Every year we produce more than 1,000,000,000 photographs – yes, that’s one billion!
If it’s not hard to understand that most of the merit is due to smartphone cameras, through which we shoot around 85% of them, it’s quite hard to understand instead how this hyper-production of images is affecting the visual language and our perception of the world we live in.
Driven by our own curiosity and the desire to find an answer, in May 2019 we launched an open call at phmuseum.com, inviting photographers and amateurs worldwide to present their best images taken with a mobile device. A month later we had around 11,000 photographs shot by people of 104 different nationalities in our hands, and what caught our attention the most was noticing the presence of recurring paths. Many images were sharing common traits and a sort of reciprocal influence.
This observation, paired with our beloved curiosity, motivated us to focus on this aspect. That’s when we came across the work of Stanley Milgram. In 1972, the American social psychologist published a paper defining the concept of Familiar Stranger as those individuals who do not know each other but share some common attributes like interests, occupation, location etc. A familiar stranger can be, for example, that guy you meet every morning on the bus: you don’t know him, yet somehow you do.
Moving this concept to a virtual environment, familiar strangers can be the people you follow or the places you often see on social media. You don’t know them; you have never been there; yet you are assimilating new information about them every day. They become familiar. The World Wide Web is a playground for a complex set of human relations where interactions are mostly expressed through visual content. These images are influencing the way we see the world, the real world we live in - and yet the opposite is also true! Each one of us is indeed contributing to this collective imagination with every brand new image uploaded.
Why are we documenting everything? Why are we sharing certain specific photographs or why a couple of studies predict that a Millennial will be taking 25,000 selfies over the course of their lifetime? I don’t know. We are still far away from understanding the impact of such democratic access to photography. Yet we might have found a first clue that can lead us towards a possible answer. It is here, in this project. These billion images we produce and consume every year are giving life to a new collective imagination shaped by common people like you and I. Our perception of reality is no longer an exclusive combination of movies, magazines, and personal experiences. It is indeed more and more influenced by our own collective vision.
The digital environment you will experience in this online exhibition collects all the +10,000 images received during the open call in a casual and intentionally uncurated way. The viewer is invited to experience, interact, and relate to this high number of photos which are alternated with short textual elements detailing statistics relating to different fields of mobile photography. With this action, we invite the public to reflect on the overproduction of images that we all encounter on a daily basis, on the time we dedicate to each of them, and ultimately to the way they influence us.
To start your experience, just scroll the website until you wish. After five seconds of inactivity, the program resets itself automatically, allowing each new viewer to have a unique experience of all the presented photos.
Giuseppe Oliverio, PHmuseum Director.