We are at a fascinating moment in photography, in how it is used, and in its social purpose and function, which will have direct impact on the use of photography in marketing and advertising communications.
In 2011, 491.4 million smartphones were sold, up 58 percent on the previous year according to Gartner research – these are phones with cameras that can take and share images instantly. Image curation website, 1000memories estimated that mobile photography was up 34 percent while point and shoot photos decreased by 13 percent. Award-winning photography writer Geoff Dyer has argued that photography has always been a “medium of abundance” and with 250 million images uploaded to social network sites every day, who can argue with that? In August 2011 Flickr had uploaded its 3 billionth photo and, in a stat that impresses us with the significance of its own scale, 150 years of YouTube video are watched every day. But what does all this data mean, for photography, for clients and for users and purchasers of photographic images?
From Still Image to Connected Experience
For someone like Erik Kessels, founder of Dutch agency KesselsKramer who printed out all the photos uploaded to Flickr in one 24 hour period for his Photography in Abundance installation at FOAM in Amsterdam, there is a sense that it is all too much. “We’re exposed to an overload of images nowadays,” Erik Kessels told Creative Review, “This glut is in large part the result of image-sharing sites like Flickr, networking sites like Facebook, and picture-based search engines. Their content mingles public and private, with the very personal being openly and unselfconsciously displayed. By printing all the images uploaded in a twenty-four hour period, I visualize the feeling of drowning in representations of other peoples’ experiences.”
Whether we agree or not about Kessels’ judgement on the amount of photography, he notes something much more significant. What is being uploaded aren’t just images, they are experiences, and what makes the images seductive, charming and magical are the improvised and accidental feel of images that may be blurred or framed awkwardly or have something intruding in the foreground. Most of all, what Photography In Abundance expresses in its sheer volume of personal images shared is the scale of the desire for connection – the need to participate, to assert a sense of self, a place in the world.
Photography: Killer App as Self-Expression
Nicholas Mirzoeff, Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University, is fascinated by the personal stake involved in image-making. Photography he believes is the ‘killer app’ of web 2.0. Mirzoeff wrote in FOAM magazine that new social sharing of photographic images of ourselves heralds a new age of the self-image – “the interface between social networking and the social is the self-image, which I call “photografitti”, a mark made for and by the self as a claim to personhood.” Photography for creators, consumers, users, sharers and buyers has become much more personal, although not in the sense that it reveals something particular in the subject matter of the photo. Photography has become the prime vehicle in social sharing because it’s an expression of self that is the most valued form of connection and it’s why brands and advertisers are so keen to engage with photo communities such as Flickr.