Dear Photograph: A Genre of Locative Media

Chang and Goodman introduced to us the idea of locative media. They defined this concept as “the representation and experience of place through digital interfaces” (110). After reading this essay, and further discussing it’s concepts in class, I interpreted locative media as a way in which users/audiences and players alike create, attach or tag experiences to specific locations. From this, I was immediately reminded of a website called “Dear Photograph”. Created in May 2011 by a Conestoga College student, the premise of this website is based on the act of users taking a picture of a picture from the past in the present. However, the exact location and physical attributes of both the old and the new photo are merged seamlessly into one fluid experience. The user then uploads this new photo onto the website, thus engaging audience members in social commentary and communal reflection.

For example: http://dearphotograph.com/post/8233346121 – As you can see here, the user has revisited the location of the old photograph years later and has captured it with a new photograph that incorporates the exact geographic location. Each “Dear Photograph” is the same in the sense that it reveals something about the user’s personal experience with the location whilst indirectly commenting on the physical state of the location. (For a better example of what I mean here see: http://dearphotograph.com/post/10079307469 – this photograph boasts over 46,000 user comments/replies.)

I believe that “Dear Photograph” is among the many new genres of locative media that Chang and Goodman discuss on page 114 under Enacting Place. Although “Dear Photograph” does not use GPS technology or down-to-the-number co-ordinates as a basis for participation it is still embedding a geographic location into an online experience (Chang and Goodman, 110). This online experience also illustrates the authors’ idea of how we are unable to evade “responsibility to describe the location beyond physical coordinates” (Change and Goodman, 110). New forums on Facebook and multiple feeds on Twitter are bursting with commentary about “Dear Photograph”. Chang and Goodman are proven correct in the sense that, thanks to digital media, it is impossible to solely classify a location-based on its physical co-ordinates. This can be seen throughout the many personal stories on Dearphotograph.com, and in the way that the website (which is less than one year old) has already been ranked 1st as the Best Website of the year for 2011 by CBS and 7th by Time Magazine.

Dear photograph is truly a perfect example of how the physical and the digital world have become more entwined (Chang and Goodman, 110).

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2 Comments

  1. Wow. I would first of all like to thank you for introducing this site (dearphotograph.com) to us because I have never heard of it before, and exploring it for the first time was truly a remarkable experience. With that very reaction in mind I would have to agree with you that it serves as a wonderful example of locative media.

    Chang and Goodman use their essay to illustrate how locative media transforms a physical location into a medium through which we can communicate. With this website users are invited to experience a place, perhaps one they’ve been to before or know to be famous, on a personal level and therefore in a new way. What this essay, “Enacting Place Through Locative Media,” works to describe is how locative media is a new way for a community to interact with their physical world, near and far. I thought that you effectively touched on this aspect by stating how this website and its user uploads allows audiences to engage in “social commentary and communal reflection”. I found that that statement successfully linked back to our other discussions on the issues of maintaining community within a digitally enhanced landscape.

    Websites such as the one you have discussed are constantly offering us innovative ways of not only creating connections but also creating communities. I believe that the point about how it creates online communities that are forged from the connections that individuals have to real places, is a highly commendable aspect of this website. It effectively reinvents a location by attaching a personal story to it and giving it another historical dimension. It is reminiscent of the Living Memory Project and how it invited individuals to use communicative technologies to contribute their stories to a digitalized history database. Most interestingly, this site instead invites users to transform a physical location into a communicative technology in itself.

  2. I’ll second rcl12–thanks for bringing this site to the group’s attention, kairos88. It reminded me of the older but similar website, PostSecret, where (as you all probably know) people send in postcards with some sort of confession on them that the site’s webmaster then posts. It’s got the same elements of anonymity, the same brevity with the message, and the same use of an older media form (photography, the postcard) in a digital media context. kairos88 also points out one of the key differences: Dear Photograph is about people’s relations with space, and their relationship to the photograph.

    I don’t know if this always holds true, but every photo I saw when I looked earlier today featured, in the older photo, a person. So it’s not just photos of space, it’s photos of human involvement with space. And each caption isn’t a description of the photo so much as a message to either the person in the photo, or the photo itself.

    A quick google search confirms that this site was started a U of Waterloo graduate. Perhaps some enterprising student should attempt an interview? Might make an interesting addition to the course papers or final project. (Note that in Engl 293, we don’t actually condone stalking, nor harassing. If you want to follow up on this, send a single email. And let us know how it goes.)

    –MH


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