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... has been recorded

Yes, I went to the Rocky Horror show. Yes, I wore fishnets. Want to make something of it?

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 I'm usually pretty down on intention, always shooting without looking or using bad tools or out-of-date film or shooting in poor conditions or with little preparation.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 in Jo's downstairs room
Kris Cohen, Research Fellow, The University of Surrey Department of Sociology

(from kookymojo) More graffitti fun: spot the space invader. It's fun!


( 18 worms — Feed the birds )
25th Nov, 2002 01:26 (UTC)
You should mail him and let him know that photo's there - he looks *really* cute in it! I'm still not sure what I think about some of the stuff we talked about really but it has inspired me to get some work done on my new galleries - watch this space...
26th Nov, 2002 05:48 (UTC)
one for you, I think!
(from Kris)

"I cringe when I think that what I do is show up at a kind and thoughtful person's home, pump them for information, drink their tea, hopelessly discombobulate their latest D&D adventure, then leave."

26th Nov, 2002 05:55 (UTC)
Re: one for you, I think!
Bless! I wish he had comments on his blog so I could reassure him that I really enjoyed it - stuff that makes you think is always good. As are long rambling discussions.
25th Nov, 2002 01:34 (UTC)
And also... (from Kris Cohen)
I thought it was a great conversation: Jo and Jeremy were both fun and engaging and thoughtful and, crucially, tolerant. And they made me lots of tea. One thing I left thinking about, and that I've been scratching my head over a lot lately, is how the internet as a new medium for photographs might be contributing to a change in the status and nature of photographs themselves. Jeremy mentioned that cameras are simply tools for her, and while she was not making light of the importance and specificity of photographic images, there was a sense in which a camera was just another kind of pencil, as she said. Also, time was, until really this last decade, that unless you were a professional photographer, photographs were something that one took (or had taken) of oneself and one's family, and showed only to one' s family or guests. And photographs took on certain contents and meanings as a result of how and where and for whom they were to be displayed (as a result of display, among other factors). The internet, I think, presents some new and different possibilities for display (possibilities that clearly I'm taking ill-advantage of with my boring picture-less blog). -kris cohen
25th Nov, 2002 08:04 (UTC)
Re: And also... (from Kris Cohen)
So Jo, what's this - back on the tea habit? :-)


To your points Kris, I may be stating the obvious, but the combination of photography and the internet may prove a brilliant resource, as you envision, *to those who learn to use it in that way.* I think the majority of this usage, even with greater use of digital photography, will remain the o-photo family portraits and holiday snaps (which if you permit me this mad dance, is still vastly more communicative than in the past). In time, this may lead to very expressive photographic alterations as the main form of sharing the visual history ... but I think people are, in the main, more conservative than that.^

This also entirely excludes the commercial engine which can change a lot of this behaviour very quickly.

^ I think, for example, of the Japanese who as a society have taken to cameras and photography like few other people ... especially the latest and greatest photographic technologies. Yet, in the main, most of their photography outside of the arthouse or commercial studio remains the holiday snap with someone you know in front of some cultural artefact of note.

Okay, roundabout without much to add, but there you have it. :-)

25th Nov, 2002 12:27 (UTC)
Re: And also... (from Kris Cohen)
Thanks Zac. If you're re-stating the obvious, then it was a useful restatement. But I don't think you were. I suspect that you're right about the majority's photographic conservatism, that these things change slowly when, in fact, they change. A hundred years of accumulated habit and practice aren't going to disintegrate immediately just because the internet exists and mobile phones have cameras glued on them. But there are lots of people in the mobile phone business who are going to be very sad, because I'm not sure that, as is, mobile phone cameras are a very intuitive choice for those kinds of pictures. Jeremy and Jo helped me think a lot more clearly about what might be wrong with mobile phone cameras.

One thing you said was interesting and not obvious to me at all: how do you think traditional holiday and family snaps are vastly more communicative than they were in the past? I'm permitting you your mad dance; in fact, I'd like to see more of it. -best, kris
27th Nov, 2002 20:19 (UTC)
Re: And also... (from Kris Cohen)

1) Jinty pretty much covered what I was going to say re: mad dance; the idea that in an electronic medium, it's vastly easier to send someone the passcode to a 3rd party residence for your photo album than it is to physically lug the images with you on a trip and worry about weight, damage, etc.

[WARNING: beware serendipity ... I don't know where these ideas will go]

1.b) Some of the innovative uses of the technology are really still in their infancy, and we cannot know how effective/popular they'll become (especially in their current form).

I think for example of the oft cited example of using a PDA/hand-held for the grocery list rather than pen and paper ... and the reality is that because one can grasp the paper in one's mouth and free one's hands, it is actually a superior solution to the digital version.

So when one considers the adverts of the hopeless husband shopping for the groceries off of digital snaps his wife has taken of the actual products ... one really has to wonder whether these sorts of uses will ever actually happen, and then ever actually happen in a way that will become popular and institutionalise the technology.

