Flashes, Camcorders, and Compulsive Documentation at the #Olympics

I think the strangest example of compulsive documentation is the bizarre need we feel to photograph events that are definitely going to be documented anyway. The athletes filming the Opening Ceremony from within the parade last week is a great example of this. I was very taken with this at the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Games and took a really bad photo of the athletes filming the crowd during that ceremony.
And I’ve noted this oddness before, when thousands took photos of the 2008 Presidential inauguration, Malia Obama among them. In these actions, (entirely superfluous in the age of the mass media), we see the audience authenticating their own experience. “I was there and I took my own pictures to prove it.”. It’s the digital equivalent of picking a pebble off a beach – banal in itself, but imbued with meaning and sentiment for the one who took it.
Nowhere will the phenomenon be more apparent than tonight, at the Men’s 100 metres final. Behind Usain Bolt and the other runners, we’ll see an epilepsy inducing light display, as everyone in the stadium takes a picture. Eighty thousand people will get their very own version of exactly the same image, which will be an underexposed depiction of some tiny green, yellow and red dots.
Each flash we see will be the image seared into the memory of another mind. The race is so quick I bet most people will only be able to get one picture, so the 1/100th of a second captured will come to represent their memories of the experience. I just hope no-one misses the race because they were trying to photograph it.
If only we could harvest each of the Eighty thousand images and put them together! I know artists have done this kind of thing before, but a global event like the 100m sprint final would seem to be an opportunity to do it comprehensively.


This post was slightly half-baked when I published. I wanted to make the point before Usain Bolt won the 100 metre sprint in 9.63 seconds. Soon after he did that, I happened accross a piece by Jonathan Gray in The Junket, about the Future of Memory, which speaks elegantly on the same idea I was grasping for above. He mentions the Proustian concept of ‘Madelines’, a smell or a sound or an image that allows us to access vast vaults of our own memory. My thought: Do photographs act in this manner, or do they spoil and debase the experience of memory? The whole of Gray’s article is worth reading, but this paragraph seemed noteworthy in the context of photographing live events:

Technologies that capture and reproduce light and sound have dramatically enlarged the possibilities for articulating and retelling what happens to us, such that we have been able to sing with moving images and paint with sound. By moving from a state of speculative investigation and serendipitous discovery to highly organised reconnaissance raids on creation’s secrets, our vocabulary for representing things has expanded at an astonishing rate. We are creating an increasingly rich electronic echo of our experience and of the world around us – harvesting light, sound, movement, signal, speech and touch, transmitted and synchronised using invisible waves and configurations of light and magnetism. While we still think of memories being captured, stored and replayed in the form of physical objects – paintings, books, wax discs, tape cartridges, compact discs, hard drives, and electronic devices – we are moving towards a world in which our memories will surround us, whether through new display technologies, retinal projection or direct neural interfaces.

The original post was also half-cocked in that I did not mention a couple of projects which speak directly to the idea of thousands of people photographing the same thing. The first is this is Teleportd, which is a simple yet powerful tool that can search images on Instagram and Twitter and other sharing sites by both time and location. Here is a search for the Olympic Stadium.
Another is Corinne Vionnet, an artist who collected tourist images of the same landmark or tourist destination and creates a composite image that looks like a Monet painting. Her project is called Photo Opportunities.

Photo Opportunities by Corinne Vionnet
From the ‘Photo Opportunities‘ series by Corinne Vionnet

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