Phonar 500 Word Evaluation

1) Successfully undertake appropriately sophisticated research, analysis and interpretation of information

Phonar has encouraged me to undertake more in research both in relation to my Phonar Final Piece and in other avenues which have really interested me such as artificial intelligence and online filter bubbles. I have analysed and taken my own interpretation from these examples of research and have been able to use and apply this information in my own practise and identified areas to improve on in the future.  David Campbell stressed the importance of context to inform a piece of work and I believe that my research through this module has assisted in the creation of a piece with more substance and meaning behind it instead of the decorative work I had been producing previously. The ideology I have most engaged with is that of Fred Ritchin and Stephen Mayes with their apparent polarisation of ideas, I have analysed their information and it is a structure I am basing my symposium script around.

2) Identify the key issues involved in creating concepts that effectively communicate a particular message to a specific audience

There are a number of key issues involving the creation of concepts in order to communicate effectively to the audience you are targeting and we have investigated this in the Phonar module. David Campbell identified the importance of consideration when creating a narrative relating to the context surrounding it, the inclusions and exclusions made and also the credibility and truthfulness of that narrative. As Alan Feldman stated ‘the event is not that what happens, it is that which can be narrated’ indicating the importance of narrative in examining both historic and current events. Marcus Bleasdale focused on the concept of targeting a different demographic through the evolution of an existing body of work; transforming The Rape Of A Nation into both a series of comics and a video game. Instead of ‘preaching to the already converted’ we need to engage with different audiences and this is a concept I have identified and built on in my production of the Phonar Final Piece. There are obvious issues with digital technology and truth which is a concept I am constantly referring to throughout the Phonar process in my reflections on the weekly lecture content.

3) Independently produce a photographic narrative utilising a range of analytical and practical photographic skills 

In my Phonar Final Piece I produced a non-linear narrative in order to present my analysis and examination into the relationship between inconsequential data and representation. The Spoken Narrative task replicated how a subject would feel when asked to share their story and allowed me to experiment with the content and the nature of the written word to try and produce a more effective and truthful narrative. In my Bending The Frame tasks I have examined the evolution of narrative and produced analytical responses to engage with the issues and concepts addressed by practitioner Fred Ritchin.

4) Show evidence of experimentation with a range of narrative forms and media as a creative method for clearly articulating visual themes, stories and concepts

 In the Alienated Sensory task I worked with sound and imagery to record and convey the concept of a journey through the Coventry streets and then translated this outcome across to the interactive tool ThingLink to gauge whether this method would be more effective. In the Spoken Narrative I reverted back to the written word to both and see how this idea of a very linear narrative style would work within the context of the content being described.  In my Phonar Final Piece I have engaged with digital media and used the applications available to me to produce a blog which formed the artefact; however as identified in my reflection I would chose to collaborate with a web designer to take this concept further. 

5) Critically evaluate their project work and the editorial decisions made throughout this process and its commercial relevance with respect to their chosen areas of specialism.

I have evaluated and reflected on the responses produced to each task identifying the effectiveness of each narrative and reworking it where I could to try and become more effective and perhaps identify with a different demographic. As part of my greater response to the Post Photographic Portrait I have focused on and evaluated on the aspects of the project that I feel have worked, the direction I would like it to go in and the issues and concepts provoked as a result of my investigation. In particular I have reflected on my Phonar experience in my Final Reflection and how this experience and ideology relates to my practise and as a result how it will change in the future.


The Phonar Finish

Approaching Phonar I had the ideology that the photograph was the same as the image, digital photography and video were completely separate mediums and the key issues involved with photography didn’t stretch much more than the limitations of commerce and commercial manipulation. However after being introduced to practitioners such as Fred Ritchin, Stephen Mayes, David Campbell and Shahidul along with many other contributors, I have been able to identify and reflection the key issues associated with post-modern photography following the paradigm shift from analogue to digital.

I am now considering the concepts of narrative, representation and truth are all to be considered in relation to my own practise; for example sports photography is all about capturing a moment in time however the mechanical nature and ‘decisive moment’ notion of analogue photography would suggest that digital is only appropriate because of the instantaneous technology. With the increasing separation of analogue from digital photography there has been an increasing difference between the terminology of the ‘photograph’ and the ‘image’. The photograph is the physical manifestation of the print produced from the analogue camera where the visual content is the only ‘data’ to be extracted. In comparison the digital image is built up of two elements, the metadata and the visual representation. The latent and manifest forms can exist almost simultaneously resulting in the accumulating reference of the digital image to quantum physics. The idea of truth is a concept seemingly being destructed by the evolution of digital photography and the capacity of editing software to fabricate a scene, however with the credibility of the image we must also consider the credibility of the photographer.

