Coursework – Image and Text

As I have mentioned in some of my other blog posts, the relationship between image and text has a big impact on how the image is received. This is particular evident on the social media platform Instagram because each image has the opportunity to be accompanied with a caption. Unlike Twitter the capacity for these captions are limitless in terms of character length, so an Instagram user can choose to write anything from an essay to leaving it blank.

There are photographic artists that have considered the relationship between text and images, with a focus on how meaning can be formed as a result. Martha Rosler produced a project named ‘The Bowery’ which consisted of a series of images accompanied with lists of words. The images depicted areas in which it was known that alcoholics frequented, the words that were shown alongside the images were words commonly associated with alcoholics.

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Rosler avoids the obvious representation of an alcoholic, choosing to make the reader think about the subject matter and what the visual clues are trying to suggest. This piece demands intellectual engagement from the viewer not just visual consideration, it makes the viewer think about what the image is trying to say. In this case it is about referring to the alcoholic, but this method of using text could be applied elsewhere, when a photographer is trying to avoid simply taking a straight forward photograph of the subject matter. Without including the person in the photograph, the viewer has to work harder in trying to find out who that person is, therefore they are less likely to jump to obvious conclusions.

This method of representation is what I want to employ in my project, I have chosen images that don’t feature my face or show any clear depiction of my body (apart from one of my hands) in the attempt to avoid the viewer assuming things about my personality from the way I look. I want them instead to consider what the images say about what kind of person I am, to see if they can put a picture together in their head as to who I might be. As an Instagram image is usually accompanied with a caption, I will be including captions in my project. When choosing the images on Instagram, I also took a screen capture of the captions I posted too, this helped me remember what the original posts were about, but I also thought they might be what I could display alongside them.

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As I looked as these captions, I realised that it was not perhaps the words I had written about the images that were the most important part, but instead it was the hashtags I had chosen to include at the end. All my captions fitted the same pattern, I never chose to incorporate a hashtag into a sentence, they were all written at the end of the sentence. The purpose of the hashtag on social media is to classify the material into different categories, making material easily searchable for other social media users. So a user that is interested in the Xbox One and different games could see what other users are currently playing and perhaps connect with them over this shared interest. It has been said that as human beings, were are constantly trying to contextualise ourselves in the world, trying to understand who we are and what our place is in society. By using these hashtags, we are effectively trying to categorise ourselves into different social groups by detailing what we like, what activities we do or what products we use. Michel Foucault wrote that society is constructed by the categorisation of different elements, when we define the world around us we find it easier to find our place within society. However the idea that a single word, or a set of singular words can define a whole person seems so restrictive, just as Martha Rosler might have been trying to say with her work. You can’t define a whole subculture, or a whole person just using a few words, you can attempt to certainly but each individual’s personality is a complex and ever changing thing.

I want to try and adapt Rosler’s idea of representative words and use it in association to my Instagram profile, to try and highlight the flaws using using singular words and hashtags to define a human being. The captions that accompany my images will be singular hashtags, like the kind I added on to the ends of my Instagram posts. However instead of using my own hashtags, in a tutorial it was suggested that I use different hashtags from other people to try and challenge the viewer to match the images to captions that weren’t actually meant for them. I decided to use the top ten Instagram hashtags used in 2015 as accompanying captions for my images, these hashtags are the ones that most people are using on Instagram therefore some of them should surely be able to match up with my images. However if they don’t appear to match up with the images, the viewer can be able to see that the idea of using categories like these to try and encapsulate a whole person is very restrictive. In order to visually reference Instagram, I made sure these captions were written in the font that Instagram uses on their social media platform. The hashtags used can be seen below:

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