“Join the debate” and the open-ended image

October 23, 2006 | By admin | Creative

One result of the current technology revolution, with the upsurge in digital cameras and camera phones, is that non-professionals are becoming incredibly sophisticated at the visual shorthand of working with pictures and understanding how they work. But also inventing new ways to create and understand them.

I was reminded of this on London’s Underground this morning, seeing this ad for the London Times.


It’s part of series by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, for The Times in London, art directed by Paul Angus, and shot by professional photographer Sam Barker. It’s promoting a campaign for The Times based around the idea of the newspaper as a vehicle for debate. Most campaigns for UK newspapers have tended to focus on their star journalists, but this Times campaign captures our revolutionary moment by being so reader-focused.

What’s more is that it also gestures towards the confidence and ease that people increasingly have with photography, with reading around a picture. This ad walks us though an image of a red carpet event. It’s a visual stream of consciousness, unpicking the image as you wander around the space of the photograph.

I love how it breaks the image down, into different elements, each prompting another idea, another line of thinking. Stuff like, “What was the best car chase?” attached to the limo, or “Connery, Brosnan or Craig” beside the guy in the Tuxedo.

The ad reflects so well the mood of online interaction, gets so well inside the mind of a reader enaging in a forum, it also captures the idea of images being open-ended. It visually reflects the idea of ‘debate’. Photographs in newspapers or magazines, or in ad campaigns obviously need to nail down an idea, visually corroborate the message being told by the words.

But we are seeing something new with imagery, similar to what’s happening in journalism and newspapers. As non-professionals create and use more of their own imagery on the web we are seeing many more kinds of images that are more random, visually looser, more open in their possible meanings. And some professional photgraphers are also reflecting this. Like this image by Baerbel Schmidt. To continue the cinema theme from the Times it’s a bit Napoleon Dynamite partly because it is so open.

baerbel schmidt school.jpg

It shouldn’t surprise us, as people are just taking more photographs, everywhere, with digital cameras and cell phone cameras. In an article for Edit, we talked to Professor Nancy Van House of the School of Information Management and Systems, University of California, Berkeley, who had just completed a study of camera phone usage. She said, “people are documenting their lives, chronicling their lives. Some did it intentionally, and some were just taking pictures for fun, and when they looked back they realized they had a record. People who did this appreciated the ability to have images of the mundane aspects of their lives and not just the special events.”

And it’s not just generating more images but also beginning to generate a different visual language. When the self-taught emerge in any art form, and you saw this with David Carson in design in the 1990s, when you don’t actually know the old rules, new rules are made as you go along. You can see the beginnings of this in photography. And though the Times ad is professionally art directed and shot, with its invitation to “join the debate”, it also reflects the new ways in which we are looking at images.

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