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Martin Lister’s “Overlooking, Rarely Looking and Not Looking.”

In sight of the nigh-infinite number of images authored, uploaded, downloaded, archived, shared, duplicated, and deleted, Lister argues that prevalent threads of photographic theory fail to account for the current “ocular white noise within visual culture” (2). Citing Paul Frosh’s analysis of the internet stock photograph and Geoffrey Batchen’s argument regarding biographical snapshots, Lister takes these works as a point of departure and suggests that photography discourse needs to account for the ways in which cameras, phones, computers, and the internet are converged (4). Moreover, to retreat into the observation of ubiquitous, everyday photography as mere self-expression or representation is too reductive (5).

We are encouraged to consider the advent of “Web 2.0” platforms and the sensationalizing of networked, “user-generated content” (6). Microsoft’s Photosynth application, for example, compiles any given series of individual photographs of a location, compiles the associated data, and produces a three-dimensional image of the subject. One of the chief developers touts the software as “producing a classic network effect and a social environment drawn from… the collective memory of the internet” (7). Critics of the Web 2.0 concept are suspicious of this sort of rhetorical framing, and point out how these services, deployed by data-collecting entities, encourage us to “contribute to 2.0 at the expense of the surveillance of our habits, choices, predispositions and patterns of consumption” (8).

Elsewhere, the sophistication of automated camera technologies, like the London traffic enforcement cameras, essentially remove the human agent from the equation altogether (10). The result is a massive “teetering, disorderly and finally unmanageable piles of photographs” that began since the earliest uses of police photographs in the 19th century (10). Compound this with the congestion of everyday photography (professional, amateur, and the nebulous area betwixt those poles), most of them with accompanying data (subjects, locations, dates) and the effect is what Lister deems “a kind of digital sublime” (10). The convergence of the camera with the computer, and of photography with the internet as “deepened a malaise that attended photography throughout its history… the malaise of photography as information” (11). The inevitable suggestion, then, is that the information over-maps the referent, so to speak (15).

Photography is thus entering into a new media ecology, yet remains intimate with the forces of cultural production and the pressures to (re)produce systems to knowledge (17). With potentially “too many” images being processed, Lister worries that the cultural significance in photographic subjects shifts to the process (and media) of photography itself (20).

About Stem #selfie Research

uWaterloo Graduate Student. Herbivore. Sophist. Videogamer. Comics devotee. Bleeding-heart socialist. Sonically-inclined materialist. Sex-positive feminist. Cook. Dork. Researcher. LGBTQIA ally. Newfoundlander. DIY carpenter. Book hoarder. Queergendered pansexual. Awkward Duck. Pretend-adult.


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