Thoughts that arose as a surplus of sorts from a piece I’ve been working on over the last couple of weeks:
- There seems to be a trajectory implicit in documenting technology that we might gloss in this way: First to remember, then to express. The thought occurred to me, when thinking about how we have come to use photography over the last fifteen years or so. I was recently going through a box of old photographs taken during the 1980s and early 90s. The point of these photographs, almost without exception, was simply to record or document a moment. It’s true that we still snap images to document our lives, but this function of image-taking seems to be eclipsed by the degree to which our images are also means of self-expression, self-marketing, or simply acts of mundane communication. Instagram, it seems to me, is not chiefly a platform we use merely to document our lives for memory’s sake. The threshold is crossed, it seems, when the apparatus of documentation becomes cheap, accessible, and, consequently, ubiquitous. Compare the costs and limitations of 35-mm photography with digital photography.
- My old photographs had a vanishingly small audience. It is hard to overstate the consequences of having an audience in our pockets all the time. It’s hard to turn anything toward the work of self-expression if there will be no audience to receive it.
- Benjamin famously theorized how the work of art lost its aura in the age of its mechanical reproducibility. But the photograph, one of those means of mechanical reproducibility still retained an aura of sorts. Think of Barthes’s refusal to display a particularly personal photograph of his mother. The digital image retains no aura of that sort. Breaking free of the aura appears to be a prerequisite for becoming a means of self-expression.
- Of course, there is fine if not porous line between documenting and expressing, perhaps it’s simply a matter of emphasis. There have always been artists who have turned the tools of documentation toward imaginative creation and expression. When the media of documentation and expression become ubiquitous, one’s life becomes the work of art.