Sentient Photography: Image-Production and the Smartphone Camera

Doron Altaratz, Paul Frosh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Thanks to the smartphone, photography has become pervasive in contemporary digital culture. Yet the smartphone’s very ‘smartness’ profoundly alters the relations of control between humans and technologies in image-production practices. Unlike dedicated cameras, smartphones use built-in sensors for small-scale positioning to ‘sense’ user’s bodily orientations and states of motion. Combined with photographic applications, this ‘sentience’ enables devices to direct user actions and to require user compliance in order to create an image. In this paper, we analyze image-production in three smartphone applications to chart a continuum between two techno-cultural poles. At one pole smartphone photography accommodates a range of human-technological interactions, including the development of new forms of play and experimentation. At the opposite pole, it executes algorithmically-choreographed sentient photography in which ultimate decisions are made by context-aware learning software, radically reconfiguring the distribution of agency between humans and technologies. The development of sentient photography, we conclude, represents the integration of the photographer’s body itself into platform control of image-production.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)243-264
Number of pages22
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021

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