Bearing Witness (Part I): Signal to Noise
"Photography Changes Everything" is the title of Marvin Heiferman's new book that I look forward to reading when it arrives from Amazon (it's on backorder). I've become fascinated with how photography has changed, even in the course of my lifetime, and how the change in photography has also changed our perception of the world.
As Wired's RAW File interview with Heiferman writes: "The art market is a one-percenter game, and Heiferman thinks it distracts us from the uses of images in our everyday lives. Photography is all around us and used in ways we don’t even consider." Heiferman refers to medical diagnostic imaging, facial recognition technology, and - yes - Instagram. He comments that photography, and its evolution, have changed how we, as a culture and society, communicate. In one of his many provocative statements, he remarks: "In the past, it was more conventional; we had to have reason to make a picture and it was usually to document something specific. Whereas now people take pictures because the camera is there [in their hand]. It has got to the point where sometimes if you ask people why they take pictures they can’t even say."
Earlier this week, I posted a link to Jerome Daley's work, as featured in the New York Times photography blog, LENS. Daley combines aspects of art photography with traditional documentary photography in a way that makes the viewer stop and look at the image. More than any other time, photography as a technology asks us to bear witness - images are everywhere ... and instantaneous. However, this pervasiveness and accessibility of "photography" has brought with it accommodation to images, their meaning, and potential impact. Images don't stand out in the same way that they used to - or maybe the signal to noise ratio has decreased to such a point where we miss those gems that make us stop in our tracks and think about our world. Does the conflict in Mali even hit our radar screen without the invitation of Daley's imagery? For my part, it hadn't. We no longer hunger for information - we suffer from a selection bias that results from the filtration of the news and images we want to see. The blessing of abundance has brought with it the unintended consequence of waste.
Photography changes everything ... and photography itself has changed dramatically. The opportunity is accessibility; the challenge is preservation of meaning.