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

In their article, Cobley and Haeffner examine the current attitudes towards the uses of domestic and amateur digital cameras. They point out that the replacement of film cameras with digital cameras will soon become inevitable because film has become “too slow and costly for most businesses”, but also acknowledge the positive aspects of such a “shift”(125). They also juxtapose the two often cited views on the “practice and sign making in a digital age”. As stated in the article,  “digital democracy” is seen as positive because it ameliorates the information imbalance, but the authors also recognize that there are constraints in visual “language” that are comparable to those in verbal language.

Consistent with the approach of applying linguistic theory to the visual, and because domestic photography is “concerned with a limited space of production, dissemination and consumption” they identify four “idiomatic genres” or types of domestic camera use (129).

  • Idiomatic micro-communication is used to capture non-verbal communication and is aimed at a specific audience. Family photos usually fall into this category.
  • Creative macro-communication is a larger idiom where it is possible for a general audience to make out what is in the photo, but there are no specific co-ordinates for reading the picture and thoroughly delimiting the audience. Landscape photos usually fall into this category.
  • The Presentational spectacular refers to photos taken by amateur photographers who take more than ‘point and shoot’ family snaps and “customarily seek to photograph naturally occurring objects in a ‘realistic’ way, eschewing the kind of ‘trick effects’”(133).
  •  The scientific idiom is closely related to the presentational spectacular in its effects, but differs because of its usual intent, which makes it the most similar to professional photography.

Colby and Haeffner argue that digital cameras can “enhance visual literacy” among the public because they “harbour the potential to induce a more self-reflexive attitude towards media in general” (126). While not all domestic camera users exhibit a “critical literacy”, they none the less exhibit a “literacy”, which is why they argue domestic photography should not simply be discounted as sentimental “snapshots”. According to the authors, we “need to take seriously the capacity of self-reflexivity inherent in digital domestic photography” (142).  While the authors do a good job of “defending” domestic photography, their analysis fails to take into account the differences and particularities of digital cameras and mobile phone cameras, which their article integrates into one category.

Works Cited

Cobley, Paul, and Nick Haeffner. “Digital Cameras and Domestic Photography: Communication, Agency and Structure.” Visual Communication 8.2 (2009): 123–146. Sage Publications. Web. 9th Mar 2013.


One thought on “Summary: Cobley and Haeffner’s “Digital Cameras and Domestic Photography: Communication, Agency and Structure”

  1. I seldom discuss these posts, but I thought this on deserved a well done you

    Posted by Harper Powell | December 31, 2015, 6:12 pm

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