KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Gaming & Technology

Clipped: What would Susan Sontag say about always-on cameras?

by Connor Tomas O'Brien , March 10, 20141 Comment

IMG_3267

As I write this, a tiny camera clipped to my shirt collar is silently taking a picture every thirty seconds. At the end of the day, I will plug my Narrative Clip into my MacBook, and it will upload half a gigabyte of images to the Cloud. In a decade, providing Narrative’s servers are still running, I will be able find this exact moment and scrub through it. The only gap in my (visual) digital memory will be the half a minute between pictures.

This is an experiment. I’m not sure I think my life is important or interesting enough to warrant taking over a thousand pictures a day, but what if this attitude – that taking ‘too many’ photographs, whatever that means, is inherently narcissistic – is simply based on anachronistic notions of what a photograph is or should be? What if the photographs I’m taking with the Clip are different kinds of photographs entirely to those I take with my SLR or using the VSCOCam app on my phone?

Susan Sontag would understand. She’d have a lot to say about Instagram and Snapchat and the Narrative Clip, and about what it means that most of us now carry a camera on our person capable of capturing and storing hundreds of thousands of images on one great almighty ‘roll’. In 1977’s On Photography, Sontag repeatedly refers to ‘The Inventory’, a collection of every photograph ever taken since the first ever exposure in 1839. In ’77, ‘The Inventory’ was a metaphorical device. Now, we’re moving toward a world in which every photograph we take is networked to every other photo – face-tagged, geotagged, and machine-readable. The Inventory is now real.

As Sontag made clear in On Photography, we’ve grown so familiar, over such a relatively short space of time, with the ‘point and shoot’ mode of picture-taking that it seems natural, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s a particular and peculiar way to move through the world that makes little sense when held up to scrutiny. For example: why do we feel so compelled to spend our holidays snapping pictures of landmarks when, as Sontag points out, virtually identical photographs are already readily available in the networked Inventory? Why do we ask our subjects to line up and strike contrived poses instead of capturing life as it is lived? And, perhaps most curiously, why do we feel some things are worth taking pictures of and others are not?

Perhaps this is why I’m taking a chance with the Clip (mine’s bright orange, a colour that does a very good job of drawing attention to itself). Technologies that change how we think about photography don’t simply change how we share our photographs; they shape, often on a profound level, how we see. When Instagram launched, we began forcing our lives into square frames. When we signed up for Snapchat, we had to consider what kinds of photographs might be worth capturing but not necessarily worth preserving.

Much has already been written about the etiquette and privacy implications of always-on cameras like the Clip and Google Glass, but less has been written about how these kinds of cameras might change how we see, which was always what Sontag was most interested in. If we’re constantly recording with discrete gadgets, for example, it may be that the concept of explicitly ‘taking a photograph’ is gradually made obsolete. Sontag noted that taking a photograph is alienating: by picking up the camera and lining up the shot, what you’re really seeing is the photo-to-be instead of the world as it is (this is particularly true when you’re toggling through live view filters on your phone, never seeing what you’re looking at, except through the hazy glow of ‘Toaster’ or washed out tones of ‘Earlybird’).

We’re not good enough at understanding how our memories work to understand what constitutes the ‘best’ way to approach photography. Taking and sharing pictures is inherently strange, representing a privileging of certain moments over others and a certain way of looking at the world. Shifts in the way we take and store and share can seem worrying, until we step back and recognise that all forms of photography are mysterious and unsettling. Are two frames a minute, for ever and ever, really any stranger?

Connor Tomas O’Brien is a web designer and director of the Digital Writers’ Festival

ACO logo




9781926428239

Abigail Ulman

Cold Feet and Hot Little Hands: Abigail Ulman on writing – and not writing – her first book

Post-book deal, every time I sat down to try to write something, I felt paralysed by some kind of literary stage fright. I had shown my work to other people before – for writing workshops, and submissions to literary journals and competitions – but I had never before written a story while thinking This story is going to be published in a book. Or, more accurately, This story idea is nowhere near good enough to be published in a book. Read more »

9781926428239

Sian Campbell

Girlhood and The Woman-Child in Abigail Ulman’s Hot Little Hands

Each of the stories in Hot Little Hands navigates girlhood in some way, from the lives of high school-age teenagers to those of young twentysomething women. ‘Girl things’ such as horse camp, gymnastics, feminised bodies, clothing, periods, crushes, yoga and gossip weave through the fabric of the text. Though the subject matter is often adult – the girls of Hot Little Hands navigate abortion, sex trafficking, young motherhood, drugs, and deportation – the girls themselves are not… even when they technically are. Read more »

