Tablets remember so much more than we realize. As we tap and swipe our way mindlessly through ebooks, dating apps and addictive games, we’re creating not just a browsing history, but a physical history of our interactions.
Surface Tension, a new series by New Mexico photographer Meggan Gould, illuminates the ghostly traces we leave on tablets with our fingers. For the series, she scanned and digitally edited the dark screens of a few iPads that were circulating among her family members.
Many tech-inspired art installations try to portray eerie, voyeuristic behaviors on social media, or make a comment about authorship and ownership over content — or are at least interactive. But Ms. Gould’s series is just a traditional photoset, and deals with the tactile, physical traces left on the devices we’re so addicted to. Like with her series of camera viewfinder photographs, she takes a look not at the view, but but how the portals we interact with hang onto our impressions on them.
The photographs have a dark, haunted look, more spectral than dirty. The swipes of finger oil seem like claw marks, only softer, and leave you to wonder what the absent user was up to during their weeks of use. Are the horizontal stripes the turning of a digital page, or just a game of angry birds? Is that dark patch across the bottom a hand or a cleaning cloth, and what created that checkered pattern across the side?
Ms. Gould told Wired that she’s uninterested in looking for usage patterns that could give us some useful marketing insight or teach us how to improve the user experience. She just wants people to look closely at what’s right in front of them.
“I feel like there are a lot of very standard ways of looking at the world and I have this desire to make us stop and look a little harder,” she told Wired. “I want people to look at what we aren’t looking at.”