In particular I have been engaged by the notion of representation on the Internet and the growing capacity of the computer to plausibly replicate human actions. There is a dialogue between virtual reality and artificial intelligence mostly seen in video game culture and interestingly enough; this immersive practise has been identified as an effective tool for both photojournalism by Marcus Bleasdale and education through organisations such as the Thing Out Loud Club. However with artificial intelligence comes restriction through the form of online filter bubbles, which is potentially challenging the notion of a democracy by unintentionally limiting the flow of information for the sake of relevance. There is also an issue of online safety through the sharing of inconsequential information, which I have identified in my Post Photographic Portrait.

The Phonar module has been responsible for the change in my ideology and practise from visualising and producing ‘decorative’ work to identifying key issues and responding with the most appropriate tool available to me; whether it be photography or another practise such as video, sound or even the written word. I understand that my work in the most case is a starting point; a raw thought to be developed on however I have been able to interpret and reflect on the key concepts, which will undoubtedly form the basis for my future practise.

Catchup with Fred Ritchin

This was one of the highlights of Phonar as myself and student Olly Wood were lucky enough to be able to conduct an interview with Fred Ritchin alongside Jonathan Worth. We had the chance to prepare a question which Jonathan would introduce at the appropriate moment. Ritchin explained the overview of his two books After Photography and Bending The Frame for the benefit of any listeners who weren’t familiar with them, after which we entered into discussion.

Ritchin observed that we are constantly trying to describe the unfamiliar aspects of the world following the latest paradigm shift using familiar but perhaps outdated terminology referencing the description of the motorcar in history as the ‘horseless carriage’. Images and videos are in dialogue now with the production of ‘photo films’ and the capacity to extract a ‘still’  from a piece of moving image. When talking about the strength and potential of the digital image Jonathan Worth suggested the digital image may have more veracity because of it’s embedded meta data. However Ritchin counteracted with the perception that ‘truth’ is an image made up of a wealth of different images including the content, data and context; each of which is easy to manipulate or distort. As Joan Fontcuberta indicated, the credibility of the each photograph now seen in society very much depends on the credibility of the photographer. In terms of the ‘proactive photographer’ Ritchin referenced in previous interviews, this concept is still unseen in the current field of photojournalism however practitioners such as Marcus Bleasdale and Aaron Huey are working towards this idea through the process of collaboration. Although they are still working in the reactive sense, the creative methods they use to engage different demographics are an example of the responsibility David Campbell describes that a photographer needs to take on to produce social change. As Shahidul Alam denoted, photography is the current tool in which we are striving to create change in our society; the introduction of digital technology to which has without a doubt expanded the capacity. However we must continue with the idea of quality that Ritchin continues to examine and ultimately make sure that the most effective bodies of work are the ones that stand out from the noise.

In extension, whilst most practitioners praise the use of digital technology to achieve change Ritchin still states that perhaps the most effective communication of ideas is the original face-to-face interaction. This perhaps references his faith in the front page acting as a rallying point that the population could collectively engage with and respond. He talked about the discussion of iconic imagery on the Subway and although the viral nature of the Internet has been proven to provoke a mass response, this is a very disconnected method of evoking social change. Ultimately the most effective force is a physical group of people which has been narrated throughout history through events such as The French Revolution. In addition to this, the introduction of digital technology has increased the capacity of a person or organisation to control their own image. Ritchin explored this concept in his first title ‘In Our Own Image’ and the power of this control is being seen today through the videos produced and distributed by ISIS. Ritchin also urged society to consider the possible consequences of the digital revolution, referencing the historic example of the motor car; although it brought opportunity, it also eventually brought about climate change. Perhaps the digital revolution in facilitating different tools for social change, has also increased the capacity and provided platforms for the act of terror to be maintained and preserved.

Stephen Mayes in conversation with Wired

This blog post is a reflection on the interview conducted by Pete Brook from Wired Magazine with Stephen Mayes on the concept: ‘Photographs Are No Longer Things, They’re Experiences’.

Smartphones are a pivotal force in the transformation and expansion of photography in relation to mass consumption by the citizen population. The images produced from phones truly reflect the latest paradigm shift; where digital SLR’s attempted to replicate the appearance and characteristics of analogue cameras, smartphones are completely different. There is a fluidity in the digital images that allows the user to make continuous changes that wasn’t seen in analogue photography and the instantaneous nature of communication accentuates this. Ritchin described digital photography as “quantum imagery”; the more we try to examine the medium the more possibilities are opened up and it becomes harder to evaluate. The smartphone device was originally designed to communicate and stream; it is this process of immediate reaction that fuels the existence of smartphone photography. Our relationship with photography is changing from documenting and cataloguing evidence to the act of experiencing and streaming. However we still try and relate the digital image to traditional norms and values, we are embracing the digital culture but are constantly relating it back to familiar ideology, as we did with the automobile.

The main catalyst for the rise in smartphone photography in the media is the accessibility and the ease of the citizen user to produce and publish content. Most of the current events have been documented and experienced through phones; some of the most integral imagery from the Japanese tsunami was captured and shared from a smartphone. However the greater capacity for freedom of speech has created an unstable environment as the traditional gatekeepers are no longer in control of the information. This raises the questions of who should be the individuals providing the information? There is a certain credibility and trustability with the imagery and videography seen from mobile phones however it is not appreciated as a solid, serious medium. However should the population pay photojournalists when there is an online network of citizen journalists willing to provide information for no cost? These speculations are being made by many in the world of media however for now there it is apparent that there is still a role for the professional photographer as they have the skill to construct and read an image in a professional sense.

To see my Storify notes on the interview – follow the link below

To read the full interview – follow the link below

Twitter Discussion: Artificial Intelligence

A key part of the Phonar course is the element of connectivity and openness, this is mostly achieved through the social media platform Twitter. Phonar participants are encouraged to tweet their ideas and notes surroundings the concepts explored in the Schedule with the hashtag ‘phonar’ which allows anyone interested to view all of the tweets related to the Phonar concepts.

In this case the discussion was provoked by the article Fred Ritchin introduced to Phonar about an advance in Image-Recognition software. I was particularly interested in this article because the advance of artificial intelligence is a concept that raises many issues, perhaps the most common is the idea that computers are expanding their capacity to replace humans. Does the element of software change the nature of existing practises? For example could a software version of Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ reference historic actions of documenting and examining a culture with the view of dominating it such as the British colonisation of India? Although the film ‘The Matrix’ still seems a futuristic concept, the act of teaching a computer to examine and essentially understand it’s environment and the people in it could essentially equip them with the tools and knowledge to eventually dominate humans. Perhaps this has already happened? How many people in the world today are completely dependant on technology to survive?

The discussion was shared between myself, Matt Johnston and twitter user Jon Jolley and was based around this speculation whether artificial intelligence has actually reached the point of human thinking. Jon Jolley argued that although computers can ‘decode and describe an image’, it can not fully understand it yet and that we still haven’t seen an existence of ‘robotographers’. To which Matt Johnston responded with the question of whether GoogleMaps could be seen considered as a robot photographer. Certainly although the technology of GoogleMaps is responsible for the imaging of infrastructure we increasingly rely on; it still took the human to drive the car with the camera mounted upon it, to collate this information. With this logic, saved actions in Photoshop could be considered as editors as the human constructed the process but the technology carried it out.

In today’s society it is evident that technology has improved the capacity of the camera to construct the potential for a perfect image by choosing the right settings and even being able to detect a smile which activates the shutter. When posed this fact Jolley counteracted with the view that technology has been equipped with a number of ‘tools’ previously unseen but in it’s current state digital technology doesn’t have the ‘objectivity’ to ‘form a narrative’. However he immediately challenged this notion with an article declaring that a patented book writing system has been responsible for the creation and sales of a vast amount of books, suggesting that technology does have the capacity at least to create a linear narrative. Through examination it became clear that artificial intelligence does actually have the capacity to complete tasks that suggest a thinking process however the exact nature of which is yet to be defined.

Matt Johnston focused around the term previously used to describe the thought process in constructing a narrative which was ‘objectivity’. We typically have a split between subjectivity and objectivity in relation to the construct of content, especially news content. However are these terms the ones to be used in relation to the process of construction made by artificial intelligence? Certainly they replicate that of the human thinking process however they are only measuring data and using algorithms to complete the task given to them. Matt Johnston introduced two terms that would perhaps better examine and describe the contrast between human and artificial intelligence; these are evidentiary and emotive. The evaluation and usage of data by artificial intelligence would the evidentiary thought process whereas the emotive thought process completed by the human would be the inclusion or exclusion of emotion in the construction of their narrative. Subjectivity and objectivity would still be applicable to the emotive thought process as an object approach is the removal of personal emotions which would allow the issue to be examined without bias.

It is clear that Fred Ritchin is right in his urge that we start to redefine the changing environment around us and stop relating unfamiliar content to the outdated ideology we feel safe in. Once we start re-describing our environment we are in a state where we can examine and understand change. As David Campbell outlined, we construct and engage with narrative to fulfil our need to contextualise ourself in relation to our surroundings, therefore it stands to gain that if we define the world we will be able to better understand it. However the examination of the technologic evolution may not become completely achieveable through definition. Ritchin defines digital imaging as ‘quantum mechanics’, the more we try to quantify the effects of the digital revolution, the harder it will become to measure as the evolutionary process fluctuates.

