Kahn Institute Holds Talk About Photography

Anya Gruber '16Assistant News Editor

Marvin Heiferman came to Smith last Wednesday, November 13 to give a talk entitled “Why We Look and What We See,” about the power of photography in society in the Carrol Room at 5pm.

Heiferman is the author of the book “Photography Changes Everything,” which explores the changing role of photography with images and anecdotes from authorities on the medium. He has also curated a number of exhibitions.

The talk was part of the kickoff for the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute’s newest project, entitled “Regarding Images,” which, according to the Kahn Institute’s website, seeks to “explore the social, aesthetic, and technological aspects of imaging.”

Said Professor Rosetta Cohen, director of the Kahn Institute, “the projects [affiliated with “Regarding Images”] are always interdisciplinary, collaborative, open-ended, and driven by the faculty and student research interests of the participants.”

“There is no singular story you can tell about photography,” Heiferman said, whose talk centered on the complications and ramifications of the rise of such a malleable medium. “Photography is constantly reinventing itself.”

He also commented on the democracy of photography; with the rise of cell phone cameras and easily acquired digital cameras, it has become very easy to take a huge number of photos every day. “Now over fifty billion new photos are taken every day…and uploaded online to social media networks,” Heiferman said.

New technologies invented recently are bringing up this number even more, for example, there are now glasses with cameras attached to them that are known as “life-logging devices,” as they take photographs every thirty seconds. These sorts of devices also bring up questions surrounding privacy, as people don’t know when they are being photographed.

These kinds of devices may usher in another shift in photography, according to Heiferman, regarding the sharing of photos. Said Heiferman, “These photographs may not be uploaded to the internet, but to the Cloud.”

This kind of documenting of daily life also unveils a shift in the purpose of photography. “Photography is used by people, and its use changes. We used to think of photography as related to objects, and now it’s more of an experience,” noted Heiferman.

Heiferman also commented on the changes in memories spurred by all these changes in the nature of photography. He said that people can now “outsource memories,” through taking a huge number of photographs of and uploading them to a virtual storing place.

“Photography is not a universal language,” said Heiferman, who asserted that photographs could, instead be read in many different ways.

“It’s important now to be thinking and talking about visual literacy and the ethics of photography,” Heiferman said, and believes that visual literacy should be taught to children in schools along with other kinds of literacy, but pointed out that this is not the same as an art class. “Looking at photographs, one needs to understand early in life not only the art, but the world we live in.”

He added, “This is an exciting time, but a challenging time.”

For more information about the Kahn Institute’s “Regarding Images” project, visit http://www.smith.edu/kahninstitute/chronicle/spring2013/images.php.