I’ve just been reading Martin Hand’s new book Ubiquitous Photography, which is part of a series on digital media and society published by Polity Press.
It’s an interesting read because it takes an approach to photography which Martin describes as “non-essentialist”: that is, he understands photography not through A Theory of The Photograph, but rather as a practice, a process, which can and does take an extraordinarily wide range of forms. He backs this up with some nice empirical investigations . This approach is still all-too-rare in discussions of photography, in my view, but absolutely vital for understanding what photography and photos are doing now.
The book’s conclusions explore three broader consequences of ubiquitous photography: for the intersection of photographical practices with social change; for the making and remaking of memory; and for the public performance of selves. All very persuasive, I think.
The book concludes by emphasising the “local assembly” of photographic technologies, images and modes of consumption (the latter interpreted pretty broadly). And it’s here I might want to raise a question with Martin. Because, although he insists that ‘local’ does not necessarily lead to lots of very small-scale empirical research projects, it is also the case that the empirical work he does is largely based on interviews with people discussing, for example, the photos uploaded to Facebook pages. As a consequence, his conclusions focus largely on the implications of ubiquitous photography for identity and subjectivity.
This makes for a strong conclusion to his book. But it doesn’t engage with the sort of question that the book on YouTube in the same series does, which is written by Jean Burgess and Joshua Green. Which is that, if something is ubiquitous, are new methods required that engage with one of the key aspects of ubiquity, which is sheer numbers? Burgess and Green advocate a quantitative approach in order to conceptualise YouTube as a massive system with its own dynamics and agency. Similarly, if photos are everywhere, do we need a new method to get to grips with that spread-ness? Quantitative, even?