Dont-Try-This-at-Home-_-cover_-FINAL1-300x460

James Tierney

Subscriber Stories: Angela Readman’s Don’t Try This At Home

As a subscriber to publisher And Other Stories’ distribution model, I am in the unusual position of reviewing a book – Angela Readman’s short story collection Don’t Try This At Home – that thanks me by name for making its existence possible. Read more »

amy-schumer

Rebecca Shaw

Amy Schumer and the equal right to be funny

I don’t think men should be banned from making jokes about contentious subjects. I am of the belief that anything can and should be laughed about, and if done right, it can be beneficial. But more often, women are doing it right, and women are doing it better. Read more »

womens-home-companion

Kate Iselin

Trivial Pursuits: The media and ‘women’s interests’

Women, especially in public life, exist as a part of men’s worlds – a big part, sure – but still a part. Even as women become more vocal in demanding accurate and respectful representation, we are kept at arms length by a mainstream media which struggles to catch up. Read more »

SGbTsPQ

Rebecca Shaw

Command and Control: Trophy daughters and overprotective dads

There is no doubt that an overprotective parent is better than a parent who couldn’t care less what their child gets up to. And there is no doubt that most overprotective mums and dads are well-meaning. But paternal ‘protectiveness’ shticks often boil down to fathers not wanting their daughters to have sex, and by extension, get pregnant. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

kstew

Joanna di Mattia

Kristen Stewart Through the Looking-Glass

Kristen Stewart is an actress who has been criticised, maligned even, for an acting style that transmits from set to screen as sullen, adolescent, wooden, blank, fidgety and inelegant. But perhaps she’s an actress concerned with authenticity, and the defining feature of her style is to show us herself by appearing like she’s not acting at all. Read more »

it-follows-4

Anwen Crawford

Behind You: The subtler horror of It Follows

I don’t watch many horror films. Lifelong victim of an overactive and slightly morbid imagination, I regularly envisage disasters, natural or otherwise, that might befall me, without requiring the added stimulus of cinema. Read more »

6428590-3x2-700x467

Anwen Crawford

Nothing Is Sacred: How 8MMM Aboriginal Radio is having the last laugh

8MMM Aboriginal Radio is a situation comedy in which an Indigenous woman always has the last laugh. That makes it a rarity on Australian television. What’s more, it’s funny, which too few sitcoms, local or otherwise, ever are. Read more »

Struggle+Street+KEY+IMAGE

Anwen Crawford

Shame and Stigma on Struggle Street

Struggle Street framed poverty as a combination of genetic inheritance and natural disaster – a barrier to be overcome only through ceaseless positive effort. Those who sabotage themselves through bad choices are therefore fair targets for our scorn, while those who gain employment or remain sober deserve praise for overcoming the odds. The deserving and undeserving poor, in other words. What an old story. Read more »

TheSlap_Show

Genevieve Wood

The Slap: What’s lost when a cricket bat becomes a baseball bat?

‘A cricket bat wouldn’t make sense in an American context’, says Tony Ayres, executive producer of the US adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. He’s right, of course – it wouldn’t. But when, in US playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s version, the eponymous slap occurs as the result of a swinging baseball bat, something’s not quite right. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

DUKMRUTRHLU31425064919799

Katie Williams

The Currency of Games: The real world cost of in-game purchases

A new item introduced in World of Warcraft lets players purchase a month of playing time for the real-life price of $20, which they can then sell to other players in-game in exchange for virtual currency. It’s an exchange of real money for a virtual currency that has in-game value but none in the physical, ‘real’ world – and it makes me incredibly uneasy. Read more »

16741557134_5206bec0cd_k

Jane Howard

Dark Side of the Rainbow: Belvoir St Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz

This production of The Wizard of Oz is ‘after L Frank Baum’: after his book, after the 1939 film, and after our collective memories of both. Fragmented, non-narrative, and largely wordless, it relies on our existing knowledge of the text to build a work of images and emotion, and in doing so demands an extreme generosity from the audience. Read more »

Arts House_Image_10c_Oedipus Schmoedipus (post)_Credit – Ellis Parrinder copy

Jane Howard

A Case for Diversity in Theatre

Attracting different audiences to the theatre is about many things. It’s about accessibility for people without high disposable incomes, but it’s also about marketing and publicity; about creating venues which are physically accessible for people with disabilities; and about ensuring the performers on stage are as diverse as we want their audiences to be. Read more »

2909252617_1f456d0c81_b

Jane Howard

A Working-Class Mythology: Ironing boards at the theatre

In theatre, there is perhaps no prop piece more mythologised than the ironing board, which came to signify the birth of contemporary British theatre. Read more »