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November 4, 2004
This summer I started this website about "photography and shared territories". I have hopes that it will become an active forum of ideas and thinking about "traditional photography" as well as what it means to be living in societies where cameras and lenses are everywhere and commonplace -- cellphone cameras; 24-hours surveillance cameras in public spaces, building lobbies; web cams; and the ubiquity of digital cameras "documenting" every ritual and banal detail of daily life on the planet.
Why was it that not until the photos of Abu Ghraib were published that government officials showed the slightest concern? Why did these "amateur" photos incite more emotion than other hard-hitting images from professional photojournalists covering wars and other daily atrocities?
Do we value photos from our vacations more than the moments of vacation themselves?
Since starting this project, I've encountered many engaging people who have weighed in on the domination of digital images in our world. Keith Davis, curator of photography for the mammoth Hallmark Collection, shared a fear that society may be approaching an inevitable age of "visual amnesia" with reliance on digital photography rather than film and negatives. This is what will happen when photos are kept inside a computer, not printed, and then the computer becomes obsolete and is discarded. He fears there will be no opportunity for future generations to hunt through albums and shoe boxes of family photos to remember or reconstruct their family history and the way things used to be. (Yet it doesn't seem so different from boxes of unexamined negatives or mountains of undeveloped rolls of film as Gary Winogrand left behind).
Professional photojournalists are bemoaning the fact that so many amateurs are able to scoop the news with their consumer cameras that the news media is less and less willing to hire professionals. Is digital the death of photojournalism, or an explosion of opportunity for sharing facts and images in the real-time democratic world of the internet?
I've talked with executives at software and telecommunications companies who are embedding mobile phone cameras with the power of one-click instant uploading to personal photo blogs. Is this a fad or vanity? Or will this become a new important source of communication?
The more I learn, the more questions arise. Please let me know what you think. Thank you.