Cultural Memory.

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by alan_zinn, Mar 22, 2015.

  1. Barry Fisher asked in the “Connecting” topic, how Vivian Maier would relate to our new social media world. I think that for photographer observers and commentators, then and now, that the urban world is always a visual feast.
    With no more than a gesture required to make and send images, we all seem to feel the same delight with photography. It is more than just a pass-time.

    I believe visual/verbal co-expression is essential and will become more sophisticated. It is a continuation of the photographic vernacular. Even photos that expresses “a thousand words” – the same words every time, nevertheless, signify more.

    Messaging: “um like im going like duh” might express anything.
    “um like im going like (click) duh” is more nuanced.

    Mindful of the millions of images made and put in circulation each day do you think that the ability to see images in today’s visual/verbal torrent is problematical?
    What about those who want not only to observe, but the pleasure and satisfaction of more thoughtfully sharing - maybe a lifetime of observing? “Will my efforts play on future media?” becomes less of a question of technology, but a question of culture. Over the millennia cultural memories are lost. It seems today it is inter-generational, or even of shorter duration. We have to explain to most people how to really look at pictures.
    What art essentially is, is always in flux. I believe any kind of contemporaniety is now impossible. I want to explore how we culturally place our work in the present image world. Our PF space amounts to no more than a nano-culture among countless other affinity groups on the Web.
    I hope a kind of (not web-centric) regionalism provides immediacy to my work at least. I have a work habit that includes some sort of exhibition venue but galleries are so over.
    See: The Public Eye – 175 Years of Sharing Photography. The New York Public Library.

