Interpreting Visual Materials

In order to be able to begin to interpret the visual materials that my data collection would generate, I needed to establish how I would go about making meaning from them. Gillian Rose’s book ‘Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials’, provides an introduction into the methodologies that I could potentially use for interpreting the visual materials in my research project.

The title starts with an introduction into considering how visual methodology can be critical. Rose explains that culture is an extremely complex concept, made up of social processes, social identities and social change. Visuality refers to the way individuals see the world, what they see, how they see and what is allowed to be seen by them. In Western society, visuality is an important part of life and this is seen through an increasing saturation of visual content. This apparent centrality of visual content to culture is known as ocularcentrism, a term introduced by Martin Jay in 1993. In pre-modern times, visual images were not very important simply because there were not many of them, the move into modernity increased the production of images. Many scholars discuss why images have become prevalent in culture, from their use in science to their prominent role in mass tourism. In post-modernity the visual is still important, however the relationship between between seeing and believing is constantly being questioned. However post-modernity can still be viewed as ocularcentric because the scale that individuals engage with constructed visual experiences. Jean Baudrillard proposes that in post-modernity it is no possible to identify what it real and what isn’t, we now live in a world that is full of simulations and nothing is original anymore. Donna Haraway argues that this ocularcentric culture is only available to few individuals and institutions, particularly those with histories in military, capitalism, colonialism and male supremacy. In addition to this, there is also the concept of dominant visuality, which denies alternative ways of seeing the world other than those prescribed by the norm.

Visual images are not often seen without accompanying spoken or written text, but the ways of conveying meaning in visual images are different from that in textual material. John Berger wrote and illustrated a book known as Ways of Seeing in which he proposed that we never just consider the thing depicted, but rather we look at the relation between things and ourselves. Just as text evokes meaning when read, an image evokes meaning by being looked at; this looking at an image also involves thinking how the image positions you as a viewer in relation to it. However it is important to consider that not all audiences would respond in the same way to the same image. In order to begin looking at images critically, Rose suggests three rules:

  1. Take images seriously, despite post-modernity suggesting images don’t necessarily depict the ‘real’
  2. Think about the social conditions and effects of the visual object(s)
  3. Consider you own way of looking at the images (as a researcher or viewer)

The image itself has three sites of meaning: the site of the production of the image, the site of the actual image and the site in which it is seen by an audience. In additional to this the image is also shaped by the apparatus used to create it, the compositional element of its appearance and the range of social, economic an political processes that surround the image. The creator of the image should also be addressed; auteur theory suggests that the most important aspect in understanding a visual image is considering what its maker intended to show, however Roland Barthes argued a case for the apparent death of the author. Nevertheless, the viewer is also an important concept in considering the way an image is interpreted, Rose introduced the term audiencing to refer to the process through which an image makes meaning when it is viewed.  The particular audience member will have an effect on the way an image is read and the space in which the image is being viewed also has an influence on meaning making.

In terms of sourcing visual material to study, Rose suggests the researcher should consider the precise format of the visual material, how much material beyond the object the researcher would need. In addition to this, when studying painting as a visual material, the researcher should decide whether seeing the original in situ is necessary, or whether a reproduction would be enough. Of course when you consider Walter Benjamin on the idea of viewing a reproduction, he would argue that seeing the original is the only way of truly seeing the painting in question, because in viewing the original the researcher would experience the true aura of the art. Regardless of whether the researcher chooses to view the original or a reproduction, Rose proposes that the researcher should become an expert on the type of images they want to examine, in order to be able to interpret them fully.

Once the material is gathered, the researcher should consider what approach they are to going to take in order to interpret them. The options Rose covers in this book include content analysis, semiology, psychoanalysis and discourse analysis (in which she splits into two: discourse analysis I and discourse analysis II). Content analysis involves focusing on the compositional modality of the image, it does not consider the production of the image of the audience reception. It is based on counting the frequency of certain visual elements in a defined set of images and analysing the resultant numbers. In order to count the visual elements the researcher needs to create codes, which are a set of descriptive labels or categories that the researcher can then attach to the image. These categories should be obvious and logical enough that if another researcher created a set of codes, they should be very similar. However Lutz and Collins argue that the reducing the image to a series of codes, results in a reduction of the meaning itself. In addition to this, content analysis has the tendency of considering the content that occurs more frequently as more important than the content that occurs rarely.

