The idea of authorship and ownership of imagery has become increasingly complex in the era of digital photojournalism and photography as a medium. The ease of reproduction and dissemination in the medium of digital photography has facilitated the capacity to produce, publish and share content online; however it has also allowed competent individuals to steal and ‘hack’ this content. A hacker is defined as a person who uses technology to access information that is meant be off limits. In relation to photojournalism hacking can be characterised as the unauthorised reproduction and sharing of imagery that is deemed to be the property of the photojournalist who produced it or the organisation it was produced for. The ethos of the digital era appears to be that all information should be free, which has perhaps been encouraged by the fact that social media now has the status of being the largest free archive of imagery and moving image. There are many complexities in the digital online culture in relation to security and protecting information; as the digital image is coded information, it is also at risk.
Does hacker culture encourage or actually devalue the digital image? Or has the growth of social media and the mass image culture contributed to this desire for free information. A range of photographers have chosen to stop taking images and instead work with ‘found’ or ‘appropriated’ photography; which essentially is acquiring imagery either physical or digitally and producing work with them. Photographic artists Broomberg and Chanarin chose to take Brecht’s book ‘War Primer’ and create a second version named ‘War Primer 2’ in which they physically deconstructed the old content of the book and combined it with imagery from taken from digital sources which complimented and contrasted the nature and dynamic of modern day war and terror.
The process which Broomberg and Chanarin used to obtain their imagery can certainly be percieved as hacking, they took old analogue imagery taken and belonging to one photographer and combined it with digital imagery sourced or ‘hacked’ online despite the ownership of the imagery; the imagery from the Abu Gharib scandal was purchased is now owned by AP but Broomberg and Chanarin didn’t pay a fee to use it. Are Broomberg and Chanarin contributing to the hacker culture that has been created by digital age and subsequently are they putting the professional photojournalist at risk? Or are they simply reacting to the saturation of imagery generated by the mass image culture? There are many questions surrounding the process of hacking in relation to photography and photographic art that currently appear to be unanswerable, most specifically in relation to commercial value. It still remains to be seen whether the ease of reproduction will be downfall for the digital image in commercial valuation.
There is the notion that the process of hacking can be used for an ethical reason, with organisations such as the Chaos Computer Club who worked with the Birmingham Open Media lab to create installation pieces which comment on the security systems created by companies which claim to protect their users. The current installation is a project by the CCC which features the work of hacker Starbug, who responded to Apple’s release of the iPhone which had touch recognition software by successfully hacking it with a fabricated finger print, just two days after it’s release.
A video of the process behind it, combined with an collaborative installation piece on retina software acts to raise awareness about the flaws in modern security systems. The Computer Chaos Club constantly works to address the flaws which could potentially put citizens in danger using creative, conceptual projects to provoke change. Their practice is working to eventually protect information through the process of hacking.
The act of hacking, although used by some to make a positive statement, is used by others for destructive purposes. The anonymous forum 4chan has been behind a number of hacking scandals and internet hoaxes which demonstrates the power an individual can hold in relation to information. In 2014 a mass of nude photographs depicting celebrities and citizens were hacked and released on the 4chan forum as a demonstration of the weaknesses in cloud storage.
The publishing took place in waves which saw some of the favourite female celebrities depicted nude in photographs that they probably taken assuming they would never be seen. The destruction of privacy caused a massive backlash from the public, as the popular Jennifer Lawrence was one of those targeted, however the images kept coming. In addition to this a Florida Art Gallery proposed to use the photographs for an exhibition called ‘No Delete’ which was consequently met with equal disproval. 4chan was also responsible for the Internet hoax ‘cut for Bieber’ which resulted in a mass of images on social media depicting the fans of Justin Bieber self-harming in an attempt to join this fabricated campaign.
The purpose behind this campaign was perhaps to demonstrate the power of social media and how engagement with one concept can occur on a mass scale, however the content of this hoax was extremely volatile and consequently put masses of citizens in danger. With experiments and statements such as this, can the explorations into hacker activity ever be deemed as acceptable? Although previous statements such from the CCC have been to try and eventually protect the citizen, the fact that they have partaken in an illegal activity by breaching security to access information appears corrupt.
Overall it appears that the practice of hacking is open to interpretation and encompasses a wide range of activity, both positive and negative. Work from artists such as Broomberg and Chanarin who use appropriated photography could potentially be considered as hackers because they take the imagery without the permission of the original user. However this could pose a threat to the professional photojournalist as it puts their commercial viability at risk if the digital image is completely devalued. It is evident that social media has become an important part of digital photojournalism as a free image archive, this also contributes to the threat to the professional photojournalist. However the practice of hacking by some individuals is perhaps corrupting social media, despite attempts from organisations such as the CCC who are working to raise awareness over security flaws. The current state of photojournalism is constantly fluctuating with issues such as the security, devaluation and hacking challenging the status of the digital photojournalist image. In order to continue making social change, perhaps the practice of hacking needs to be addressed and negotiated to protect those who practice in photojournalism, both citizen and professional.