Archive for the ‘new media’ Category

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Autograph

April 21, 2007

By Jessica Reed liveblogging at the Democratic Image conference

Mark Sealy, director of photographic agency Autograph just gave a presentation highlighting the fact that if we talk about Democracy in the digital photography world, we should keep in mind that only + one billion people worldwide have access to the Internet. He also talked at length about the (mis)representation of “visible minorities” in relation to the while middle class males’ “white noise” which obstruct access to the global media platforms for an enormous amount of people left voiceless or misrepresented.

You can find more about Autograph’s mission and ongoing work here.

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Having equal access to something cannot necessarily be construed as democratic

April 21, 2007

By Charlie Devereux, liveblogging from The Democratic Image symposium

Pedro Meyer’s keynote talk was a tour through the development of technology and how this has affected his work and photography around the world.

Here are some facts he threw out:

– The omnipresence of digital means that film costs nothing nowadays. Today we should instead be looking at how much it costs to store the data. The cost and capacity of a hard drive is a better measure of how much photography costs today.

– The price of digital cameras is falling by 30% year-on-year

– The Mexican photagrapher Raul Ortega published a book with funding from the Chiapas government. He printed 4000 copies, 2000 of which remained unsold 4 years later. He then published it as a downloadable pdf on Meyer’s zonezero. 24,000 were downloaded within 30 days.

So, the argument goes, advances in technology (low cost + increased distribution) = more democratic.

Yes, but…

Having equal access to something cannot necessarily be construed as democratic – look at Coca Cola.

The debate continues with a video link up with Bill Thompson after the coffee break.

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The professionals, the media and the people

April 21, 2007

by Hughes Leglise-Bataille, Paris-based amateur photographer

“Time magazine has voted you “The Person of the Year” for “seizing the
reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital
democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own
game”. So, did you?”

In my native French, the word “personne” means both a person, and no one. By making us all “Person of the Year”, ironically, Time magazine has replaced the individual with the people, offering us as its cover a blank computer screen, like a mirror of billion faces. Is this a faceless crowd, or like these mosaics of thousand of images, does it have some recognizable features ? And most importantly, can we shape it ? After all, in “digital demo-cracy”, there’s the computer, the people, but also the power (kratos): by the people, for the people.

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Trying to tackle this question, I can only draw on my personal experience as an amateur photographer. Covering news in Paris, I’m somehow “competing” with professional photographers from the media, often working side-by-side with them. At night, I quickly select the best shots and upload them to Flickr, with short captions describing the events, so people have the opportunity to discover the images at the same time they appear in the media. The question at that point is: why do they look ? What difference is there, what’s the added-value, how this so-called “citizen (photo)journalism” is complementing or competing with the mainstream, professional media ? I believe these differences can be broken down into four points :

story-telling: for obvious reasons, the paper media can only show very few pictures of an event, often just one or two. But there’s no way one can tell an exhaustive and balanced story with a couple of photos. Therefore, the ones selected tend to be either informative but boring, or spectacular but biased. Even on the main media websites, it’s rare to have a portfolio of more than half a dozen shots. Amateurs have no such restrictions, and can choose to post on their blogs as many photos as they deem necessary to present all the angles of an event, from the mundane to the dramatic.

access: depending on the type of event, amateurs can be handicapped by more or less restricted access to the scene. Without the proper accreditation, some places and personalities are simply off-limit. Sometimes, it’s the publication itself which is legally restricted, a growing trend in France with a recent law officially aimed at the “happy slapping” phenomenon but which in fact, will strongly limit the freedom of citizen photojournalism. The sheer complexity of the logistics also hinders the coverage capacity of an amateur: for instance, professional photojournalists often have a motorbike with a driver to move around.Therefore, citizen journalism is bound to be local. And that’s also where it can beat the pros: by being closer to the community, amateurs are less intrusive and better accepted (eg. the French suburbs where journalists, especially TV crews, have been regularly attacked since 2005).

