More than just a ‘Like’: Image in the Era of the Digital

Image in the age of Instagram has democratized the access of visual information and art previously the exclusive preserve of art galleries in the power capitals of the world, but cannibalising monetisation opportunities for the visual artist. A simple netizen has access if interested to the Magnum photographers collective work at the click of the smart phone. It’s powerful as the visual art informs people of different angles of the world previously unexplored. The conversation has transformed into a dialogue, young visual artists from Salt Lake, Kolkata such as Ronny Sen, can inform narratives from Kolkata which are bottom up. Similarly Arko Datto with his engaging visual commentary on climate change is adding to the discourse as Aarti Kumar Rao, an environmental photographer whose work on riverine ecosystems has been phenomenal.
Instagram has with the filters, has monocultured a visual aesthetic, a very millennial aesthetic. The filters are filter choice architecture. Technology is augmenting the art of the image, as Animation has added its wizardry to cinema. Where is Technology limiting art? Is there a boundary? Bangladeshi Photographer recently was lambasted over social media for ‘editing’ his photos in a project in a red light area.
How is image consumed? A photo which has been captured over hours/days/weeks especially for an ethnographic project is ‘seen’ in a flicker of a second. Is it justified? The deluge of visual data is saturating our attention spans.  The same is valid for the documentary/commercial movie business. Netflix/Amazon Prime and it’s desi equivalent in Alt Balaji is shifting content consumption patterns to the smart phone from the theatre. The power of decision making is moving to a different set of executives. The tech  executives in Seattle and the Palo Alto area have the key to the purse strings rather than studio bosses. The clout of the star producer can whittle down, and women actors can feel safer. The indie film makers have a new audience for its content; the cutting edge work from film festival circuits have a broad audience.  There is a new economy at play for a new digital visual narrative.
The power of social media as an amplifier was observed during the #metoo movement, that the bunch of pioneer activists such as Rose MacGowen are the Times Magazine  Person of the Year. The powerful from Kevin Spacey to Charlie Rose was shown the door. The über popular ‘House of Cards’ dropped Spacey while the final season continues with the real star Robin Wright. I totally adore her character, Claire Underwood.
The digital natives consume experiences on the digital. Instagram with its own exotica such as the Tiger Nest in Bhutan to sky diving in New Zealand is noted/catalogued in the cloud of the digital archive. The cultural sector as well as the food business are victims of this millennial fetish. The photos from the UNESCO Heritage Town in Penang is primed up for photos for Instagram. Restaurants all over the world with social media branding gurus, are creating Non distinguishable spaces. Food porn does not make always for electric viewing.
The digital as a cultural realm is the field for the visual arts to curate the popular imagination. The movie makers, photographers and editors have a duty to create experiences for the audience to challenge their thinking. The last thing would for Instagram/Netflix to stream business as usual content, reflecting creative decisions on , reflecting creative decisions on cable and in print.

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