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For users of the image messaging Snapchat app, expressiveness is largely mediated through in-built filters and extensive use of short pieces of text and emojis. It is also contingent upon the disappearance of the image after a set time. The certainty these images will not be retained – that they will disappear – sanctions a degree of liberty in what is sent between users. However, there is also a reciprocal level of trust, since despite the app itself having no feature to save an image, recipients can screen capture the images they receive. Users do receive notification that their image has been saved in a screen capture, and this is likely to elicit a spontaneous reaction of despair, a breach of the code of disappearing images that is implicit in Snapchat’s communication method. In this essay, I propose Snapchat portraits express not the face as image but image as perplexing, disappearing, mutating phenomena. With their filters and distortions they unsettle our notions of the index and with their built in disappearance they challenge any notion of image as a memory prosthetic. Snapchat, as a form of portraiture, is not engaged with likeness or reproducibility. Instead, it stresses duplication, disguise and disappearance as the dominant features of contemporary culture.
- Keywords: photo filters, Snapchat, Snapchat portrait
John Hillman is an educator, image-maker and writer. Based in the U.K. his interests are focused around post-photography theory – an investigation into the contemporary account of what the image is becoming. This has led to thinking through the aesthetic, philosophical and technological approaches to image making. Ultimately, his written work and his practice is an interrogation of how images operate in a contemporary culture, which is currently largely structured by the digital.
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- Cover photo: John Hillman: Snapchat - a Brief Encounter, 2016.
- By Subject: augmented reality, physiognomy, social media