Checking phone

Above: A man looks down to check his phone. Credit: Raw Pixel.

Twin Poles

"The X-ray of my dustbins, the scanner portrait of my genetic code and the photographic inventory of the objects in my daily life. In each case a faceless analysis. The derisory mirror of your lost identity, your dejecta, the trifling detail of your life--forced identification, police-style investigation ... as obscene as a urine analysis." Baudrillard's examples of "faceless analysis" are striking in that they are all photo-reprographic documents. The images that he offers up are a series of portraits--or anti-portraits--super-objective pictures connecting back to the subject only as clues or evidence. In her book Non-Human Photography, Joanna Zylinska looks in nuanced detail at this topic. Some further examples of non-human photography given by Zylinska include CCTV, satellite and drone images, Google Earth, endoscopy, MRI scans, and microphotography. We could add also the image-capture devices at CERN. In the modern urban setting--in the West at least--we are increasingly confronted by, and involved with, non-human photography: image-capture devices are frequently robotic and automatic. The neutral, technological-topographical image detail is made without human feelings passing between photographer and the subject.

The significance of such images is always key if we take the degree of empathy between photographer and subject as a central concern. Images produced by non-human vision sit at one extreme of a scale-of-empathy. The interesting challenge here is to formulate the opposite pole of very human photography, like, say, photos by Sally Mann, or Robert Capa. Outside of the canon, the most overtly empathetic scene of image-making is posts to social media--Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Tik Tok, for example. On these platforms millions of images are posted daily which are motivated by sentiment and emotion--snapshots shared with friends and family. Perhaps, what can be drawn here, is the sense in which the contemporary urban image is generally either devoid of empathy or replete with empathy: a person on the city street looks up to notice that they are being captured on CCTV, and then looks immediately down to the screen of a smartphone on which, say, a post of the person's young child has been accruing likes. This moment is indicative: the photo-video image is near ubiquitous, but polarized to both extremes of the empathy scale.

(21 November 2019)