Monday, December 19, 2016

Photography in the Twenty-First Century

I performed an impromptu social experiment recently.  I want ot share some of the details and a bit of analysis as I think it provides a useful answer to the question of what to do with one's photographs.

We recently hosted an informal holiday get-together of neighbors at our home, scheduled to begin at 10:00 am.  While straightening up the house that morning I decided on something of a whim to incorporate a slide show into the proceedings.  I selected a show that was already prepared and on line, a group of pictures made in our neighborhood over the past eight years.

Click image to view the Old Town folder at Google Photos.  To view the images there as a slide show, click the three-dot "More Options" icon in the upper right and select "Slide Show".

Before our guests arrived, I started the slide show running on my laptop, and then broadcast it via wifi to our flat-screen television located between the pellet stove and the piano in our living room.

The slideshow was running when the first guests arrived.  I made no announcement or reference to the show and there was no sound from the tv receiver -- just the fifty or so pictures being displayed with about a five second delay for each shot.  I don't think anyone gave much thought to the changing photo display initially; it just seemed a part of the decor.  Eventually, someone asked if those were my pictures (yes).  Later, I was asked about the location of a shot showing some empty planters in a garden (the courtyard behind the art museum).  Additional comments were made about the photography over the next three hours the gathering lasted, but the display did not interfere in any significant way with the group's ongoing conversation.  Some people looked at the changing pictures often and other only occasionally, but I think most people saw most of the pictures as they were displayed in a continuous loop.

One of the salient features of my experiment was the contrast it provided to countless slideshows I sat through in my youth.  Most people whose personal history extends back into the era of film photography will have similar memories of sitting in the dark with a wheezing slide projector throwing images on a white screen, often accompanied by some narration about a recent vacation trip.  Sometimes the shows were entertaining; more often they were stoically endured.  If the audience was composed of family members or close friends, there might be some talk and banter about the pictures, but there were not many opportunities for deviations from the script.

The things that most distinguished the old-style slide shows was that they had a very linear character, and they demanded the undivided attention of the participants.  The same can be said, in fact, about most other ways in which still images are offered up for observation.  It takes some willful preparation, some time commitment, and possibly some money to go to a photography exhibit, to read a book or to watch a program about a photographer's work.  The informal exhibit I mounted in our living room required none of those things.  Rather, it allowed for multi-tasking and gave the choice for participation to each individual member of the assembled group.  In other words, it was a photography exhibit that was consistent with behavioral norms and expectations of the digital age, a Twenty-First Century slide show.

Although the slide show I presented was informal, it nevertheless required some preparation.  The subject or theme in this case was easy to relate to for the guests -- they all lived in the area and had at least some familiarity with the places depicted.  That contributed to the viability of the continuous, non-linear presentation; it really did not matter much if their attention strayed at times away from the flow of images.  I could have chosen other subjects for such an exhibit from among my collection of photos which includes thousands of images.  It would have been fairly easy to assemble forty or fifty portraits; pictures of cats, cars, color shots, black and white images, what-have-you.  I think the thing to keep in mind is that you are a photographer, but you can also choose in this streaming digital age to be an archivist, a curator, and an exhibitor.

I have used several photo sharing services over the years and some of them provided a way to assemble and display slide-show presentations on line.  I use as a place to display what I consider my best photos, but I don't like it as a general purpose image management tool.  For that reason, I chose in this instance to use Google Photos for assembling and presenting my on line exhibit.

I accessed my Google Photos slide-show with my laptop running the Chrome browser which can "cast" anything displayed in the browser via my home wifi network to my television receiver to which I have attached the little Google chromecast device.  The chromecast gadget plugs into one of the HDMI ports on the back of the receiver.  On mine, there is a button on the back of the set with allows changing the tv output to HDMI from the cable or antenna.  Some other sets will allow that change to be made through the setup menu.  At the moment, you can pick up one of these digital streaming devices for about $25.  All of this can be accomplished quite quickly and easily these days.  Large flat-screen tv receivers and home wifi networks are everywhere, and you can even do it all on the fly with a tablet, or even just a cell phone and a portable wifi hotspot.


Jim Grey said...

Slideshows at parties, especially parties honoring a person or people, are becoming more common in my part of the world. Margaret and I did one for our wedding.

I'm a big fan of PowerPoint for these. Create a presentation, add a bunch of blank slides, drag photos onto them, set your transition style, press the "show" button, get out of the way. You can even associate music to the slides and set how long each slide appears.

I've used my Chromecast to show slideshows on my big TV. I'm not impressed with the results - the colors aren't good and the light areas tend to blow out. I wonder where the fault lies. I suspect the TV.

Mike said...

Jim, thanks for sharing your experience with digital presentation. As you and I have noted in the past, such experiences tend to produce somewhat different results for each individual depending on a whole lot of variables.
I have a cheap Insignia TV, but it has quite a good quality display and I haven't noticed any degradation due to using chromecast. I have, however, seen quite a bit of difference in the displays on different monitors and devices.
It did not occur to me to use PowerPoint to create a slide show; I guess I sat through too many awful PowerPoint presentations in conferences and business meetings over the years. Personal prejudice aside, however, I can see that PowerPoint could give you more immediate control over the whole process.
On line image management programs all have their own quirks and pitfalls. Google and Flickr change their user interface every so often; features come and go and documentation never quite keeps up with the changes. I was somewhat surprised, for instance, to find that the Google Photo slideshows cannot be directly embedded in a blog or web site. Part of that, I think, is an intentional effort to keep users' interactions confined to the platform.

astrobeck said...

I like the idea and the presentation. I can see it being an ice breaker in cases where party goers don't know what to do with themselves to start a conversation.
You've got a good mix there.

Mike said...

Aside from using the cast slide shows during social events it occurs to me that one could also use the same resources to display your photos routinely in your home. In other words, the continuously looping show on the tv screen can be an alternative to hanging prints on the wall. I've seen some nice full wall displays with dozens of prints, but our little house doesn't have that kind of wall space available. I'm pretty well maxed out on hanging prints with just the six in my den.

Our tv is seldom used during the day, but we have two computers running day and night. It would be pretty easy to devote a browser tab to running a whole queue of slide shows on the tv when it was not in use. In fact, it wouldn't be all that costly to put a good sized flat screen on the wall and devote it exclusively to a changing picture display using something like chromecast.

JR Smith said...

I have used Apple's Keynote software for this same type of thing. Keynote is Apple's version of Power Point. Just drag and drop images into the presentation, add music if you wish. You can even customize transitions likes fades or other effects. I've used this mostly at work for company events.

Mike said...

Thanks for the info on the Apple approach. I've managed to stay thoroughly ignorant of that world. Fortunately, the web provides a pretty transparent common denominator for it all.
I'm playing around with a variety of slide show scripts at the moment. I have them parked on a free web host called Seems to be working pretty well, and the price is right.

sandehalynch said...

We see more images in a typical hour these days than anyone might have seen in a lifetime a thousand years ago, so I think it is fair to suggest that ways of viewing should be matched to our lifestyle. The carousel slideshow or the box of prints cannot be expected to hold our attention where every individual will have their own personal interests and reactions. I'd guess that those images that were noted would have left a deeper impression since the viewer could choose which ones they would give their attention to.

Mike said...

Hi Sandeha,
Always enjoy bumping into you out here in cyberspace. I'm pretty sure you have a lot more insights than I in regard to how images are regarded and used, so appreciate your input on this. I think you are right that the avalanche of images in modern society is the core issue, and that there have to be many different answers about how to deal with it for those of us who produce images.