Also, this may belabor the point, but it's exactly these trivial mundane uses that these technologies have to adapt to, to expand beyond a niche.

Thinking on the history of photography generally, their initial conception and popular use was the professional portrait ... following right on the heels of expensive realist canvas paintings. The instant snap is a relatively new innovation (in terms of use), though again the charge was lead by a relatively small number of artists taking advantage of the newly affordable development process. Is digital photography then just a further widening, or does it offer new expressive opportunities? (back to your question I see)

Yikes, and here's an ugly tangent ... would those little Browning cameras (iirc) have come about as quickly without the experiences of war photographers? A question that can be as readily applied to the Crimea, as Vietnam, or Kosovo.

2) I try to think of uses where a photographic image is in fact preferred.

2.a) Having some sort of credible evidence - be in instant pics of a crash scene, home repairs, a possible house to buy, etc. ... and their digital format helps speed up the entire process ('insta-mortgage now!' [shudder])

2.b) Pushing or widening the frontier of personal expression. Not just along the lines of our Gorn man, or the fun Alien Invasion of Paris that Jeremy posted ... but perhaps personalised facial (and other) expressions in the role emoticons play now.

I think this might especially become the case when people find the time for such customisation (less likely, unless there is a global reconsideration of the classic Western work ethic; i.e. "we've 6+ billion people on this Earth to do the work, do I need to do all of the excluding share apportioned me?") ... or if the mass of information forces these forms of expression to become the norm.

The 'picture is worth a thousand words' taken in a more literal fashion ... a kind of shorthand meta-meaning rather than further atomising information.

Example: a friend insta-messages me a querying face (rather than a "how r u?" we'd use today). Well, I can spend the quality time of whinging about my whole day, or I can simply send a pic of my screaming face (or a pic of a kosher sausage, or a pic of a steaming coffee cup, or a box of tissue, or whatever) with the understanding that the friend shouldn't ask me any more until some prescheduled time next month for the pint we promised to drink with each other [sob].

Admittedly, this presupposes that the friends understand eachothers personal photographic 'language' (possible, if the technology can tap into the social and biological mechanisms of slang) OR that the reward of figuring out the message is enough.

Bah! I'm probably writing bollox by this point anyway. ;-p

I'm sure others have better ideas. Though I am entertained by the idea that emoticons are the thin end of the wedge of an entirely new meme language. :-)

29th Nov, 2002 03:59 (UTC)
Re: And also... (from Kris Cohen)
1b) I think for example of the oft cited example of using a PDA/hand-held for the grocery list rather than pen and paper ... and the reality is that because one can grasp the paper in one's mouth and free one's hands, it is actually a superior solution to the digital version.
Swings and roundabouts and styles of working. For instance, with the PDA you have a better chance of having all your list in one place (rather than different scraps of paper). Wouldn't call it a superior solution quite as bluntly as all that; I certainly don't feel that not being able to put the PDA in my mouth compromises its utility to that extent (though sometimes I still use paper because it is closer to hand).

(still 1b) So when one considers the adverts of the hopeless husband shopping for the groceries off of digital snaps his wife has taken of the actual products...
What you do see a hell of a lot in the supermarket is the person who is consulting someone else by mobile phone to see what to buy. Five years ago you would have thought 'what's wrong with their memory, or their ability to write a coherent shopping list?'. Now it's normal. Things are changing and tech is becoming accepted and integrated at what may be a faster rate than you think.

2) I try to think of uses where a photographic image is in fact preferred
Preferred to what, exactly? It wasn't clear to me from your text.

Like your positing of possible usage of images as evolved emoticons...
29th Nov, 2002 08:59 (UTC)
Re: And also... (from Kris Cohen)
> 1b)

Agreed, but with the caveat that often people have a lot of difficulty setting up and synching their systems ... so that within a few months' time the PDA is little more than the occassional memo scheduler and much of the listing is back to pen & paper. (or in extreme cases the PDA's on a low shelf gathering dust)

[this entreats a generational observation, as much as I think the <30 crowd is mostly likely to adopt and adapt these new technologies best, I've already seen my own disaffection with buggy MP3 players due to crap synch software ... the dusty shelf scenario]

Incidentally, if we're talking about a complicated combined system (a la Handspring Treo with a camera built-in) or a variety of systems ... this sync challenge cannot be underestimated. This recalls bad but truthful jokes about programming VCRs (Engrish manuals or no).

> still 1b)

Ah then we get into a question of supplementary vs. complimentary use of the technology.

My own observation: even in this tech-laden Bay Area, PDA use for groceries is minimal (at most 10% of the grocery shopping population - which I think is slightly lower than PDA ownership as a whole); mobile phone use is relatively high (ranging between 30-50% of the shopping horde ... use often lowest in the busy aisles, highest at the checkout counter^); but the older shopping pattern of 'sticking to the list' or 'wandering the mall'# persist, often with little technology compliment.

