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Snapshot vs. Fine-Art Photography in Digital Age Proposal

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Updated: Sep 7th, 2021

Lead Question

How did the digital age and the phenomenon of snapshot photography transform cultural practices compared to fine-art photography?

Proposal Overview

For more than one century of its existence, photography has firmly entered the most diverse areas of today’s life. As an integral part of every person’s life, it influences the formation of the habits of visual perception, stereotypes, and habits in the era of visual expansion (Bate 2016). This explains the importance of studying snapshot photography, the history of its development, its functions, and ways of existence for understanding the processes of modern culture. Currently, there is a visual expansion of the representation of events, people, ideas and other things. The scale of distribution of everyday photography is associated with the improvement of photographic technology and the spread of electronic and digital technologies, making exploring snapshot photography particularly relevant.

The topic of snapshot photography as a cultural phenomenon is studied insufficiently. Only several generalising works on the theory or modern impact of everyday photography are present in the academic literature (Smith & Lefley 2015). The existing research in the identified field of interest is often limited to studying a particular area or function of snapshot photography. Until the middle of the 20th century, the study of photography as such was dominated by the art history approach. It narrowed the area of ​​research to the analysis of the specifics of artistic practices, methods and the aesthetic qualities of individual works.

With the onset of digital technologies and their rapid adoption by people, the shift in snapshot photography occurred towards co-presence and sharing in social media. Hjorth and Hendry (2015) state that the way photography was considered changed since making photographs became much easier. The openness with which people share their snapshots, comment on them and refer to each other shows a new level of publicity and communication. Therefore, it is critical to investigate how snapshot photography impacts the 21st century culture, including new perspectives, ideas, practices and problems.

The purpose of the proposed written dissertation is to identify and analyse the specifics of snapshot photography in the contemporary cultural context and in the context of modern culture, which defines the following objectives:

  • To determine the specificity of the concept of snapshot photography in terms of modern cultural aspects.
  • To analyse the functions of snapshot photography in the basic structures of modern culture and its relation to communication.
  • To identify the main problems associated with snapshot photography and ways to address them.

The qualitative research design and descriptive analysis will be used as the study strategy.

Nowadays, mobile photography is becoming one of the key forms of communication and one of the most significant ways to exchange evidence. At the same time, it contains the image of the central construct of a modern person’s thinking and acting (Wang, Alasuutari & Aro 2014). The accessibility and ease of using mobile cameras open up new opportunities for photographing many moments from life that had previously escaped attention. This allows instantly distributing and publishing photos and remaining connected with the whole world here and now. In this connection, a researcher plans to explore the specified topic by comparing the past and present roles played by snapshot photography as well as its impact on shaping cultural issues.

It is expected to discuss modern perceptions of users who tend to take photographs and selfies often to share them on various social networks, such as Instagram, Facebook and others. The available scholarly literature will be reviewed to understand how people perceived photography in the 20th century and nowadays. For example, the ideas of Zuromskis (2016), who assumes that snapshot emerged from the convention, will be investigated in detail. It is hypothesised that the outcomes of the proposed dissertation will be related to the transformation of publicity, co-presence, the intimacy of one’s private life and security. Presumably, not only the change in how social media and photos are intertwined but also the opportunity of snapshots to reveal one’s worldview will be identified.

The preliminary literature review presents a range of aspects of the given topic, including the overall increase in making everyday photos, sharing, liking and commenting. One of the dilemmas that were researched is the question about the nature of snapshots (Iqani & Schroeder 2016; Tifentale & Manovich 2015). On the one hand, they serve as a means of self-reflection and self-presentation. This also points to the need of users to stay connected with the outside world. On the other hand, it can be the tool of communication that is a more social task compared to the abovementioned statement. The researcher aims to clarify this issue in the course of the study for the dissertation.

Another essential problem refers to the safety and security of people who take private photos, shooting their homes, cars, other property, children and families in general. This issue also has two sides. First, snapshots containing personally identifiable data may be a source of risk (Agosto & Abbas 2017). However, they can be utilised by police, fire departments and other services to timely reach threats and disasters (Gogolin, Gogolin & Kam 2014). This aspect of snapshots in social media will be studied as well in order to provide valuable recommendations and the extent to which the available literature is relevant to modern reality.

