The Austin Chronicle

Picture This

How is our obsession with photography changing an entire industry?

By Joe O'Connell, February 28, 2014, Screens

I will snap a photo today; I bet you will, too.

By Instagram's last estimate, users post 55 million photos each day. Instagram owner Facebook has that beat with an estimated daily haul of 350 million pics. Daily photo takers like me congregate on sites like Blipfoto and Yahoo's acquisition, the dinosaur Flickr (it was founded in 2004; Instagram in 2010). It's all digital and largely coming from iPhones, Androids, and iPads.

"People are communicating through images," says Kira Pollack, Time magazine's director of photography. "That's different. This is what technology has allowed to happen. I think photography is bringing people together."

Consider the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Pollack was with The New York Times Magazine then, and she remembers pro photographers shot on film and had to hand rolls across the barricades. By the time troops arrived in Afghanistan, photographers were shooting with newfangled digital cameras. "They had to learn that on the fly while photographing a really tough story," Pollack says.

Pollack joins Associated Press chief photographer David Guttenfelder and Instagram community manager Dan Toffey for the panel "Instagramming the News," something that Pollack and Time did indeed choose to do in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast. She gave five shooters direct access to the magazine's Instagram feed and the assignment to shoot away with their iPhones. It wasn't about following a trend, Pollack insists; it was about the reality of a potential power outage and the need for speed in an era where fusty print magazines are turning more and more to the Internet. Michael Christopher Brown was up to his waist in water, the inky night around him, and took a low-light shot that Time used in print. Another iPhone pic by Benjamin Lowy made the cover. "Everything is getting faster and faster," Pollack says. "It's exciting that it's happening so quickly. It's all about the immediacy of getting a story to an audience."

But Pollack doesn't believe the simple-to-use iPhone technology is yet at a point where it can replace bulky DSLR cameras. Nor does taking a lot of photos qualify you as a photojournalist. "It's brought more people to photography," she says. "That's great, but it's hard to be a professional photojournalist. It takes experience and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears."

In "How Visual Life Logging Is Changing Photography," David McNamara of Iris Worldwide will discuss digital photography taken to an extreme. Since November, an Autographer camera attached to his shirt has been clicking two photos every minute with an expectation of 500,000 photos taken in six months. "People always ask what and why I am doing it," McNamara says. "There is always a look of curiosity and slight apprehension. A market stall trader was visibly upset I was logging my interaction with her. A colleague pointedly turned away from me in a meeting. Tube commuters eyed me suspiciously. And family and friends laughed nervously about my nerdy project. Generally, my visual life logging was slightly divisive and parked in the 'weird' box when discussed."

What does it actually mean to photograph your life? "Photos are like sponges, taking on new data as they travel through the Web, tags, likes, comments," McNamara says. "This additional data can shape a new meta narrative beyond the original photo. I guess at a simple level, as someone who takes a lot of photos anyway, I wanted to search for the boundaries of understanding and capturing the reality of what 'capturing every moment of your life' actually means."

Consider Abraham Zapruder's home movie of the Kennedy assassination 50 years ago. It took days for Life magazine to buy it, and the photos didn't appear until a week after the event. Pollack recently got a call out of the blue from the daughter of a man who had taken photos of the Kennedy motorcade in Dallas. The pictures sat in a box for decades until after the amateur photographer's death. One ended up on Time's cover. "It was amazing," Pollack says. "There was Jackie in her pink suit. There were happy photos shot right before the fateful moment. They were valuable because there were so few of them. It's such a different world."

Related Events

How Visual Life Logging Is Changing Photography
Saturday, March 8, 5:30pm
Austin Convention Center Ballroom E

Instagramming the News
Sunday, March 9, 5pm
Austin Convention Center Room 18ABCD

Shelves to Space: What Images Say About Our World
Tuesday, March 11, 12:30pm
Omni Downtown Longhorn

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