Fred Ritchin’s writings on so-called hyperphotography argues that single images can never be ‘truthful’ representations of the events that occurred, and that one needs a variety of experiences from different points of view in order to produce a story which is properly authentic. His aim is a metamedia – characterised by linked, transmitted, recontextualised and fabricated work.(Ritchin, 2008;141) He was writing in 2008, when it was beginning to become apparent that news stories might not always be as objective as they seemed, and that both the physical point of view of the photographer and the new organisation’s political views might colour what was presented to viewers. This was all ten years ago though, long before ‘Fake News’ hit the headlines, and from this point in time, it seems a little naïve. Ritchen argued for a series of subversive activities to counteract the prevailing political line, including
- unmasking photo opportunities;
- photographing the future, so a version of it does not happen
- enfranchising the subject;
- reporting as “family album”;
- constructive interventions.
and his view was that by including citizen journalism and multiple experiences of events through websites and social media, the goal of all-round authenticity might become closer. This has happened to some extent, but it is still very much the exception rather than the norm.
What has actually happened in the last 10 years is that a toxic combination of disinformation/propaganda and the inevitable drive to extremism that social media algorithms produce (an unintended consequence of the concept of personalised news services), (Sunstein, 2018) has led us to a point where a) we frequently only see news that confirms our already held opinions and b) we have a firm disbelief in anything that does not confirm that viewpoint. To take an appalling example from today, in New Zealand a white supremacist coldly took the lives of 49 Muslim worshippers while they were at prayer in Christchurch. Not only did he live stream the shootings (making removal from all internet sites well nigh impossible) but he made a statement beforehand giving credit for his views to Donald Trump and his America First campaign. Somehow, Trump has managed to convey his condolences without either speaking out against freedom to carry guns, nor white supremacist views, both of which he has spoken in favour of before. In his world, white people cannot be terrorists, despite ample evidence to the contrary.
In another example, the current ridiculous turmoil in Britain about Brexit, which has dominated our new events for three years now (yawn) is stoked by people with strongly held views on either side of the Brexit divide being completely unable to see the other side’s reasoning. Extremism rules!
So, is it realistic to put forward Ritchin’s suggestions as an antidote to the polarised news scenarios? I am not sure that it is. Constant advances in technology mean that an image or new clip ‘being Photoshopped’ to emphasise a particular viewpoint is old hat. We are now suspicious that every image has been manipulated. #‘fakemelania style conspiracy theories abound.
Hyperphotography, in which multiple viewpoints are given, might help slightly, but mostly in post-event understanding of what occurred (which is the caser in most of the examples Ritchin mentions) . Citizen journalism and iPhone filming of events which have been spun differently by the other people involved helps, but it is a drop in the ocean and depends on people being in the right place at the right time. Fred Ritchin seems like a ‘glass half full’ theorist, for whom there is always an antidote to misinformation. However, I fear we are moving faster towards a complete breakdown in trust of the media than any of his ideas to counteract fake news can roll back the clock.
Armstrong, E. (2013) Art in the age of truthiness. Santa Fe: Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Ritchin F. (2008) ‘Towards a Hyperphotography.’ In: After Photography. New York: W.W. Norton.
Ritchin, F. (2014) Bending the frame. [YouTube video] At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=541UY8jgkxU (Accessed on 14 March 2019)
Sunstein, C. R. (2018) #republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media. Princeton: Princeton University Press.