In the movie Smoke, Harvey Keitel’s character takes a picture of his Brooklyn cigar store every morning, a routine he has followed for 11 years. The resulting albums, which he mostly keeps to himself, form a photographic record of small day-to-day differences over time. “It’s just one little part of the world,” he tells a friend, “but things happen there, too, just like everywhere else.”
Harvey has lots of kindred souls on the Web. Across the Internet and around the world, people are working on similar never-ending photographic projects. They are making photologs, a kind of Web site that is a combination of photo gallery and visual diary. Photologs, also known as photoblogs, are similar in format to Weblogs, but they are built around regular photo updates instead of commentary and links. Unlike standard Weblogs, they have been largely ignored, perhaps because they make no claims to revolutionary status. But photologs are a powerful idea in their own right—they combine some of the best aspects of Weblogs, such as instantaneous self-publishing, with a big dose of visual stimuli. As the concept catches on and the tools for making photologs become easier to use, they might just become the standard format for presenting personal photos on the Web.
How is a photolog different from a plain old Web page? Many people who have digital cameras find themselves churning out a constant stream of images because it is fun, easy, and cheap to do. Photologs are built to handle that stream, with the newest photos right up front and older ones receding into the background. Traditional online photo galleries lack this chronological structure and can be harder to update. And like Weblogs, many photologs are updated every day, making individual photos less important than the regular flow of images.
Photologgers tend to take their cameras with them everywhere, and this pays off most often in New York City, arguably the photolog capital of the world. Many of the city’s photologs carry on the tradition of street photography, chronicling small things noticed amid New York’s constant visual flux. Quarlo.com, for example, documents lonely urban landscapes inhabited by shadowy figures. Todd Gross, the man behind Quarlo, is one of the few photologgers with the patience to shoot his pictures on film and then scan them. Sometimes he even adds soundtracks, but there are no captions. In a similarly minimalist New York vein are Rion.nu and Slower.net, which focus on the colors and textures of the city’s streets.
Unlike Weblogs, photologs leap over language barriers, which is a helpful thing when global log-hopping. The Beijing teenager behind Ziboy.com doesn’t put captions on his photos in any language, but the faces in his shots say plenty without them. Fotodiario is a simple site that offers enigmatic glimpses of one man’s life in São Paulo, Brazil.
In contrast to these mostly wordless sites, there is plenty of writing on Hunkabutta.com, a photolog by a Canadian expatriate in Tokyo named Mike Clarke. He specializes in surreptitious portraits of city dwellers and explorations of Japanese cultural quirks in journal-style entries.
All of the sites mentioned here have a certain aesthetic self-consciousness about them, but there are plenty of less artsy photologs whose creators are not much interested in attracting a global following. College kids and parents, for example, use them as a place for friends and family to check out their latest doings or their newest baby photos. As is the case with Weblogs, most of these sites will be of interest to only a few people. They document a very small part of the world—but things happen there, too, just like everywhere else.