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Visualhttp://vcj.sagepub.com/ Communication

Digital photography: communication, identity, memory
José van Dijck Visual Communication 2008 7: 57 DOI: 10.1177/1470357207084865 The online version of this article can be found at: http://vcj.sagepub.com/content/7/1/57

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visual communication
ARTICLE

Digital photography: communication, identity, memory

JOSÉ VAN DIJCK University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

ABSTRACT

Taking photographs seems no longer primarily an act of memory intended to safeguard a family’s pictorial heritage, but is increasingly becoming a tool for an individual’s identity formation and communication. Digital cameras, cameraphones, photoblogs and other multipurpose devices are used to promote the use of images as the preferred idiom of a new generation of users. The aim of this article is to explore how technical changes (digitization) combined with growing insights in cognitive science and socio-cultural transformations have affected personal photography. The increased manipulation of photographic images may suit the individual’s need for continuous self-remodelling and instant communication and bonding. However, that same manipulability may also lessen our grip on our images’ future repurposing and reframing. Memory is not eradicated from digital multipurpose tools. Instead, the function of memory reappears in the networked, distributed nature of digital photographs, as most images are sent over the internet and stored in virtual space. KEY WORDS

Abu Ghraib pictures • digital technology • identity formation • memory • photography • visual culture

INTRODUCTION

A student recently told me about an interesting experience. She and four friends had been hanging out in her dormitory room, telling jokes and having fun. Her roommate had picked up her friend’s camera phone and taken pictures of the group lying in various relaxed positions on the couch. That same evening, the student had posted the picture on her photoblog – a blog she regularly updated to keep friends and family informed about her

Copyright © 2008 SAGE Publications (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore: http://vcj.sagepub.com) /10.1177/1470357207084865 Vol 7(1): 57–76 [1470-3572(200702)7:1; 57–76]

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daily life in college. The next day she received an email from her roommate; on opening the attached jpg-file she found the same picture of herself and her friends on the couch, but now they were portrayed with dozens of empty beer cans and wine bottles piled up on the coffee table in front of them. Her dismay caused by this unauthorized act of Photoshopping was further aggravated when she noticed the doctored picture had been emailed to a long list of their peers, including some people she had never met or only vaguely knew. When confronting her roommate with the potential consequences of her action, they got engaged in a heated discussion about the innocence of manipulating pictures and circulating them: ‘everybody will see this is a joke’ was the roommate’s defence against the charge of the incriminating potential of the photographs, whereas the student claimed that ‘not everyone may recognize the manipulation’ and ‘these pictures may show up endlessly’ with their impact being less transitory than the roommate might have thought. In recent years, the role and function of western digital photography seem to...
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