Ruwandi Perera zooms in on the language of digital photos

e-ps-oct16-350x“Photography is the only language that can be understood anywhere in the world,” said the famous Moroccan-born French photographer Bruno Barbey. Little would he have known that, with the advent of the digital era, photographs will be one of the primary languages of the world.

With text slowly (and worryingly) losing its relevance, content is increasingly becoming graphical, with the growing use of photographs as well as diagrams, pictures, computer-generated images, infographics and icons.

Photography has always awed humans, ever since French scientist Nicéphore Niépce took the world’s first photo (titled ‘View from the Window at Le Gras’), back in 1822. However, with digital and social media being consumed far and wide, photographs are not only captured and enjoyed, but shared in the blink of an eye, with millions of people who gawk on their mobile devices and other digital screens.

In today’s world, anyone and everyone is a photographer, since we walk around with a camera in our pocket that is capable of taking pictures. In the past, this would only have been possible with a complex-looking digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, complete with lenses, tripods and the works. People have clicked, filtered, edited and shared photos at higher speeds in the past year or so, than ever before.

With photo-sharing social platforms like Instagram competing for space, alongside more holistic platforms such as Facebook, a large base of followers is developing. And it is fuelled by the increasing use of smartphones around the globe. Mobile users not only find it entertaining, but also less tiresome than other platforms that require typing. ‘See-click-filter-share’ is an easy cycle to complete, even many times a day.

Over 40 billion photos have been shared on Instagram, which clocks in around 80 million pictures a day, counting over 3.5 billion daily ‘likes.’ This sort of traffic is not only overwhelming, in terms of numbers and activities, but also represents a massive power network – especially for companies that have jumped on the bandwagon of photo-centric content sharing.

The power of photographs is felt now more than ever, with image-based storytelling through photos and videos overtaking books, journals and other text-based material. Companies are spending less on text-based media, and more on photo-generated techniques. Although more expensive, they yield feedback quicker.

In the world of photography, it is likely that photos of the Mona Lisa topped the charts as the most-viewed photo. Yet, in the digital world, the most-viewed image is a photo called Bliss, captured by Charles O’Rear, in 1996. Doesn’t sound familiar? Well, it’s none other than the default background of Windows XP, with the clear blue skies and lush green landscape.

Nevertheless, it is wise to take off the rose-tinted spectacles regularly, because with a Web full of photos being shared publicly and privately, the disturbing trend of invasions of privacy raises its nosy head.

From iCloud leaks to the hacking of personal profiles, the miseries of privacy intrusions are many… and in some cases, serious. With mobile users sharing personal photos, which inadvertently become the property of the photo-sharing platform, privacy is often overlooked, until an issue arises.

Other less-obvious issues are even more threatening – such as the number of kidnappings, robberies and abductions that have occurred, thanks to the sharing of photos on social media. Young children, teenagers and even adults have experienced life-threatening situations, where social ‘stalkers’ have followed trails of photographic and video evidence, to track down unsuspecting victims.

Another pressing issue has been the numerous cyber sexual assaults that have taken place, which target women, young people and children. Parents, in their joy and excitement to ‘show off’ their babies and toddlers to the world, have unconsciously provided much fodder to paedophiles and other online evils, thus making social platforms a dangerous place.

Nevertheless, photo-sharing has its many advantages: for instance, the number of charities and other welfare movements that have benefitted from sharing photos of the sick, weak and unfortunate are innumerable. The awareness raised on conserving wildlife, standing up for women’s rights and fighting discrimination online is immense, and isn’t limited merely to offline actions.

As with most digital resources, photographs – whether filtered, edited or in their raw formats – can do much good, as well as bad, depending on who shares and views them. Yet, all is not dark for now, with photos of the Kardashians and Taylor Swift clocking more than three million hits each. Perhaps, pictures do speak a million words.