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Response: Questioning Cobley and Haeffner’s “Digital Cameras and Domestic Photography: Communication, Agency and Structure”

As Cobley and Haeffner point out, the introduction of consumer digital cameras “vastly accelerated process whereby a photographer can now capture a digital image and dispatch it for publication via the internet.” This unquestionably changed the way people take and share images. A quick social media survey easily showcases just how shared amateur photography has become. This is in no small part due to the lack of analog constraints on digital cameras. As such, Cobley and Haeffner make some good points; however, in some instances their arguments are flawed.

For example, they assert digital photography has “led to the rise of ‘citizen journalism,’ the ‘digital amateur’ and further erosion of the authority of the professional photographer” (124). Yet, the proliferation of digital cameras has not made amateurs into professional photographers. The authors touch on the difference briefly, stating that “there is still a significant economic and status divide between amateur and professional, artisan and artist” (128). However, the real difference isn’t in the paycheque or the prestige; it’s in the ability to make effective use out of the technology for aesthetic and communicative purposes. Furthermore, while it can’t be denied that more moments in time are being captured, like with any matter of privacy/exposure, it can also encourage greater secrecy and result in a desensitization to the power of images.

Lastly, the article suggests that “in the past, the expense of getting films developed prevented domestic photographers from making numerous pictures in the search for an image that approached perfection for the purposes at hand” (130). While this may be true, the implied argument that waste somehow creates better photography is flawed. In many situations the limitation of a medium actually ensures a more rigorous attention to detail. In the instance of film photography, you couldn’t delete shots so you actually had to consider the final composition. In many ways it was a much more embodied and involved process. The ease of use and cheaper price only helps make better photographers if people are actually focussed on improving and not just using the freedoms of the technology as a crutch.

Ultimately, the possibilities of digital photography seem limitless, but some of the flawed notions of progress that more photos equal better photos or that digital photography increases self-reflexivity of photographic representation seems flawed because the exact same arguments can be made for the use of film.

Works Cited

Cobley Paul and Nick Haeffner. “Digital Cameras and Domestic Photography: Communication, Agency and Structure.” Visual Communication. May 2009. Vol. 8 No. 2. 123-146. Web. 6 Mar. 2013. (Link to Full Text)

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