Unveiling of White House Christmas decorations, 2013, AP Images/Charles Dharapak.
I find it ironic—and more than just a bit curious—that this month’s This Picture photograph, chosen because it went viral just a year ago, netted a record low in public responses on nowseethis.org. Figuring out what’s going to go viral is a billion dollar industry, full of experts well-versed in the latest trends and sporting the technological skills to build The Next Big Thing. But, as history has shown us time and again, the public is fickle. Companies that spend millions to draw the public’s attention and set the world on fire with something sparkly or snazzy end up losing out to someone’s home video of a cat playing a piano.
This month’s photograph of First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2013 unveiling of the White House’s Christmas Decorations was a surprise entry into last year’s most-viral-photographs competition (I’m pretty sure I made that up, but I’m just as sure that all those well-versed and skillful experts keep tabs on things like that). As Marco Bohr discusses in his featured essay response to this photograph, an unexpected, unscripted moment in an otherwise carefully choreographed and staged event can sometimes equate to solid gold, as it did for photographer Charles Dharapak and the Associated Press.
Matthew, 1965 © Kenneth Josephson.
I love Stephanie Flati’s photo response to this month’s This Picture, which is a snapshot by Kenneth Josephson of his son, Matthew, from 1965. The subject of both Stephanie’s and Josephson’s pictures is a young boy whose face is obscured by the paraphernalia of photography; in Stephanie’s case an enormous lens and in Josephson’s, a snapshot. On the surface, both reflect a childhood fascination with imaging technology with which any parent who has struggled to remove a smartphone camera from his or her child’s hands will be familiar. On a deeper level, both seem to me to hint at a subconscious search for self through photographic representation. In her powerful essay, Nancy West, author of Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia, dives into the visual Mobius strip of Josephson’s image and raises compelling questions about photographic authenticity and the search for meaning that also echo for me in Stephanie’s response, albeit in a different way.
Arne Svenson, The Neighbors #11, 2012 © Arne Svenson, Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery, New York.
Last month, This Picture asked you to consider a photograph from Arne Svenson’s series, The Neighbors. Taken without the subjects’ permission and shot with a long lens, these photographs of people in their private residences garnered widespread attention because of the lawsuit filed against the artist for alleged invasion of privacy.
This month’s responses did indeed explore the tension between public and private, but they also in equal measure injected a healthy dose of levity into the conversation by focusing on the partially obscured, slightly surreal, and completely compelling stuffed giraffe that makes an appearance in the photograph. I must admit, when we selected this image as one of our This Picture features, not one of us predicted the draw of “the giraffe factor.” Live and learn.
Hand pointing, light beams in background © SuperStock/Corbis.
August’s This Picture photograph has been, to my mind, one of the most enigmatic we’ve had so far. Depending on how you see it, the pointing finger can be accusatory, celebratory, or just plain puzzling. The responses we have received from all of you have risen gamely to the challenge of unpacking the meaning and associations of this picture. The four responses that stand out to me as the most intriguing are:
- “What your retina records the millisecond prior to your eyeball being poked. ‘At least it’s not a sharp stick.’” —George Slade
- Roy Lichenstein’s Finger Pointing (Corlett 126), 1973 as a rebuttal to. —April
- “The first and most obvious reaction I have is to think of the famous 1917 WWI Army recruitment poster by Flagg. The image is both accusatory and motivational…it is identifying you (me) for action or lack of action.” —Mike
- “Power. But does he have it, or does the viewer? Don’t let those light beams fool you…there’s something almost accusatory about that pointing finger. It’s almost as thought the finger is urging the light beam to move forward in an aggressive manner. Something disturbing and aggressive about this image.” —Becka Wright
Congratulations to George, April, Mike, and Becka! You are this month’s winners of the Program Manager’s Picks contest. Your prize (coming soon) is free admission to an upcoming World Premiere of The Invisible Photograph, which can be redeemed at one of our two remaining screenings, including our next one on September 19. Continue reading
A selection from Nick Marshall’s _e_scapes series.
How will people share photographs with their grandchildren in the 2060s?
Assuming we still have eyes and hands in the 2060s, this question might be important. Perhaps we’ll be sharing imagery straight to each other’s optic nerves. Or maybe millennials will be clutching faded mini lab prints, trudging across a post-apocalyptic landscape. I’m exaggerating of course, but the possibility exists that “sharing” a “photograph” is not a perennial human activity. It’s all about definitions.
Consider this: our histories, personal or otherwise, are affected by how we transmit them. At the risk of sounding paranoid, I think the conversion of physical things to binary numbers is worth investigating—because we might not fully appreciate the benefits and costs. In fact, when talking about photographs, I don’t think it’s useful to divide them along the fault lines of “analog versus digital” anymore. Instead, I’d like to suggest something more meaningful. Tactile and non-tactile. Isn’t that more relevant to what’s happening around us? It certainly opens up more intellectually fertile areas; a new way to shuffle an old deck of cards.