New Age Production, New Age Sharing, New Age Consumption

Şener Soysal
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I still hesitate to write about the ever-changing digital period in which we live, where we own and make use of digital products (But don't hesitate to read this essay with such an introduction). It seems pointless to sum up the general characteristics of this period which we all experience. Moreover, the rapid change in technology might render some information I might give defunct in a couple of years.

Maybe, in a couple of years, people might underestimate the technologies, media, production techniques we talk about today, saying "Jee, it is unbelievable what those people were bothered by." Just like we are unenthusiastic about 35 mm films, disposable cameras and discussions on darkroom techniques today. Anyway, my aim is not one of comparison, nor some technical description of the digital world. After all, we cannot help but take part in this world. What interest me are the experimentation in photography and the change in our perception as part of this digitalization process. So, what I am about to write will be about looking at the sky, not the finger that points it as in the movie Amelie.



Photography which has always been a crucial element in terms of controlling our visual perception and the indispensable part of marketing strategies has come to be produced much more rapidly with the invention of digital cameras. With digitalization, developing procedures of the darkroom which functions for analog photography was cast aside; the photograph is now visible on a small screen just as it is taken. Thanks to large storage space, the limitation of film roll is also out of the question. While seeing the photograph taken instantly has rendered people in control of the photos they take, on the other hand, the ability to take many photographs at a single time has enabled them to produce photographs in an unrestrained fashion.

If we consider the digital adventure of photography (and its relation to the digital world), I think there is much more complexity with regards to simple terms that first come to mind like "photoshopped" or "share on facebook." For technology eventually rendered photography to be much more easier to produce compared to analog format, made sharing what is produced easier, generated an industrial market through personal sharing, rendered people more open to personal manipulation and visibility, made people believe in what is visible, rendered displaying easier just like reading and writing, enabled production to increase in numbers, enhanced content in favour of subsiding selectivity, and generated billions of visuals to be stored in codes in servers. I am not sure as to which of these outcomes are positive or negative. They seem to me like black-and-white photographs which in reality reserve all tones of all colors. Is it white that is dominant or black? Both the advantages and disadvantages are self-proclaimed and open to question.

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It is possible to argue that the ability of the camera to convey the image on a sensitive sensor rather than on film, paved the way for photography to "salute" the digital world. Sure enough, this process also enabled people to edit photograhs on bright screens rather than inside darkrooms. So much so that, even the analog records came to be edited and printed via digital media. On the other hand, this also gave way to displaying photography in different ways other than cameras that work with mirror-shutter system, and the ability to create images out of nothing through modelling. To define what is produced is as controversial as defining the era we are living in. Surely, we can call it photography; digital imaging or we can call it with another term. However, rather than discussing the definition, it is more important to talk about the content. Especially in a world where one can change the speed of light which produces the photograph (the speed of light travelling 360.000 km in less than 2 seconds was decelerated 57 km per hour), it is likely photography itself can change. Fred Ritchin in his "After Photography" says after giving similar scientific information: "The word photography comes from Greek and it means writing with light. If the light changes then the act of writing should also change."


Portrait photographs consisting of images of his and his parents' DNA sequencing (figurative)

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Actually, I think that the digitalization process is very similar to what Tablot and Daguerre did when they invent the first photographs. Both did not create something out of thin air. Considering its predecessors, photography was an improvement of the camera obscura technique which is the milestone of photography. After all, they made a chemical plate on which the image was imprinted at a point where it was not possible to reflect or paint the image of a gigantic landscape. And now, this chemical plate gave in to another sensitive structure with electronic curcuits. Surely, scientists had hard time in this technological transition. Just as the first cameras could only fit into carriages, the first digital camera was also huge. Or as the blurred photographs due to the inability to reduce the exposure to a minimum in the first cameras, the first digital photograph was only able to form an image less than 1 megapixel.