Semiology involves the study of signs, which according to semiologists, make up all of visual culture. However some scholars discuss that if all knowledge depends on signs, there is a risk that these signs may be misinterpreted. There are a number of terms involved in semiology: the sign refers to the visual element, the signified is the concept or object and the signifier is the sound or image attached to the signified. The referent is the actual object in the world to which to sign relates, an icon means the signifier represents the signified by having a likeness to it, index refers to the inherent relationship between signifier and signified and symbol means a conventionalised but loose relation between both. Denotive refers to a sign that is easily read, connotive means the signs have a higher level of meaning, diegesis is the sum of the denotive meanings and anchorage is the text provided in relation to the sign. Metonymic is a sign that is associated with or represents something else and synecdochal is either a part representing a whole or a whole representing a part. Lastly Barthes referred to a concept of mythology, in which he proposes that meaning is defined not by the content but by the form in which is comes. Interpreting these signs are all about considering the preferred meaning and the preferred reading in relation to the audience. Williamson proposes that signs create a space in which we can create ourselves, however this identity is not freely created but regulated by the environment the signs construct. Semiology has been criticised, as the interpretation one researcher makes of an image, might not be the same as the interpretation of another researcher. In addition to this, there are concerns about semiology and reflexivity, if the researcher fails to acknowledge their subject position in relation to the preferred meaning and the intended audience.

Psychoanalysis was fronted by the scholar Sigmund Freud and involves considering human subjectivity, sexuality and the unconscious. This relates to visual material as the term scopophilia refers to having a pleasure in looking. Pyschoanalysis does not have a code of methodological conduct and is only concerned with subjectivity; referring to the characteristics of the viewer and not their identity. This concept involves considering ideas including the unconscious, voyeurism (which refers to a way of seeing that distances and objectifies what it looks at) and the imaginary (a field of interrelations between subject and other people/objects). Like in semiology there are concerns in relation to psychoanalysis and reflexivity, as psychoanalysis argues that full awareness and knowledge of the self is impossible.

In considering discourse analysis, Rose splits this concept into two parts: discourse analysis I and discourse analysis II. The term discourse is understood as a particular framework of knowledge about the world, which shapes the world we look at as individuals and way we act as a result. Discourse produces subjects and subjectivity is constructed through particular processes, institutes and practices define what it is to be a normal (and abnormal) human. The theorist Michel Foucault wrote a lot on discourse analysis and related it to the theory of power, those with power shape know and the ways of thinking. Discourse is powerful because it shapes the way subjects think, not by oppressing them but by shaping them through the operation of discourse. Rose proposes discourse analysis I as an approach that pays more attention to the notion of discourse expressed through images and text, whereas discourse analysis II focuses more on the practices of institutions. However Rose draws on Rosalind Gill by stating that all forms of discourse is organized to make itself persuasive. In procuring sources for discourse analysis, Tonkiss proposes that quality is not necessarily a priority, rather that the quality of the visual material is important. Discourse analysis I involves a critical reflection on your own research practice, for example a critique of the structure of academia itself in prioritising the study of certain cultures and othering the others. Discourse analysis II involves a critique on the apparatus and technologies of the institution for example a gallery or museum. Galleries and museums were characteristically visited by the middle class because only they had access to an education that included the study of art. In addition to this, the layout of the art gallery in providing singular pieces, produces viewers as contemplative eyes, and the art as objects to be contemplated, as a spectacle. It is also important to consider in what format are visual sources selected, as an archive from a museum or gallery is a product of what the dominant institutions identified as important.

There are other methods to consider visual material including ethnography, Rose also proposes that the researcher can combine methods to conduct a more detailed analysis and therefore produce new forms of knowledge. It has been really beneficial to consider the different methods of analysis available when using visual materials. Content analysis and semiology wouldn’t be very suitable as I feel it would produce a quantitative form of qualitative analysis, which although it might be useful when dealing with large numbers of data, I feel that it is too detached for the research I want to carry out, which focuses on the formation of identity. Psychoanalysis would also not be suitable as it doesn’t consider the concept of reflexivity to be possible, as I am going to be carrying out auto-ethnographic study, I will need to be an incredibly reflexive researcher, constantly reflecting on the data production, collection and analysis in relation to my own subject position. Discourse analysis would be the most relevant to my research project, as I can examine the evidence of discourse in the images and reflect on how particular discourses shape the formation of identity.

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Making Photographs as Part of a Research Project

The chapter titled ‘Making Photographs as Part of a Research Project: Photo-documentation, Photo-elicitation and Photo-essays’ is from the book titled ‘Visual Methodologies: an introduction to researching with visual materials’ by Gillian Rose. Reading this chapter was important because I am planning to use photographs in my research project, which I haven’t done before, therefore I needed to make sure I had an understanding of how photographs can and should be used. From reading this chapter I was able to establish the method that I should use for my research project out of photo-documentation, photo-elicitation and photo-essays.

