Photography: The Invention that Keeps on Giving

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 5.16.39 PMPhotography is definitely the gift that just keeps on givingand in different forms! Thank you, Louis Daguerre, for inventing photography; without this gift we would not be able to document momentous events in our life (like my first time at the White House to help out at the Easter Egg Roll 2013), take #selfie duckface pics to post them on Instagram, or upload quick vids of ourselves to Vine.

If you haven’t explored the wonder of Vine, it is a product that Twitter acquired that allows for sharing quick, six second, looping videos. Brevity is key here, something that Twitter’s 140 character messages do so well. It doesn’t seem like very long, but it’s surprising what you can share in six seconds, especially when you get creative. Vine Vids are all about abbreviation—”The shortened form of something larger.”

Our Meta-Meme-Modern age of documenting and categorizing every moment of our lives, and then sharing it with the masses in small digestible chunks, is done with such urgency, yet some do not think about the technology behind it. It’s fun to see these various digital methods reference the past. All of those wonderful filters that various apps use reference the analogue processes—Van Dyke Brown, Cyanotype, Cross-Processed, Black and White filters—that have been done in darkrooms with hazardous chemicals for decades. I have quite a bit of experience producing images the old-school way and love it! However, I also love that I don’t have to risk my life anymore using potassium cyanide or silver nitrate. Working in the darkroom was never a quick process, but more of a zen experience—something that could never be rushed. Current digital technology is often almost instantaneous.

I find it quite interesting these days that videos/gifs appear to be the next best thing to push content out into the aether. These small, bite-sized videos serve as an appetizer to an idea, concept, or expression, allowing the user to carefully create a potent and concentrated snippet of their world. The small size of the files not only makes them faster to upload, but also easier for the viewer to digest. Do small files equal short attention spans? Has the advancement in technology in photography spoiled us to seek a quick turn around for visual pay off?

Recently, I picked up a book in the library, Photography Changes Everything, a collaboration between Aperture and the Smithsonian, which is a fascinating collection of images and responses to how the image changes and shapes everything in our lives. Many experts, writers, inventors, and public figures from different professional backgrounds have contributed to this book, telling the stories of how their lives have been shaped or changed by photography. Contributors include the Smithsonian’s Curator of Photographic History Shannon Thomas Perich as well as John Baldessari, John Waters,  Hugh Hefner, and others. Check out the book or visit the Photography Changes Everything website and see how the photographic image does indeed change everything around us. Photography has certainly changed my life and made me into the New Media Specialist that I am today here at the Lemelson Center.