Visual conversations: the semiotics of intimacy in phonecam images

Simone O’Callaghan

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This paper examines how image based communication is being transformed by phone-cameras. It particular, shared universalities of understanding are examined in the context of mobile phone photography where without the use of images, such meanings may not otherwise be communicated. The underlying premise is that the pervasive properties of the mobile phone camera have made it a much more intimate device than the traditional camera, where the user’s attention does not focus on the device itself, but rather through the device to the person at the other end. In this light, social interaction is being mediated by pervasive and affective (Lasen, 2004) technologies, where those participating are constantly switching between the role of the reader and that of the author as images are conveyed back and forth. Textual analysis of these images with reference to authorship, semiotics and post-structuralism are discussed. This paper examines not only content and subject matter of the photographs but also the physical context of the photographer (often they are doing something else at the same time); the ephemeral nature of the digital image. And the assumption that many photographs are taken to show others who geographically and temporally many never share the same space as the photographer.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes
Event1st ISA Forum of Sociology, Sociological Research and Public Debate - Barcelona, Spain
Duration: 5 Sep 20088 Sep 2008
Conference number: 1st


Conference1st ISA Forum of Sociology, Sociological Research and Public Debate
Internet address


  • Visual sociology
  • Art
  • Mobile media
  • Intimacy
  • Art research methods
  • Affective technologies


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