April 14, 2021•373 words
A photo of Tito Elmo taken on film, next to an instax photo and above a digital print, in my Lola's photo album in Alfonso, Cavite.
"One and Another," is the fourth part of The Museum of Modern Art's free and online photography course, "Seeing Through Photographs." It talks about the way meaning is created by various ways of combining and positioning photographs. When cameras arrived at a certain point of accessibility, this naturally became easy to do. You could take more photographs, you could choose and and you could omit, then finally, you could organize them into a series or layout to tell a precise message.
It is one of the wonders of the medium. And in the everyday, it is exactly like what one does when assembling a photo album, a common staple in middle class homes. Photo albums tell a lot about a family. Access to a camera as early as the 1950s, which is the equivalent of my mother having a baby picture, is telling of class position, another form of hierarchy. Photos can be arranged according to what is valued. Photos of reunions, especially when they are scarce, next to photos of proof of education, next to photos of cultural participation, photos of the living next to photos of the dead.
These days, our daily consumption of images is curated by the algorithm of our newsfeeds, becoming a much more opaque process compared to a set of photos curated by someone's hand. It is not bad, but it is a new development of the times. And I think the better point is not that there are images that the algorithm wants you to see, but that there are images it chooses to marginalize. Algorithms have access to thousands of data points every second, calculating interest and sales, makes one wonder how stories fare over and above one another.
People using social media still assemble, combine, position their photographs to tell a precise message, engaging a potential inherent in the medium, sometimes without careful thinking anymore, the more natural it has become. We can decide with our eyes, what photo, what best-foot-forward looks best.