In this comparison I do not intend to praise or vilify these revolutions realized by scientists and engineers apart from the artist. What I would like to emphasize is how much they are related to each other in terms of the processes they underwent. Since the son takes after the uncle, analog technology is the uncle of the digital. They have this intimate connection despite the disparagement by the family members. The essence of both is the work of engineers. That is why it is important to remember all these technologies, editing processes, shooting methods, films, lenses, devices… granted by photography are tools to express and convey what we have in mind and produce using these tools. I believe when the tools are transforming our peace with the past strengthen our search. It is partly for this reason that I travel back and forth between new age production and its predecessors.


Fictional photograph composed of 32 glass plate negatives with an allusion to "School of Athens." (figurative)

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In this new order where everyone can easily practice and manipulate photography, I believe the reality ascribed to photography receives the biggest blow. Photography has always been considered as the 2-dimensional copy of the real world. It acted as a mirror. It was looking at things with an "objective" eye. It was freezing the "moment."

Yet, manipulation played a crucial role in the birth of photography. I still remember what Orhan Cem Çetin said in a conversation: The first manipulated photograph was the first photograph in history! Because it was very different from what we see with our own eyes. It was black and white, it was rough! We accept this due to obligations brought about by the transformation itself. Still, neither can we ignore the fact that Hitler had the leaders he was at odds with erased, nor the experiments in fictional photography by avant-garde artists like Man Ray. I guess the fact that these manipulations were not done via Photoshop, a tool that can be used by anybody, a tool where anyone can see the whole process, did not call the acknowledgement of photography as reality into question.

Back then, photography was magical and no one believed that someone could transform the resulting magic surface. As soon as alchemy disappeared to give way to giants, what was considered as magic moved beyond the Mountain Kaf. Today, we are living in an era where people taking photos become gods, an era where they can erase a photo they don't like with one click, manipulate the photographs on screen, and an era where everyone observe and know the fact. Naturally, the ability to observe that the moment can be transformed leads everyone to further challenge the reality of photograhy.


"First photograph" collage comprising of 10.000 images when the word "photo" is searched in Google (figurative)

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Another result of this transformation is the decline of craftsmanship. From old school photographers to masters, the craftsmanship which was considered to be an essential part of the practice has lost its significance to content. It is now possible to produce photographs of good technical quality with less craftsmanship. Moreoever, it is now possible for everyone who own cameras with technical supremacy to produce such photographs. But then, what if that is of good quality or supremacy is only technical? Camera is just an intermediary for photography. And photography is an intermediary for expression. If so, shouldn't we find the notion of supremacy in our souls? Isn't what constitutes our souls are our feelings rather than our possessions, clothes or tools? Sometimes when I ask such questions to myself I laugh at myself, I keep laughing thinking that art is about feelings after all. To avoid any accusation of being a nut, I would like to recall David Brooks' words: "In a world where people are smart, good-looking and pleasing, everyone will be competent to star in hit movies, but incompetent to interpret them."

Every art form emerges in relation to its predecessors. It is possible to argue that early cinema resembles theater, and television displays those we hear on the radio. Likewise, early photography imitates painting, mimics the use of texture and light. Since its emergence, even though we see different experiments and approaches by different artists, I think that the reversion of its virtues with digitalization have liberated photography. From this point, it is possible to say photography no longer mimics its predecessors, nor does it only qualify as a document, that it has become distinctive in its own right. And from this point, I also think that billions of images produced since the beginning of digitalization will make us question the notion itself more, and it helped open the doors to a new world. Surely, it is a matter of questioning. So, I still hesitate: Ok, we have opened a new door but have we crossed the threshold? If I am to add my previous question, have we crossed the threshold with the supremacy of our souls?

