Instagram on a Smartphone

Above: the photo-sharing micro-blogging app. Instagram installed on a smartphone. Credit: Fancycrave.

Hyper Visual Literacy: HVL

The ordinary person--in the Developed West at least--is becoming very used to taking, interpreting, editing, and filtering large numbers of photo-images every day, even every hour.

There are something in the order of 1 billion end-users on the photo-sharing software app. Instagram; many of these users are pro-sumers of photo-images: scrolling efficiently through recent activity feeds in super-fast time; in the zone as they get to work on re-posting, tagging, deleting, manipulating, and commenting with great competence and speed.

This level of engagement with photography--by so many on such a regular basis--is something new (a change rather than a phenomenon). We have entered the age of Hyper Visual Literacy--HVL.

HVL will, and must, begin to affect the way photo-artists work. As photo-based artist Hank Willis Thomas said in 2013, "I already know that the public's eye is trained to subconsciously imbibe images on a massive scale. For this reason, it [photography] is the perfect medium by which to problematize these things [race, class, identity] in order to inspire dialogue."

HVL people (10-15% of Earth's population not more) include the majority of the basic potential audience for art photography--going to see it in a gallery or museum; buying it. If art photography is to survive the current crisis of end-user (collector) disinterest it will have to return with a type of photo-art practice which takes the Hyper Visual Literacy of the audience into account and respects it--meaning presumes the audience's intelligence, wit, and knowingness as regards the photo-visual presentation and its ubiquity.

To dismiss Instagram as "something else entirely" and so underestimate the HVL mentality is the mistake--and so far a ruinous one--that many photo-artists have made. That is to say, they have continued making their work as if the photo-revolution of Instagram had no specific consequences for their practice.

(3 April 2018)