Why Photographs Lose Their Attributions

cover of Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and LearningAfter reading my essay Web Writing and Citation: The Authority of Communities, a colleague wondered how my arguments about online communities having their own sets of expectations for crediting sources applied to sites such as Imgur where photographs are often shared without attribution. Are these simply communities with very loose standards for citation?

That is part of the story, but there is also a more general issue: how people regard photography today. If you carry a smartphone, you have a decent point-and-shoot camera with you most of the time; because this camera doesn’t require you to deal with film, you can click-click-click until you find one you like, giving little or no consideration to composition or lighting. Taking a photograph can seem more like taking a screenshot of the real world than of making a work of art. Why would you give credit to someone who held a machine up to a sunset? They didn’t make the colors.

Of course, barring the occasional flash of luck, great photography does require skill—however much the camera used lets the artist control. But if all you have ever used a camera for is a quick snap, why would you know that? How would you know the difference between what you do and what people who use similar processes to make art do, without educational interventions? Our understanding of what is skillfully made, and what is not, helps determine in part our citation practices.

To be clear, I have no issue with easy smartphone photography. I have an Instagram feed consisting mostly of quick pics of my cats, but I keep my more serious work on Flickr. I’d like to see a stronger understanding of how these two kinds of photography differ and to see expectations for attribution that reflect the differences.

Je su s Vane

an erasure of this post by Ron Silliman

The most
blaspheme._________________________________________________It is_____right
____________________________________________________________to make people crazy (literally)

_____________to deny

The Silliman clan was driven out
could not marry


__________we have seen the murders
____________________the survivors____________________________________________________________famous cowards
_________________________________________________________________________________There is no middle ground.

____________________chain of logic
__________________________________________________________I see the hands of those who protested
____________________on the very guns

__________________________an online lynch mob
_________need not agree

_______yeah, we are still the nation
_______________with guns

the thuggish reaction
a trilogy
after multiple attempts_____________

___petitioning_______________revealing_________________________________________________jackboots tossing
______________________________________________________potato trucks

_________________________________________________you are shooting Lorca
____________________________________________________seemingly intelligent
__________________________part of this mob
hoping they enjoy the view

But seriously, isn’t petitioning to have someone whose work is racist from a position of power within a professional organization a lot closer to, say, shutting down comments on a blog when they turn nasty than to burning books or killing people?