In line with the ease of producing photography, its consumption has also increased. Those who bought cameras took photos ceaselessly to get their money's worth. Even a new notion has become a part of our lives: "Japanese tourist with a camera." "If a Japanese tourist doesn't wear any cameras s/he is certain to be robbed, call the cops!" Even though it may sound funny, taking photographs (especially in terms of travel and remembrance) can function as an index to remember things. On the other hand, it is a manifestation of ownership. Although consumption is a recurrent disease in our constitution, some things are not like furniture. You cannot just bring them to your house and brag about their color/fabric/woodwork, you cannot just show you own them. Yet, as Susan Sontag argues, photographing something is to own it, and the way to take possession of Eiffel Tower is to go and take a photo of yourself there, and hang it on your wall. It is a manifestation that you own it, that you have been there. Yet, it is also possible to show the sofa you bought for home on social media, without entertaining any guests, let alone the fact that people present themselves via social media. If there was something like walking in Beyoğlu putting on airs in the past, now it is through social media accounts, profile pictures, personal contents people post.


Photo composed of 2 million plastic bottles, emphasizing the significant quantity of plastic bottle consumption in the US. (figurative)


Television audience doesn't create any content; they don't contribute to the images they are watching. Maybe the content they produce is knitting or the sunflower seeds they eat. The services they get for free (the programs they watch) are financed by advertisers (Surely, s/he pays for advertisements when s/he buys the product in question). Whereas in social media, user ID replaced spectatorship. The user creates the content and enriches the medium. The user with what s/he shares renders the circulation possible, and presents the information marketing companies will use with pleasure. In other words, s/he both produces and is exposed to advertisements and other marketing strategies. It is a strange parallel universe. We might as well argue that the users are the creators of the main content, and they open up a marketing field for industrial companies (I am writing both as the guilty and injured party, for I am also in it and contribute to the process. My desire is to avoid being used, rather than not using it). If we are to turn a blind eye to this marketing stuff, the only benefit people derive from the medium is to present themselves and create an image for themselves. And photography is the indicator that they exist and they own. We again come back to Sontag. In fact, photography is a tool to present things in a more beautiful manner, making them bigger or of higher quality than they really are. So, we again return to the notion of "reality."

Recently, we have witnessed that creating and sharing content in social media might also be useful.  Following the disproportionate force used by the police in Gezi Park resistance, public reaction snowballed in social media. Especially, the violence captured in particular photographs including the one with police spraying pepper gas to a woman in red, mobilized the public and hundred thousands of people took to the streets. People were organized via social media, resisted against the police, led each other, voiced their criticisms. Moreover, while the traditional media played 3 penguins (!) it was social media that informed the public about the events. So, we realized that social media as a new consumption tool is a powerful force - a headache for governments - when it is used in an advantageous way, a tool that can bring people together (We are happy to have realized that). Surely, we have also realized that the lack of editorial intervention might also lead to misinformation, provocation, distortion of reality. Yet, the thin line between "using" and "being used" was overcome thanks to people's good sense.

If Capa's "The Falling Soldier" also known as the photograph that ended the war, had not been printed, people would be unaware and unable to show their responses. Likewise, if the photos of how American soldiers treated the people in Iraq had not been published, it would be impossible to realize the severity of the situation. Similarly, if the photos of violence inflicted to people who were trying to protect the trees in Gezi Park had not been shared in the social media, it would not be possible for people to realize the injustice of the situation and react accordingly. Photographs have power when they reach the public. And digital media by making rapid sharing and access to large masses possible compensate for the gap left by photography. I might as well argue that when you pump it up, digital media becomes a superhero.


Woman in red pepper gased furiously by the police (figurative)

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Today, it is hard to tell the number of photos people have in open servers and in their personal harddisks. Some say there are 3 billion images in the web server of a stockphoto site. It goes without saying that all are "as fresh as daisy" in the manner of bazaar speech. Not to speak of the 60 million images uploaded by Facebook users each month. To give an example, if you type "The Maiden's Tower" on Google, you come up with loads of photos of the tower taken from different angles at different times.