  2. I want to explore how we culturally place our work in the present image world.​
    I'm seeing that world becoming a much, much smaller place for sure for whomever the "we" you're referring to especially with so many image makers focusing on their own work (so perfectly illustrated in your "Kiss Cam" image) and image appreciators developing a tin eye to the influences images really have on our culture seeing "our culture" is becoming more aware of how so many are becoming more aware of how the world really works and still everything pretty much remains the same culturally.
    There are cultures in a lot of parts of the world that still can't get it together to bring change for the betterment of their people but at least they have the ability with current technology to form their own culturally conscious groups to bring awareness. For me I just don't have the time to hunt those images down because I'm too busy with my own culture.
    Of course "we" "art" photographers can still form our little cadre of like minded curatorial groups that will still remain out of the judgmental eye of the masses who are too busy anyway making their own images to share with their like minded cohorts instead of spending time observing and appreciating our "art" images.
    If a fine art photographer doesn't know their work is being looked at and appreciated by a large group of people do they still know or feel their work is culturally significant? How would they know their work is making a difference seeing now that modern technology has made them and everyone else aware that most of the general public find more importantly and interestingly cultural things to do with their time as THEY define it instead of how a small group of intellectual tastemakers defines it?
    What I'm curious (more concerned) about is what effect on everyone's memory having to look at all these tons of images with fleeting glances as they keep having to move on to the next on whether they will be able to experience that nostalgic feel looking back years later. I've looked at so many images folks have linked to throughout the years I've been online that I can't remember any of them to this day. I feel nostalgia will be nonexistent or the feeling of it strange and unfamiliar years later.
  3. Pictures of self and family always have the greatest power and nostalgia. It's what people care about most.
  4. Wasn't referring to self and family photos, Alan.
    Nostalgia as in reference to cultural trends and moires that remind folks of a by gone era. If one's mind is constantly bombarded with so many images online and in other media as they are today, the distinctions of one thing that should grab attention as for example the "Pet Rock" get lost in memory years later due to visual over stimulation and constant dividing of attention especially with so many focusing time and attention viewing their world through tiny smartphone screens.
    I don't think we're going to hear conversations describing the good 'ol days years from now from folks who viewed the world through tons of images seen on these tiny screens and expect them to recall and connect emotionally to any specific cultural change.
    You notice PN conversations that attempt to recall the good 'ol days of and all they have to describe it is a link to an old page format and font design in the form of a bulletin board.
    Long standing culture that is memorable requires people to connect that require more stimuli than just what can be seen as images on a web page or smartphone app.
  5. We're also overwhelmed or rather overstimulated with music, songs etc. Yet each generation has their idols. Sinatra, The Beatles, Grateful Dead, etc and now Lady Gaga.
    Also, every generation remembers the "good old days" when things were better, people were nicer, photos and songs more memorable and important. The Arizona exploding in WW2, The Towers collapsing on 911, the Challenger exploding on its trip to space.
    True, not have Life, Look and other photo magazines requires us to look elsewhere. Interesting question for you and others: Which photos would you say represent the culture and/or the extra memorable snaps of recent times?
  6. Which photos would you say represent the culture and/or the extra memorable snaps of recent times?​
    I can't recall any due to the tons I've looked at because someone thought I should look at them because that one person liked it among trillions online which was the point I was trying to make with regard to relying on images to define one particular cultural movement, trend or of note in reference to defining our times.
    I feel images created to represent a culture for the public to remember are losing their significance due to so many being produced off the whims of the public's tastes which are very random, some boring and others not providing any reference to why they were taken.
    I'm finding more cultural significance that profoundly represents our current times from the Cassini space probe's shot of Earth as a tiny blue dot as seen through the rings of Saturn. Every time I come across it either online or in the media I constantly want to write some poetic, philosophical or lyrical line like..."How big are your problems compared to this?"...with an arrow pointing to the blue dot. I could go on and on.
  7. A person's cultural identity is I think a more profound and varied thing than the more superficial identifiers of any overall culture, whether we may be speaking of Australia, USA, Mauritania or Iceland. Each of these regions has those elements that are known to its inhabitants that if we are resident we may use or see reflected in our values and photography, but they aren't to be confused I think with more global and often superficial signs or behaviors that may or may not be transient and unrelated to the real cultural memory.
  8. That local cultural audience you describe, Arthur, is getting smaller and smaller as seen in local populations who would rather focus on global superficiality viewing images shot somewhere else on their smartphones.
    Why would local culture care to look at a YouTube video showing someone's cat playing a piano clear across the world which gets millions of hits while my local cultural center of theater, art gallery and museums YouTube videos get less than a 1000 hits in a city of over 50K population? It's taking more to grab people's attention when they're now aware there's more options than focusing on what's happening in their own community.
