Viennese coffee houses are famous, for many reasons, and have historically served as a cultural hub for a long time, from the gatherings of now famous writers and philosophers of the early 20th century to intense discussions among the intellectual avantgarde in the smoke filled cafés of the 1960s. People always also worked in coffee houses – writers writing, students studying, journalists conducting interviews, networkers talking. I always enjoy visiting coffee houses and with a laptop and a wireless connection working in a coffee house has become an attractive option again.
As I pay more attention to social practices of photography, I notice the different ways photographs are used to communicate also in the coffee house. Recently I observed two young women sticking their heads together over photographs displayed on a mobile phone, and discussing whatever it was, presumably relating to partners, friends or family.
The other day I observed a group of four middle-aged women, enjoying what seemed to be one of other regular get-togethers at a café. They seemed to be reasonably comfortable with each other, with one or two women taking the lead in the conversation, and one being very quiet mostly throughout the conversation. However, at one point the quiet one took out a pile of photographs, which had bee taken on a holiday somewhere in the Mediterranean. She started explaining at length each and every photograph as it was being passed around, about the sites visited, the architecture and history, which she obviously had learned about a lot, the others listening attentively, once in a while commenting or asking questions. It seemed to me that while the others were confident in carrying out conversation about this or that, the quiet one needed the prompt of the visual to talk at length. Or maybe she had been holding back waiting for her moment to talk, when she would get the full attention of her friends in making her presentation.
Photographs are part of a normal way of carrying out multimodal communication – talk accompanied by photos, which were taken earlier, displayed on paper or screen. Then of course there is the practice of taking pictures while socializing – that is another story.
Lots of pictures of people looking a photos can be found on Flickr: