During our first class last Friday, a blog post that I wrote over a year ago came up in conversation as we were discussing the many reasons why and how digital photos can be inauthentic. As promised, I’ve re-posted the original here in case anyone is interested in giving it a read-through:
Alright, so I know Viktor Mayer-Schonberger(1) might be appalled, but I immediately found myself cozying up quite nicely to the Autographer(2). As soon as class ended on Thursday, I proceeded to clip the device on to my blouse and record the evening.
For the first few minutes, like Marcel, I was angling my body to try and capture some good shots of the art on the walls of the ECH, my friends’ faces, and interesting occurrences in my surroundings. However, I was shocked to discover just how quickly I became accustomed to the device and completely forgot that I was even wearing it. I was also surprised at how eager I was, upon returning home, to plug the camera into my MacBook and see what it had caught on film (so to speak).
Like José Van Dijck’s friend(3), who explains, “I am not very keen on retrieving the experiences I recorded. The value of my digital collection is situated first and foremost in the fun of recording and collecting and perhaps second in knowing that these files are somehow stored, in coding, even if I will never retrieve them” (168); I am usually not especially prone to recalling memories that I’ve gone to the efforts of recording. While I definitely enjoy taking photos and videos at different periods in my day-to-day life, I don’t often look back at these collections after they’re taken. I might look at items that have recently been posted on my Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, but older mediated memories get lost in a digital realm where I rarely choose to venture.
What’s different about uploading and reviewing photographs with the Autographer though, is that you don’t know exactly which moments will be captured. I was eager to discover whether I’d accidentally caught any hilarious or otherwise noteworthy moments. I also was drawn to the fact that I was able to record an enjoyable evening with friends without having to take the time out of my schedule to actually pause the moment and take a snapshot, thus interrupting everyone’s enjoyment and the organic flow of the event.
The downsides though were that I had a lot of dark, dingy, under-the-table shots, and many blurry walking snaps that are hard to place. Significantly, I also didn’t get to appear in any of the shots with my friends – instead I’m the outsider capturing their lives in action (which sets up an interesting relation between the capturer and the captured, which I hope to reflect on a bit more in future).
The last thing that I wanted to think about tonight, in relation to my first use of the device, is this photo:
This was one of the only clear photos from the dimly-lit restaurant where several of my colleagues and I went to chat and unwind post-class. My peers and I had a great time discussing our classes and the SAGE social event that week. Conversely, this photo seems to suggest that Isaac, Cam, and Lauren were having a horrible time and were hoping to make an escape as soon as their food was scarfed down.
What this really brings to the forefront for me is that our human memories of an event may be quite different than the ones recorded by the Autographer (or any other camera), revealing how the fallibility of human memory is not going to be rectified by even the most “intelligent” camera – and does it really need to be rectified in the first place? Maybe there’s a good reason that we have holes, gaps, and distortions in our memories.
In any case, that shiny, new toy got old pretty quick.(4)
(1) Mayer-Schonberger is the author of Delete: the virtue of forgetting in the digital age, a work that’s central premise revolves around the empowering ability to let go in an age where we hold on to all of the digital scraps of our lives ad infinitum.
(2) The Autographer is a wearable life-logging device that snaps a shot every 2, 5, or 20 seconds, depending on the settings you select. We were able to secure these devices last fall, before they were available for sale in North America, to use for our final projects in Marcel O’Gorman’s Memory and Techne course.
(3) Van Dijck is the author of Mediated Memories in the Digital Age, which explores many topics including how our current tendency to amass and collect digital files in an effort to remember actually ends up mediating and changing the nature of our original memories.
(4) Apparently it did for many others too, judging by the current messaging on the device’s site. A massive overhaul/redirection is in the works for the device.
Ah, I remember when I could still fit into that jacket.
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Please note that, naturally, when Isaac looks at the photo, what he scrutinizes is his own image: what is the story the picture tells about your life, Isaac? We all do this: look at ourselves first. Photo as mirror?
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I don’ think mirror is the right comparison, but I see your point.
Self-deprecating jokes aside, I’m more or less looking for a way to “relate” to the image because it feels like an event to which I no longer have any access. Despite the fact that we signed up to carry those life-logging cameras around, (and the thousands of hilarious still captures that somehow re-framed the monotony), it still feels like some kind of unauthorized access (by the camera, but also by myself as removed subject). This is likely because we didn’t consciously author the photos, not even a kind of faux-relaxed or natural attempt.
I feel like the “having-been-there” that Barthes talks about is kind of apt, but not entirely. No idea if this has to do with my (in)ability to recall the scenario (or most social events) with the kind of fidelity or empathy a photo may or may not offer. That was legitimately a different period in my life, but I sort of get the same “this is not really mine” with most photos. Something else overwrites any sort of subjective claim. Again, Barthes’ is sort of relevant in the “‘it was so’ easily defeats ‘its me.'” I was wondering if the Selfie phenomenon, on some surface layer of conscious user interaction (ideological state apparatuses, gendered/class/racial narratives informing user tends notwithstanding) pretends to be the opposite? Does the selfie supposedly refuse “it was so,” or in the very least champion some “its-me” interpretive possibility?
But to answer your question, maybe photo-as-funhouse mirror.
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