Memory in Digital Self-Portrayals

By Lyuba Encheva.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Photographic portraits of loved ones, according to Benjamin, offer “a last refuse for the cult value of the picture” (Benjamin, 1935, VI). Mechanically produced and reproducible, the photograph as a memorial is still trusted to carry ‘identity’ and ‘truth’ from one historical moment to the next. But does the same hold true for the digital portrait? Digital images produced by the hundreds seem to expire almost simultaneously with the “captured” moment. The former insistence on the realism, immutability, and the time-defying capacities of the image, is now replaced by an interest in the photographic act as a fun performance or a game. Personal experiences are spontaneously transformed into photo shoot sessions – photographic events, which intercede and displace the present to create its ‘future-friendly’ look.
On the backdrop of an evolving medium, my presentation will discuss consumer usage of digital photography in terms of motivation, production routines, and meaning making techniques. As it is my purpose to examine the changing structure of photographic self-narratives, I focus on representations of leisure activities and “fun” as the most characteristic component of contemporary self-portrayals. My conclusions are derived from the semiotic analysis of a 1920 family photograph and a photographic sequence posted on Flickr. The perceivable shift in visual aesthetic and vocabulary from traditional to contemporary photographic self-narration demonstrates a change in our relationship to the medium, but also becomes an indication for a changing relationship to self. Hence, the questions emerge: what is the form and function of a personal narrative which is disinterested in authenticity and memory; and what are the implications of the digital environment on the construction and sustenance of identity?

Keywords: Grammar of Visual Narratives, Techniques of Representation, Amateur Photographic Practices, Photographic Behaviour, Identity and Memory

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.147-156. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.780MB).

Lyuba Encheva

PhD Student, Communication and Culture, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Lyuba Encheva is a Doctoral student in the Communication and Culture program at the Ryerson and York Universities, and a recipient of the Rogers Fellowship. Her areas of interest include social semiotics, visual culture, and construction of human subjectivity. Presently she studies the emergence of identity through self-authoring practices like vernacular photography and on-line personal profiles. Building on observations of technologically subsidized identities, she explores the relationship between tools of communication and personal agency, the possibility of a “disembodied” person-hood, and the degree to which technologically navigated types of self-relation facilitate the production of autonomous subjects who can become the active participants in a web-based public sphere. Ms. Encheva earned a BA at the University of Toronto majoring in English Literature and Semiotics then completed her MA in Communications and Culture writing a Master Thesis on photographic performativity and ritual.