ethics: beyond the legal framework, professionals have rules, amateurs haven’t. While some may argue that these rules can sometimes amount to a form of censorship (eg. the collusion of political / business interests with the media), the lack of standards in citizen photojournalism is probably more worrying. Image manipulation (so much easier with digital photography), staged photos, bias towards spectacular / violent images, lack of respect for the subjects, etc. are all disturbing. Responsibilities probably lie with all parties: the photographers, the websites hosting their pictures, and the people visiting them.

economics: stating the obvious, amateurs don’t work for the money, while pros have to make a living. However, the digital revolution has dramatically reduced the difference between the two and it’s now relatively easy for an amateur to have the same equipment as a pro, and to get some exposure. Exposure, that’s often what matters for the amateur: it’s not about the money, it’s about the (relative) fame of having one’s name in a newspaper, and/or thousands of visitors on one’s photoblog. The problem is that intermediaries have jumped on the opportunity, promising both the “fame” and (some) money by putting the amateurs in contact with the media. I tend to believe that unfortunately, this is both lowering the quality of the work and its economic value.

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Finally, I would like to mention one important thing: citizen journalism, especially photojournalism, is often mixing up testimonies with journalism. To me, the people sending photos taken with their camera phones of the bombings in London, for instance, are just testimonies. What they do is no different than in the pre-digital age, when they would have told their story to the media. Now, they have the pictures to back it up, but in essence it’s the same process. Photojournalism isn’t just the recording of an image, and owning a camera doesn’t make one a photographer. But maybe it’s the media’s job to raise the standards, and demonstrate what good photojournalism can and should be ?

Thanks to the digital revolution, amateur photojournalism has become available to many photographers (“by the people”) and is able to reach a tremendous audience (“for the people”), but ultimately, does it mean better photojournalism and therefore, better democracy ? Or on the contrary, is it threatening professional photojournalism and forcing it to lower its standards ? From a strictly financial point of view, if the increase of the photographic offer has decreased its value, it seems the only way out is to compensate by increasing its quality. Call me optimistic, but I’m convinced the problem is not with the professional photographers (because they do take excellent photos and because even if you have to make money out of it, it’s not a job you choose for the money), nor with the public (people would learn and appreciate high-quality photos), but with the media owners themselves, who are trying to lower the costs at the expense of quality.

As for amateur photojournalists, I guess that in an ideal world, either they should be good and committed enough to ultimately become professionals, or they can exploit the niche of local journalism, for which they are better prepared than the professionals, and where the investment is lower for the media. But if everyone wants to be the “Person of the Year”, I’m afraid no one will…

Hughes Leglise-Bataille is winner of the NPPA – Best of Photojournalism 2007 awards in the Amateur Photoblog News and Photojournalism categories. Photos featured in articles in Le Monde, le Figaro, LCI (French TV news channel), Salon.com, MAX magazine.

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poDcast on photography and the digital age

April 20, 2007

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Pedro Meyer from the leading photography website zonezero.com (and who previously posted on this blog) was interviewed for our weekly openDemocracy poDcast. You can listen to it here.

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Bad habits to break for a democratic future

April 20, 2007

by Mark Fonseca Rendeiro, journalist/podcaster at bicyclemark.org

“Time magazine has voted you “The Person of the Year” for “seizing the
reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital
democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own
game”. So, did you?”

They can shower all the awards and sing all kinds of praises about the work that I -a podcast journalist- have been doing for several years, it still won’t change the fact that I can barely pay my rent next month.

The mere fact that in order for people to potentially notice our work, we need TIME magazine to shine a vague spotlight on “us”, is pretty oxymoronic.

It seems to me that despite all the potential that the internet and personal publishing in all its forms brings to the world, we are still in the primordial ooze stage of what could become a long media evolution.

