Objects of Remembrance: a Networked Us and Photos of Art
During my brief return to Australia, I’ve repeatedly explained how strongly my journeys have been shaped by social media. Many times, my path has been directed by social media connections and at other times, they’ve had a significant role in helping me process places and experiences.
I’ve written previously about one of these connections, Hasan Niyazi, who was a strong influence as I traveled through Europe. My connection with Hasan reflects a fundamentally new function of photographs in our time, a function transformed by the space of social media and the visual web.
My greatest kick from sharing photos with Hasan was his warm response. He genuinely treasured the photos and my efforts taken for them. This is a secret to the network that surrounds him and his memory – the genuine investment of emotion through exchange, creating real connections through digital spaces.
It’s now the birthday of Raphael Sanzio, Hasan’s great interest and the driver behind his research, his blog and his online presence. Just as I wasn’t alone in struggling to come to terms with Hasan passing away last October nor was I the only one traveling about the world to take photographs of art for him. I enjoyed watching Hasan’s friends and followers find art, share photos with him; watching other connections flowering through art in digital spaces. Our photos were a symptom of Hasan’s influence in our lives, he directed our experiences in museums and galleries like a remote orchestral leader. Fellow blogger Alexandra Korey observes:
I realized that it isn’t just because Hasan couldn’t get that photo, but that he wanted to send US on a task to go see it for him. He had people around the world seeking out Raphaels and other works, often works that they didn’t know about before.
Hasan sent many of us on mini-missions, giving us an ostensible reason for the request. Often he spoke of his isolation in Australia and desire to “see” something, but for the most part he could have found a photo on the internet. Rather, he asked for a “photo of you with…”, i.e. a selfie, with a painting or building. Tangible proof, to him, that we completed our mission. Missions that did not end there but were intended as an opening for further conversation. This is quite possibly an unparalleled instance of many now commonplace phenomena of the web – reductions of distance, creations of networks, collaboration, exchange of information and experience – channeled through a single figure with an unusual ability to form a community.
Today, on Raphael’s birthday, we’re celebrating a Day for Hasan, a day of remembrance. To mark it, I’ve collected photographs and video taken for Hasan, to give a visual picture of the community that surrounded him and still surrounds his memory. I’ve always been curious as to what Hasan’s plans were for these photos. Now, I feel our Day for Hasan is the best possible occasion:
Sedef Piker (@sedefscorner) with The Agony in the Garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Leonor Leite (@LeonorLeiteM) with Miracle of St. Eusebius of Cremona at National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon
Monica Bowen (@albertis_window) at the Kimbell Art Museum
Auriea Harvey (@auriea) with Raphael frescoes at Villa Farnesina, Rome
Gemma Garcia and Sedef Piker (@sedefscorner) with Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Alexandra Korey (@arttrav) with Michelangelo’s Bacchus at the National Museum of Bargello, Florence
I wasn’t prepared for my response to these images as they began to arrive, and the stories that came with them. Each has a story behind it and these are not my stories to tell. Each is a glimpse into a personal, person-to-person connection with Hasan. I’m humbled to have been given permission and generous encouragement to pull this collection together.[tweet https://twitter.com/Obridge/statuses/347691400516755456 hide_thread=’true’] [tweet https://twitter.com/FlaviaDeNicola/status/322278585773748224 hide_thread=’true’] [tweet https://twitter.com/Alli_Burnie/status/402157206394904576 hide_thread=’true’]
These images, which come together through the influence of Hasan, are a personal example of the changing role of photography in our times. Back in 1973, Susan Sontag wrote “to take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality… Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” She wrote at a time when photographs were a physical object, safely kept with the function of remembrance and documentation.
Tim Svenonius took this core concept in his brief and poetic talk on photography in museums at the 2013 Museum Computer Network conference. Titled ‘Hunting, Gathering and Recollecting’, he likened the visitor to a hunter, a collector, of the kind who originally built the old collections which founded our great museums. Photography, in Tim’s talk, still holds its function as an object, a trophy, a document, and in making our own collections of photos, visitors weave and present their own meanings.
But photography in the space of social media, which now constitutes a majority of photos taken, has quite a different function. The photographs for Hasan shown here weren’t originally meant for documentary purposes, but were, as Nathan Jurgenson has written, images with the function of sharing and connecting. “Every day digitally-mediated social interaction is often less about the media object but rather centered in a back-and-forth reciprocal dialogue…. the way to understand photography as it happens on social platforms is not to compare it to traditional photography… but instead as a communicating of experience itself.” The rise of the social, visual web, in which we communicate and connect through images, is the background to Hasan’s success in recent years and enabled his connection through art with so many of us around the world.
Seeing the images in this post, I have a better comprehension of Hasan’s community, it feels more tangible and real. It’s less an imagined “us,” it’s now a community I can see. We are “the networked us”, a concept morphed from a talk by Sarah Hromack on museumselfies, in which she says, we “are growing increasingly accustomed to encountering works of art through selfies…. The museum selfie enables museums to ‘see’ themselves through the eyes of the networked visitor. The ‘self’ in museum selfies becomes a collective ‘we.’”
Yet now, while these images originally functioned to share our experiences and connect with Hasan, they’re shared again here with a dual function. We still share them to connect, with each other now rather than only Hasan, but we’re also treating them with their older function, as longer-term digital objects. These photographs are together now as a collection, documenting our connection with Hasan. They exist with both functions, simultaneously as a sharing of experience and connection as well as in the world of photography as documentary object. These images were borne of their social media context and have evolved backwards in purpose, to become objects of remembrance.
Hasan’s presence in the visual, social web brought us together, and his memory keeps us together. His influence came about by pairing shared experience and individual connection with images of art. I struggle to think of others with the same kind of influence. The ability to attract and hold a community in this way, even after a person has left this earth, is rare. Can other organisations in our community, such as museums and cultural spaces, be inspired by Hasan and apply the example he set? How could his example be extrapolated into conversation and exchange within museums, art galleries and the communities they serve? Can Hasan’s legacy find a place in the way the cultural sector engages its own communities?
This post was written in collaboration with Alexandra Korey who writes at ArtTrav. New submissions to this post will be added on request, you can use the contact form on the Author page of this site or contact me via Twitter to submit. You can read other posts paying tribute to Hasan or follow the discussion on Twitter using the tag #raphaelhasan.