It seems important to mention that initially, it was planned to focus the attention of the proposed dissertation only on the modern use of snapshot photography. The critical review of the evidence made it clear that the historical perspective will provide valuable insights into how photography alters with time. Driven by the technological process, selfies and rapid shots became an integral part of people’s everyday life. This change in the study direction was regarded as the one justified by the idea of researching the selected topic and contributing to the theory of photography. Based on the obtained results, it would be possible to compare them with the findings of other studies, reveal gaps and make conclusions regarding further trends in this field. No problems or disappointments were encountered in the process of preparing this dissertation proposal.

Research Review

Snapshot photography is a complex of photographic images of everyday life that may involve people, houses, events, and other settings. To a larger extent, a snapshot is a photograph created by some authors, the anonymity of which is explained both by the absence and insignificance of information about the author of these images. At the same time, Lobinger (2016) states that social media identifies the author by providing an opportunity to tag a friend, set the location and merely observe a user’s profile. The subjects and objects of such photos belong to every day, and these are mostly private pictures.

The history of photography evolved rapidly, which was introduced by Walter Benjamin in 1931. The historically established tradition of the study of photography reflects the place of photography in culture, which existed until the second half of the 20th century, between art, technology and a way of communication (Bate 2016). It was also expressed in the fact that the photographic methods used in the study were borrowed from other areas and did not take into account some important features of the photograph. The current experience of studying the theory and history of snapshot photography reveals gaps in the scope of the material and its systematisation and reflection (Lobinger 2016). Moreover, little attention is paid to everyday photography as a cultural phenomenon, which was not part of the interests of researchers for a long time.

By the end of the 20th century, due to the transformation of the paradigm of the humanities, as well as the institutionalisation of the study of photography, there was a revision of approaches. This made it possible to consider snapshots as a culturally important issue that inseparable from the context of its existence and which manifests itself in media. The changes led to the transition in studying photography from the art-historical paradigm to the paradigm of cultural studies. The works of such critics and scholars such as Krauss, Zontag, Zuromskis, Sekula and Manovich significantly contributed to the emergence of a new view on everyday photos (Smith & Lefley 2015). In particular, several new areas were included in the area of interest: as a means of communication, as a sign system and language, social practices and objects and the visual embodiment of social development and acceleration of life. The alteration in the understanding of photography allowed rethinking the traditional presentation of photography from the perspective of cultural analysis.

In modern culture, everyday photography is not only an important component of daily experience and social practices. It takes the leading place in the visual component in the perception of a person, representation, the standardisation of view. Snapshot photography is an essential element in the formation of habits and stereotypes of worldview. In the context of such fundamental features of modern culture as the universalisation of the human presence and experience, the concept of everyday photography can be considered a constitutive factor in the basic structures of modern culture. For example, while studying Instagram, scholars discuss it as a medium and a message to society. It can be utilised as a window into social reality, looking at the images that people post on Instagram, and it seems that all this is genuine. It turns out that Instagram creates messages and its own world (Jensen 2014). It is revealed that many people think of Instagram as a transparent window into reality, and it can be a darkened window, which is related to security issues.

The privacy measures are especially significant with regard to children and adolescents, who are often unaware of threats existing in social media. Wang, Alasuutari and Aro (2014), who studies Flickr and Facebook postings, focus on many parents post snapshots of their children’s birthdays, assuming it as an aesthetic frame for self-expression. Another study by Agosto and Abbas (2017) reports that older teenagers are more aware of security measures compared to older users who feel safe in social networks. It is suggested that older teenagers comprehend that security measures can protect them from personal information leakage and its subsequent use by unauthorised persons. In this connection, the evidence suggests that parents should conduct social media education to their children. Those adolescents aware of safety necessity can also explain it to their parents and older family members.

The camera of one’s smartphone can be regarded as a sensor that reflects their worldview. The snapshots of a reportage nature from various events or where groups of people are involved present the syntagmatic sequence. With such a review, they describe the author’s view of what is happening and target the main ideas and certain individuals. Such a series of photos, as a rule, capture the presence of a person at a particular event. Their major active function is performed after the event when photos are published on the Internet, people are tagged on them, and so on (Lehmuskallio 2016). Therefore, the temporary community is restored on the Web since the participants of communication realise their unity due to common events that promote integration and interaction.

One of the phenomena of the cyber-socialisation of generation Y is the process of self-expression in social networks. Millennials live in a world in which people constantly publish information about themselves on the Internet. The content they publish is not always entirely true; most often, users of social networks share their successes and keep silent about failures. According to Agosto and Abbas (2017), if one looks at the Facebook page of a typical girl, there will be parties, meetings with famous people and trips. However, it will not be written anywhere that she actually works as a waitress or borrows money from her parents. This is called image construction, which is an important part of the life of the representatives of this generation. In general, the majority of social media users tend to rely on the image that is established in networks, which is characteristic of modern culture.

