Vernacular Photography

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Vernacular Photography Commentary on Society and its Systems


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This article seeks to open up debate on the nature of communication in digital vernacular photography. The discussion locates itself between the putative poles of 'digital democracy' and 'digital literacy', questioning the communicative co-ordinates of the snapshot and identifying the 'idiomatic genres' in which it takes place. The authors argue that digital cameras enable domestic photographers to take 'good' or professional-looking photographs and make certain capacities of professional cameras available for consumer use. Conversely, however, they argue that the question of critical understanding of the politics of representation in domestic camera use remains, since technical proficiency is not necessarily always accompanied by analysis. One reason suggested for this is that, frequently, the uses of photography are insufficiently analysed. The article therefore criticizes the idea that (domestic) photography can be understood in terms of 'language' without paying due attention to the use of photography to capture the nonverbal.

Table of Contents


Thesis Questions9

Communication in Vernacular photography10

Genres of Vernacular photography16

Amateur Photographers22



Vernacular Photography Commentary on Society and its Systems


In the popular imagination, digital imaging has been seen as a matter of modification and mutability. The modification arises from all the post hoc touching up that was employed in analogue photography in such spheres as advertising and fashion that is now, through specialized software, available to domestic camera users. This is coupled with the mutability of the image at the point of 'production' (as opposed to 'post-production') in the touch-of-a-button effects that digital cameras offer. Along with modification and mutability, the so-called 'digital age' has also ushered in concerns over the extent to which mediated existence is 'virtual' or 'reified'. Digital imaging has played a role in 'virtual' existence, particularly as it has sustained some aspects of internet communication, but also in the sense that it has contributed to the putative unreality and the unreliability of mass mediated communication (Wheeler, 2002). Conversely, digitalis has also contributed to feelings of reification in which the only yardstick of truth is that which proceeds from heavily mediated messages.

In terms of practice and sign making in a digital age, however, two further, possibly artificial, poles have emerged. The first is 'digital democracy', in which digital technologies, particularly those to do with imaging, grow at a very rapid rate and become available to consumers outside a purely industrial setting to the extent that information imbalance is, in some measure, ameliorated. The second is the more sobering perspective of 'visual literacy', typically associated with the Holliday-influenced work of Kress and Van Leuven ...
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