Our Changing Relationship to Photographs

Recently, a friend introduced me to a lovely Tumblr project called The Burning House. Participants are asked to take one photograph that included all the items they would take with them if their house was burning down.  The results are range from poignant to humorous, deeply sentimental to seemingly frivolous – all feel like little peeks into an individual’s life.

Dieter%252520Kraus Our Changing Relationship to Photographs

I recall as a child and teen, whenever anyone posed the burning house question, inevitably “family photo albums”, “baby photos” and “pictures of my friends” would top the list. From the submissions to The Burning House, it appears that while some folks are still quite sentimental about particular photographs, many are not concerned with saving the family photo album.  Perhaps it’s because the family photo album no longer exists in a physical format, but rather all over Facebook, Flickr, Picasa or elsewhere on the web.  The entirety of my childhood photo albums can fit into a few shoeboxes; the photos taken since I purchased my first digital camera in 2003… might take a few refrigerator boxes.

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The photo above was taken of an installation by Erik Kessels, on show at Foam in Amsterdam, that looks at the future of photography.   The project features a room filled with a veritable avalanche of print-outs, comprised of all the images uploaded to Flickr in a 24-hour period.

 “We’re exposed to an overload of images nowadays,” says Kessels. “This glut is in large part the result of image-sharing sites like Flickr, networking sites like Facebook, and picture-based search engines. Their content mingles public and private, with the very personal being openly and un-selfconsciously displayed. By printing all the images uploaded in a 24-hour period, I visualise the feeling of drowning in representations of other peoples’ experiences.”

 

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This exhibit beautifully illustrates our changing relationship to a thing we in recent times held as precious.  A photograph, a collection of photographers, formerly the stuff that first comes to mind when asked to think about abandoning a burning house is now a massive, overwhelming collection of data.  As we navigate our new mind-bogglingly data-heavy world, it will become increasingly important to cultivate both computational tools and sentimentality to maintain our sanity and humanity.

[More photos of what a day of Flickr photos looks like here.]