Photo-documentation refers to the researcher using photography as a tool to make images that document and answer specific research questions they are asking in their research project. The chapter refers to a study in which this approach could be used, which is observing evidence of gentrification in urban areas by documenting the housing, the facilities and the products available in them. The researcher adheres to a shooting script, which is a series of research questions that ultimately shape the kind of photographs that are taken. In addition to the photographs produced, the researcher would also write captions detailing why the photographs were taken and which research questions the photographs appear to answer. Photo-documentation would be suitable for researching a phenomenon that you as a researcher can clearly identify and observe in order to then document it. However the research that I am planning to carry out, aims to engage with a concept that is not clearly observable and it also doesn’t take place in a physical environment, therefore I wouldn’t be able to take photographs of it in the manner that photo-documentation suggests. The phenomenon I am investigating takes place on social media, therefore I need an approach that can operate in a digital environment.

Photo-elicitation is a method that involves giving research participants access to a camera and asking them to document their lives in relation to the research question. Instance where this method has been used is in studies that aim to see what type of products a family uses, or how they experience life as a family. This research method is effective in that it encourages the participants to have an active role in the research, giving them a more powerful voice as they are producing the data. However this more collaborative approach to research can mean that the researcher doesn’t get the type of visual data that they were expecting, or doesn’t get data that is useful to them. In addition to this, the chapter notes that this approach can be time consuming when using analogue camera technology, as the researcher has to wait for the film to be developed before seeing the images. This reference to analogue cameras as the obvious choice, exposes the fact that this chapter is slightly dated in comparison to the current situation; where nearly every individual owns a smartphone with an camera embedded in the device. The crisis of providing a camera to the participant is less relevant today, than it might have been when this chapter was written. Like many writings on photography and visual methods, this particular book was written when analogue photography was the predominate option, therefore I need to consider this chapter in relation to a wider context, most specifically the prominence of camera technology in culture today. It may be that the methods discussed in this chapter, would only suit analogue cameras, therefore I may need to discuss the implications of this method in the digital age and how to possibly rework the methods to my research topic.

What makes photo-elicitation different from photo-documentation, is the interview that the researcher has with the participants who have taken the photographs. This interview allows the researcher have more control over the study and perhaps direct the interview in order to make sure the research questions are answered. The chapter explains that whilst some of the interviews could be structured, usually the researcher would simply identify an image and ask the participant to explain the ideas behind its creation. Whether the images are considered in a linear or non-linear approach is up to the researcher and the participant; the participant may seem enthusiastic about discussing an image that is not at the beginning of the series and likewise the researcher may come to the conclusion that some images may not be as relevant as others. What is interesting about this section in the chapter, is that it suggests the researcher doesn’t look at the developed prints before the interview, they could send them back unseen to the participant, which allows for the participant to remove any images that they feel are unsuitable. This would hopefully maintain the trust between participant and researcher and extend the feeling of control the participant has over what they choose to share with the researcher. However what the chapter doesn’t identify, is that the company or person responsible for developing and printing the images, would have definitely seen the content of the images, meaning that there is no complete confidentiality in the subject. In order to conduct an ethical research project, the participants should be introduced to the idea that the developer/printer will see the content of the images, to make sure that they have the chance to mediate the content of their images. Though some may argue that this would affect the sort of images the participant would take and make them less truthful or instinctive, I would argue that the participant already knows they are being researched, therefore the possibility for full instinctive behaviour would always have been affected.

This section also discusses the photograph as an object; it is a tool for both representation and performance. The photograph represents both the content that it is depicting, and the cultural significance behind it, which is drawn out when the photographer has the chance to explain the meaning behind it. It is this needed for explanation that prompts the idea that the photograph is dependant on the context in which it is being viewed. You can consider the photographs that would be produced by the method of photo-elicitation; in the context of social media, family photographs would be considered and viewed as the documentation of memories, the viewer can choose to communicate that they like/dislike the image or ignore it. However in the context of a research paper, these images would be picked apart by the reader and considered as a critical visual artefact. In addition to the environment, it is the accompanying explanation (or lack of) that is important in communicating meaning. The relationship between photography and text is an interesting concept to consider in the context of art. However in research, the meaning communicated from the image must either be completely clear (like you would expect from photo-documentation) or accompanied by a detailed explanation from the photographer. In terms of analysing the content produced from these visual methods, I didn’t give this section too much attention because Gillian Rose has written another book that is about the interpretation of material produced from visual methodology. I have downloaded the book and will be reading it in order to find out how to use the visual material once it has been produced.

