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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.

A film about the Irish Men’s Shed

paulinegarvey5 February 2021

The men’s shed movement started off in Australia in the late 1990s as a response to issues of older retired men who felt a lack of suitable activities and places for socialising with other men. In 2011, the Irish Men’s Shed Association was established and there are now over 900 men’s sheds active in Ireland. Given our interest in ageing and retirement, these became one of our fieldsite locations, and you can find a discussion of their role alongside other activities in our forthcoming monograph Ageing With Smartphones in Ireland: When Life Becomes Craft by Pauline Garvey and Daniel Miller, which will be published by UCL Press on May 6th 2021 as an open-access monograph.

For reasons of anonymity, we decided not to film either of the men’s sheds in our respective fieldsites. Instead, I teamed up with David Prendergast and Daniel Balteanu of Maynooth University, and we made a film about the men’s shed in the university town where we work. It’s a three-minute introduction to their many activities, which may illustrate why this movement has become so successful.