In March I gave a presentation at the Photo festival Fotografi i fokus at Malmö Museer, giving my view on photography, curation and the role of the museum.
A growing movement within photography today is, unsurprisingly, remixing. Professional photographers use images online to create new works of art. How does this affect our roles as museum curators and archivists? When the professional photographers challenge the way we look at photography does it matter to us?
Earlier this year two photographers caught my attention for remixing other’s photographs:
Honorable mention at World Press Photo Awards
For the first time a photographer, Michal Wolf, recieved an honorable mention in the World Press Photo Awards for taking pictures of someone else’s photos. ”Someone else” in this case is Google Street view.The honorable mention caused vivid discussions: Is this photojournalism?
This is a great example of the photographer’s new role, he moves beyond being just a creator, but rather a co-creator and a curator.
Swiss photographer Corinne Vionnet creates new works of art by collecting and remixing the most typical tourist images online.
The photographer searches the internet for tourist images. Apparently people constantly take pictures of famous monuments and buildings from the same angle (very interesting in itself), the way they’ve seen it depicted. The tourist images are being added one to another into new unique images.
Her work was recently shown at Arles Photo Festival.
This next example is not of professional photographers remixing but of the audience’s remixing taken one step further:
”About two years after publishing photos of myself screaming on Flickr, I discovered that my face was ‘for sale’ in several stores around the world, as well as on the Web and spotted it in places like Spain, Iran, Mexico, England and many other places.”
In this case there are the audiences online that remix and reuse the work of art of a professional photographer. This is in itself nothing new, but the fact that the photo has become an icon, used in the same way as the Che Guevara portrait is very interesting.
So, what’s this got to do with me?
As a museum employee, and having worked with photographic collections in different ways the last 15 years, I am very interested in how this change in photography’s role will affect the way we collect and disseminate photography. When the photographers themselves ask new questions about photography, why shouldn’t we?
What about copyright? Is my photo of the Eifel Tower in Paris now a part of Corinne Vionnet’s work of art? And what about Google Street View, who is the photographer, really?
What about uniqueness: When the artist is a co-creator rather than the unique originator, do we need to document the creation of the photograph in a different way when collecting?
Will our willingness to provide our photographic collections online, open and free, increase (be more accepted) when remixing is no longer something young (read: cheeky) internet savvy kids do, but is accepted and practiced among professionals (photographers and others)?
I am all excited about the changes in photography brought on by digitization, internet and social media, and I do hope we’ll see more discussions about the role of photography within museums in the years to come.
Look for publications from professor Elizabeth Edwards (De Montfort University, Leicester, UK) and professor Joan M. Schwartz (Queens University, Kingston, CA) among others for excellent texts on photography, curation and collecting.