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R.I.P.

The shift from death to living and immediate

Photography used to be described in terms of death because it portrays the subject in a moment that no longer exists. Then along came post-photography. It killed this traditional understanding and, paradoxically, breathed new life and immediacy into the process of creating images.

Traditional renderings have equated photography with death and loss.

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Moments, like life itself, are ephemeral. Photography can capture a particular moment in time and preserve it, even after it ceases to exist. That is why thinkers like Friedrich A. Kittler, André Bazin, Walter Benjamin, and Roland Barthes have described photography in terms that compare it to death, with all the sadness and nostalgia that it brings. Barthes perhaps put it best: “It’s true that a photograph is a witness, but a witness of something that is no more,” he wrote. “It’s a moment of this subject’s existence that was photographed, and this moment is gone” (Qtd. in Murray 154).

Photography as death no longer rings true with post-photography.

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Postmodern viewers no longer sense the pangs of death when they see the photo of a model in Vanity Fair. Nor do they pine for moments long gone when they open up the sports page of the newspaper to see the crowning moments of the previous night’s game. Digital photography in general—and post-photography in particular—does not have the same sense of sadness or nostalgia as traditional photography (Murray 157). Instead of dwelling on the past, it continues to capture the future. José van Dijck put the difference this way: post-photography places the emphasis on “live” photography instead of photography of “life” (58).

Along with this “liveness,” post-photography carries with it a greater sense of immediacy than does photography. There is an emphasis on posting images quickly and a sense that an out-of-date photo quickly loses its value. Advances in digital photography have enabled this shift by eliminating much of the processing time required for traditional photography and by giving the photographer instant feedback on the camera’s LCD.