Accepted Paper:

Acts of adding light: digital bling in Arnhem Land  


Jennifer Deger (Charles Darwin University)

Paper short abstract:

Yolngu family photos shimmer with downloaded digital effects. The impact is immediate: animation. Viewers become encompassed in a field of luminosity, force and feeling. But how does this application of 'artificial' glow relate to more uncanny sources of flash attributed to ancestors themselves?

Paper long abstract:

Increasingly Yolngu family photographs feature some kind of added digital sparkle. The effect is immediate: animation. In the image, of course, but also in the viewer.

This paper explores the ways that Aboriginal people in northeast Arnhem Land add digital light effects in photographs (and sometimes video) to generate fields of intensified affect and relationality. Made on phones and tablets, mostly by girls and young women using generic templates from phone apps or online sites like Blingee, these images stand as new, but nonetheless distinctive, manifestations of the Yolngu attention to brilliance as an emergent and alluring force.

However, these photographs only make proper sense—they only ring with the complete tonal value—if one is attune to the shadows, longings and relentless sorrow that animates contemporary Yolngu lives. For those who make and share them, these flashy family portraits are far from shrill. They arouse admiration, affection and often tears. Especially for older people, the experience can be deeply synaesthetic.

Through such photographs Yolngu deliberately insert themselves in—and creatively participate with—a sentient world animated by forces that exceed human agency and control. But might this insistent insertion of digital brilliance simultaneously be part of an on-going reorientation to such a world? In this paper I want to think more about how this 'domesticated' application of sparkle relates to other contemporary sources of light such as the uncanny lights attributed to ancestors themselves—and also those of houses, cities, car headlights, torches and, of course, mobile phones.

Panel P35
Light as material culture, experience and practice