An Archive for Now: Portraiture, Social Media and Social Distancing
Virtual MLC Lecture held via Zoom on 29 June 2020
Watch the lecture here!
This talk will reflect on some interconnections between social media and social distancing that have emerged over the past six months or so. In places where relatively high-speed Internet access is assumed to be accessible, much of social life has moved online (making infrastructural and economic inequalities unavoidably obvious). Socializing in a time of social distancing now appears as a series of portraits. Faces flicker and sometimes freeze. Heads and shoulders appear and disappear in the windows of a Zoom meeting. Comments and chats stand in for conversation. Video cameras turned off now come across as disengagement or, worse, refusal. Quarantine photographs turn everyday items into portrait props; backgrounds reveal commonalities and inequalities. The vertical smartphone camera frame captures bodies and faces, the former aggravatingly small and the latter uncomfortably close. But at the same time, this increased reliance on social media has spurred widespread desires to build an archive, for now, of life in the time of COVID-19, perhaps as a way to make sense and maintain some control. Countless projects to record and remember, and to create and collect, are underway at universities, museums, and other public institutions around the globe. What, then, does a portrait of social distancing look like, and what might it mean, in a moment when collective memory is driven by social media?