^ As a complimentary use, see if there's anything else that is needed before checking out

# And then I've noticed that, amongst teens anyway, the mobile then becomes a form of communal information sharing once some desired object is happened upon.


> Preferred to what, exactly? It wasn't clear to me from your text.

Image preferred to explanatory text. So rather than sending a message asking 'what time is the party?' have: an animated pic of a crowded club interior still with expanding question mark and a blinking XX:YY time.

Possible, but I think needs:

a) the cultural adaptation (the 'friends slang')

b) faster, cheaper, better hardware & software

c) since it's a matter of speed of communication, we'd need an interface that takes no longer than the time it takes to open the writing software, write the message, and send it off to the correct address(es). A lot of these images would have to be preloaded and easily selected.
We do not have this interface yet. Possibly a combination of eye motion, finger tapping, and voice commands will be needed. Possibly even some decent interpretive AIs.

> Like your positing of possible usage of images as evolved emoticons...

Ha! That way you can't call me a complete negativist bugger. ;-)

30th Nov, 2002 09:17 (UTC)
On topic experience
So just yesterday a collegue at work came over with her PDA. She said she dropped the Palm and the screen had gone all fuzzy/weird. She then pointed out that she just noticed the little reset hole one can poke a bent paperclip in (incidentally, I find it outrageously funny that no matter how far ahead technology goes, the best are backwards compatible with a crudely fashioned office tool of shape and use first devised by our earliest hominid ancestors ... but I digress). When I asked what she meant by 'just noticed' she said she'd switched out the batteries thinking that was the problem.

No surprise then that everything she had on her PDA was wiped.

Now, she's not particularly techno-phobic, but I think is a good indicator of the general population's technical proficiency - or at least that population willing to adopt this new technology.^

^or perhaps, this points out more and more the generational divide between hardware-thinking people and software-thinking people. Admittedly, after an analog/meatworld event like a dropped device, I'd probably think along hardware terms too.


To continue with the digression ... ultimately our best technologies are going to have to be completely idiot proof - making the reset sequence something like bashing the device on the side. :-)

26th Nov, 2002 04:50 (UTC)
Re: And also... (from Kris Cohen)
One can now also extend the family as far as showing snaps is concerned -- rather than showing them only to immediate family, second cousins, emigrés, and more distant relatives can be included in the circle of photo-display (though the content of and reason for the photos remains more or less the same).

In different circles -- circles of people sharing elective affinities such as music, comics, or even LJ, photos create a sense of closeness and a feeling that you 'know' the person even before you've met them. Photo alteration is probably not a big part of this (except in so far as the creative alteration of photos is itself an indicator of an elective affinty). Certainly seeing photos of people on LJ that I've never met (mattcallow, general_jinjur) makes me feel much closer to them as people. Though I like cangetmad's journal and writing a lot, I've never seen a photo of her and feel correspondingly further from her on some scale of closeness.

Online photos can even be handy in a practical sense: I have on occasion sent people a URL of somewhere I know there's a good photo of me, so that the person I've only virtually met can recognize me when we meet IRL. Usually, Matt's CAPTION photos are a good source!

Hope this was not already covered to death in J&J's conversation with Kris. Who does indeed look very cute in the piccy.
26th Nov, 2002 05:41 (UTC)
Re: And also... (from Kris Cohen)
... and not entirely unlike andypop, Jo & I thought!
28th Nov, 2002 12:31 (UTC)
I know this sounds like a bad pick-up line, but ...
Didn't we meet at the 'Resurrected' CAPTION?

Weren't you really handy in Spanish, were living in Madrid somewhere ... or am I confusing you with someone else?

I can't remember if that was 1999 or 2000 ... but I do remember Jeremy's large donation of 'Tiny Objects of Fear'

Hmm, sake does wonders for the memory...


28th Nov, 2002 16:14 (UTC)
Re: I know this sounds like a bad pick-up line, but ...
Yes, I think we did meet at CAPTION -- 2000 perhaps? I was in Madrid for a year, and yes, speaking Spanish was obviously one of the things I was doing.

I bought some of those tiny objects of fear in the auction. Very fine...
29th Nov, 2002 09:02 (UTC)
Re: I know this sounds like a bad pick-up line, but ...
A ha! The synapses do work! Amazing! :-)

4th Dec, 2002 13:03 (UTC)
Re: I know this sounds like a bad pick-up line, but ...
So, seeing as we1re talking piccies -- have you not got some online pix, then?
5th Dec, 2002 18:10 (UTC)
Re: I know this sounds like a bad pick-up line, but ...
Actually no, surprisingly. On the other hand, if you want to see some lovely pics of Burma and various esoteria, you'll have a chance when I appear (in person!) in Britain with physical digital medium in hand.


P.S. That reminds me: need to organise and burn CD...


26th Nov, 2002 05:43 (UTC)
oops, my bad
Not a charity head-shaving at all. A personal one ( http://www.clubjosh.com/diaries/chicago/ ). Also very cute ...
( 18 worms — Feed the birds )