Click here to disappear

April 13, 2007

Writer and critic David Levi Strauss joins our photography debate with an article published today on openDemocracy.net. Titled “Click here to disappear: thoughts on images and democracy“, the piece explores how the privatisation of image-making and the manipulation of image-reception in the global, digital age combine to diminish agency and freedom. Money quote:

I used to think that more people making images would necessarily lead to more conscious image reception, but I’m less sure of that now. It seems that it’s possible to make images as unconsciously as one consumes them, bypassing the critical sense entirely. One of the main culprits here is time pollution, or “the pollution of temporal distance” that Paul Virilio writes about. To regain our liberty (and our distance), we must slow the images down.

Images online are both more ephemeral (in form) and more substantial (in number). They flicker across our eyes and jitter through our minds at incredible speeds. We spend more time collecting and sorting images, but less time looking at any one of them. One can never step into the same data-stream twice. The images from Abu Ghraib suddenly appear and are everywhere, and then just as suddenly they vanish, leaving barely a trace. Photographic images used to be about the trace. Digital images are about the flow.

Read the entire article here.



  1. Who is taking photographs? Who is looking at them? Who decides what photography we see?

    For most contemporary UK art photographers the nearest they get to showing their work is to daydream about it while enjoying a cup of tea and a bite to eat in a gallery’s cafe. Both public and private art space is extremely limited and the frustration this brings is immense.

    We set up fee-free hosting site http://www.bananacake.org.uk in response to a need. The web offers opportunities for practising photographic artists to get work ‘out there’ – visible to an international audience and we want to be part of that, supporting people and encouraging new work.The economics of the internet means we can survive without finance from either funding bodies like the Arts Council – whose goals may not be our own – or commercial sponsers – whose ads would compete with the images on show. Truly remarkable is that even without promotion – which we can’t afford – photographers manage to find us and seem to appreciate what we are attempting to do.

    The affordability of technology has transformed the production and distribution of music and perhaps image making and transmission is similarly re-defining itself. The traditional values that some people feel to be under threat are perhaps those to do with ownership and this is a good thing. Therefore, at some point, the answer to all three questions that have been posed, may well be everybody.

    : D

    Pete McGovern


  2. I recently went to see a photo exhibition entitled “L’evenement” (The Event) at the Galerie Jeu de Paume in Paris. The exhibition took a series of examples from the coverage of Crimean War to the coverage of 9/11 essentially to prove David Levi Strauss’s points he laid out in his article notably regarding the distribution of public images controlled by corporations.

    The exhibit that struck me most was an assembly of fifty something newpaper and magazine covers which appeared thoughout the world on the next day after the Twin Towers were destroyed with one and the same photo on the cover. Obviously, the news editors in four corners of the world all used the services of one and the same global image distrubution corporation. It was a refreshing experience.

  3. Thoughts on democracy…

    Democracy is one of those terms that makes me feel warm at heart, giving me a sense that we have found THE solution (long time ago) for the way we organise and govern our societies. It is a positive term, filled with a sense of hope and strength; democratic society is one which is fare, in which each citizen can voice its opinion and has a right to cast a vote, which can influence directly the politics and economics of her/his country. So the more I examine my fantasies relating to what the term ‘democracy’ represents the more it seems utopian to me. Is democracy an utopian term?

    Having just spent one month working and travelling through Bosnia and Herzegovina, the thought on the meaning of ‘democracy’ has grown louder and louder with each day spent there. A sense of isolation which can be felt there, is further complicated when viewed in relation to broadband Internet access (urban areas have a good and affordable Internet providers). And a sense of separateness and division seems to be strong as ever despite the greater accessability to the tools of communication and information.
    To say that there is a greater accessibility and possibly self-control of images and text since the advent of Internet and digital image is probably true, but to add the term democracy to that process of greater access would seem like giving an incredible amount of credit to what in the end are pixels. And just like painting in the end is just acrylic or oil and yet we know it has the power to move us beyond our ability to explain why, in the same way images have the ability to move us even if they are just a flicker on our screen. But they will only move us if we allow them to, and for that we will need to find a way as David Levi-Strauss wrote to slow images down “To regain our liberty (and our distance), we must slow the images down.” However, in order to slow them down, we may need to slow down first.

    Few extra thoughts…
    *Thought the image I found on the wikipedia was interesting where it shows a world map purporting to “reflect the findings of Freedom House’s survey Freedom in the World 2007, which reports the state of world freedom in 2006. It is one of the most widely used measures of democracy by researchers.”

    Green – free
    Pale orange – partly free
    Red – not free

    **And what of Google and Microsoft’s role in censorship in China?

  4. […] screen. But they will only move us if we allow them to, and for that we will need to find a way, as David Levi-Strauss wrote, to “slow images down to regain our liberty (and our distance)”. However in order […]

  5. For Levi Strauss, that digital access is not necessarily liberating is due to an accelerated flow of images that makes them more ephemeral and leaves less time for the maker or viewer to look consciously and reflect critically. Faced with the speed of such an image flow the viewer may become a consumer and organiser of images rather than someone able to exercise a `critical sense’. Levi Strauss suggests that `to regain our liberty (and our distance), we must slow the images down’. One might qualify Levi Strauss’s assertion by observing that it is the relative stillness of photographs that imbues them with such a special power on the internet to arrest our surfing and to slow down our thought. In this respect, it would certainly be illuminating for research to be carried out on how Flickr and other photo sharing sites are actually used.

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