    Have you taken an accurate tally of just how many of those inhabitants of local regions would rather see elements that reflect their interests and values in their own community through photography? I'm not seeing very much of that in my region. Even when I'm initiating meaningful, culturally centered conversations at my local art gallery, the person I'm talking to would rather answer their cell phone and discuss plans with someone else that will happen later on in the day or the day after.
    What happened to what's happening now?! That's where culture is created and nurtured! In the now!
  9. Alan Z - I'm a bit perplexed. Having posted the thread under the title of "Cultural Memory," you proceed to state its purpose as exploring "... how we culturally place our work in the present image world." Although such an exploration may be meaningful, I don't see a connection with cultural memory per se. Perhaps the title itself is somewhat misleading, and should be stated as "Placing Our Work in Our Current Culture." (By the way, Wikipedia has an interesting discussion of that phrase, for whatever it's worth."
  10. Tim, ubiquitousness of media, present everywhere at the same time, might be considered s a death knell in the fight of past (cultural memory) versus present. The fact that I am amused or interested by something happening at this moment in Toledo, Tucsan, Tokyo or Toronto does not mean it does more for me than satisfy my spurious interest (or attest to too much time surfing). The things we really adhere to are I think more often those related to our collective memory (culture, history, politics). I read national and international newspapers but often place greatest interest in the local newspaper, daily or weekly.
    Have you taken an accurate tally of just how many of those inhabitants of local regions would rather see elements that reflect their interests and values in their own community through photography?​
    Excellent question. And maybe we need an OP with a title like Collective memory, local culture and photography, or something a bit more provocative?
    I bit the bullet last fall and lowered the price (50%, equivalent to what I might earn at a gallery) on my photos for a little exhibit at a local Christmas fair. None of the photos were in any way artsy or unique in view, but they included some 60 local and foreign subjects. Notwithstanding their low price (near to or less than one hundred dollars framed), I was really surprised to sell 12 during the two days to locals. All were of local subjects and none were of otherwise interesting places I had visited in North America and Europe or of subjects not familiar to locals.
    The local photos had distinctive regional aspects (village and farm building architecture, traditions of life, local trees or plants, local chair forms). I work with some heritage groups to save local or regional architecture and cultural landscapes and it is admittedly hard to mobilize sentiment and action among the same locals. But present them with what they may like to hang in a corridor of their house and the local cultural attachment is strong. And these are the people who on vacation will visit China, new Zealand, Russia, Turkey and other places that are mainly foreign to their own culture.
    My sales were modest, as were my aims, not even breaking the thousand dollar mark, but I was surprised at how the cultural memory is important in their choice.
    Without belaboring the point, and because this is a photo site, here are two of the straightforward images, one of a street scene in a local village, which went to three locals, and the other a simple river view at Tybee island near Savannah, Georgia, which was among the many of non local nature that were overlooked.
    Maybe this tells little, but past times, cultural memory and adherence to place don't physically exist, except in the viewer's memory. Maybe that is good news for a world that is to some degree becoming a homogenous melting pot?
    (To the Moderator: Image uploaded and acknowledged by Photo.Net but not presently showing on my screen)
  11. And the non local image:
    (Again, image uploaded (apparently) successfully but not showing on my screen. My apologies to the viewer.)
  12. Another try...
    (To moderator: Same problem of accepted upload and no screen image or link (?))
  13. Resolved (Maybe a problem with my server?)
  14. Arthur, I'm seeing your images in my Firefox browser. They're very pleasant looking but as you've indicated about local tastes according to your sales since I'm not familiar with the area you took those shots I don't find a cultural element about them that tells me something unique about that particular culture.
    I experienced the same when I visited a recent New York transplant, now a local Texas pastel artist I was talking shop with who mentioned what mostly sells in her work including her photographs were generic looking scenes of fields of blue bonnet flowers (Texas's state flower), images of burros, grazing cattle and landscapes of nearby state parks.
    I'm not sure that's an accurate depiction of my local culture or identity as I've lived it. And isn't something I'm going to commit to memory due to its ubiquitous nature.
  15. Tim, I certainly recognize the Texas flower seen during a past trip to San Antonio but the rest of the cutural symbols are probably too widespread in the south. The specific elements of the photo I posted here require a little knowledge of the local traditions and symbols, but when taken as a whole probably connect in a cultural memory or collective memory sense with the regional population.
    - The church is a Jesuit designed building dating from the early 1700s and the steeples of these churches can be seen for many miles (10 or 20) distance; in the 1960s religion took a plunge as Quebec went through a major transformation known as the "Quiet Revolution" and while Sundays see very few attendees much more than 80% of the population declare they are still members of the sect and show up massively on feast days, as was the custom;
    - The house far left has two balconies for the inhabitants to better see what is passing in the street when they sit on their front porches or balconies; in English Canada the tendency is to have the balcony behind the house for improved privacy;
