Photography and social roles


in Economics, Geek stuff, Photography, Psychology

A number of my friends are fairly serious amateur photographers: people who have built up a repertoire of knowledge, various sorts of gear, and who display photography publicly online. Photography is certainly an excellent pastime. It satisfies geeky cravings for toys to play with, while serving as a creative outlet. It also lets you document and share what is going on in your life, with a group of friends who are increasingly likely to be far-flung (as we stay in touch with friends from former schools and employers, all over the world).

In addition to those appealing elements, photography has an interesting role within group dynamics. Everyone wants flattering photos of themselves, so being able to provide them makes you valuable to others. There is also competition between people who take photos. It takes place on the basis of quality of output, creativity, photographing interesting things, and gear. Indeed, photo gear is an increasingly appropriate way of demonstrating wealth. Whereas in some social circumstances, automobiles are probably the premier form of wealth expression, that isn’t well matched to a lifestyle where people move around often and relatively rarely see their friends in person. Photography is useful, visible, and a way of demonstrating capability, access, and wealth.

[Aside] On a somewhat related note, OKCupid has some data on what makes an attractive photo. Specifically, a non-flash shot taken with an SLR or 4:3 system camera at f/1.2 or f/1.8. The average 30 year old iPhone user has also had significantly more sexual partners than the average BlackBerry and (especially) Android user.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

EK August 13, 2010 at 9:16 am

Yes, our friendship is purely based on your ability to take pictures of me I don’t hate.

JOKING. Although it is a nice bonus.

Matt August 13, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Is displaying wealth an important goal?

Milan August 13, 2010 at 3:30 pm

No, but it a social dynamic I noticed.

Ideally, any competition should be enjoyable and focused on the quality of output. In fact, it would be especially impressive to produce really good results with inexpensive equipment.

Matt August 13, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Your aside is interesting: I’m not 30 yet, but I used to have an iPhone, but now prefer Android. I’m not sure what that implies, but it’s probably very unflattering.

Milan August 13, 2010 at 3:57 pm

There are all sorts of reasons to question the data, and plenty of reasons to think the generalities behind it may be poorly matched to specific individuals.

Pearl August 14, 2010 at 10:25 am

heh, who measured Blackberry vs. iPhone. I’m sure the relationship is causal tho. lol.

those camera type stats are the most amusing thing I’ve seen today.

Milan August 16, 2010 at 10:41 am

Incidentally, the OK Cupid statistics reveal a privacy and security risk that few people may be aware of: namely, all the metadata added to photos by digital cameras. This usually includes the date and time, the make and model of the camera, and exposure information. With some cameras, it may include location data too, and even the name of the camera owner.

People who think they can post files straight from their cameras to the web – without automatically revealing this sort of information – are probably wrong.

Milan August 16, 2010 at 10:47 am

For example, here is a photo straight from my camera. The EXIF data includes:

# Camera Make = Canon
# Camera Model = Canon EOS 5D Mark II
# Picture Orientation = normal (1)

# Exposure Time (1 / Shutter Speed) = 1/50 second ===> 0.02 second
# Lens F-Number / F-Stop = 32/10 ===> ƒ/3.2
# Exposure Program = normal program (2)
# ISO Speed Ratings = 2500
# EXIF Version = 0221
# Original Date/Time = 2010:06:10 19:44:57
# Digitization Date/Time = 2010:06:10 19:44:57
# Components Configuration = 0x01,0x02,0x03,0x00 / YCbCr
# Shutter Speed Value (APEX) = 368640/65536
Shutter Speed (Exposure Time) = 1/49.35 second
# Aperture Value (APEX) = 221184/65536
Aperture = ƒ/3.22
# Exposure Bias (EV) = 0/1 ===> 0
# Metering Mode = pattern / multi-segment (5)
# Flash = Flash did not fire, compulsory flash mode
# Focal Length = 50/1 mm ===> 50 mm

# Colour Space = sRGB (1)
# Image Width = 5616 pixels
# Image Height = 3744 pixels
# Focal Plane X-Resolution = 5616000/1459 ===> 3849.21
# Focal Plane Y-Resolution = 3744000/958 ===> 3908.14
# Focal Plane X/Y-Resolution Unit = inch (2)
# Custom Rendered = normal process (0)
# Exposure Mode = auto exposure (0)
# White Balance = auto (0)
# Scene Capture Type = standard (0)

It also includes an embedded thumbnail image, which might not be edited or cropped if the main image file is.

. November 2, 2010 at 10:10 am

ttitudes to conspicuous consumption are changing. Thorstein Veblen, who coined the term, argued that people like to display their status by owning lots of stuff. But many of today’s conspicuous consumers—particularly the young—achieve the same effect by virtual means. They boast about what they are doing (on Twitter), what they are reading (Shelfari), what they are interested in (Digg) and whom they know (Facebook). Collaborative consumption is an ideal signalling device for an economy based on electronic brands and ever-changing fashions.

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