Two centuries ago, the desire felt by many people to record reality led us to the invention of photography and society was equally amazed and surprised by it. Today, within the knowledge society, we have embraced the internet as if it had always existed. But we have not stopped there. Mobile phones have accustomed us to having that connection always at hand. In addition, they have largely replaced our cameras. Currently we have at our fingertips as much information as we have ever had and most of it is visual information.
A photographic image cannot mean the same today as it did at the time of its invention or as it did twenty years ago. Images invade everything. Now we use terms like connected photography and post-photography to describe a new scenario. The scenario in which photography has transcended its former uses to take on a conversational dimension where the word is replaced by the image.
To understand these changes, Sema d'Acosta - art critic, researcher and curator specialized in language and image in the 21st century - agreed to answer our questions.
As a specialist in art, photography and visual culture, how do you think photography is inserted in other social and artistic fields? Is photography the same today as it was 2 years ago?
Photography has a big presence in all fields and each time it will go further. Not only in the artistic panorama, but also in any day-to-day situation: nowadays the image conditions all facets of our life, from communication to writing. We are living through a period of transition towards a new model of society, very different from the previous one. We are passing from the society of Logos, where thought was linked to the written word, to the society of Imago, which revolves around and sustains itself around the image.
Young people today communicate with images, think and understand the world through images. Ideas are now linked directly to the image, everything is visual. The screen of the laptop or mobile phone are today more important than reality and that poses a real problem: we are finding it difficult to differentiate what we have lived from what we have seen, a situation that alters our imaginary and the perception of experience.
I am very interested in this idea that you present around the imago society. Under this paradigm, favored by photography, what relationship does it establish with other disciplines? Is there a contamination between them?
There is a lot of contamination between photography and other expressions. Before, for any creator of any kind, from an architect to a painter, the relationship between thought and hand, between ideas and their materialization, was drawing. Now that relationship is with the image, with photography. Photography has swallowed up the traditional fine arts and marks their path; they can no longer be understood without it. Today, we live saturated with images, conditioned by them, subjugated to their power. The ways of expression are very porous, they absorb very easily the things that happen in our environment. A valid example to understand the relationship between photography and the rest of the expressive languages would be to stop and think about how the Internet has substantially and irreversibly changed the media that we knew a few decades ago (television, radio and written press).
In the relationship between photography and emerging technologies, do you consider that the medium is altering the language of the image?
Of course, there are new image capturing formats that did not exist before and that is conditioning. Now the majority of the images are made specifically with the mobile phone, the camera has become a device exclusively reserved for specialists. The medium alters and conditions.
Today, can we answer to the question, what is photography?
It is the most living language of the present, around which more things are occurring. Photography is something difficult to define. It is not a technique, not a genre, not a medium or not even a language; it contaminates everything and reaches everywhere. Today's painting, for example, increasingly figurative, is conditioned by it. Photography has to do with the visual culture of each moment; each era understands the image in a different way. Each person, according to their baggage, interprets that image in one way or another, everything we see is apprehended, we do it unconsciously, even if we don't realize it. It's like knowing languages; a polyglot establishes certain connections and very different ways of thinking from someone who only speaks one language and in a basic way. Thought and word go together, they empower each other. The same happens with the image.
Are you saying that photography is in continuous motion?
With photography it is difficult to give a closed or concrete definition... It is living a moment of change, its syntax is much richer and it works better in another way. For example, in Instagram or WhatsApp it has gained absolute power. We no longer write messages or take data, instead we send images or take photos. In order to remember something we photograph it, before we wrote it down on paper... Now projects and works that take the format into account are proposed, before that was unthinkable.
How should we react to these changes?
In a time of hyper-visuality like ours, where so many things are happening, we must re-educate our gaze to adjust it to a new reality conditioned by the Internet, mobile phones and computer screens. To look is an active exercise; we must learn to look because it is something that requires dexterity. We need to stop, to learn to look in order to recognize the new codes that are emerging. The more we know about images, the more we enjoy them, and the better we will be able to navigate today's world.