Affording images

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Affording images: Digital imaging and media-sharing practices in a corpus of young people’s cameraphone images
Paper presented at Multimodality in Education colloquium held at Mont Fleur, Stellenbosch on 10 August, 2011 by Marion Walton and Silke Hassreiter, Centre for Film and Media Studies. University of Cape Town

The affordances of mobile phones as devices for creating, publishing and distributing images means that they are often seen as a threat to young people’s safety or to public morality. Alternatively, they are celebrated as having immense potential for supporting an individualised and highly networked mode of mobile learning or ‘m-learning’. These issues are particularly significant in the global South, where photographic practices and digital imaging are being adopted rapidly, as mobile networks reach over a billion people and feature phones with cameras become increasingly accessible.

This paper documents the image-sharing and photographic practices of fourteen young people who participated in a mobile video-making project over four months in July-November 2010 in Makhaza, Khayelitsha. We analyse the corpus of images which they shared with us as researchers. We explore distinct communicative genres which, in this context, are associated with (i) personal photographs, (ii) photographic composites (iii) downloaded images from popular culture (iv) multimodal image messaging. In this paper, our focus is specifically on interpersonal meanings and the representation of interpersonal meanings and social distance.

We argue that the social practices of young people and the marginal contexts of this appropriation play key roles in their domestication of mobile photography. Consequently, it is a mistake to assume that new genres and practices can simply be ‘read off’ by listing the features or affordances of the new generations of smart phones. Instead, it is necessary to consider a wider range of contexts and uses before the ‘affordances’ of the new medium can start to be understood. In particular, the differences associated with the specific contextual meanings of artefacts such as mobile phones, local genres of communication and interaction, and broader issues of access to communication infrastructure and mobility need to be considered. We argue that a contextualised study such as this should be conducted before embarking on the development of new curricula for learning or self-expression for young people.


