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From Snapshots to Social Media describes the history and future of domestic photography as mediated by technological change. Domestic photography refers to the culture of ordinary people capturing, sharing and using photographs, and is in a particular state of flux today as photos go digital. The book argues that this digital era is the third major chapter in the 170 year history of the area; following the portrait and Kodak eras of the past.

History shows that despite huge changes in photographic technology and the way it has been sold, people continue to use photographs to improve memory, support communication and reinforce identity. The future will involve a shift in the balance of these core activities and a replacement of the family album with various multimedia archives for individuals, families and communities. This raises a number of issues that should be taken into account when designing new technologies and business services in this area, including: the ownership and privacy of content, multimedia standards, home ICT infrastructure, and younger and older users of images.

The book is a must for designers and engineers of imaging technology and social media who want a better understanding of the history of domestic photography in order to shape its future. It will also be of value to students and researchers in science and technology studies and visual culture, as a fascinating case study of the evolving use of photographs and photographic technology in Western society.



Chapter 1. Introduction

We are witnessing a major change in domestic photography: the constellation of technologies, businesses, conventions, practices, artefacts, etc. that constitute photography have changed. However, this change has not occurred overnight. In its more than 170 years of culture, domestic photography has experienced three major sources of change: the invention of photography, the first consumer camera and service, and the digitalisation of image capture. We argue that designers and engineers should understand the history of technology: without knowledge of the past, it is impossible to assess the novelty, innovativeness, and potential impact of a new technology. In this book, we apply an analytical approach from science and technology studies to domestic photography. We hope to contribute both to interaction design, by emphasising the historical study of technologies as socio-technical constellations of heterogeneous actors, and to visual culture studies, by emphasising the agency of these constellations in shaping and maintaining specific visual cultures.
Risto Sarvas, David M. Frohlich

Chapter 2. Domestic Photography and Technological Paths

In this chapter, we go through the key concepts in our historical study. We use the term ‘domestic photography’ to describe the photographic activities of ordinary people taking and using images for non-professional purposes. Also, in our use of the term we focus on the kind of use in which photography is not a hobby as such but embedded in other activities. In charting our journey through domestic photography, we use the concept of ‘a technological path’ to describe an era of incremental development of technologies, stable domestic practices, and gradual change of relations between the actors constituting the technology. Approaching domestic photography as a history of technological paths enables us to look at it from a ‘macro’ perspective and to identify outlines and contours that could be overlooked from a more ‘micro’ perspective. From this angle of approach, we see three paths, each of which began with a technological discontinuity (i.e., a disruptive/radical innovation) and after an ‘era of ferment’ stabilised into a technological path.
Risto Sarvas, David M. Frohlich

Chapter 3. The Portrait Path (ca. 1830s–1890s)

In the first decades of the nineteenth century the invention of photography involved low-hanging fruit. There was existing demand in the growing middle classes for affordable ‘likenesses’ (i.e., portrait pictures), a practice well established in that stratum of society. The camera obscura, technology known for centuries, could render a more detailed image than any painting or carving and without apparent effort. Also, the light-sensitive nature of silver salts (silver nitrate and silver chloride) was widely known among contemporary practitioners. All that was needed was a way to permanently record the camera obscura’s image in order to produce likenesses for an existing market.
Risto Sarvas, David M. Frohlich

Chapter 4. The Kodak Path (ca. 1888–1990s)

The birth of snapshot photography (i.e., unskilled amateurs taking images with their own cameras) is the story of the commercial success of George Eastman and his company Kodak (originally the Eastman Dry Plate Company). Eastman was the perfect example of the new entrepreneurial spirit in the United States in the last decades of the nineteenth century. His business vision in combination with knowledge of technology was critical in the invention of the consumer camera coupled with developing and printing as a service. Kodak’s products and ‘photo-finishing’ service, and the wide adoption of both by unskilled amateurs, transformed photography perhaps as much as did the announcements in 1839.
Risto Sarvas, David M. Frohlich