You see, many of us grew up with media habits. Many of them were passed down from people who raised us, or where we grew up: the evening tv news at dinner time, the local or national paper over breakfast, the brief radio news report in the car. Sure, loads of us were also internet children, but back in the 90’s, our options still revolved around a bunch of basic news corporations who were early adopters of putting news online. So whatever your media habits growing up, one thing was very likely – there were a select few places where you looked. And even if you didn’t love those sources, you were used to them, you took what you wanted and ignored it when you saw fit.

Fast forward ten years to around 2004. Blogs finally break into the mainstream after years on the fringe. Some people start to talk revolution. By 2007, they’re sounding the alarms and repeating that same lame speech about how the media landscape has changed because of blogs.

Trouble is, they’re talking about 10 blogs. 20 if you want to be generous. If you live in Germany maybe it’s 5 blogs. Regardless of the country, a handful of blogs, out of the ocean of possibilities, were recognized and referred to by the mainstream. The old players, those media channels we grew up with, the ones that managed to survive, they used their still wide reaching power to anoint a select few. You might know them as the A-List.

The A-list, in 2004, was already pulling in about 99% of the blog reading audience (I remember a PEW Survey back then). In other words, out of millions of choices, millions of voices, 10 chosen few get 99% of the attention. Not to mention they also get most of the ad revenue and syndication deals that make it possible to blog for a living.

Old habits die hard, just because you’ve got a world of choice and a wealth of information out there, doesn’t mean the audience will break with the media habits they were raised with; the reliance upon a select few sources that are labeled as the best according to certain unclear measurement standards.

So while the A-List might be writing about fluff topics like the latest mobile phone, a moviestar’s love children, or pasting the latest New York Times op-ed piece and writing one sentence about it. Somewhere, not being read by most people, there is a citizen journalist writing from the streets of São Paulo or Dili, describing to us (even though we’re not reading) how and why people are struggling to survive in extreme poverty.

Because even though it might be the year of “we the media”, we are still stuck under the boot of a media elite. And while the forest of choices is vast, the public still chooses the same 10 trees because some old lumberjack told them these were the best ones out there.

My hope and the reason I will keep doing what I do? The next generations will break free of these habits. Today’s youngest internet users will do something this current audience doesn’t, actively seek out sources and be critical of what is put in front of them.

Bicyclemark is a Portuguese-American podcast journalist based in Amsterdam. A former researcher at the Village Voice and blogger since 2001, Mark has produced a bi-weekly podcast on under-reported international news for over 3 years. He also writes news for the videoblog: The Eclectic Newsbrief.

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Thoughts on democracy

April 19, 2007

by Margareta Kern, contemporary artist, in reply to David Levi Strauss’ article

Democracy is one of those terms that makes me feel warm at heart, giving me a sense that we have found the solution for the way we organise and govern our societies. It is a positive term, filled with a sense of hope and strength; a democratic society is one which is fair, in which each citizen can voice hos or her 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 utopian it seems to me. Is democracy an utopian term?

Having just spent one month travelling through Bosnia and Herzegovina, the thought on the meaning of ‘democracy’ has grown louder and louder with each day spent there. The sense of isolation felt there is further complicated when viewed in relation to the broadband Internet access (only urban areas have good and affordable Internet providers). A sense of separateness and division seems to be strong as ever despite the greater accessibility to the different 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. Painting, which in the end is just acrylic or oil, 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)”. However in order to slow them down, we may need to slow down first.

Margareta Kern is an interdisciplinary artist based in London. Her new project is Clothes for Death a-n BLOG.

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Selective Democracy

April 19, 2007

by Mary Fitzpatrick, contemporary fine artist

“The raw material of news must pass through successive filters, leaving only the cleansed residue fit to print” Manufacturing Consent – Noam Chomsky

…The same can be said of the visual world including aspects of the gallery world. How many of you are aware that anyone making any work with a camera seeking funding must go through the North West Arts Councils Media department and not their Visual Art department? And how many of you are aware that 95% of the annual media budget usually goes to white male practitioners?