    - The house on the right has one distinctive local aspect, the bell shaped roof (this one is not as pronounced as many) which became part of the local architecture around 1800 a little before this one was built (probably 1850-60); the influence of the British Regency style is also in the symmetrical window and door placement and the three sided British rather than two sided old French dormers and the mixture raises cultural memory about the events of past times;
    - Even more culturally centered is the metal roof ("tôle à la canadienne"), consisting of small square pieces overlapping in a diamond pattern; this was developed in the province by French Canadians at the start of the British colony and popular culture says the idea comes comes from the cutting down of arriving tin boxes used to crate tea from Britain, re-directed to Canadian ports after the Boston Tea Party;
    - The pick-up truck (a Texan symbol as well, no doubt) in the distance sits in front of the riverside cemetery where the locals are buried, many of which were river pilots on the St-Lawrence River (difficultly navigable, thereby giving jobs to locals) and lived in the town. The far building on the right is made of yellow brick from Scotland, used originally as ballast for the hundreds of wood merchant ships seeking forest product here in the early to mid 19th C and dumped on arrival; the locals built many of the houses in this village from the discarded bricks.
    So, sometimes one cannot read all into a picture in view of the many varied regional characteristics but I feel that an image reflecting on local cultural memory is preferred by the people of the region. I may have preferred to sell the photo of the M+O ship in the Savannah River beyond the characteristic private wharfs, but it may have meant a lot less to the local viewers.
  16. Arthur, you clearly have a better memory than I if you can recall all that back story history on those images. I attempt to do the same with my local historical landmarks I photograph but not to the extent you've outlined.
    But it did get me to think about current culture illustrated in Alan's pic of smartphone photogs on whether they will be able commit to memory at the same extent and what those details will encompass so that when a photographer captures some of their landmarks 50 years from now what will that story entail. I'm not seeing these folks paying much attention because they're so distracted than ever before as if they're channel surfing through their lives hunting and anticipating on what's coming next.
  17. How are these of the 21sr century as place to start?
  18. Time to catch up! All the responses are thoughtful and provocative. In no particular order, here are mine:
    First, thank you Michael L. . "Placing Our Work in Our Current Culture." I’ll go with that!
    Tim L. –
    I think in important ways that is true . The so-called “taste- makers” operate in their own little culture of capitalist greed. Immediate needs for novelty and entertainment drive them the same as everybody else though. Photos recycle the more durable fads for awhile, then, loose their immediacy.
    The classic Luce-Life magazine and FSA era pictures gave us artfully done propaganda that encouraged us to take a closer look. Their signifying intentions are lost, however. Critical analysis of images since then puts forward the idea that “handing off” (messaging) the image to the viewer releases it. It becomes free of context or purpose. In a manner of speaking it is “re-taken” each time it is seen. Each viewer re-purposes it.
    Alan K.: Everyone snapping away with little deliberation or fore thought must have some sense that family pictures speak volumes over time. But no, we are too content with our appearances at that moment to imagine change. Co-joined with messaging (not in different shoe-boxes) , how do you suppose they will integrate into cultural memories? Is there any big difference?
    “Images of our lives.” is like the “music of our lives” meme, and might apply here. Pop music now mostly accompanies some activity on portable devices. Head-bobbing, global music gets around swiftly. You could make that case for imagery that accompanies text. It is economical and simple. It needs little depth or quality for the task. I don’t mean that in a negative way. The visual fidelity is secondary to the benefits (thousand word-value).
    Arthur P. – First, congratulations on your sales! Art that travels well is a joy. Hanging a picture from a trip can inspire buyer’s remorse. We want regional art that connects our family lives in some way to decorate our homes.
    One of my pet peeves is business that decorate with crappy lithos rather than local artist’s work. Why not: “Locally Grown, Fair Trade Art”?
    Today so many micro cultures live side-by-side . The outsider-insider thing may be less restricting. Finding a micro-region to inhabit is better than feeling like a stranger in your own genre all the time.
    A practical situation regarding placement is guessing which pictures might attract the curator or juror of an exhibition and still represent me. Gaming the selection system is futile – it is all pot luck. Think of a show that attracts photo “enthusiasts” AND recent art grads. Poor juror!
  19. Alan, thanks for the acknowledgment/response.
  20. One of my pet peeves is business that decorate with crappy lithos rather than local artist’s work. Why not: “Locally Grown, Fair Trade Art”?​
    Agree completely, Alan. And thanks for your thought-provoking OP and its results to date (also helping to continue PofP forum discussions).
    One of our local (and national) financial institutions puts its money where its feelings are in terms of healthy donations to youth activities and other public causes, but when it comes to hanging art on the walls of its various offices and banking areas it can often do no better than cheap copies of such local or national art. The same is true of at least one major Canadian chartered bank that displays cheap copies of works of well-known deceased national artists. Both might consider buying local art (often with a few hundreds rather than thousands of dollars or much heavier price tags) as a means of aiding local art appreciation, regional culture and encouraging artists. Some companies, no doubt many of USA, as well as our local Hydro Quebec energy utility, or SNC-Lavallin enginnering, have invested greatly in national art, which is often put on public display. One way of augmenting collective memory.
  21. Displayed in the window of a local art gallery.

Share This Page