I knew the Spice Girls

Joan Fontcuberta's chapter title takes the read back to a time of 'girl power' and the notion of celebrity. He recalls an anecdote about having his photograph taken in a photo booth and being presented with the option to magically appear with the Spice Girls. Other options included Princess Diana and Tony Blair. At the time, these personalities offered an alternative view of the world, an opportunity to break away from what had always been. The Spice Girls encouraged strong independent women, Princess Diana looked to modernise the royal family, and Tony Blair was all about a New Labour, following years of Tory rule. The fact that you could choose to appear in a photograph with one of these people, is a glimpse at how the photograph could be used as a symbol of support and solidarity. 

I can remember many times when I would have to nip into the photo booth in Woolworths to get photographs for my passport or driving licence. When I was much younger, I needed a photograph for my 'passport to leisure'. Unfortunately I made to mistake of wearing a white t-shirt against a white background. Despite being just a head on a card, I still managed to gain entry to my local sports centre! 

The photo booth was the closest that I ever came to the chemical process of photography. I remember the excitement of waiting for a few minutes to pass until a strip of four portraits would drop out of the machine, waiting for me to carefully pick them up by holding the edges. At home it was the Polaroid camera which enabled me to witness the photographic process. There was something magical and mystifying about pressing the shutter and then looking at the scene on a piece of paper.

Nowadays, instead of holding either a 5 by 7 or an 8 by 10 piece of paper, we look at a screen. Images today are arranged in rows of pixels instead of a layer of silver salts. Unlike an analogue photograph, which is permanently fixed to the paper, there is something quite nomadic about a digital image. It has the potential to be shared, manipulated, and shared again. Fontcuberta (2014: 59) refers to this postphotography as occupying, 'a parallel position in the new culture of the virtual and the speculative.' 

In his book, Fontcuberta raises the question of whether digital photography can still be considered photography, since it does not involve light reacting with photo-sensitised paper. I believe that this could depend on whether we are thinking about the word 'photograph' as a noun or a verb. For me, a photograph is something that appeared as a Polaroid or was developed from a negative. I never experienced working in a dark room, so the actual chemical process involved is not something that I really considered. Meanwhile, I would refer to an onscreen 'picture' as an image, rather than a photograph. 

When thinking of 'photograph' as a verb, I can accept digital photography as taking a photograph, whereby a view is recorded and able to be faithfully displayed at a later time. By referring to it as 'post-photography', Fontcuberta (2014: 60) announces that we are entering a new media, which is closer to what can be classed as art than traditional photography, when he states that, "a pictorial image and a digital image are identical." By saying this, he is referring to the grids of pixels which can be modified and combined, just like the paint in an artist's palette. In considering this, Fontcuberta (2014: 60) continues by claiming that photography was an accident of history, and that, "analogue photography is inscribed and digital photography is written."

Photography was born into a world that required things, people and places to be documented. It provided an accurate record of what was happening at the time. Furthermore it could be argued that, rather than being an anomaly, photography was a product of the industrial revolution. Its ability to faithfully record and duplicate a visual document both accurately and quickly, echoed the pace of mechanisation in the nineteenth century. Conversely, the digital image is prone to being manipulated and cloned to create fictional representations. Therefore it is difficult for the viewer to accept the image as truth. 

In conclusion, I believe that Fontcuberta is being unfair when he accuses photography of being an accident of history. It was a tool that served a purpose. The camera was needed to document the achievements of industrialising the nation. Similarly, the pace of life today has increased and there is a desire by society to provide photographic evidence that they were there. The screen has become the canvas of today, but it is the Internet which has really helped digital to replace analogue photography. With such a vast array of images to choose from, selfies are the only way to prove that they were there, instead of just 'taking' a photograph from the Internet. It isn't enough to just take a photograph of a famous celebrity or landmark. Selfie sticks and forward facing cameras on hand-held devices enable the photographer to be the photographed. The photographer has become the celebrity, to be published, liked and shared on social media.