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




9781863957434

Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their June picks

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

lisa-gorton_the-life-of-houses

James Tierney

A Novel of Longer Exhalations: Lisa Gorton’s The Life of Houses

It’s sometimes said that each book teaches you how to read it. That each way of telling a story needs to not only beguile anew but needs to tutor the reader in the ways to best attend its pages. Read more »

9781743316337

Danielle Binks

Finding Books for Young Readers: The Reading Children’s Book Prize

James Patterson once said, ‘There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading and kids who are reading the wrong books.’ So how do we get the right books into the hands of budding bibliophiles? Well, the Readings Children’s Book Prize Shortlist is a great place to start. Read more »

clouds-of-sila-maria-1

Rebecca Shaw

The curse of the ‘gal pals’

As a well-known humourless, angry, hairy arm-pitted, feminist lesbian, I encounter daily issues that I can place on a scale from things that mildly irritate me all the way to things that completely offend me. Read more »

2691149967_01b38304f3_b

Rebecca Shaw

Fuck Yeah: Swearing like a lady

I had been trying to pinpoint exactly why the HBO television show Veep brings me such joy. Yes, it is a very funny, very well-written show with a great cast, but that didn’t quite go far enough in explaining the immense enjoyment it gives me. The eureuka moment finally struck when I stumbled over a compilation video of the best insults from the show. Read more »

AnneEdmonds-300dpi-sml-860x450_c

Alexandra Neill

Curse of the Comedienne: When comedy comes before gender

At this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I saw only shows by women. I did this for several reasons: to support great comedians, to force myself to see more shows I knew nothing about, and because I really like comedy by ladies. I also did it because I was curious. I love comedy, but increasingly have been bothered by the obvious gender disparity. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

tom-cruise-jack-reacher-premiere-postponed

Chris Somerville

A lit match in a box of wet dynamite: Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher

I first watched Jack Reacher a few years ago, in a spate of insomnia. The plot is a confused mess, both needlessly intricate and incredibly simple. I’m not going to go into it, mainly because I don’t actually know why the people in this movie do anything. 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 »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

OITNB2

Anwen Crawford

Still in Prison: The limitations of Orange is the New Black

No, I haven’t binge-watched the entire new season of Orange Is The New Black in one sleepless, bleary-eyed frenzy. This season, the show’s third, doesn’t lend itself to that kind of viewing. The pace is slower, the cliff-hangers missing. Read more »

kim-kardashian-selfish-cover-main

Brodie Lancaster

We Are All Kardashians

For the past five years, I have loved and been obsessed with the Kardashians. Specifically, the E! reality series that made them famous. I often feel the need to intellectualise why I like these series and the people on them – you know, because I’m not a moron, and these are shows about morons, for morons. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. 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 »

CrawlMeBlood_20150607_261_LoRes copy

Jane Howard

Adhocracy: Lifting the curtain on the creative process

Every June long weekend I wrap myself up in several extra layers and make my way to the Waterside Worker’s Hall in Port Adelaide for Adhocracy, Vitalstatistix’s annual hothouse that brings together artists from around the country for a weekend of creative development. Read more »

Orlando #2 - THE RABBLE

Jane Howard

This Is a Story of Artistic Excellence

This is a story of the first four plays I saw at Malthouse Theatre. It’s a story that can only continue as long as support for independent artists continues; it’s a story that can only keep growing as long as support for independent artists grows. It’s a story of where artistic excellence comes from, and how we get to see it on our main stages. Read more »

AnneEdmonds-300dpi-sml-860x450_c

Alexandra Neill

Curse of the Comedienne: When comedy comes before gender

At this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I saw only shows by women. I did this for several reasons: to support great comedians, to force myself to see more shows I knew nothing about, and because I really like comedy by ladies. I also did it because I was curious. I love comedy, but increasingly have been bothered by the obvious gender disparity. Read more »