When I remind of thousands of film rolls Vivian Maier took and never wondered what they contained, never had them printed, I always think of my own archive. How many photos did I take till now that are stored somewhere in codes? I always like Maier's love of the experience rather than printing the photos. Sometimes I don't quite decide what kind of experience people like in photography. Is it taking the photo? Is it manipulating the image on Photoshop? Or is it sharing it on social media? People pushing the like button? Haldun Taner argues every writer has a narcissistic complex to be read and liked. Is this attitude all of us have that leads up to having airs and graces a curious valve mechanism?


A self-portrait of a woman who photographs the city and people without printing them, a woman who likes the experience of looking through the viewfinder and pushing the shutter (figurative)

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Now, I would like to tell you the story of "the most photographed barn in America." The excerpt which I find like a fairy tale is by Don DeLillo. The story tells that Don DeLillo goes to an event known as "the most photographed barn in America" with a friend from whom he also heard about the place. Throughout the journey, the signs tell that they are getting closer to the the most photographed barn. When they arrive at the place that is full of tour buses, they come out to a spot set up for viewing. There, everyone is taking photographs. They are looking at the barn from the same angle from the same distance. Don DeLillo says that people there cannot capture an image, rather they maintain it. Everything there (including the signs) reinforces the aura and encourages the people. Well then, what was the barn before? It was a barn without any special features, just an ordinary barn. That's all.

My subjective view of photography is that this tool that enables one to ask questions should not be used for the sole purpose of finding answers. I think that photography should be used not only for documenting, archiving or identifying things; but also for questioning our spontaneous drives we cannot express and voice. The image taken by the spacecraft that provides the answer to what Mars looks like, the ultrasound image through which the mother is informed about her baby is also very precious for me. Yet, on the other hand, I am curious about the feelings, instincts, behaviours, thoughts of people living in the universe, I have questions about those. Is it art that arises out of this drive? Or is it art when a photograph of a crater as the subject of some scientific article actually taken by an astronaut is exhibited in a gallery? What kinds of artworks are created to be exhibited in a gallery thinking that "it will sell"? Is everyone who claims to be an artist an artist? Which of the recent works we have seen the likes of abundantly are really sincere? Are the terms "sense of not belonging, ambiguity, nonidentity" popular words solely supplemented to the exhibition texts?

Unfortunately, one cannot find the answers to these questions in books. Sometimes, I think the recent works are created in some kind of a new age consumption impasse. It seems to me like they are created with the concern of being included/approved/sold in accordance with the demands of the galleries, art institutions and contemporary art market. On the one hand, it is like writing a composition in a way that it will get in the teacher's good graces in one sense, and it is an indicator of some deficiency in the "art market" towards a "market art" on the other…Surely, there are artworks that excite me, affect me with their sincerity. Seeing them enables me to hope.

If I am to leave aside my editorship in Orta Format, my personal practice or the titles attributed to me, and think just as a photography-lover, new age production, sharing and consumption in photography become a process in which I search for goodwill and sincerity. Usually, I am unable to workout the concepts and definitions. I have difficulty in analyzing the exhibition texts and discussions just by reading in a period in which words used to define things are ambiguous. That's why I use a representational word of my own for artworks I find sincere: Fish.

It will be like this till I find another way. Who knows, maybe some day we have a new movement. For now, excuse my naïve lunacy.



A representation of 0-255 color codes of a photograph upon a lawsuit brought against the sculpture version of it (figurative)


You can find the images indicated by the representational codes by downloading 2d code reader in your mobile phones. For those who don't have any clue:

  1. "Inigo, Elvi and Inigo", Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, 1998 –

  2. "Two Ways Of Life", Oscar Gustav Rejlander, 1858 –

  3. "Googlegram, Niepce", Joan Fontcuberta, 2005 –

  4. "Plastic Bottles", Chris Jordan, 2007 –

  5. Osman Örsal (Reuters), 2013 –

  6. Selfportrait, Vivian Mayer,1955 –

  7. "RGB Grid: Rogers v. Koons 960 F.2d 301, 310" John Haddock, 2003 –

This article was firstly published in 135. Issue of YKY Sanat Dünyamız.