Depending on who you ask, iPhone photography, viral videos, and massive amounts of citizen-generated content have either harkened a new Golden Age of visual culture, or distorted reality beyond recognition.
David Campbell, one of the world’s foremost authorities on visual culture and politics, says that the important thing to consider is context.
“Because of technology, the line between professional and amateur is blurred in these new times. What the professionals can achieve is a story, or a narrative — something that addresses the context — whereas…the function of taking the everyday picture in the street, that’s something that will spread beyond professional circles.”
Campbell’s many books and articles examine how atrocity, famine, war, and Africa are represented in the new media economy.
In his World Affairs Conversation with President Jeffrey Herbst, Campbell covered much ground, from the controversy over Damon Winter’s Hipstamatic series of soldier photos published in the New York Times, to Kony 2012, the most viral video campaign in history.
“There’s no such thing as a ‘viral video,’” Campbell said. “What makes things viral is that you have networks which spread things… The [simplistic] narrative structure…helped to an extent, but I don’t think that was the principal reason why it became viral.”
Campbell spent the spring semester at Colgate as the 2012 A. Lindsay O’Connor Professor in the peace and conflict studies program, during which he taught two classes, Visual Geographies: Africa, and War and Photography and Media War: Peace and Conflict.
He also delivered the Gould Memorial Lecture in Geography, where he talked about how war photography has and has not changed, from Robert Capa to the iPhone.