Marvin Heiferman | Marvin Heiferman | Tuesday, 05.11.2013

The River

The “Narrative Clip,” a wearable, life-logging camera that shoots a photo every 30 seconds.
The statistics are staggering, almost incomprehensible. It is estimated that every day, 1.3 billion photographs are made. Of those, 350 million are uploaded to Facebook. Google+ users, who are currently being offered some of the most advanced and easy to use photo-editing tools to lure them away from Facebook, are posting another 214 million a day. 150 million photos are shared through Snapchat, 55 million via Instagram, and another 1.4 million are added to Flickr. Among those images are ones made by people who photograph everything they eat, everything they own, and whoever walks through the door on their home. I recently read that 9% of mothers photograph their children daily. And also, that in the time it takes to read a sentence shorter than this one, another 14 million photographs will have been made.
People make all of those pictures for a variety of purposes, because they have to or need to or want to. Because image-capturing devices are usually within reach and just because they can. A few years ago, while researching for Photography Changes Everything, I called up an industry analyst who had always been a good source for quantifying photographic activity, to ask why he thought we’ve all become so trigger-happy. In the past, he said, people were culturally programmed by advertising and camera manuals to take photographs of life’s special events, but with the spread of cell phone cameras that began to change. Increasingly, people were making pictures for reasons they weren’t quite sure of, couldn’t justify, or would rather not articulate. If you pressed them to respond, they’d say they were taking pictures of whatever it was that they encountered and thought was cool, curious, or weird.
Selfie in Shanghai, 2012, Richard Schneider, pictcorrect
In the years since, back-facing cameras and the selfie phenomenon have added yet another category of motivation to the list. Photography has become a way for people to take the representation into their own hands and to confront, rehearse, perform, and then broadcast images that track where or declare who they are. Photography, once a novel method of paying respect and doing some selective bookkeeping of life’s major events, has now and for many become an indispensable diaristic, communication, and navigational tool. In an interview on the shifting nature of image-making published last year in WIRED, photojournalist Stephen Mayes spoke with Pete Brook about the fact that photographs were no longer objects, but experiences.
This year, with the test-marketing of Google Glass, and this month’s planned release of the “Narrative”—the miniature, clip-on, and life-logging camera first announced as the “Memoto,” until Motorola, which has trademarked the word “moto,” strongly objected—we’ll be further empowered to take pictures, on-the-run, hands-free, more easily and even more frequently. (The “Narrative,” an elegantly minimal and tiny piece of technology, automatically shoots a picture every 30 seconds.)
One question, of course, is why we’d want to do that. Another equally interesting question is how and whether all those pictures could be seen, accessed, and used. Google Glass is already been tested out by a handful of doctors to share still and video images of surgeries as they perform them in real time and, no surprise here, to make a porn film. For now, here’s links to two more recent stories about how the river of pictures we swim in and contribute to will—in the short and long term­—get deeper, wider, and wilder: