Reviving Citizen Journalism

After 9/11 and the birth of “citizen Journalism” there was a great hope for turning the world of journalism upside down: To reform its structure and make it bottom-to-top instead of top-to-bottom. There was no more the need for a biased journalist, always belated, to report what was already witnessed by the “locals”. Stuart Allan in his article named “Blurring boundaries : professional and citizen photojournalism in a digital age” discusses how the invention of cheap digital cameras led to the birth of citizen journalism and how it effects on news agencies in covering the most important events in early 21st century. 2004 Southeast Asia tsunami was not covered by photojournalist traveling to the devastated area days after tsunami happened but by low quality images taken by people who experiencing it. Also, while the officials was ignoring the crisis in its first moments of bombing in London Subway in 2005, passengers trapped in stations recorded shaky videos when nobody else has access to the site.

These events revealed the great potential in citizen journalism. it was not from a single perspective but multiplied one. It was not recorded by an outsider. It was from the point of view of the people who experiencing the event, thus closing the distance between the event and audience. And, not less important to all these journalistic benefits, it was cheap. Not cheap, even free. There was no need to hire and send a photographer to a site. To pay the travel expenses. The most thing that these citizens may request was to mention their name as the photographer. With the advances in digital platforms specially social media and also digital cameras and their integration inside cell phones, it seemed that citizen journalism is reaching its bloom.

However, as the history of capitalism shown us already, the system devours the alternatives. Even if the photographs are taken by citizens, the decision of showing them or not is at the hand of news agencies. They have become curators. With social media, everything is now live, everything is recorded in a quantity that each maybe only visible for few seconds. And the role of a citizen has been reduced to witnessing. We have already seen the clips of one dying in front of other human beings whom their social responsibility is reduced to recording and sharing. Most importantly maybe, we have became viewers not witnesses. Cause witnesses also testifies in the future. Our video and photographs are no more documents since they are not getting archive.

This is where Lara Baladi’s project, Vox Populi become crucial and show the potential of citizen journalism and revive it as a social act.

Liberated From Death P.2

The relationship between photography and death has been discussed throughout the history of the medium, most notably in Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes. This connection may seem fundamental and intrinsic, due to the seemingly unbreakable link between photography and reality. A photograph always “present” something, bearing witness to a moment. However, as Roland Barthes proposes, inevitably, this “present” moment already belongs to the past, “That-Has-Been”. So in this presence, there is an implied “absence”. “That-Has-Been”, but not anymore. A photograph is a trace, it confirms both presence and absence of the subject. The absence which is the fundamental result of the passage of Time. Through this absence, photography is related to death, since death is the ultimate and the last one. Photography is both our tool to protect ourselves from death by recording our lives and at the same time, it reminds us the inescapability.

Christian Metz, on his famous article “Photography and Fetish”, explains this connection by the concept of fetish. The fetish, too, means both loss (symbolic castration) and protection against loss. Photography is not just a way to recall memory, to survive it from fading. It is not against death, but works in a same principle. it captures a moment, stills it, shoots it, kills it. It kills a moment in order to save it from its death. It affirms death.

Photography has a third character in common with death: the snapshot, like death, is an instantaneous abduction of the object out of the world into another world, into another kind of time

When taking a photographs, in a moment that we decide to press the shutter, we mourn for the moment we are about to shoot, we looks at it for the last time. instead of experiencing that moment we decide to take a step back and place the camera between the world and ourselves. By distancing ourselves, we already killed that moment, what is recorded is only a shadow of it.

However, what will happen when we don’t take photographs in order to save them, to look at them later. What will happen when we share it instantly and never take a look at it again.¬†When it never became a fetish “object” since it remains virtual forever. In this case, we may wonder if photography is liberated from death.

 

Liberated From the Reality P.1

My initial response to essential articles on photography (such as Benjamin, Santag, Barthes, etc) that had been written almost half a century ago is to re-evaluate them based on the current condition of photography (I prefer not to use the ambiguous term of contemporary). Not to simply reject them, but to point out the differences and to understand the underlying meanings of taking/making a photograph today. From this perspective, I would like to discuss two ideas in the Bazin’s texts supposed as ontological traits of photography and to suggest that the medium is now somehow liberated form these two presumedly innate qualities of it.

from the moments of its advent till now, the consequences of photography’s invention on painting had been exhausted by artists, critics and philosophers. Photography liberated the painting from the act of objective representing, allow it to take a look back into itself, to devote itself to its “modernist” essence. As Jan Francois Lyotard put it into words : “[to] present the unpresentable”. However, the objectiveness of photography, its’ spiritual bond with the Reality, the myth of capturing and saving a moment from the flow of time, from its death, is no more important. Not that it was true and now it has been falsified. The relationship between Reality and photography bear interest no more.

the crisis in this relation can be seen from each side. At one hand, postmodernist thinkers alerted that the Reality is not existing anymore. Photography and other lens-based media, image in general, swallowed it. Images no more refer a world out there, but to their own hyperreality. References without referents: Simulacra. On the other hand, the digital revolution fundamentally changes the ways photographs are produced, distributed and consumed. The photograph is no more consist of continuous grains of silver but discrete arrays of pixels which can be manipulated in an indefinite ways much easier than its analogue predecessor. The goal is no more to reach a representation exactly as the real one. Also, the product is no more an object belongs the same reality anymore. It is even possible to ask if a digital file is an object anymore?

The Photographic image is the object itself, the object freed from the conditions of time and space that govern it.

From this standpoint, it is possible to argue that photography is now freed from the task of representation, in a same vain that painting liberated more than a century ago. The new tendency toward abstraction in nowadays photography can be explained by this approach. Also it can be said that the photographic paper, the sensitive material that had to bear the weight of reality is also liberated from it. When the images lives in the digital world, the artist can explore the possibilites of a light sensitive material without worrying about reality. There is no wonder that the recent trend of abstraction is tied to the idea of exploration of the photographic material.

Still, we should not carelessly cry out the end of photography. In the last two decades of digital technology we have been observing the mutable nature of photography. Photography can still be a representation of one of the many realities. (Though there is many realities, there is no alternative facts). However, This representation is no more valid than a painting, or a video game. The documentary aspect of photography and its’ objectiveness can no more supersede the “conditions of the time and space that govern it”.

-P.S : The second part will be on the relationship between photography and death.