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Forget me not – portrait photography in the smartphone age

Xin Yuan Wang16 April 2021

One of my previous blog posts talked about photography as a hobby among older people in China, where the protagonist Mr. Shou brought up the question of the ‘sense of ritual’ in the digital age. In the newly released short video in this blog, I invite you to listen to the same Mr. Shou and what he thinks of his photography, a hobby he has managed to develop as a professional occupation after retirement.

‘Photographic memory’ has long been the subject of anthropological inquiry. In our project’s forthcoming comparative book, The Global Smartphone: beyond a youth technology, we argue that nowadays, smartphone photography is the opposite of traditional photography, whose aim, historically, has been to restore memories. Smartphone photography, on the other hand, is more about taking the opportunity anywhere, anytime to ‘put a frame’ upon anything that people notice in their daily life.

In a way, it is through smartphone photography people experience life. In the short film above, Mr. Shou’s case provides a different angle to this story, enabling us to appreciate the co-existence of both smartphone photography and ‘pre-smartphone’ photography in people’s lives. For example, in Mr. Shou’s case, his professional portrait photography would not reach many people without the successful WeChat blog he runs. Therefore, it is important to observe that ‘smartphone photography’ and ‘pre-smartphone photography’ do not necessarily rival each other, as both of them have found a niche in today’s exuberantly visual world.

How can I live my life without you?

Xin Yuan Wang27 January 2021

Deep in lockdown in London, it is curious to see how people, including myself, somehow see the smartphone as a ‘lifeline’ in various ways, from arranging daily life to keeping in contact socially. The global pandemic has recruited the global population to a forced social experiment of social isolation, and most had no choice but to experience daily life digitally. Having said so, even before COVID, my research participants back in Shanghai had been fully aware of the fact that the smartphone has long been an essential part of their daily life.

The title of this newly released video, ‘How can I live my life without you’, comes from an old popular love song in China. This expression is used by the lady in the video, one of my research participants, to describe the relationship between people and smartphones.

The video below will be included in our upcoming collaborative volume ‘The Global Smartphone: Beyond a youth technology‘, out this May.