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  • LIQUID PHOTOGRAPHY? NARRATIVE AND TECHNOLOGY IN DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHIC PRACTICES by Kelly Reid A thesis submitted to the Department of Sociology In conformity with the requirements for the degree of Masters of Arts Queens University Kingston, Ontario, Canada (December, 2008) Copyright Kelly Reid, 2008
  • ii Abstract This thesis is about emerging changes in photography and imaging related to digitization and how we might approach and understand them, particularly in terms of their impact upon how narratives are constructed. By focusing on the accounts of Queens University students this thesis examines the new ways of making, storing, distributing, and viewing images that have emerged with digital photography. Additionally, it looks at the cultural conventions of photography (particularly in relation to the documenting and organization of memory) that remain intact and have important implications for the reception of use of new digital technologies and how these are used to construct narratives. This thesis also looks at the digitization of photography in relation to broader theoretical debates about the dynamics and shifts associated with modernity, postmodernity and global information culture. Contemporary society is often seen as more capitalist, and in many ways, this is an era of increasing uncertainty, fluidity, and fragmentation. This thesis examines the affinity between the supposed death of narrative in social theory and the death of photography in terms of how they relate to the ordinary practices of amateur digital photographers. Specific focus is given to Baumans (2000) theory of liquid modernity and how it offers a compelling account of contemporary society, specifically in terms of changes in narrative and how many individuals are faced with developing biographical solutions to systemic problems of increasing uncertainty and fragmentation in the context of globalization and informationalization. In doing so, this thesis aims to address gaps in existing research on digitization that fails to capture the subtleties encountered in the everyday experiences of those engaged in taking the digital turn.
  • iii Acknowledgements In completing this thesis I would like to thank the following individuals for the time they spent helping me along the way. To Martin Hand, my supervisor, I appreciate your advice and patience throughout this thesis and the many challenges along the way. To Vincent Mosco, I thank you for your suggestions and help in tying up all the loose ends. To Michelle Ellis, I am greatly indebted for all your encouragement and support throughout the last two years. Queens would not have been the same without you. I must also thank my family and friends for having withstood the years of frustration it has taken to get to this point. In particular, I would like to thank my mom, dad, and my twin sister Kristen for their continued patience, understanding, encouragement and support. A special mention to Gerry Coulter for believing in me every step of the way, and for encouraging me to always reach higher. The last few years have been filled with many ups and downs, without all of you this never would have been possible. Thank you.
  • iv Table of Contents Abstract............................................................................................................................................ii Acknowledgements.........................................................................................................................iii Table of Contents............................................................................................................................iv Chapter 1 A Short Introduction........................................................................................................1 Chapter 2 Narratives and Technologies in Liquid Modernity .........................................................9 Chapter 3 Liquid Photography?.....................................................................................................36 Chapter 4 Methodology .................................................................................................................65 Chapter 5 Taking the Digital Turn.................................................................................................73 Chapter 6 Narrative Orders and Orderings ..................................................................................102 Chapter 7 Conclusion...................................................................................................................123 Bibliography ................................................................................................................................133 Appendix...140
  • 1 Chapter 1 A Short Introduction This thesis is about emerging changes in photography and imaging related to digitization and how we might approach and understand them, particularly in terms of their impact upon how narratives are constructed. These changes are explored in the context of broader social, cultural and technological change in an environment of digitally mediated communication practices. At a general level, it is fair to say that one of the most striking, rapid and unanticipated aspects of the so-called digital turn has been the rise of digital photography. For example, a third of North American homes now own a digital camera (InfoTrends, 2008). It is forecasted that over 43 million digital cameras will be sold in North America in the coming year (Lee, 2008). Digitization has arguably changed the content, production, distribution and exchange of photographic images, especially among amateurs. There is also a sense, in both academic and industry circles, that communications and social relations are increasingly mediated through or accompanied by digital images. As Mike Walsh, international expert on the digital media revolution and a consultant to FijiFilm has stated, social networking is making photos the basic currency of social interaction (Shipton, 2008:13). As an example, Walsh explains that there are over 14 million pictures uploaded onto Facebook everyday totaling over one billion images (Shipton, 2008:13). According to InfoTrends 2006 report, three billion digital images were shared over email in the U.S. in 2006, 8 billion when including websites, social networks, and MMS (Digital Imaging Lifestyles, 2007). Digital photography is clearly big business, with those film based manufacturers such as Kodak
  • 2 and Nikon shifting towards the production of digital technologies, and the movement of electronic and computer based manufacturers such as Sony and Panasonic into the digital photography market. There have been significant changes in the photography and imaging market in terms of who the central manufacturers are and what the shape of the industry is, especially the rise of computer software industries in this area. As I will show later in the thesis, the disappearance of film products and services changes what photographers are able to actually do, and furthermore, the increasing range of products which are interrelated have complicated what it means to do photography in contemporary society. Although not the focus of this thesis, this is also a matter of how these products are marketed to consumers often in terms of preserving memories and how digital allows people to capture every available moment for future recollection. In a more cultural vein, in terms of the relationship between images and narratives, it seems that we now have a situation of infinite variation rather than infinite reproduction, which may have implications for the notion of aura, originality and authorship (Cohen 2003; Manovich 2001). In another way, the mobility of the digital image seems to contrast greatly with the fixity of the photographic image, where digital images can circulate at greater speed and with broader reach (Jenkins 2006; Lash & Lury 2007). Furthermore, while images have always been manipulated, the manipulation of digital images is implied as a defining characteristic of digital photography by many (Mitchell 2001). Each of these observations raises important issues for larger social, economic and political debates about communication, ownership and interpretation (Frosh 2003; Lury 2004). However, while we can see anecdotally and statistically that
  • 3 there are more images produced and distributed on a larger scale than ever before, we do not necessarily understand how this is occurring in relation to individuals and the ways they engage with digital photography, or what the implications are for theories of image making and distribution or for photography itself. As Cohen (2005) has argued: While social and technical possibilities for photography multiply widely, there has been a seizure in the critical writing which addresses photographyIn the writing about photography what you get are versions of a debate which never fails, somehow, to center on the status of the Real in relation to photography (883). Indeed, technical developments in digital imaging in the 1980s and 1990s have led too quickly to claims about the death of photography because digitization had ruptured the supposed link between the image and the real. As Mitchell writes From the moment of its sesquicentennial in 1989 photography was dead or, more precisely, radically and permanently displaced (2001:20). This idea that we have reached a post-photographic era is shared by many others (see Amelunxen et. al.1996). Such a view has been subject to recent critiq