Photography told stories about photos. Post-photography tells them with photos. Believe it or not, there is a difference.
According to anthropologist and cultural theorist Richard Chalfen, traditional photographs are the subject of stories, not the medium through which they are told (Miller and Edwards 347). “The narrative remains in the heads of the picturemakers and on-camera participants for verbal telling,” Chalfen writes. “The story does not appear in the album or on the screen; it is not ‘told’ by the images” (Qtd. in Miller and Edwards 347). As a result, photography has an inherent bias toward oral stories (Miller and Edwards 348). Its images serve as conversation pieces for the participants in the events they depict; they do not have meaning to others who were not involved in these events.
As a visual language, post-photography can sustain a self-contained dialogue (Miller and Edwards 347). It does not rely on the memories of the photographer to make sense of the image. Instead, that is the job of the viewer. Where it does incorporate language, post-photography nearly always does so in a mediated form—through typed text or the designation of an image as a “favorite,” for example. Oral stories about photos are of little use to a medium that views each image as a building block in the narrative rather than a frame captured from the action.
A recent example of this post-photographic storytelling comes from the Aurora Photo agency. To celebrate its fifteenth anniversary, the agency launched a project called Action:Reaction. The idea was this: every 48 hours, Aurora would notify a participating photographer that it was his or her turn to submit three images. These images had to correspond in some way to the last image posted on the site. The editors would choose one the three photos to post, and the process would start again. Coburn Dukehart of National Public Radio called the project “a photographic version of call and response.” Perhaps “post-photographic” might have been more appropriate.