 

It is clear from reading this chapter, that photo-elicitation is the method that would best suit my research project, however the are several elements that pose a complication. First of all, as I have identified earlier on in this blog post, this chapter was written when analogue photography was the predominate technology and therefore the text is shaped around the practice of analogue photography. I need to redefine how the method of photo-elicitation would operate in a digital context, this involves identifying the cameraphone as a research tool and the fact that the process of making, sending and analysing the images would be much quicker. I need to consider how the accelerated practice of digital photography, compares to the slower, considerate practice of analogue photography and what the implications could mean for the visual data that is produced. Second of all, I have decided on conducting autoethnographic study in my research project, which means that there is no collaboration between researcher and participant, because I am both. This complicates the idea of having an interview with the participant to find out more about why the specific photographs were taken, because as the photographer I would already know. The answer to this issue would be to have periods of self-reflection, where I as a participant, explain the reasoning behind the images I have created. Then I, as a researcher can build on this reflection and critically analyse it. This would be extremely complicated, as I can’t draw a definitive line between the researcher and participant. I can’t expel the researcher from my mind when I am attempting to consider my photographs as a participant, likewise I wouldn’t be able to get rid of my own personal opinions when attempting to critically analyse the material. This is not necessarily bad, as it is impossible to observe the world as an objective individual, because I am in the world. I need to make sure that I am incredibly self-aware when carrying out this research. The idea of reflexivity is incredibly relevant here, which I analyse further in other blog posts.

 

Bibliography:

Rose, G. (1962) ‘Making Photographs as Part of a Research Project: Photo-documentation, Photo-elicitation and Photo-essays’ in Visual Methodologies: an introduction to researching with visual materials  London: Sage

Inspiration: Iain Sarjeant

When creating my series of images for the project Commonwealth, I took inspiration from the photography Iain Sarjeant and his portfolio of documentary images. I had been following Sarjeant on Instagram for a while and I always found his images inspiring and so pleasing to look at. His work is a very good example of what I would regard as a traditional documentary landscape photographer, capturing the environment in a way that allows it to speak. These subtle, well framed images place the emphasis on the structures and the relationship with the surrounding environment. The images below are from a series titled ‘Echoes of War‘, which is highly relevant to the images I am produced, of the post-war environment in Fallout 4.

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I studied the images from this series and other collections from Sarjeant’s work and identified details about his style of photographing, which I would regard as traditional documentary landscape photography. Firstly the composition, the subtlety of these images make the structures the most important and dramatic part of the image. The simpleness of the images create a very calm atmosphere, which allows the viewer to really consider the relationship between the structures and the surrounding environment. This quiet atmosphere also creates the impression that these images are timeless. Secondly I identified that through each series of images, there is a consistent colour palette, which really creates a sense of unity between the images. A clear narrative, story and journey is established through this shared coloured palette and I believe that this is an approach I need to take with my images. This consistent colour palette will really come into play when I am choosing the images and sequencing them. Lastly, although some of Sarjeant’s images do feature people, the majority of them only feature the landscape. I feel this is really effective is emphasising that is the environment, the landscape that is the important part. I am going to try and produce the majority of my images without any of the other characters in Fallout 4, partially to maintain the idea that my images are depicting the landscape, and partially because I feel that featuring any other characters would introduce the idea that it is their journey and not the journey of my character. It has been really beneficial researching what I would consider a traditional, documentary landscape photographer, as I have identified many techniques to include in my project, which will hopefully encourage the viewers of my images to consider them as traditional landscape images. Images of the real, when actually they are of virtual landscapes.

David Thomas Smith – Anthropocene

As a group we were assigned a photographer to research and make a presentation based on the following questions. The presentation had to last ten minutes, which meant we had to all contribute ideas in order to answer the questions fully. The questions, the presentation and my own personal response to the questions can be seen below.

 

1. How would you describe the journey the photographer / artist takes you on?

2. Are there key stopping off points?

3. What do you learn along the way?

4. Can you find an image that inspires?

5. Create and a 10 minute presentation.

 

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1. How would you describe the journey the photographer / artist takes you on?

David Thomas Smith takes the viewer on a journey through which he transforms the appearance of the world we live in, from recognisable aerial photography, to digital images that appear to resemble fractal, geometric patterns. He takes the viewer on both a visual and intellectual journey through the images and the description of the project. Without reading the description of the project the viewer could only experience the visual journey, where it appears that the world is being represented in a geometrical, artistic manner. If the viewer is like me, they would be wondering whether they could buy prints of these images and hang them up on their wall because they look really good! However if the viewer also reads and takes the time to understand the description of the project, they would see the images in a new way. Proving that although an image is said to be able to speak more than a thousand words, sometimes text is needed to help the viewer understand.

