Engaging with photos involves more than just one of our five senses. In addition to just looking at a photo, we might hold it, turn a grouping of photos into a collage, and chat about pictures with friends. As is evident from these examples, and as Elizabeth Edwards argues in “Thinking Photography Beyond the Visual?”, interacting with photos involves a multisensory experience that needs to be accounted for when critically interpreting photography.
Edwards briefly extends her methodology to the realm of digital photography, when she mentions how “the image on the computer screen still demands levels of sensory and embodied engagement” (31). However, the idea is never fully articulated as Edwards focusses her attention on how tangible interactions with photos invoke the oral and tactile.
I would like to pick up on this unexplored thread in Edwards’ work, and introduce how interactions with digital photos online might invite a reading beyond the visual. I would also like to very briefly consider this idea in relation to online life writing themes outlined by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, because I believe that identity construction relies on senses other than the visual too.
Pinterest acts as a great case study that exemplifies embodiment and identity construction in the digital sphere. Pinterest is a social media web site and mobile application that encourages users to capture and “pin” digital photos curated from around the internet on to a set of virtual boards.
Pinterest implicitly encourages users to consume photos in a different way. Images deemed Pin-worthy are not just glossed over like the majority of pictures on the web, but are instead shared with followers and saved for future reference. This action combined with the user experience design of the mobile application encourages users to consider digital photos housed on the web in a more tactile light: as items that can be plucked, pinned, and stored.
Further, Pinterest contributes to the construction of one’s online brand in the way that it allows for users to be “self-presenters, self-curators […] bricoleurs of individual and collective subjectivities” (Smith and Watson 92). Pinning photographs and creating collage boards showcases a user’s identity through the boards they choose to create (which showcase their interests) and the digital photos that they selectively choose to place on each board. Because typical board subjects might include what a person likes to eat, wear, carry, and even smell, Pinterest not only encourages people to engage with photos using senses other than sight, it also simultaneously acts as a space where one’s self can be conveyed in a number of sensory ways that extend beyond the visual.
Edwards, Elizabeth. “Thinking photography beyond the visual?” In Photography: Theoretical Snapshots. Eds. J.J. Long, Andrea Noble, and Edward Welch. London: Routledge, 2009.
Smith, Sidonie and Julia Watson. “Virtually Me: A toolbox about online self-presentation.” In Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online. Eds. Anna Poletti and Julie Rak. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.