Snapshot

Dagmar Lorenz-Meyer

Fig 1. Untitled, Emilia Horáčková, Moje Ralsko Collective (2016)

If snapshot photography emerged with the availability of portable cameras for amateur photographers, the practice is now 130 years in the making. Snapshooting focuses on "ordinary" lives, often the family and the domestic. With its assumed lack of premeditation and apparent flaws in technical execution, snapshot photography has been considered conventional, ritualistic and superficial (Zuromiskis, 2013). For Walter Benjamin, the long exposure time in pre-industrial portraiture meant that photographed subjects "grew into the picture; in the sharpest contrast with appearances in a snapshot" (2008, p.280). Amassed like trophies, snapshots lack depth and "suck the aura out of reality" (Ibid., p. 285; Sontag 1977).

Yet since the mid-1990s, with the shift from analogue to digital cameras, the integration of cameras into mobile phones with their broadband connections to the Internet, and digital platforms like Instagram, amateur photography has surged to an estimated 3.8 trillion pictures taken so far (Zylinska, 2017). Despite an apparent similarity of content (often categorised and wired into camera scene settings as People, Places, and Things), and a predominance of digitally sharing snapshots with family and friends, there are local and demographic differences in subjects, styles and aesthetics (Manovich, 2016). Interestingly, the easy use of filters to make photographs visually more appealing includes filters to render a "snapshot aesthetic" through simulating light leaks, grains, red hues, or faded colours. Emphasising the effort and premeditation that goes into emulating snapshots also in art photography, Manovich argues that the rise of "casual photography" is in fact a product of increased digital storage capacity.

Feminist theorists have long attuned to "the continuing power and 'burden'" (Hirsch, 1997, p.6) of "vernacular photographies ... excluded from photography's history" (Batchen, 2000, p.57). Re-entangling family snapshots (Spence, 1979; hooks, 1995; Campt, 2016), they have recomposed the visual-tactile histories of gender race class formations, paying attention to the transactional and the relational. Often inflected by autobiographical experience, they have begun to (re)write the (post)memory of actual and imagined snapshots in ways that hold in tension the actual or potential violence of snapshot practices and their generative capacities (Haraway, 1984; Haug, 1988).

A feminist materialist sensibility draws on these inventive practices as it learns to "hear the spectral chatter... within wider ranges of senses" (Back, 2004, p.113; Campt, 2017; Bandit, 2017) – especially perhaps when snapshots do not centre on the human.

Fig 2. They lived here too, Jakub Horáček, Moje Ralsko Collective (2015)

In the image above, we glean an overgrown structure, maybe the foundations of a house or a well that lured the photographer-with-camera through the branches. Yet at the moment of the shutter click, an unassuming pine twig triggers the flash and inadvertently moves into the field of vision, shading the mossy remains. The snapshot thereby renders tangible some of its constitutive participants: the affect that draw "subject objects" (Suchman, 2011) together; the light differentially reflected off the objects and refracted into the chemistry of the film; the inbuilt camera configurations; "the hap [or] possibility and chance" (Ahmed, 2009, p.15) of the happening of the snapshot; a photographer able to move through uneven terrain who is sometimes inadvertently included in the snapshot in the form of a thumb, a shadow or lens flare; the sheens of light on the screen or print which transmit the image to the eye.

These materialisations cast photography's indexicality in a new light: rather than a "trace" or "quotation" (Berger, 2013, p.51, p.69) of a given object, the snapshot is of a relation – or intra-action – of photographer, light, camera, objects, chemicals and/or algorithms involved in its digital reproduction. Joanna Zylinska has suggested that "it is precisely in its nonhuman aspect that photography's creative, or world-making side can be identified" (2017, p.9).

If snapshot photography is of an in/determinate relation, the "event of photography" (Azoulay, 2015) does not end in the act of snapshooting. It includes the happenings that come into being around and through the snapshot, whether produced in the "mind's eye" or on film, or continues in sensations and after-images, or during each further viewing/listening, such as your reading this entry now. Its potential, writes Azoulay, "can never be fully extinguished or fully realised" (2015, p. 27).

In my collaboration in the visual, narrative and curational work of the Moje Ralkso Collective, a group of (often) first-time photographers and seasoned thinkers, the pine twig became a matter of concern: as one of the Roma photographers mused, "It's visible that the twig isn't healthy, right?" We can animate "the lower range of intensities generated by images assumed to be mute" (Campt, 2007, p.6) through the following exchange:

Antonie (pseudonym): I'm sorry that in these villages lived people who had to leave for some greater good, the Sudeten Germans... I try to know as much as I can about the past ... as I'm trying to acquaint our children with it so that they get a relationship to this land here that now is their home.
Bara: "They lived here too", couldn't someone write this there? (Moje Ralso Workshop, 2015).

