Presenting photography on a computer


General Photography

I’m looking forward to the day when viewing photography on a computer will be very different from looking at photography in a book or presented on TV.

I’ll admit something: I find most photography multimedia presentations tediously boring. In the worst cases, they’re like watching bad TV. Why bother buying an iPad, say, when all you are given to watch is bad TV? The main problem I see is that most multimedia presentations I’ve seen - in fact all the ones I’ve seen - essentially forget that on a computer you have more options. I love looking at photo books. I love watching (good) documentaries on photography or photographers on TV. On a computer, I don’t want to see photo books or TV. On a computer I want to see more. So I thought I’d sketch out what photography presented via multimedia on a computer could be. Maybe this will generate a little debate about photography on a computer. (more)


Multimedia presentations have to be truly interactive. Otherwise, they’re basically movies brought to the computer. By “computer” I here mean any device that basically is a computer, whether it’s a desktop or laptop computer or an iPad or iPhone or whatever other device people might use now or in the future; it also means “online,” but the internet aspect is actually mostly irrelevant here. Allowing the viewer only to start and stop them or to skip frames back and forth is no real interactivity. Otherwise, you would want to argue that books are interactive, too, since you can close and open your eyes and flip the pages, likewise toasters that you can switch on and off etc.

Providing interactivity means providing choices for the viewer. The viewer becomes more than a passive consumer, and the computer becomes more than a simple Tivo device.

This requires…


TV/movies have one dimension added to basic images: Time (technically, time is mimicked by showing many images in such a brief period of time that the brain thinks the image itself actually changes). Multimedia presentations need to add more dimensions, because on a computer you can actually do that (the old “why did the dog lick you-know-where” argument).

A simple example is zooming in or out. I am not talking about the “fixed” zooming in that American documentary makers love so much when they show still images. I’m talking about the viewer being able to control the zooming. Note that basic zooming is what people are excited about on their iPhones whose screens are too small for photography (having to look at people’s photos on their iPhones has replaced having to watch holiday slides as the most tedious way to consume photography).

It gets truly interesting when we think about the progression of the presentation. Time is one-dimensional, you can either go back or forth. That means that narratives in movies or in standard documentaries are constructed in a simple one-dimensional way (the formulaic use of this makes most Hollywood movies so predictable). Multimedia presentations on computers can move away from this.

There is no reason why on a computer images have to be strictly linearly presented as going from A to B to C to D to E etc. (where A, B, C etc. can either be single images or blocks of images).

Multidimensionality means non-linear story telling. Non-linear story telling is ideal for many photography projects (“project” here can also stand for “body of work” or however else you want to describe a collection of photographs). Many projects don’t have a “before” or “after” where one part has to be seen before the other for it to make sense (as an aside, this is what makes book editing so tricky: Creating that linear narrative in a way that works well).

Needless to say, this doesn’t mean that a computer presentation of images should be some random jumble of images - quite on the contrary. I’m not arguing for a mess. I’m arguing for viewers to be able to make choices of how they want to experience the photography.

Essentially, creating non-linear narratives replaces the tricky linear book editing with equally (if not more) tricky non-linear story telling: How can you present your images in such a way that the story is being told while the viewer can explore or discover it her/himself?

I need to add that not all photo projects will be able to work this way. If you do a road trip where there is a clear before and after, say, it’s not obvious what is to be gained from breaking it up. And if you’re “only” presenting images, without any idea of a story, multidimensionality at least becomes a nifty presentation tool.

True Multimedia

There is no reason why “multimedia” on a computer should be restricted to a set of images plus some music. Multimedia presentations ideally incorporate images, video, music, sound, and the spoken word.

Imagine this: You click on an image, and the photographer’s voice tells you about the image, casually mentioning there is an outtake (which you can view by maybe pressing some button), that the scene reminded her/him of some movie (which you can access in some way, maybe there’s a brief clip, or maybe you’ll be taken to a website where you can watch the movie later if you want to). Attached to the image is not only the photographers voice, but also a little video that you can watch (should you decide to do so), which in turn might take you to another image. The possibilities literally are endless. How exciting would it be to experience photography this way?

There might be more. But I think the above makes it obvious that on a computer you have many more possibilities for the presentation of photography than in a book or on a TV screen. This doesn’t mean that the computer inherently is a better device. I’ll always love looking at photo books. But I’m looking forward to the day when viewing photography on a computer will be very different from looking at photography in a book or presented on TV.