Research Strategy

  1. The objectives of the proposed dissertation require the use of an integrated methodology. The methodological basis will be based on the principles developed in the humanities and based on a systematic approach to the study of cultural phenomena. In particular, the descriptive methods and cultural analysis will involve a comprehensive study of the processes and trends that influence the formation and development of everyday photography as a cultural phenomenon.
  2. The literature review method will be used for the proposed dissertation to collect and synthesise related data. This method will allow reflecting the relevance of the research question. It will be specific, structured and realistic, taking into account the available literature and selecting the most authoritative and latest sources since photography and culture tend to develop continuously. A review of the literature will be analytical, and the statement of facts will be approached critically. The literature analysis will be built around the problem, not the publications. In analysing, both the similarity in the results of the literature and their coincidence with theoretical assumptions, as well as inconsistencies, discrepancies, poor knowledge of certain issues, will be emphasised.
  3. The primary and secondary sources will be collected from EBSCHO, ProQuest and other databases, which provide valuable information on one or several aspects of the selected topic. The inclusion and exclusion criteria will be identified to narrow the sources and focus only on those of them that offer insights into snapshot photography.
  4. Chapter plan.
  • Introduction. Identification of background, problem, purpose, research sub-questions and hypotheses (primary and secondary research).
  • Review of Related Literature. The historical and contemporary data collection and synthesis; the presentation of what was done previously and current gaps, tendencies and characteristics (primary and secondary research).
  • Methods and Design. Instruments used to collect and analyse data.
  • Findings.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Progress Map

Month Research Type Notes
June The literature on dissertation preparation was studied Secondary Educational websites ad scholarly literature were accessed
The topic was identified, and the lead question was formulated Secondary Journals and websites focusing on the target topic were studied
September The history of snapshot photography was examined; the key data was documented. Primary Key dates, theoreticians and concepts were identified
October The focus was switched to understanding modern trends in snapshot photography. Primary Key dates, theoreticians and concepts were identified
November The lead question was changed to include the comparison of past and present Secondary None
December The detailed outline was prepared and approved by the professor Secondary None
January The final reference list was identified and properly formatted Secondary None
February The final draft was completed and given to readers None None
March All the comments and recommendations were addressed; the final version was checked and submitted. None None

Reference List

Agosto, DE & Abbas, J 2017, ‘“Don’t be dumb—that’s the rule I try to live by”: a closer look at older teens’ online privacy and safety attitudes’, New Media & Society, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 347-365.

Bate, D 2016, Photography: the key concepts, 2nd edn, Bloomsbury Publishing, New York, NY.

Gogolin, G, Gogolin, E & Kam, HJ 2014, ‘Virtual worlds and social media: security and privacy concerns, implications, and practices’, International Journal of Artificial Life Research, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 30-42.

Hjorth, L & Hendry, N 2015, ‘A snapshot of social media: camera phone practices’, Social Media + Society, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 1-3.

Iqani, M & Schroeder, JE 2016, ‘# selfie: digital self-portraits as commodity form and consumption practice’, Consumption Markets & Culture, vol. 19, no. 5, pp. 405-415.

Jensen, B 2014, ‘Instagram in the photo archives curation, participation, and documentation through social media’, Arxius i Industries Culturals, 1-10.

Lehmuskallio, A 2016, ‘The camera as a sensor: the visualization of everyday digital photography as simulative, heuristic and layered pictures’, In Digital photography and everyday life, Routledge, New York, NY, pp. 243-266.

Lobinger, K 2016, ‘Photographs as things–photographs of things. A texto-material perspective on photo-sharing practices’, Information, Communication & Society, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 475-488.

Smith, P & Lefley, C 2015, Rethinking photography: histories, theories and education, Routledge, New York, NY.

Tifentale, A & Manovich, L 2015, ‘Selfiecity: exploring photography and self-fashioning in social media’, In Postdigital aesthetics, Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 109-122.

Wang, L, Alasuutari, P & Aro 2014, ‘Aesthetic and family frames in the online sharing of children’s birthday photos’, Visual Communication, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 191-209.

Zuromskis, C 2016, ‘Snapshot photography, now and then: making, sharing, and liking photographs at the digital frontier’, Afterimage, vol. 44, no. 1/2, pp. 18-22.

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