Phonar Task: Reflection (BTF)

The final Bending The Frame task was one I really wanted to engage with having not been able to complete the previous task in the series.

The brief for the task can be seen below:

“Source an image of the Coventry blitz. Ask yourself “how would this have been presented in today’s social and multi media environment? In what ways would it difffer? Is it better or worse?”.

Blog a 250 word reflective account.”

I was positive approaching this task as the reflective side of photography is something I really relate to, and I find examining photographic content and issues sometimes more exciting than the actual production of the image itself! The image I sourced from the Coventry Blitz was the funeral of the first mass grave, I built on the idea of Fred Ritchin when he noted that more photographers should photograph peace and chose a moment that reflects the time after the bombing. I also wanted to break away from the most commonly seen imagery of the ruined buildings as I feel that although they make visually interesting images, that the greater sacrifice was made by those who died in those buildings and not the structures themselves.

My response to the task can be seen below:


This image today would most likely be presented in a multimedia environment in a ‘here and now’ type format perhaps with an interactive image possibly using a tool such as ThingLink. The user would be presented with the original image and the scene visualised in the current time period which would provoke a comparison between society then and society now. The interactive element could come from portraits of those who died, audio of survivors accounts of the Blitz and possible opinions of the Blitz by descendants on those who died.  In terms of which would be the most effective I think that really relates to how and where both artefacts are used, Marcus Bleasdale referenced the fact that different approaches would work for different audiences. Perhaps the original image would be more effective for the elder generation who were affected by the Coventry Blitz, these may also include any survivors. The simple black and white print photograph was the norm prior the paradigm shift therefore it stands that this would probably be the most effective form. In terms of engaging with a younger audience the interactive, multimedia version of the image would be much more effective and easier to distribute to them through social media channels. The nature of the artefact also suits the effect it would have on the individual; to teach them about what happened and provoke them to compare their situation to that of those affecting by the Blitz in that moment. I think there will always be a place for the photograph in the culture of the image as long as there are those who engage and practise analogue photography. As Shahidul Alam and Marcus Bleasdale identified, it is all about finding the right tool to engage with the intended audience.

Discussion: The Narrative of Photoalbums

“Does a print album carry a better narrative than a digital set of images?”

This was the question posed in our Phonar discussion follow examining Sarah Davidmann’s interview which referenced the fabrication of the photo album. In a physical photo album the subject can have a physical involvement in the construction and preservation for example by writing the memory on the back of them. However what happens where there is a missing photograph? It raises questions as to whether it was lost by accident or whether it was removed intentionally. This references the example from Sarah Davidmann where she discovered that although her Uncle Ken was transgender, he was only represented as heterosexual in her family photo albums; any photographic evidence of his transgender identity had been excluded or removed. In the digital culture the manipulation of family narratives is considered to be quite common, however the effect of this fabrication can have still have the same negative consequences. For example Kim Jong Un commissioned the removal of his Uncle Jang Song Thaek from every photograph shared together and in addition destroyed governmental documents that denoted their work together. Although on face value this appears to be comical as those who knew of Jang Song Thaek won’t forget him instantly, as time goes on and this time period becomes that of the past, the presence of this individual will have been lost in both memory and imagery. This can be reflected in the photo album, there is a finality in destroying a print photograph, Sarah Davidmann managed to rescue her Uncle’s memory and re-examined it to liberate his memory however how many individuals have been excluded from their family history for good? In addition to this there is the issue of the preservation of family images using a material which itself can be prone to destruction; surely the indestructible nature of the digital photograph would the better choice.

Print images appear to carry less of a trace than digital images, when we lose or destroy a physical print it is harder to retrieve than a digital image. A digital image will nearly always be findable, as once shared online there is no restriction to the amount of copies that can be made. The issue of findability is something that is being addressed in the society today as the European Union pressure Google to expand the right to be forgotten online outside of the existing parameters. There appears to be a different in nature between that of the physical print and of the digital image and perhaps a different purpose for them. Stephen Mayes identified that digital photography has become more of an experiential medium whereas the physical print exists more of an artefact, continually evidencing the static moment which perhaps means it is more appropriate contextually for preserving family memories.

In the debate between the purpose and importance of physical images compared to digital images the concept of narrative. As David Campbell explained, in order to construct a narrative we need to make certain inclusions and exclusions; it is impossible to encompass the whole world into one story. Although there have been certain instances where digital technology and editing software have been blamed (and rightly so) for the fabrication of the images, it is clear that the narrative can also be used to manipulate and fabricate therefore as photographers we need to take care in putting together a story whether it be with physical prints of photographs or digital images.