Women are encouraged to apply for funding – but then some weeks later we get a letter from out of the ether pointing out that the competition was tough. They justify it by saying that “photography doesn’t attract women” so that we can try and pretend that we don’t even exist – a director actually wrote this to me after my multiple rejection letters. The names of the award recipients are then jumbled up on their website so you can’t quite work out who has been funded in Media, except if you have a keen sense of smell. Women do tend to get grants in visual arts though most of the major grants over £5000 go to white male artists. One male artist is cited on their website as recently getting two huge grants totalling £65,000 in visual arts. I did gratefully receive one ‘be quiet’ grant at a later stage when I brought ‘the problem’ to their attention.

'Abandoned doll, kuwait'

A few years ago after my many problems with this issue I did a quick audit on five recent years of the Arts Councils funds through studying five years worth of their annual reports. The results were astonishing but unsurprising – 90% to 100% of the Media fund was going in one direction only. Individuals who were funded were often given very large grants and at times double grants. At least 90% of their funds was going to male applicants only – nearly all white applicants. More often than not there would be only one small grant to a female photographer each year – if that.

The message I got through this is that they believe that the white male visual world is somehow superior and more deserving of support. Let’s not forget that this is public arts money. We are filtered out and reprimanded at the very early stages of any potential projects or exhibitions. In fact we are cleansed out to make way for the pure photographic visual residue. I myself was told at a meeting I “would never be funded to publish, exhibit or to buy equipment” by a female Media officer. In fact they even asked me why cant you be more like “this male photographer from London”. I’m not actually a photographer, but a fine artist.

I did a quick audit on some of the curated exhibitions utilising documentary such as ‘Making History – Art and Documentary from 1929 to now‘ at Tate Liverpool. If you look at this particular catalogue there are 71 images, of which 9 are by named female practitioners. However, if you looked at the actual exhibition space itself the male artists exhibited large bodies of work and often having their own rooms, whereas the few women in the exhibition had far less actual wall space. Probably 90% or more of the actual wall space was devoted to white male art and documentary practitioners. The show should have really been called ‘a white male view of Britain’. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that the curator was female.

This strange phenomenon is carried over into the Chinese Art show also at Tate Liverpool in which there is only a single female artist. An invigilator at the show told me the female curators couldn’t find any women in China making art. What they probably meant was that they had in this instance been kept creatively invisible through the various filtering processes that lead to ultimate selection and that this is still sadly a global institutional problem.

In the archaic cultural world – for we do have another world – we are filtered out and largely kept invisible at most stages of the visual colonial selection process. Like the ’so awful it was really funny’ Pollock film I watched the other night, in which Lee Krasner (the painter) meets Jackson Pollock (the painter) and from that moment onwards we only see her only standing in the doorway carrying the laundry basket, cooking or gasping at Pollocks’ genius whilst he paints throughout. At the end of the film -in small credits- we are told that she did actually carry on painting by way of minor hindsight.

Battlescene, Kuwait

In contrast I had 9000 hits to my website last month  from all over the world. Visibility is key. The website assures more visibility, which equals having a voice. You can’t just keep saying we’re all rubbish at what we do. These digital means allow me to do a massive body swerve around the institutional men and women who all work to maintain the higher visual good in this country. I can move around those power points I’m supposed to be filtered through and cleansed out of and still come out visible on the other side. I also work and exhibit a lot outside England. I was well supported by both Arts Councils in Ireland – even the Irish Government supported me.

Whilst I am aware that things have changed radically for us and there are many high profile women artists working today – I remain vigilant of the archaic colonial attitudes that still persist especially in elements of photography per se. We still have predominantly all male photography departments across the country. Digital technology is also relatively inexpensive and widely available too as are the many inexpensive printing options that have also become widely available to us. The media age gives us a lot of options, and I can reach a global audience. Marvellous. The funniest irony for me though, is that my work is motivated by and dealing with the aftermath of those very colonial mechanisms that seek to silence me as an artist. So it remains to be seen whether my blog is also filtered out – the truth hurts doesn’t it?

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