Thomas Struth

Above: Space Challenger 1, 2008 (detail). Credit: Thomas Struth.

Privileged Access

The creation of photo-images that are fascinating due to privileged access (OED: "to be entitled to a special right or benefit") has been a vital and basic aspect of photojournalism and art photography since at least 1850. But this quasi-magical role of the photographer as an escort who takes the viewer-audience behind-the-scenes is getting transformed by social media, and Instagram in particular.

Take for example the 2008 Thomas Struth photo now on show at Marian Goodman Gallery which depicts a behind-the-scenes view of the Space Shuttle in its hangar in Florida--the view as it is for the engineers and mechanics working on its maintenance.

As Struth has commented on the concept behind the photo: "I wanted to open the doors to some of these unseen places in order to scrutinize what our contemporary world--what we--create, depicting plasmaphysics and chemistry, ship- and oil rig-building, space shuttle repair, architecture, etc., as what our minds have materialized and transformed into sculpture. Most of these machines, tools, and objects are the results of closed-group activity, yet they affect us strongly without us ever being able to really see them."

Since 2008, the general situation that Struth refers to has been transformed. Now, over a billion Instagram users are microblogging images taken at work from all manner of once hidden and unseen places. There are multiple NASA and SpaceX Instagram accounts for example. So too there are scientists posting from research labs, physicists posting from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, astronauts onboard the International Space Station, cargo masters onboard container ships, mechanics on oil rigs and so forth--as well as many other non-Struthian domains such as starlet's bedrooms, et cetera.

The professional photographer as guide-and-chaperone into sites of privileged access is fading out--another once-vital strand of photo-uniqueness that has been utterly democratized by social media and the smartphone.

(21 March 2018)