Ryan Gerhardt reports that the Lowe Cape Town advertising agency has been running a campaign for The Cape Times that features iconic photos as if they had been self-portraits taken on the fly, as with a camera phone.
In place of the dead hand of history, a renewed sense of presence and immediacy, right? You Are There, or They Are Here. OK, something may have have been lost in the style category–this is definitely NOT a photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt–but you can imagine the iconic moment in real time as opposed to the faded newsprint of its original publication.
But, of course, it is the Eisenstaedt photo, in part, and the manipulations can only make the photo more contemporary because it already is here and has that effect. Indeed, the transfer of meaning also works in reverse: the iconic image is imparting significance to the new visual media and their vernacular practices. And in any case, past and present are being sutured together no matter which way the joke runs.
Not all public cultures have iconic photographs (as a genre, anyway), but South Africa apparently does. And with that comes parody and other forms of playfulness, and for a variety of uses including advertising. It may be the newpaper’s last gasp–and all too revealing of how the iconic photo and print journalism were tied together in a particular era–but it also may be an example of how iconic images and journalism more broadly are making the transition into the new media environment.
Time will tell. If I had to bet, however, I’d say that self-portraits are not going to become great public art. Or perhaps that is more of a wish.