained that the only photos of him online were of him having his head shaved for charity (amazing, how often that happens), so here's a pic I took of him while showing off (some of) my stupid cameras.
Kris Cohen, Research Fellow, The University of Surrey Department of Sociology
(from kookymojo) More graffitti fun: spot the space invader. It's fun!