The International Journal of the Image offers an annual award for newly published research or thinking that has been recognized to be outstanding by members of the The Image Research Network.
This autoethnographic article ruminates on how Roland Barthes’s punctum of time is reconfigured in current smartphone photographic practice. I sense my way into the affective piercing of images, first in the moment of photographic capture, and then in the context of browsing Instagram and Facebook. “Hashtag Sunset” acts as an entry point into how the wound of time is experienced or tamed through the multiplicitous conglomeration of networked vernacular images. Hashtags promise permanence and constancy through storage and repetition; the “Sunset” metaphorically evokes photography’s relationship with transience, mortality and loss. The vast digital landscape of ubiquitous live shots calls for a reimagining of the photograph’s affective piercing, as a haunting of the past, or an electrical awakening to the now.
Vernacular photography has long been entwined with the creation of memories, the sensed presence of the now, and the anticipatory feeling of futurity. It is the medium through which lived time is understood, as it captures the transience of celebrated milestones and mourned losses, through to banal ephemera and documented minutiae. In its continual production of recorded experience, photography works to portray moments that have departed, and thus the medium illuminates the presence of absence; that which can no longer be lived, yet still exists as image.
Today, photography’s temporal structure is complicated by the medium’s convergence with real-time internet technology and ubiquitous smart media. There are approximately 2 billion smartphones in use worldwide, and every 24 hours just under 400 million shots are uploaded live to Facebook and Instagram. The live displays of networked photographs generate an atmosphere of almost instant accessibility, in which everyone, everywhere, seems part of a photographic world that captures experience-as- image. This has prompted an ongoing academic discussion on the ontology of photography: what does this networked form of the medium do for socio-cultural understandings of memory, presence and forgetting?
The featured article “Hashtag 'Sunset': Smartphone Photography and the Punctum of Time" emerges as part of my contribution to these questions, and has informed aspects of my ongoing postdoctoral thesis, Photography’s Album: an autoethnography on mediating time with smartphones, Kodaks and camera obscuras. These projects take different methodological approaches to what has been predominantly explored via sociological frameworks, in which participant interviews and data-based analyses have been used to study the networked ecology of live images . Autoethnography remains markedly underdeveloped in this burgeoning area of interest, yet as a creative approach, it presents an opportunity to know smartphone photography anew: through writing-as- research that self- reflexively performs acts of memory, and crafts an experiential poesis out of mediated moments.
"Hashtag Sunset" takes its inspiration from the writing of Roland Barthes, whose reflexive exchanges with images draw the present and past into correspondence, and thus illuminate photography’s affective relationship with memory. By uniting smartphone photography with the philosophies and creative practices of Barthes, I look to generate renewed understanding of how a “live” medium continues to be structurally informed by absent moments in time. As billions of coded images are uploaded daily, the networked medium reconfigures the chance for a singular photographic experience to wound the present with its piercing trace of the past. In this networked ecology, where a plenitude of images heightens the experience of presence in the now, it is important to reimagine the potentiality of any single photograph to be known beyond its moment of capture: as a re-apparition of a departed instant, and as an affective image charged with the presence of absence.
— Tara McLennan