The Social Uses of Personal Photography


Virtually everyone is in some way affected by personal photography. Photos are of great practical and emotional value: as a record of important life events, of children’s growing up, and of daily life. Yet this ubiquitous technology is changing radically in this digital, networked age -- and is in the process of changing even more.

The goal of this study is to understand the social uses of personal photography as an aid both to understanding how people use and will use emerging digital imaging technology, and to designing technology that supports people’s actual practices. A secondary goal is to develop methods and conceptual tools based in the social sciences for understanding the uses of — and resistance to — emerging technologies, and forinforming design.

Digital photography, the internet, and networked image-capture devices such as web-enabled cameraphones are creating major changes in photographic possibilities. Our premise is that users define a new technology according to its usefulness for their on-going activities, concerns, goals, and practices. To understand the emerging and potential uses of digital imaging technology, then, we are looking at the higher-order purposes or social uses for which present imaging media and technologies are used, as well as at other activities for which emerging media and technologies may be useful.

In this study, we are interviewing casual photographers, including both digital and analog photographers and photobloggers. We gave networked cameraphones to graduate students in our program. And we are examining photos on publicly-accessible photo web sites. Currently, we are interviewing users of

We are drawing on the literature of HCI, visual sociology and anthropology, visual studies, new media, and the history of photography.

We've identified a set of social uses of personal photos:

page last revised 4/25/07
Last modified January 01, 1970