Social Currency, The Shared Photograph

Ron and Andy Chen discussing our piece (photo by Satch)

Since the Social Currency, The Shared Photograph exhibit will be coming down this Friday I thought that I would post the artist statement about the exhibit and its concept.  Soon I will be posting photographs and a description of our piece.


Social Currency, The Shared Photograph – Artist Statement

The concept of this exhibition, photography as social currency, challenged me to take a closer look at the contemporary state of photography.  Social currency is information shared that encourages further social encounters, increases one’s sense of community, helps form one’s identity and potentially provides status and recognition.

The digital age has ushered in a period in history where the “visual” dominates nearly every aspect of our day to day life.  The incredible ease of producing a picture and making it immediately available for 24/7 viewing on social networks, photo-viewing websites, PDAs, etc. is transforming the very essence of photography. 

Historically photography has been an analogue print medium.  Today it is primarily a digital medium that has unique parameters and a transformed aesthetic; the computer screen emits light where a printed photograph reflects light.

This new aesthetic combined with instant access is propelling photography into internet parameters that both broaden and restrain it.  The democratic culture and psychology of cyberspace certainly affects the work that is produced.  Short attention spans and the consumer’s ability to interactively click through a series of images nearly requires the picture maker to bring forth bold, high-powered photographs.  This is not a favorable tenor for investing time required to create and appreciate meaningful images. 

The case could be made that these new circumstances are merely a result of high-tech contrivance and the hyper-democratic philosophy of social media.  The vast numbers of individuals easily producing millions and millions of photographs, all of which are vying for attention on various networks, have revolutionized picture making, but it also has resulted in a fuzzy line between public and private imagery.  While these images strive to create social currency the question must be asked, what is the constructive and quantitative effect?  With the immense amount of images constantly bombarding the social network collective, it is hard not to envision a future meltdown calling into question the value of their social capital.

The portrait is so ordinary in contemporary life that it is nearly impossible to conceive of a time where it did not exist.  The advent of the printed portrait photograph on paper, the carte de visite (1857) and the cabinet card (1866), resulted in the extensive exchange and collection of personal photographs thereby giving the general public the ability to seek a social identity.

Today, the explosion of the digital age’s easy-to-use cameras and social networks has ushered in history’s next watershed moment of using portrait (and self-portrait) photography as an integral element in forming one’s identity within a social dynamic.

Ron Kern, February, 2011

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