Chapter 5. The Digital Path (ca. 1990–)

This chapter offers a brief historical overview to show how much the infrastructure at home for snapshot and domestic photography has departed from the Kodak Path. The main components of the film-based infrastructure were the camera, the film roll, the external photo-finishing service, the paper prints, and albums. This simplicity has given way to heterogeneous complexity. Not only are the main components for digital photography different, but also the ways in which they can be combined are numerous. The digital domestic photography infrastructure also shows that, in comparison to the Kodak Path, there are now new business stakeholders in snapshot and domestic photography: Domestic photography has become predominantly part of information and communications technology, and most of the businesses involved in people’s photographic practices are from that industry. In contrast to the Kodak Path, there is no dominant business model here for making a profit on snapshot photography. The business stakeholders are as numerous and heterogeneous as the technologies involved.
Risto Sarvas, David M. Frohlich

Chapter 6. Digital Photo Adoption

In this chapter, we review the gradual adoption of digital photographic technologies. The pattern here is revealed by a variety of empirical studies in the field of human–computer interaction, examining reactions to elements of the digital infrastructure as they were introduced. The review begins by considering home ‘development’ of digital photos by means of digital cameras and either home printers or printing services. It then steps through the introduction of other technologies, such as the home archive, camera phones, Web sites, and the plethora of printed and screen-based options for offline photo sharing. Early concerns about the photographic quality of digital prints are shown to have given way to interest in the properties of immediate and local screen-based sharing of images, and a strong desire by consumers to share images remotely over the Internet. The introduction of camera phones as a new category of camera is shown to be leading to more spontaneous, playful, and pragmatic uses of images as visual jokes, gestures, and reminders. These images now sit alongside more conventional snapshots of high points and holidays in growing home multimedia archives, which generally prove difficult to browse and enjoy. The conclusion from our review is that the value of photographs for memory, communication, and identity has not changed but the relative importance of these values has shifted, in a move away from memory and toward communication and identity.
Risto Sarvas, David M. Frohlich

Chapter 7. The Future of Domestic Photography

We now turn our gaze to the future and make our predictions as to what will influence future domestic photography. Our starting point is that, in the past two decades, the infrastructure of domestic photography has changed from a film-based one into a general-purpose information and communications technology infrastructure. We summarise what we see as the most important changes that have occurred in domestic photography in the last two decades: the sheer number of pictures and cameras; the possibilities for editing photographs; the new ways of sharing, archiving, and storing digital photographs; and – given a brief look here – the changes in the ‘domestic sphere’. After that, we cast our gaze into the future and discuss what we see as the main actors shaping the ‘Digital Path’. In other words, we ask what can be found as key business models, discourses, legal actions, and other actors that should be taken into account when one considers the future of domestic photography. In the final section, we summarise our view of the issues soon to face the ICT infrastructure that forms the environment for photographic technology. These boil down to how to build infrastructural simplicity and endurance.
Risto Sarvas, David M. Frohlich

Chapter 8. Future Research

In this final chapter, we reflect on what we see as the main lessons learnt for each of the three streams of academic literature we have brought together in this work: human–computer interaction, visual media studies, and science and technology studies. Most of the research lessons we recommend for these individual disciplines involve greater acknowledgement of each other’s contribution to understanding photography What we call for is a ‘meso’ level of study: looking at a single service or product from a broader perspective than typical design research does but at the same time having a closer focus than studies on organisations or industries. A meso perspective could pay more attention to the network of actors shaping technology, business, and practice in the context of a product or a service – from a historical perspective and from a contemporaneous perspective. In future research, new understandings will be needed that takes into account, for example, the increasing importance of non-visual data in photographs. We see the role and uses of metadata as a potentially fundamental change in people’s relationship to photographs and photography.
Risto Sarvas, David M. Frohlich


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