Posted by: kellyannem | October 31, 2010

Photos as “padding”

In reading Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage, I came across the following quote:

The demand for photographs is not limited to relations or friends. It is scarcely limited to acquaintances. Any one who has ever seen you, or has seen anybody that has seen you, or knows anyone that says he has seen a person who thought he has seen you, considers himself entitled to ask you for your photograph… The claimant does not care about you or your likeness in the least. But he or she has got a photograph book, and, as it must be filled, you are invited to act as padding to that volume. (20)

I actually laughed when I read this because it reminded me so much of online social networking today. Everyone is so anxious to have hundreds of friends on facebook that it is no longer restricted to “relations or friends.” Acquaintances and even people you meet once consider themselves “entitled” to send you a friend request. But they are no more interested in being your friend than “claimants” in this passage cared about the people whose likenesses they were asking for. Just as photos then were “padding” for photo albums, “friends” today are padding for social networking sites.


  1. I completely agree with you Kelly Anne! It’s the same with the amount of pictures that you have posted or are tagged in on the social network sites- just like the padding for the photo albums back then.

    The last line of that quote can go even further with the social network outlet. The albums created on these sites are mainly all padded with the photos of other people – tagged or untagged. Do you know how many pictures there are of you that you are unaware of on these sites? How many of them have you untagged yourself because it didn’t appeal to you? The person who’s album that is doesn’t care either about how you are perceived in these albums nor about your physical appearance. Not only is your face going to be on the internet for the rest of time, you have no control on who sees what – once it’s out there, it’s out there for good. The individual is simply interested in having massive amounts of these photos to seem as if s/he leads an interesting and packed life.

    Why not put the camera down and actually enjoy what you’re doing instead of bragging to the entire social network world of what you have done? Photographs on these social networks have become just that, a form of bragging, and the social networks continue to justify their existence as a means of communication and connections.

  2. Sabina, You are so right! As a relative newcomer to facebook (I’ve had my account for less than a year), I was shocked at how many photos there were of me on the internet that I was totally unaware of! It makes me want to go delete my account right now, but the pictures would all still be out there!

    The question of ownership is also raised: we would like to think that we own our image, but this is not the case. The person who takes the photo owns it, and in the case of facebook, as long as it is on their site they own it. In a sense, social networking is the modern equivalent to the Victorian photo album. The creator can do what she likes with your image, and pass it around to show anyone they choose. You have no say and may never know who has seen it.

  3. You both bring up points that resonate with questions I have been contemplating over the past couple of months. The first is one Kelly Anne and I have discussed which is about picture taking and memory. Our lives are saturated with images. Photographic narratives of our lives exist whether we like it, encourage it, participate actively in their creation, or not. What I find interesting is how these records shape our memory. When I think back to events the first mental pictures that I get are often of photographs. Frequently, the photographs picture me and are therefore a view, an “image,” I could not have seen but because photographs are looked at over and over they become, to me, almost more solid and real than the choppy clips that were not photographed or filmed. As “life” or events seems to become more and more reproducible I wonder how much we rely on the reproductions to remember? What will happen as we become more reliant? Is it lazy? Additionally, someone is behind the camera taking the photographs. As Sabina brought up, how can we expect to remember beyond photographs and films if we spend the entirety of the experience we are trying to remember behind a lens? It is like the parent at a school play standing in the aisle, eyes focused between their video camera’s screen and the zoom buttons. While they are zoomed in on their kid, the miss their child’s best friend falling off the stage. It was not recorded and they did not see it, as if it never happened. The parent, so caught up in remembering, only experiences through the creation of the document, just like that girl with the digital camera dangling at her wrist who did not make any friends at the party but took plenty of pictures of you and the friends you made. The value we put on making these photographic memories is troublesome.

    The other issue Kelly Anne brought up that I find pertinent is that of ownership. Although the Victorian collage maker could alter portraits and context, portraits were still more consciously taken than they are today. Bringing up the issue facebook pictures, which have become quite public, is interesting when thinking about the idea of self portrayal. People used to put so much consciousness in their self-projections, their portraits were composed. Subjects decided how they would be publicly seen and historically remembered. Now, we do not even necessarily know when our picture is being taken, when or how it will be distributed, or how long it will exist (it could be deleted before it makes it off the camera). We are de-sensitized to the whole process and as much as our public images are controlled by others, I wonder how much effort or consciousness we put into our photographic portrayal?

    (Disclaimer: I am really more curious about these issues than opinionated. I think our visual culture is changing rapidly and has both pros and cons. I do not mean to sound judgmental or pessimistic as I do not know how good or bad all of this imaging is.)

  4. This whole comparison of photocollage to facebook is really interesting as I’ve also noticed how Victorian photocollage and facebook can be viewed as a way to create an image of oneself for social consumption as you all have been commenting on. “The making and viewing of aristocratic albums cannot be fully understood apart from the context of social class in Victorian England” (15). Furthermore, for Victorian aristocratic women “home was not a refuge from society, as it was often portrayed and idealized, but rather a place where a woman staged her family’s social position, marked her gentility and taste, and displayed her connections” (15). These quotes from Playing with Pictures remind me of facebook and the way in which we can “stage” our lives through it for social consumption. Furthermore, the aspect of social pressures following one into the home is relevant today especially with the internet giving us the opportunity to always be “connected” to the outside world. That “home” was a place where the Victorian woman “displayed her connections” directly reminds be of facebook and other forms of social networking where one’s “friends” and connections to groups are openly displayed. Both photocollage and social networking sites are connected through the way in which they can stage life through the viewpoint of their creator. They both can be used as modes of social display.

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