People engage with memory artefacts as part of a personal, evolving identity formation project (van Dijk 2007). Whenever we capture, review (and reflect upon) or share mediated memory, we are continuing the process of constructing ourselves.
The production and consumption of any media involves some general roles that can be applied to personal memory objects such as photographs, home videos or diary entries. Dividing our individual memory practices into the roles of Creator / Performer, Director, Producer, Editor, Gatekeeper, Distributor, Archivist, Consumer, Critic and Production Support enables an enlightening perspective on the way these practices are changing through engagement with technologies that automate, extend or alter their component processes.
If we take personal photography as our model, the above roles (derived from Foulger 2002) might be described as follows. Note that, in this case, many of the roles will be performed by the same person, possibly at the same time.
Creator / Performer
The creator directly uses tools to forge the media object. This would probably be the person taking the picture. The performer influences the content directly through action. When taking a photograph, there is a performance by the people in the frame and the person taking the picture. Arguably, performance is part of the creation process.
Closely linked to the role of Creator. The Director essentially decides on and guides the process of creation (e.g. the person who decides what the photo should be of, who should be in it, where they should stand, etc).
Organises the overall project of producing and distributing the photo.
Makes changes to the photo after the initial creation.
Controls the access to photos.
Shows or gives photos to others.
Stores, categorises, organises etc collections of photos.
Looks at the photo.
Reflects on and provides feedback on aspects of the photo.
Evolution of roles due to technology
The development of point-and-click cameras allowed more people to take photographs with minimal learning, essentially widening access, introducing new perspectives and expanding the market for new technologies. Technologies such as Sensecam or CCTV allow an automatic creation process, though arguably the setup of these tools was implemented by a person in the Creator role.
The sensibilities of Performers are changing as we are exposed to more photographs and to the experience of being photographed, yet the mechanics become less obtrusive and, therefore, less visible to us. For example, we are constantly being photographed by tourists, satellites, security cameras, webcams etc, and our performances are probably becoming more natural and subconscious.
Directors are generally becoming less selective about what they photograph and how many photographs they take. The purposes of photos are also changing, with many more photographs being taken as communicative memory (i.e. for the purpose of keeping in touch through evoking the present rather than the past) due to instantaneous and inexpensive distribution channels (email, multimedia texting, photo-sharing websites, etc).
When we make decisions about how do we want to record, manage or distribute our photos, we are playing the Producer. Although this role seems to be more relevant for larger media productions (e.g. movies), perhaps it has become so because technology is taking care of many of the decisions we would previously have had to make, such as file formats, lighting equipment, or even just remembering to take the camera with us.
Editors are probably more common in personal photography now because the entry point for photo editing skills has been lowered by advancing software and usability. If we include meta-data and associated media (e.g. descriptions, comments, links etc) then the role of Editor may also include modifying these aspects of a photo.
The Gatekeeper of personal photos has traditionally tended to be the matriarch whereas digital photo collections are now more likely to have a patriarchal gatekeeper (Nunes?). Note that gatekeeping is not necessarily to do with privacy concerns but may involve overcoming technical barriers (e.g. where the photos are kept or an overall security password for digital files) or simply a process aimed at avoiding boring the Consumer or showing them poor quality media.
The role of Distributor is changing radically from someone who would show friends and family a physical photo album or perhaps send a small number of select photos in the post, to someone who broadcasts large numbers of photographs to a wide community via email, sms, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
The poor Archivist’s job is becoming more and more daunting as the decreasing expense of production allows Directors to experiment, taking and re-taking hundreds of times more photos than they might have in the pre-digital age. Collections are created from a wide range of sources – my photos, my family’s photos, some from friends, some from unknown sources, possibly some from strangers on the Internet. In many cases, the Archivist simply dumps files onto a hard drive (or leaves them on the camera or memory card) and then relies on a Gatekeeper to be able to find them (Van House 2009, pp. 1078).
Regarding Consumers and Critics – this really deserves its own post. The changing nature of photo consumption is actually central to the initial study I plan to run.
Technological affordances create triggers or barriers for the adoption of these roles. For example, automatic modes allow more people to be Directors, while daunting new online interfaces may lead the role of Distributor to be passed from a parent or grandparent to a more tech-savvy member of a later generation. We also adopt roles differently within different social spheres (which I am thinking of as smaller than ecological communities such as Bronfenbrenner’s (1979)). For example, I may be the gatekeeper at home (by knowing where the files are or having the knowledge of how to download them from the camera) but my wife may be the one who uploads photos to Facebook, thereby controlling the access of our friends and social network.
Bronfenbrenner (1979). The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design.
Foulger, D. (2002a). Roles in Media. Presented at National Communication Association Summer Conference, May, 2002.
Nunes, M., Greenberg, S., & Neustaedter, C. (2008). Sharing digital photographs in the home through physical mementos, souvenirs, and keepsakes. Proceedings of the 7th ACM conference on Designing interactive systems – DIS ’08, 250-260. New York, New York, USA: ACM Press.
van House, N. (2009). Collocated photo sharing, story-telling, and the performance of self. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 67(12), 1073-1086. Elsevier.
van Dijk, J. (2007). Mediated Memories in the Digital Age. Stanford, California: Standord University Press.