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Affording images

  1. 1. affording images Digital imaging and media-sharing practices in a corpus of young people’s cameraphone images Marion Walton, Silke Hassreiter, CFMS, University of Cape Town Project funded by Nokia Research in collaboration with NYU, October 2009 Gary Marsden, Sena Allen and the UCT Centre in ICT4D Marion.Walton@uct.ac.za Tino.Kreutzer@gmail.comDownload project report from www.marionwalton.com/publications-and-links http://marionwalton.wordpres
  2. 2. mobile images• This paper documents the image-sharing and photographic practices of sixteen young people who participated in a mobile video- making project funded by Nokia Research over four months in July-November 2010 in Makhaza, Khayelitsha.
  3. 3. Started with 20 participants Grade 10 15-18 years Variable participationIkamva Media, Image and Expression Class 2010
  4. 4. mobile in mzansi • Mobile phones in the global South are ‘the first screen’ - only ‘fourth screen’ in North. • What are the local and situated meanings of digital and mobile photography for young people?NYU, October 2009Marion.Walton@uct.ac.zaTino.Kreutzer@gmail.comhttp://marionwalton.wordpres
  5. 5. makhaza, khayelitsha
  6. 6. makhaza, khayelitsha• Large generally low-income urban settlement on urban periphery of Cape Town.• Established in the mid-1980s as apartheid strategy ‘as far from the city as possible’ (Skuse and Cousins, 2008)• History of spatial and racial segregation, political struggle and economic disadvantage.• Only 38 per cent live in formal structures, many without access to water, sanitation, electricity, streets or lighting (Silber and Geffen, 2009).• Swelling population, many migrants, successive governments fail to keep up with the demand for land, housing and other services.
  7. 7. ethics and privacy• The young people agreed to share their cellphone images with us – both from their own phones and at the end of the project, from the Nokia phones.• Sharing was voluntary and some students chose to delete images or not to share at all.• Our initial agreement was not to publish the images – we would like to renegotiate this in response to our findings about phones as a public space for this peer group.
  8. 8. affording meaning• Need for a contextual, situated understanding of affordances.• ecological psychology - perception as a relationship between organisms and their environment. Although physical objects have objective physical qualities, these only become affordances in relation to a particular organism (Gibson, 1979).• the ‘potential uses’ of an object and ‘signifying potential’ of signs (Van Leeuwen, 2005).
  9. 9. systemic affordances• ‘The cellphone’ and ‘the smartphone’ don’t exist.• Phones are not ‘a’ single medium – affordances are situational and arise from the interaction of a complex range of factors.• Hardware, software, battery, geographical situation, network, network charges, money• Crime, conspicuous consumption, local genres of photography• These ‘rules of communication’ shape discourse (structure/code), but are also appropriated by users (agency/semiosis).
  10. 10. mobile images• Ongoing ethnography has identified distinct communicative genres in this context, – Private identity work – Social sharing of individual photographs – Creation of photographic composites and ‘photo cards’ (photos with messages) – Sharing downloaded images from popular culture – celebrities, ‘photo cards’ and pictures of commodities• How do the young people use these genres to represent and construct interpersonal meanings and social distance?
  11. 11. Available feature phones Allow internet, low res photos and videos, limited memory and processing power
  12. 12. own phones Nophone Feature phone Basic phone
  13. 13. expensive facebook Not Quite expensive or Very cheap expensive Quite cheap cheap or freeVery expensive questionnaire 47 participants from Ikamva Youth – all classes
  14. 14. affordable mxit Not Quite expensive or Very cheap expensive Quite cheap cheap or freeVery expensive questionnaire 47 participants from Ikamva Youth – all classes
  15. 15. free bluetooth Not expensive Quite Quite or cheap Very cheapexpensive cheap or free questionnaire 47 participants from Ikamva Youth – all classes
  16. 16. corpus Images retrieved from mobile phones Named images Total imagesS own phone 17 18Y own phone 84 89N own phone 51 81L own phone 16 23Z own phone 0 10Z own phone 74 74A own phone 0 3L own phone 95 132 Y Nokia 44 105 Y Nokia 54 119 U Nokia 74 118 S Nokia 59 115 M Nokia 33 85 Z Nokia 41 51 N Nokia 108 219 S Nokia 78 308 V Nokia 56 149 Y Nokia 5 95 L Nokia 80 121 Z Nokia 79 177 A Nokia 3 33
  17. 17. I took this photo of myself to see how I look like with these shades. Instead of looking into the mirror.• Name of pic: 100823_130026.jpgI was playing around with the phone back home when I was bored. Just to let people know how I look like.• Name of pic: 100831_134021.jpgThere was a lamp in the background. That photo did not work out.• Name of pic: 100830_125051.jpgI wanted to know how I look like with this hat / hat and shades on.• Name of pic 1: 100823_170652.jpg• Name of pic 2: 100821_084117.jpgThis is my boyfriend. We are together for 3 weeks. I like him a lot, that’s why I took the photo of him. When I miss him, I look at the photo. We took this photo at his place.• Name of the pic: Mzu.jpgThis little clip of sneakers I took from a friend’s (female) phone last Saturday. I connected via Bluetooth to her phone and took it off. I like sneakers. *grins*• Name of pic: evolutionary.gifThis photo of Ronaldo I also took from a friend’s phone via Bluetooth. Because I like him so much.• Name of pic: C ronaldo.jpgPhotocardsI took this picture from a friend.• Name of the pic: lover.gifThis one I also got from a friend.• Name of the pic: Our-day.gift.gifThis one I got from my boyfriend. *blushing*
  18. 18. iKasi net
  19. 19. sharing practices• Ego-centric social network analysis• With whom do you share phone and mobile media?• Who shares with you?• Default values – collectivist among peers.• Some generational differences in strength of sharing ties. questionnaire 20 participants from Grade 10
  20. 20. Sharing practices
  21. 21. ikasi.net• SA – unaffordable broadband internet.• Intermittent access to mobile internet• Appropriation of channels for free communication.• Peer to peer communication• Phone media galleries• Proxemic networking via bluetooth(Walton and Kreutzer, forthcoming)
  22. 22. p2p ‘Facebook’
  23. 23. p2p social networking• Image networks - Phone gallery and phone are used to represent social network• Important role in image-management• Face detection used to map visual social network.• 6 participants’ image networks analysed so far.
  24. 24. • Sub-sample of images with faces detected (n=1219)• Ratio calculated (image height: detected face height)• Detection algorithm uses Processing and Java OpenGL libraries
  25. 25. nokia phones (N=2129) Images from Nokia phones, mapped with VisualCultures
  26. 26. own phones (N=2129) Images from participants’ own phones
  27. 27. significance? • Sub-sample of images with faces detected (n=1219) • The distribution of Ratio is different across categories of phone. (p < 0.05)
  28. 28. intimacy• In other words...• When using cheap camera phones, these young people foregrounded faces to a greater extent than when they were able to use more sophisticated phones.• Social distance is more likely to be constructed as intimate or personal for photographers using cameras on basic phones with limited memory.
  29. 29. random sample (n=450) VisualCultures allows graphing of images
  30. 30. photographers Images can be explored in different ways e.g. By photographer
  31. 31. Only one face detected Number of faces detected (only one in most shots).
  32. 32. image:face ratio on own phones Higher ratio between detected faces and image size i.e. close ups (more found on participants own phones).
  33. 33. unnamed images Individually named images more likely to be closeups (more found on participants own phones).
  34. 34. not just photographs60.0% 52.7%50.0%40.0%30.0%20.0% 16.0% 12.2% 10.1%10.0% 4.4% 2.3% 1.4% 0.6% 0.3% 0.0% Annotated Framed Photo card Celeb Graphic Commodity Filter Politics Porn
  35. 35. genres• Self-portraits and ‘mirror mode’• Advertising, popular culture and fashion genres predominate• Settings are often staged to foreground face and conceal surroundings• Importance of verbal annotations on image and in filename suggests phone as publication platform and interpersonal communicative function.• Playful and strategic use of preset frames, graphic elements and filters.• Only a handful of documentary-style shots
  36. 36. conclusion• Consider a wider range of contexts and uses before the ‘affordances’ of the new medium can start to be understood.• The social practices of young people, local genres of communication and interaction, access to communication infrastructure and mobility, and the marginal contexts of this appropriation play key roles in their domestication of mobile photography.• Affordances are systemic - not everyone can afford to publish online and new generations of smart or feature phones are different to basic phones or feature phones with simple cameras and without much memory.• Importance of filenames and naming practices in bluetooth usability.• Design new curricula for learning or self-expression in relation to existing ecosystem.
  37. 37. VideosNow published online on Ikamva Youth website and YouTube channelhttp://goo.gl/AWKVPSilke’s Nokia project reportHassreiter, S., Walton, M. and Marsden, G. (2011). Degrees of sharing. Public voices, impression management and mobile video production in a participatory media project for teens in Makhaza, Khayelitsha. Project report produced for Nokia Research, February 2011. Download from www.marionwalton.com/publications-and-links/
  38. 38. acknowledgements– Gary Marsden– Sena Allen– Joy Olivier– Luyanda Kota– Winile Mabhoko– And especially to all the student participants and Ikamva Youth

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