Fascinating read Antony! (Hopefully) without getting too wanky about it, the idea that photos are often constructed idealist representations rather than realities is much like Roland Barthes’ observations in Camera Lucida. These photos we take are ‘little mythologies’ behind which we represent and present a set of highly constructed meanings. By co-opting the (assumed) documentary nature of photos, we can present the meaning we want in a way that is ‘natural’. The selfie is an oxymoronic extreme in this regard; as you rightly note, it is one of the most constructed representations of self, while simultaneously being understood to be so, and thereby undermining the inherent idea that photos are just a document of what happened.
Similarly, I am fascinated by the idea that photos taken of things are actually about collection. In one way you can view this as predatory. Even our terminology in relation to photography supports this; we use of terms like ‘capture’,
evoking a sense of acquisition and control. But I also think there is an aspect of this behaviour that is imperialistic. Like the farce of the Grand Tour, we act as if we are capturing ‘wild’ experiences, but more often than not these are controlled experiences presented within the regulatory requirements of tourism and conforming to some extent with an expected itinerary (whether that’s a Contiki tour or just the Australian ‘coming of age’ trip travelling in Asia). Either way the trail has been well and truly blazed before you set foot there. But our capture technology continues to reinforce our imperialistic presence.
But on your final issue I am more uncertain. I agree, there are very real risks associated with ‘offset[ing] our memory into these devices’. Increasingly research indicates that using your brain can help with Alzheimer’s and Dementia prevention. Leaving that to one side, I am intrigued by Linda Henkel’s idea that we need to remember what we document. I think that significant experiences will be relived regardless of whether you took photos or not. Should we be expected or even want to remember more mundane activities? Do we need to remember everything?
I recently presented a talk on new technology trends in in-smartdevice cameras which looked at how technology changes will significantly increase the amount of user-generated content (UGC) that is created and published. Technology should be helping us manage these vast collections of photos (and memory). Increasing searchability, browsability, wayfinding and user experience within our photo management services will give us the ability to re/find memories within our vast collections, especially of the more mundane things.
And indeed many of the big players in this space are experimenting on how to do just that. I think there is another side to David White’s ‘orphaned memories’: these are more than just orphaned memories, they are dead content, auto-backed up to cloud services where they are taking up space on severs, using energy and will never be published for others to see. They are also orphaned content.
There are still barriers to why people don’t share their content: we can’t uploaded it then and there (because of data limits, the cost of mobile data or other practical limitations); it just isn’t very good; we need to sort them properly and work out what is worth sharing. But services such auto-backup, auto-collation based on time or place, in-smartdevice and/or in-app photo editing, Google’s ‘auto-awesome’ features like the Nexus 5 snapping a rapid burst of photos and combines them to give you the best possible single shot or the auto-enhancement applied to photos backed up to Google+, are all designed to reduce the amount of content that is captured on smartdevices but never published.