In his book, 'After Photography', author Fred Ritchen discusses the influence of the digital world on the photograph. Previously, analog photographs would be passed around and viewed at social gatherings, and then returned to the owner. Some of those photographs may have been worthy of being framed, enjoying a more public space - perhaps hung on a wall, or placed on a mantle piece, for any visitor to look at.
Meanwhile, the rest of the images would be either archived in photo albums, or boxed up, gathering dust whilst they became almost forgotten about.
In the age of the smart phone, bluetooth and wifi, have enabled the digital photograph to be linked, transmitted, recontextualised, and fabricated. Subsequently, this presents both advantages and disadvantages, to producers and viewers of digital images.
The ability to link and share an image on social networks means that it is able to 'piggy back' across the world to unintended audiences and contexts. The photographer no longer has control of the image. The viewer is able to capture, store and view an image in an infinite amount of contexts. Therefore, it would be wise to consider photographs at face value.
Ritchin warns that:
Ritchin continues by prophecizing that that one day we will be able to artificially create photographs, from DNA and other various codes. Over eight years since his book was published, the author could have been referring to the hyper-realistic graphics of today’s computer games. In addition to this, augmented reality and virtual reality offer the viewer new ways of interacting with images.
Since Ritchin wrote this chapter, motorists and cyclists are also able to record every second of their journey, incase they need to make an insurance claim. Bystanders now act as photo-journalists instead of helping those in need, when witnessing a major incident.
As digital technologies develop, Ritchin envisages photographers being referred to as communicators. Their images will co-exist amongst a collection of tags and links, to communicate a specific message, or messages.
With more and more people taking photographs, there are numerous ways that a subject is depicted. Previously, a single photograph may had been accepted as proof or evidence of a particular event. However, with literally so many differing points of view, it can be difficult to determine what is true and what is ‘fake news’. To illustrate this, Ritchin referred to the US invasion of Haiti in 1994, whereby a second photograph revealed that the soldiers lying down in front of their helicopter, were pointing their weapons at a handful of photographers. The photo opportunity had been staged.
Election campaigns are high stakes events where the image and the message conveyed need to be carefully managed. A tightly cropped shot could convey a completely different message, if the photographer selected a wide angle view of the scene.
Sky News reporter, Niall Paterson, stumbled across one such occasion, in a warehouse during David Cameron’s 2015 campaign. The first photograph shows the Prime Minister surrounded by his loyal supporters. The tightly cropped composition gives the impression that there are more people out of shot, suggesting a high turn out and amplifying the support that the Tory Party have. It is also difficult to determine where this photograph has been taken. From the small portion of the background, it could be a stadium of concert hall. Once again, this would suggest a large audience.
However, Niall Paterson compared this scene to a second viewpoint (below), which shows a small group of placard waving supporters who are dwarfed by the huge warehouse
that they have gathered in.
More recently in May 2017, a similar strategy was used during Theresa May’s visit to the North East. The two viewpoints below illustrate how a stage managed event can be designed to influence and mislead the viewer.
These two occasions make me much more sceptical about the images we are presented with in the media. There is a very real danger that the viewer, or consumer, is fed a manufactured message which has been designed for the self-interest of a third party. It makes me much more wary of believing what I see in the news. It has always been accepted that words can contain bias, and so it is always necessary to bare this in mind when reading a newspaper article. However, when looking at any accompanying photographs, it is essential that the consumer considers: Who took the photograph? Why did they choose that particular angle and moment?
Ritchin, F. (2009) After Photography. Norton & Company: London