Weekend Reading


Modern filmmakers who want to accurately convey the evils of slavery could do so through the stories of Toussaint Louverture or Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass — or any of the other thousands of slaves who didn’t look to white saviors to escape their bondage. But you’d never know from watching Hollywood movies that a single slave ever freed herself. “Django Unchained, “Glory,” “Lincoln” — these films all feature the benevolent intervention of white protagonists. Even Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad,” about a slave uprising, is as much about the white lawyers arguing the slaves’ case.

A particular narrative about slavery is told over and over: The institution was a historical aberration perpetrated by evil white people, but luckily there were good white people who listened to the black people, and they helped free the slaves, and now it’s all over. A similarly simplistic narrative emerges out of Hollywood’s revision of the civil rights movement: In “The Butler,” the cause was noble, but some black people took it too far and it was ultimately victorious because white presidents listened to the brave moderate blacks and beat the evil white racists. Now racism is over, because, you know, Obama.

The way to understand photography as it happens on social platforms is not to compare it to traditional photography, which is about creating an art object, but instead as a communicating of experience itself.  It’s less making media and more sharing eyes; your view, your experience in the now. The atomizing of the ephemeral flow of lived reality into transmittable objects is the ends of the traditional photograph, but merely the means of the social snap. As photos have become almost comically easy to make, their existence alone as objects isn’t special or interesting, rather, they exist more fluidly as communication; a visual discourse more linguistic than formally artistic. As such, social photography should be understood not as a remove from the moment or conversation but a deeply social immersion.

Turkle centers her analysis on selfies—those photos you take of yourself—arguing that we are trading the experience of the moment for its documentation. But when viewing selfies as not an abundance of self-portrait photographs but rather a sharing of experience, a communication of this is who I am, I was here, I was feeling like this, the commonality of selfies isn’t surprising or anti-social at all. Selfies, largely, are not recording the exceptionally rare events with famous people but exactly the opposite, the everyday moments that weave the fabric of life in all of its variety. An immaculately framed and perfectly lit photo of the beach makes for a good art object can be a pretty boring speech act given how that same shot multiplies in social feeds looking kind of the same. Instead, the selfie is the image-speak that is uniquely yours, no one else can take your selfie, it is your own voice-as-image and is thus especially intimate and expressive. It’s intensely in the moment and that’s exactly why we desire to share and view them.


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