Upwardly Mobile Photography: Changing Our Window to the World

Today I spent the afternoon looking through family photo albums with my mother. This is something that makes her happy and gives both of us an opportunity to reflect on our individual journeys and collective memories.

A couple of thoughts struck me as my mother and I made our journey down memory lane together. Firstly, these photos were actually printed on paper, some creased and yellowing with age, others as sharp and vivid as they day they were taken. This was a somewhat different and nostalgic experience for me, given that most of photos I browse these days are digital. Secondly, it seemed a lot of the photos centred around family celebrations generally involving food. Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and graduations all involving beautifully set tables and a whole lot of cake. All of which made my mother remark that we sure ate a lot. Thirdly, the only selfies were those taken with a camera timer and usually did not show one’s best pose. If you have ever stared at the flashing light of the camera timer afraid to move as a result of the impending ‘cheese’ moment only to give up the ghost at the very minute the shutter clicks, you’ll know what I mean. Lastly, the only nude or semi nude photos to be seen were of humans under the age of two. And not a single duck face in the bunch.

I can’t really believe that we ate that much more than the average European immigrant based family or were any more prudish. In fact I’m pretty sure we were fairly average in that regard. What the experience started me thinking about was the evolution of photography and the impact of the mobile phone camera on that evolution.

We now carry our cameras wherever we go. Social media networks are ever ready to receive our photos and publish them to our audience. Has the urge to publish and receive an acknowledgement of our presence through comments and likes and the immediacy of the process made our personal photography more mundane or simply more realistic?

Facebook and working outAccording to Daniel Palmer*, having our cameras constantly with us has led to more spontaneous photo taking and a more informal way of taking and consuming images. Photos have moved from forming the basis of one’s highlight reel to now forming the basis of one’s communication catalogue. Clicking on that piece of furniture in the store and seeking our friend’s second opinion, sending a missing you photo to a lover or snapping a flower arrangement for later inspiration all serve as part of a pictorial conversation. And given the convergent nature of technology, the conversation is immediate.

So, if you go and work out in the gym and don’t post a photo on Facebook did the workout really happen?

Thankfully, whilst mobile cameras have provided us with a mirror to our own world and a window into that of others, they have also provided a means of partaking in one of the most interactive and social art forms. You can get a flavour of the impact of mobile photography what it means for photographic App development from the following video:

And what about how we store and view the end product of our mobile photography? Not so long ago, we would eagerly await a postcard from our friends holidaying overseas to give us a glimpse into their experience or enjoy a slide or photo night of the highlights upon their return. Now all of this is immediate and we follow our friends’ overseas jaunts in real time and have all but seen their overseas highlight reel by the time they have returned home. Have we therefore lost something in the midst of the gains of immediacy and convenience? I can’t help but think we have. The sense of anticipation and wonder at reviewing the captured moments have given way to instant gratification and a sense of loss over old-fashioned and more collegiate forms of social sharing. With more than 350 million photos being uploaded daily to Facebook according to Digital Trends, and approximately 55million photos uploaded daily to Instagram these platforms are fast becoming our photo albums of the future.

And finally, our mobile cameras offer a gateway to be an exhibitor. On 15 May 2012, I took part in a worldwide photography experience through A.DAY.org, which asked the world’s citizens to capture and upload photos of their day. The curators have turned the site into a permanent photographic exhibition, giving an interesting glimpse into humanity.

Mobile cameras have changed the way we look at the world and each other and brought us ever closer whilst keeping us further apart.

Are you and avid mobile photographer? Do you enjoy browsing through photo albums? Do you still print photos on paper?

* Palmer, D (2012) “iPhone Photography: mediating visions of social space” in L. Hjorth, J. Burgess and I. Richardson (eds) Studying Mobile Media; Cultural technologies, mobile communication and the iPhone, New York and London, Routledge pp85-97.