Monday, 27 October 2014

World’s first study of social media images includes new Word of the Year – ‘photobombing’

For the second year running, a word relating to photographic practice has been named as Word of The Year by Collins English Dictionary. 'Photobombing’, like ’selfie’ (last year’s winner), has been found to represent something of the themes and spirit of popular discourse over the preceding twelve months. 

'Picturing the Social' is the world's first cross-platform academic research project into social media images from those taken during breaking news to selfies, photos of friends and practices like 'photobombing'.  Dr Vis said: “The overall aim of the project is to develop approaches for studying a wide range of images shared on social media. This includes images created specifically for social media on smartphones as well as those re-used from a variety of other sources.”

Anne Burns, Research Associate on the Picturing the Social project and expert on photographic self-representations said: “The photobomb is a moment of transgression, in which the rules of photography are both exposed and undermined, with often humorous and strange results ... Although the photobomb might not receive quite so much media analysis as the selfie, both of these awards demonstrate the continuing - perhaps even the growing - importance of photography within popular culture, and the need for projects such as Picturing the Social.”

Dr Vis added: “It is important to understand these everyday photographic practices as part of wider cultural shifts, continuities and developments.

“These include the ubiquity of smartphones and the rise of the visual web. We need to ask important questions about what these new social worlds mean for our understanding of contemporary society. In that sense it’s not productive to simply dismiss ‘selfies’ and practices like ‘photobombing’ as narcissistic fads, but instead to study them as part of everyday visual cultural practices and also to better understand what these practices mean for users themselves.”

The Picturing the Social project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), involves an interdisciplinary team from four universities as well as industry with expertise in: Media and Communication Studies (University of Sheffield), Visual Culture (Manchester School of Art), Software Studies and Sociology (Warwick University), Computer and Information Science (Pulsar and University of Wolverhampton).

During the ESRC's annual Festival of Social Science which takes place between 1 and 8 November 2014, the project will host it's first conference at the University of Sheffield.  This will highlight early findings from Picturing the Social and a panel on 'identity and the self' will focus upon emerging social media photography including selfies and photobombing.  

The conference is now fully booked which demonstrates the keen interest in this area. A conference reader will be distributed next week, presentations will be recorded and slides will be made available where possible. These, along with initial findings from Picturing the Social, will be made available on the Visual Social Media Lab website.

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