Fig. 3 Untitled, Nataša Ulrichová, Moje Ralsko Collective (2015)

By bringing past and present collectivities, human and not, into relation, snapshots do not so much "arrest the flow of time in which the event photographed once existed" (Berger 2013, p.62). Snapshots are memory makers that open the multiple fractured time of past/present/yet-to-come, including "occurences that may fail, violently, to be fully experienced, and so integrated into larger patterns" (Baer, 2005, p.1). As "powerful forms of commotion and communion" (Azoulay, 2015, p. 15), the Moje Ralsko shots participate in remaking home and community to include (and trans-form) bow flowers, an overflowing ashtray, a pine twig, a woman's favorite song – and me. Listen to the snapshot above through the sonic frequencies of the song in the image (link here 3:08-7:48). How do the vibrations in your body animate what the snapshot gives and withholds?

That the tune is sung in a language that few readers will understand amplifies that a feminist materialist engagement with snapshot photography does not subsume the snapshot to "extra-pictorial determinations" (Baer, 2005, p.11). Sounds, smells, and stories too have their constitutive in/determinacies. We might learn to amplify the differential relations that snapshots are by reiteratively sensing the non/relational within the event of snapshot photography, the "spaces between" (Star, 1995, p.32) – not in between – what we can see and what we know.

Drawing viewers/listeners into an "intra-acting relationship" (Hayward, 2005) with unremarkable snapshots, might attune us to "the excess we find within the image [that] points to something that, though not properly outside it, nonetheless unsettles the relations between picture and context" (Baer, 2005, p. 11-12). Taking a cue from the differential refractions of light, such diffractively "visceral seeing" (Hayward, 2005, p.29) might "bend the spectator away" from a dominating gaze of alterity as much as an empathetic (self) – identification that manages but does not transform the subject/object divide. "Situat[ing] the photograph so that it acquires something of the surprising conclusiveness that it was and is" (Berger, 2013, p.59) – and will become – then means to produce a "resonating involvement" (Hayward, 2012, p.162) that does neither reify nor obliterate differences and is both responsive and consequential.

Keywords : everyday photography; visual-tactile histories; world-making; indexicality; the event of photography; listening to images; visceral seeing; the non/relational; resonating involvement
Genealogies : Jo Spence, bell hooks, Marianne Hirsch, Susan Sontag, Donna Haraway, Tina Campt, Ariella Azoulay, Ulrich Baer, Rad Bandit, Joanna Zylinska
Synonyms : vernacular photography, amateur photography, the event of photography
Antonyms : art photography, documentary photography; scientific photography
Hypernyms : vernacular photographies
Hyponyms : family snapshots

References
Ahmed, Sara (2009). "Happiness and queer politics." Worldpicture 3, pp.1-20.
Azoulay, Ariella (2015). Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography. London: Verso.
Back, Les. (2004). "Listening with the eyes." In The Art of Listening, Oxford: Berg, pp. 97-115.
Baer, Ulrich (2005). Spectral Evidence: Photography of Trauma. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Bandit, Rad (2017). Naděje je na druhém břehu: životy pražských žen bez domova [Hope is on the other side: The lives of Prague homeless women]. Prague: Broken Books.
Batchen, Greoffrey (2000). "Vernacular photographies." In: Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History, Cambridge MA: MIT Press, pp. 56-80.
Benjamin, Walter (2008 [1931]). "Little history of photography." In: The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility and Other Writings on Media, Harvard: Harvard University Press, pp. 274-298.
Berger, John (2013). Understanding a Photograph. London: Penguin Classics.
Campt, Tina M. (2012). Image Matters: Archive, Photography, and the African Diaspora in Europe, Durham: Duke University Press.
Campt, Tina M. (2017). Listening to Images. Durham: Duke University Press.
Haug, Frigga (Ed.) (1988). Sexualisierung der Körper. Hamburg: Argument.
Haraway, Donna (1984). "Teddy bear patriarchy: Taxidermy in the garden of Eden, New York City, 1908-1936." Social Text 11, pp.20-64.
Hayward, Eva (2005). "Enfolded vision: Refracting The Love Life of the Octopus." A Visual Studies Journal 1, pp.29-44.
Hayward, Eva (2012). "Sensational jellyfish: Aquarium affects and the matter of immersion." differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 25(3), pp.161-196.
hooks, bell (1995). "In our glory: photography and black life." In: Art on My Mind: Visual Politics, New York: The New Press, pp. 54-64.
Hirsch, Marianne (1997). Family Frames: Photography Narrative and Postmemory, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Manovich, Lev (2016) "Subjects and styles in Instagram photography." Available online http://manovich.net/index.php/projects/subjects-and-styles-in-instagram-photography-part-1Spence, Jo (1979). "Beyond the family album." Available online: http://www.jospence.org/beyond\_family\_album/beyond\_family\_album\_thumbs.html
Star, Susan L. (1995). "Introduction." In: Ecologies of Knowledge, Susan L. Star ed., New York: SUNY Press, pp.1- 33.
Suchman, Lucy (2011). "Subject objects." Feminist Theory 12(2), pp.119--145.
Zuromiskis, Catherine (2013). Snapshot Photography: The Lives of Images. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Zylinska, Joanna (2017). Nonhuman Photography. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

COST Action IS1307 New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on 'How Matter Comes to Matter'.

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