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As I age, learn, and change, I think about changes in the way we all respond to images and the way perceptions have changed through history. I've written about it occasionally: in reference to drawing in Flash—which will be more important now that you can draw the same way in Illustrator—and in my perceptions of the impact of gaming.

Recently I was reading through old feeds and found a blog with a flickr stream featuring iconic photos of American history. The slide show is made of images that are probably very familiar to you. If you have a moment, click over to flickr and check it out; you'll see what I mean. In his accompanying blog post, David Erickson claims that the glut of images in our mass media has brought about the death of the iconic image. I know there were those too who claimed television would kill radio and VCRs would kill the movie industry. So even if I don't believe iconic images are dead, I do agree that there is a change taking place.

A difference that I see that Erickson doesn't seem to account for is the passage of time. He mentions the twin towers, how everyone can picture the event, but there's no single image. I think there will be. Maybe not a single shot so much as an evocative view. In the slide show Erickson created he has images that are as clear to me as the twin towers. John-john saluting the flag over his dad's funeral bier, for instance. I remember the image- but actually, I remember one like it. I saw the event in grainy black and white TV and in subsequent news casts. If you check google images, you'll see that there are actually many shots of the event. Different angles, different crops, different moments in time varying by seconds. They are all "iconic".

So I've been using too many words lately. I'll stop here. Are there any images of the past couple of years that you see as "iconic"? Or do you think iconic single images are dead? Help me see the bigger picture.


Cole said:

Iconic images are not dead. The one ingredient you mention is time ... time must pass so that specific images get burned into our conscious. Now the one thing I will say is that we have so many more outlets for us to see images -- it used to be Life magazine created an iconic image by putting it on their cover. Could it be that it will take longer now for one or two images of an event to emerge as important b/c we have so many outlets?

dave said:

I think you're right, it will take longer for something singular to emerge. I'm excited by the volume of images available and the way they're used. Could our idea of what makes a good image be changing? Will kids raised on iphone snapshots continue to find value in larger formats and higher res? I'm thinking this is touched, too, by the vulgate that Lessig mentions-what speaks to us. Will I be able to appreciate the new icons? I hope so.

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