Arts Life & Philosophy Photography Tech

Making precedes meaning

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gif by Wells Baum

We can only construct with the tools at our disposal. Before cameras, artists painted pictures of the world. However, it wasn’t necessary to paint with exactitude; like writing, images were fabricated in the mind’s eye before putting color to the canvas, ink to the paper.

We never know what we’ll get until we put it down first: making precedes meaning. First, we do something and then we interpret its significance.

Conversely, the digital world is all about identifying objects for us. SnapChat, Google, and Apple use artificial intelligence to tell you what’s in our pictures, providing a shortcut to meaning. They are our third and fourth eye. Vision exceeds a one-way street.

But there are no absolutes. Consciousness manufactures data. It is our responsibility to convert the external world through our various lenses, reality and irreality. We make what you see. To quote Hemingway, “All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”



  • Turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. The most interesting shots are casual, spontaneous, everyday moments. Even what you think is dull may be your most popular photo.
  • Enables you to blend right in. The phone camera is more discreet than a legit camera. Someone may think you’re reading a book when you’re actually taking photos of them.
  • Makes you a better observer of the world. Visual literacy allows you to effectively speak through images.

Everyone’s a photographer. Everyone’s a translator. Images are the new status updates, speaking louder than words.


Snapping Lost Memories

According to new research, a desultory snapping of photos impairs our memory.  We can’t remember the individual objects because we merely skim them.  The reverse is also true:  we remember objects much better when we use the camera to focus in on the object.

I think a similar effect is happening in our newsfeeds.  Some of us just like photos for the sake of double-tapping, getting into a rhythm that’s like moving forward dribbling a basketball.  This frenetic pace means we’re less likely to remember that image and develop and emotional bond to it.  

What inculcates the image in our memories is fuller engagement.  Did the user leave a comment or tag a friend on the post?  How can you forget that action?

Of course, ambient awareness also says that we still notice each other’s content whether we interact with it or not.  Images, like ads, are flashes that are hard to forget especially if they’re our friends.  

Photographs and likes mean more when they’re done slower and more steadily.  Focus seems to make everything more memorable.


The recorded world: Every step you take

The combination of cameras everywhere—in bars, on streets, in offices, on people’s heads—with the algorithms run by social networks and other service providers that process stored and published images is a powerful and alarming one. We may not be far from a world in which your movements could be tracked all the time, where a stranger walking down the street can immediately identify exactly who you are.

Mobile computers are threatening the world we currently enjoy. You’ve already got 1984 in your pocket. Even the Walden pond is covered.


The elevator paradox

Practically every elevator has a camera yet everybody still messes around.

People do things on elevators they wouldn’t ordinarily do in public, such as picking their nose or smooching aggressively. Every action goes on record.

What is it about elevators that makes one feel private while acknowledging Orwellian presence?

My only guess is that elevators feel like traps. Because people can’t go anywhere and know they’re being watched anyway they do whatever they want.

Instead of installing discipline, elevator cameras ignite rebelliousness. People show similar insouciance to the NSA’s invasion of online privacy. The fear of being watched just compels users to fight the system and act with no restraints.

Most people just want to get on with the business of living. They’ll tug back when Big Brother encroaches. Like any animal, the smaller the cage the bigger the desire for absolute freedom.

Leave us alone and let us be or don’t; we’ll act freely anyway.

art via giphy


#nofilter, Real & Fake News

Two contrasting stories in today’s New York Times related to art. 

The first article talks about bicyclists that wear video cameras atop their helmets to track crazy motorists.  The second article discusses the role of photo manipulation using Photoshop to augment the looks of photos. 

One technology provides raw evidence, the other edits the evidence so it looks like it never happened.  At some point video manipulation programs will bloom too and change the way we view video reporting.  This Thursday, YouTube released a face blurring tool.   

We need to draw a line at editing image/video reality and better acknowledge it, the same way Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire get their names asterisked in the record books.   

As I wrote last week, the role of the AP is therefore ever more important.  The AP keeps photography and news agencies honest.  No touch ups.  

Still photography and video is getting lost in the age of the Instagram filter.  For many, Instagram is a popularity game based on how well someone can manipulate art.  An Instagrammed picture of a cookie simply tells a better story.   

But getting rid of the impurities to make something more attractive removes the true story.  There’s already enough sensationalism in world news.  Let’s stick to the facts.