Everything’s broken. As one of the characters in Jennifer Egan’s A visit from the Good Squad, reasons, ‘Film, photography, music: dead. An aesthetic holocaust!’ All because of digitization – its effects on production and the economic ramifications of free downloads, the question of truth, value and the new uncertain models of the culture industry.
Looking at Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency again in 2011, I can’t help but notice its similarity to Facebook – of this, now common, act of flicking through someone else’s photo album. On Facebook you can set your security so only friends or friends of friends see your pictures – in the beginning that’s how it was for Goldin – she took photographs, first sharing them physically with her circle in Boston, the drugstore prints passing from hand to hand, or pinned to a wall, then later as a tape-slide projection with musical soundtrack shown at the very same places where some of the shots were taken, and watched by many of the people whose images were shown. Like a room filled with mirrors endlessly repeating the faces seen and the faces watching.
Once upon a time photographers (back when they weren’t busy calling themselves ‘lens-based artists’) were distinct from the rest of the camera owning population, because they took the whole business seriously, and this seriousness might be defined by its economics. A photographer, as opposed to a snap shooter, had more expensive cameras, paid for better film, bought a whole array of gadgets – tripods, flash units, lenses, filters, studio lights, darkroom equipment and so on – this meant that generally the images they made was of a better quality than those who hadn’t invested as much.