Research – Exploring Identity

In the second tutorial with David Moore, I talked to him and showed him the photographic work I had been carrying out based on ideas and we had a big discussion about what my ideas were and what concepts they focused around. One key term that kept being repeated was the idea of identity and how this has been changed in the digital age with the emergence of social media profiles where the information on the page defines the person. David posed the idea that my project was shifting more to the idea of digital identity rather than specifically online communication, the ideas I had taken from communication can actually be applied to the concept of digital identity however it is very hard to investigate represent the act of communication itself photographically.

The slight transition from focusing on communication, to considering communication as part of digital identity gave new a new understanding and a new approach to my subject matter. I could encompass all the research on communication and the idea of an encounter and combine it with new research on how the act of self representation and identification has changed from the transition from the physical to digital. My ASL project could continue however instead of thinking about relating it specifically to an encounter, I could start introducing ideas surrounding identity and how the individual is presented through online communication. I was keen to avoid obvious portraiture, as in the digital world you rarely get to observe a person in their entirety as you would in face-to-face communication. Even when communicating through video chat, the individual still has the choice and control to frame themselves in the camera. So instead I tried to search for projects that had tackled identity which avoided photographing the person and explored alternative methods of representing identity.


I recently attended some of the 2015 Picbod lectures having taken an alternative module last year, one of the beginning sessions was exploring identity as a concept that is complex and constructed. Michael Spijker’s body of work ‘Nothing of me is original’ explores identity through personal possessions, using an assortment of them to produce an abstract self portrait. He continually took them as the years progressed and as a viewer we see the iconic signs of consumerism and capitalism which manifests itself as fashion and trends. There are some snapshot images included in the project which, in relation to my project, I find less effective but overall the aesthetic of the whole project is appealing and intriguing.


The idea that the changes in society are a factor in identity and representation is a concept that links to my project however instead of investigating personal possessions I could apply this to digital identity. The key analysation when considering these materialistic self portraits is the clean, organised and consistent layout. All of the background colours are the same and despite the layout of the images changing slightly, the size and the general aesthetic of them is kept the same. I believe that this has been implemented to allow the viewer to have the best chance of comparing the content and really looking at the images themselves rather than the page as a whole. Previously I researched The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte on data visualisation and it maintained that when designing features that encourage comparison, the structure of the aesthetic should be kept very consistent to demonstrate that it is the data (in this case the visual data in the photographs) which is fluctuating and it is this that we should be examining. This design choice is definitely one I should be referring to when making decisions about my photographic work, if I am to encourage the viewer to examine the visual data between images I must keep the aesthetic, format and structure consistent.

In addition to the format of the images, I can take a lot of inspiration from the content in the images which attempt to show identity without depicting the actual form of the individual. This abstract, minimalist method of representation would compliment my idea for the ASL (Age Sex Location) image set because this explores the concept that an individual can be reduced into three forms of information. In order to effectively convey this concept through my images, I must pursue a form of representation that strays from conventional portraiture and approaches to representation. Where Spijker chose an assortment of products and personal belongings to represent the identity of the individual at different points in time, I must find a method of representation which reflects the transition of communication and identity from the physical world to digital communities.


When revisiting the Picbod content I came across a quote from David Bate  from ‘Photography: the Key Concepts’ 2008 which stated, ‘Portraits fix our identity in what is essentially the art of description’. This idea of the individual describing themselves through a visual representation is extremely interesting and it relates heavily to the digital act of representation that we see today in social media. The user carefully constructs their own personal profile, choosing which information to show, what pictures best represent their identity and even what personal interests they have. The culmination of this process is a personal profile which effectively describes the individual in a manner in which they would like to be represented. What really interested me about the quotation however was the use of the term ‘description’, in the physical world we would perhaps interpret the word description as a written or spoken extract, perhaps even a physical print. In the digital world however the ‘art of description’ could and perhaps should be interpreted as the process of writing and generating the code which is the basis for all content online. When the individual uses an interface to ‘describe’ their identity, the digital process behind it scribes this identity in the form of code.

This transition from physical to digital, from physical form to digital code has also been seen in the practice of photography. Where analogue photography is a highly physical, mechanical practice, the digital image is fluid and can take many forms from the visual manifestation, to binary code in which it can be transmitted and shared. A photographer who has focused on the concept of the code behind digital images is Andreas Mueller Pohle with his project Digital Scores. He took the oldest analogue photograph with an exposure time of eight hours and transformed it into coded entities using digital technology to explore the concept of visual representation, the different manifestations in the digital age and challenge the boundaries of what could be considered a visual representation.

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The interesting thought is that despite the human viewer not being able to read this code and understand what the code has the capacity to visualise, a computer looking and reading this code would instantly be able to know and show what the code describes. The practice of transforming the photograph into the code which would support the digital image is extremely interesting and is definitely a concept that can be related to my ASL image set. I had identified previously that I was searching for an alternative representation of the digital image and by changing the manifestation of the digital image to code instead of what the code indicates would be really interesting for my project. It challenges the conventional notions of representation and identity whilst reflecting the change in the way an individual represents themselves in the digital world. It compliments the concept behind my ASL image set which indicates that for ease of communication, an individual is increasingly condensed into three defining pieces information. The idea that a visual representation being seen by viewing the supporting code compliments and strengthens my explorations. I definitely want to take this process forward and work with it in relation to my ASL image set, bringing the two ideas together.



Researching and exploring identity has been extremely beneficial to my project as it has encouraged me to approach my subject matter in a new manner with a new way of thinking. Instead of trying to visualise the communication itself, I have progressed to consider how the dynamics of online communication has changed the way an individual represents themselves and constructs an identity. Through my research in online anonymous chat rooms I have identified that the individual is increasingly becoming reduced down into three defining pieces of information: age, sex location (ASL).  I can couple this concept with my recent research, taking inspiration from Micahel Spijkers and Andreas Mueller Pohle and apply it to my own project. My new aim after this research is to take my imagery further by researching more methods of using into code. My images when completed will aim to challenge conventional notions of identity and representation whilst strengthening my explorations into the dynamics of digital culture.


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