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Which clippings match 'Layered Meaning' keyword pg.1 of 1
31 JULY 2012

What is Vernacular Photography?

"The term covers (and promises) a lot, and a quick Google search fills in quite a bit of the territory. One enthusiast snagged the domain name, but there are plenty of others in the game.

One site notes that vernacular photography is ' of the most affordable areas of collecting and therefore offers wonderful opportunities for the beginner to acquire beautiful examples of photographic art at very reasonable prices.' poses the basic question: 'Why would I buy someone else's crappy old photos?', and is another gallery/vendor.

Boston University hosted Vernacular Reframed, 'a two–day interdisciplinary conference examining issues in vernacular photography' in November 2004, but lots of enthusiasts are in the game as well: Square America,, and Junior Bonner blogs about the phenomenon. Some specialize in specific genres, like photobooth and African American Vernacular Photography. Ookpik specializes in Michigan photographs, happy palace has an eclectic (and ever–growing) mix, greywater posts 'photographs from films I processed that I found in old cameras...', and eBay has a Vernacular Photography Enthusiasts group with more than 100 members.

Serious scholarship is not far behind: Electronic Journal of Vernacular Photography may be stillborn, but Innocence regained? Or just another kind of fiction? from eye magazine suggests that there are many who take the medium seriously. One is Geoffrey Batchen who taught a course at CUNY's Graduate Center (there's a video of a lecture he gave at Brown)

Quite a few museums have had vernacular photography shows, including Kodak and the Rise of Amateur Photography at New York's Metropolitan Museum, and this grant proposal from the Indiana University Archives Seeing the Color of America: Digitizing the Charles Cushman Collection is evidence of archival interest in the medium.

My friend Joan Larcom reminds me of one of the authorities who has done the most in this realm, Michael Lesy, and his coinage of the term demotic photography, which I find a good supplement to 'vernacular'. A New York Times story notes that:

'In the past, Mr. Lesy has ruffled some academic feathers by arguing that what he calls 'demotic photography,' like family snapshots or picture postcards, deserves the same level of scholarly study traditionally given only to art photography... 'my whole intention is to subvert the [art photography] canon... There are possibilities that go beyond the safe definitions of what an artist is and what the camera is used for. ...Academics... deal with photographs as aesthetic, intellectual constructs, or as integers in philosophical or linguistic argument. That's not all they are. They're slippery and deeply emotionally charged. A photograph is a thing which, to use an old scholarly word, needs to be 'unpacked.' There's the manifest content, then half a dozen layered contents.'
(NYT 17 Dec 2005 sec B pg 9)"

(Hugh Blackmer,



2004academic journal • accidental documents • amateur cultural productionamateur photographeramateur photographyanonymous • anonymous snapshots • archival interest • art photography • Charles Cushman Collection • City University of New York • CUNY • demotic photography • Electronic Journal of Vernacular Photography • family photos • family snapshotsfound • found films • found photographs • Geoffrey Batchen • Hugh Blackmer • Indiana University Archives • Kodak and the Rise of Amateur Photography • layered meaninglayers of meaningmanifest content • Michael Lesy • New York Metropolitan Museum • newspaper photographs • nostalgia • Ookpik • photobooth • photobooth photography • photographic art • photography enthusiasts • picture postcardspostcardreadymadesnapshotsnapshotsvernacular photography • vernacular photography enthusiasts • vernacular photography shows • Vernacular Reframed (conference)


Simon Perkins
23 OCTOBER 2008

The Logic of Hypermediacy

"Unlike a perspective painting or three–dimensional computer graphic, this windowed interface does not attempt to unify the space around any one point of view. Instead, each text window defines its own verbal, each graphic window its own visual, point of view. Windows may change scale quickly and radically, expanding to fill the screen or shrinking to the size of an icon. And unlike the painting or computer graphic, the desktop interface does not erase itself. The multiplicity of windows and the heterogeneity of their contents mean that the user is repeatedly brought back into contact with the interface, which she learns to read just as she would read any hypertext. She oscillates between manipulating the windows and examining their contents, just as she oscillates between looking at a hypertext as a texture of links and looking through the links to the textual units as language.

With each return to the interface, the user confronts the fact that the windowed computer is simultaneously automatic and interactive. We have argued that the automatic character of photography contributes to the photograph's feeling of immediacy, but with the windowed computer, the situation is more complicated. Its interface is automatic in the sense that it consists of layers of programming that are executed with each click of the mouse. Its interface is interactive in the sense that these layers of programming always return control to the user, who then initiates another automated action. Although the programmer is not visible in the interface, the user as a subject is constantly present, clicking on buttons, choosing menu items, and dragging icons and windows. While the apparent autonomy of the machine can contribute to the transparency of the technology, the buttons and menus that provide user interaction can be seen as getting in the way of the transparency. If software designers now characterize the two–dimensional desktop interface as unnatural, they really mean that it is too obviously mediated. They prefer to imagine an 'interfaceless' computer offering some brand of virtual reality. Nevertheless, the possibilities of the windowed style have probably not been fully explored and elaborated.

One reason that this style has not been exhausted is that it functions as a cultural counterbalance to the desire for immediacy in digital technology. As a counterbalance hypermediacy is more complicated and various. In digital technology, as often in the earlier history of Western representation, hypermediacy expresses itself as multiplicity. If the logic of immediacy leads one either to erase or to render automatic the act of representation, the logic of hypermediacy acknowledges multiple acts of representation and makes them visible. Where immediacy suggests a unified visual space, contemporary hypermediacy offers a heterogeneous space, in which representation is conceived of not as a window on to the world, but rather as 'windowed' itself –with windows that open on to other representations or other media. The logic of hypermediacy multiplies the signs of mediation and in this way tries to reproduce the rich sensorium of human experience. On the other hand, hypermediacy can operate even in a single and apparently unified medium, particularly when the illusion of realistic representation is somehow stretched or altogether ruptured. For example, perspective paintings or computer graphics are often hypermediated, particularly when they offer fantastic scenes that the viewer is not expected to accept as real or even possible. Hypermediacy can also manifest itself in the creation of multimedia spaces in the physical world, such as theme parks or video arcades."

(David Bolter and Richard Grusin, 33–34.pp, 2000)

David Bolter and Richard Grusin (2000). Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation. "Remediation: Understanding New Media", The MIT Press.



bringing into relationcomputer graphicscomputer interfaceDavid Bolter • desktop interface • digital technologyframed by the window • graphic window • heterogeneity of contents • heterogeneous space • human experiencehypermediacyhypermediated spacehypertextilluminated manuscriptillusionistic spaceimmediacy • interfaceless interface • James Joycejuxtaposed imagesjuxtapositionlayered meaninglayeringlayers of data • layers of programming • logic of hypermediacy • looking at a hypertext • looking through links • manipulating the windows • mediated environments • multimedia spaces • multiplicities • multiplicity of windows • painting as illusionperceptual organisation • perspective painting • perspective viewphotographyphysical worldpictorial systemsrealistic representationrepresentational modesrepresentational strategiesrepresentational systemsRichard Grusinrupture • sensorium of human experience • signs of mediation • simultaneously automatic and interactive • technology as neutraltechnology transparency • textual units as language • texture of links • theme park • three-dimensional computer graphics • transparencytransparency of meaning • two-dimensional desktop interface • unified medium • unified visual space • unified wholeunifying metaphorvideo arcadevirtual realityvisual languagevisual literacyvisual representation • visual space • visual traditions • whole is other than the sum of the partswindow on to the world • windowed computer • windowed content • windowed interface


Simon Perkins

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