by Kris Davidson
SOCIAL MEDIA AND COLLABORATIVE DOCUMENTARY WORK
It is only natural that a shift between how photographers and subjects collaborate on documentary work is underway—manifestations of collaboration are increasingly visible. “Citizen journalism” is made possible by the widespread availability of smartphones and other digital recording devices—yet, the question of what defines a photograph as effective amid the incomprehensible volume of images flooding the world remains. As a result, many documentary photographers are assuming a multifaceted role of collaborator/mentor/curator/director, working with their subjects to cultivate and distill subject-created work and incorporating it in a larger commentary.
Academic and researcher Mandy Rose, who looks at the intersection between documentary and networked culture, has identified four specific areas of collaboration in documentary work:
The Creative Crowd Model: This model includes multiple participants who contribute fragments to a highly templated whole, analogous to the separate panels within a quilt. The units of content may not make much sense on their own, but value and meaning accrue as they come together, producing a distinctive aesthetic that’s about energy and repetition.
The Participant Observers Model: This model utilizes distributed (in differing locales) documentarians who each contribute to a work that’s concerned with contrasting experiences of place. The participants decide when and what they shoot and what story they want to tell, but their role in the final contextualization of that content can vary dramatically.
The Community of Purpose Model: In this model, a group of participants take part in a production with a shared objective around social change.
The Traces of the Multitude Model: The projects that fall under this model introduce a new aspect to collaboration by drawing on social media content—linking to a multitude of potentially anonymous contributors. Here we can start to see documentary that is continually live and updating, with static video linked to live web data.
Every age brings forth its own attendant visual vernacular; the current technology-fueled era is especially defined by a rapidly evolving visual literacy. With the rise of social media—especially visually driven social media such as Instagram—there has been a discernible shift from a professional photographer-led visual vernacular to a new expression that is heavily influenced by the manner in which social-media platforms organize (or rather, disorganize) images. With more than a billion smartphones sold each year, cameras are now among the most ubiquitous technologies on the planet. Reportedly, a trillion images were created last year, more every minute than in the entire 20th century combined. Everyone is a photographer. Everyone has a unique point of view, a story to tell, a version of truth to share with the world. One thing is certain: It’s a fascinating time to be making and consuming images; as a society we are redefining the fluid parameters of objectivity, subjectivity while reframing all-too-human quest for some larger ephemeral truth.
Kris Davidson is a Part-Time Instructor at AAU. This feature is an excerpt of the full article, which can be found on Davidson's blog: http://blog.krisdavidson.com/2017/07/13/the-subjective-gaze/