Digitalisation and Commercial Photography: Addressing the Lacuna in Photography Theory

Harper, Sharon P (2016) Digitalisation and Commercial Photography: Addressing the Lacuna in Photography Theory. In: Helsinki Photomedia 2016: Photographic Agencies and Materialities, 30 March - 1 April 2016, Aalto University, Helsinki. (Unpublished)

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Photography, by many accounts, has been altered fundamentally by digitalisation. Consequently, the rapid transition from the film-based process and paper-based final object to the ephemerality of code has formed the basis of investigation and theorisation over the past 20 years. Early anxieties around the divide between truth and fantasy (presaged by postmodernism) in the mid-1990s (Hulick 1990; Tomlinson 1992; Kelly 1994; Enyeart 1994) have made way for more a wide-ranging discussion on the impact of social media with regards to vernacular photography, self-representation and memory (Lasén and Gómez-Cruz 2009; Wagner 2011; Kalin 2013; Ibrahim 2015). In addition, philosophical enquiries regarding time, space and materiality have dug deep into photography’s ontology (influenced in many cases by the writings of Vilém Flusser), both by practitioners (Andreas Gursky; Jeff Wall; Richard Prince; Thomas Ruff) and theorists (Rubenstein and Sluis 2008; Costello and Phillips 2009; Zeimbekis 2012; Toister 2014). With vernacular photography and fine art practice both garnering attention, it is surprising and problematic then that professional photography – the commercial end in particular - has had little academic attention with respect to digitalisation, especially given that studies of its impact on media structures and forms has been more widely investigated, particularly in relation to film and music. Extensive literature on copyright and file-sharing does indeed exist with an industry focus (Kogan 2015; Orofina and Smith 2015; Armstrong 2007) but stems mainly from law rather than art, design or media scholars. There are also plenty of entertainment-oriented interviews with and profiles of professional photographers that comment upon the place of digital within their practice, (James 2014; Pantall 2014; Tully 2012). But, given that it is the media industries that often drive the development of technological forms as well as the take up of technology by users (Darling 2014), an scholarly understanding of digital technology the encompasses an examination of commercial photography’s industrial structures and practices as well as on commercial photography’s form is imperative. This paper aims to highlight this academic blindspot and propose a way forward that will help address this lacuna. In particular problems posed by the notion of a photography ‘industry’ will be integral to this examination. What will ultimately be proposed is an interview method similar to Anna Zoellner’s 2015 study of TV documentary makers allowing for an excellent base for understanding the perceptions of digitalisation and its impact on the professional practice of photography. It would allow for diverse personal experiences to emerge, particularly for a profession that is arguably fragmented, with no overarching industry structure, or could alternatively be seen as one that sits amidst several industry structures. Although this suggested avenue of investigation is ultimately a starting point, it can form the basis for a much wider understanding of professional photographic practice including changes to patterns of practice and professional pressures, changes to definitions of photographic genres (Shifman 2014), and even shifting notions of commercial creativity.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: digital photography; commercial photography; production; distribution;
Subjects: T Technology > TR Photography
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Creative Arts
Research Priority Areas: Culture, Continuity, and Transformation
Creative Practice and Theory
Depositing User: Sharon Harper
Date Deposited: 21 Mar 2016 11:57
Last Modified: 31 Aug 2023 09:23

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