 

2. Are there key stopping off points?

As I identified earlier, the key stopping off point of the journey is when the viewer reads and understands the description, because it is this textual element that gives the project a new dimension. In the description the viewer learns that the images are in fact a comment on capitalism and the effect capitalism has on the landscapes that it uses to make money. For example these landscapes represent industries including but limited to oil, travel and infastructure. Some of the images document the urban landscapes in which the individuals employed by capitalist ventures operate on a daily basis.

3. What do you learn along the way?

The viewer learns to see the world in a different way and encourages them to consider their initial reaction to the images compared to how you view them when you know the meaning behind them. My initial reaction was to check if these images had been made into a product, which is quite interesting and really demonstrates that capitalism and consumerism is everywhere! I think it also comments on the tension a lot of artists feel towards the relationship between being a free artist and needing to sell their work to pay for their living. Some artists may choose to seek employment in another sector to support themselves and their art, however many do choose to sell their art in order to make money. A short investigation into David Thomas Smith’s website and social media shows me that he doesn’t appear to sell his artwork, at least not from an online store anyway. He might indeed enter negotiations about purchasing the pieces he exhibits, however this is not advertised on his website or social media.

 

4. Can you find an image that inspires?

All the images from this series inspire me, perhaps it would be better to talk about the images that inspire me slightly less. That would be the image that is featured on slide 7 in the presentation above, purely because out of the series featured, it appears to be the less complex visually. This may mean that it is the favourite for another viewer, but I find that the really complex and detailed images earlier in the presentation are much more interesting and visually appealing. The desire to buy them as a series of prints is really strong, however this would probably deconstruct the statement that David Thomas Smith is trying to make.

 

Overall I was so pleased that Paul Smith introduced me to this photographer because I personally love his work. I will definitely be continuing to follow his work online and if he ever does an exhibition that I would be able to attend, I will definitely go (not just because that might mean I can buy merchandise with his images on them!). However on an academic note, I feel that his work really demonstrates the visual journey that a viewer can be taken on, when you use digital technology to transform the visual content of the image. With this visual technique, David Thomas Smith makes a really sophisticated statement about capitalism and the manifestation of its effects on the environment. In addition to this, this series of work really demonstrates how text can be necessary for the viewer to really understand the meaning behind the project. Without the description of the project, I wouldn’t have been able to know for sure that the interpretation I drew from the images was the same statement as the one the artist intended to make. However there is something really interesting about leaving work open for anyone to make their own interpretation. Of course as we have investigated in previous lectures, the concept of naive realism proposes that there is no way to represent anything in a photograph, so no matter how hard the photographer tries to make a certain statement, it will probably always be interpretably different by the viewer.

 

Why Is This Work Important?

Like many other individuals in the world today, I am becoming increasingly involved in the practice and the community of gaming. Fallout 4 is the first game that I have felt really connect me to the community, however when playing I felt extremely morally challenged by the questions being asked of my character and also me as a player. The entire story of Fallout 4 is complex and non-linear, due to the nature of the game, meaning every different player would experience the order of the story different and perhaps not experience parts of it at all. Whilst I appreciated I was playing a game, I also couldn’t avoid my emotional investment in the story towards my character and others. Suggesting that although the game is a fictional piece of entertainment, it could also be considered as a space in which to explore moral questions that might not, or couldn’t be asked in the context of material reality. There are on going discussions about video games being viewed as an art form, with sophisticated graphics that require a high level of computer literate artistry (Travinor 2009). A new emergent medium has been created through these video games, referencing photo-realism but building on it and creating a new stylistic world. The camera represents the device through which the game player both views and explores their world and more recently, through which the player can produce their own form of photographic-type artistry (Giddings 2013). It is this practice of videogame photography that I wish to produce, the images I intend to create will document the locations I associate with my play through of the story and therefore places I believe my character would most likely remember too. In addition to this I aim to capture the environment that my character travelled through in order to progress through the storyline, capturing these in-between places. My choice to engage with the concept of video games and video game art, is because I believe that gaming is becoming more and more important culturally. The industry is growing due to increased technology allowing for a higher calibre of games and because more individuals are becoming part of the gaming community, myself included.

As I have identified, the content in the games can also become an important part of culture as it prompts discussions about both current and futuristic issues, despite them happening in a fictional environment. Likewise, the practice of photography has been recognised as culturally important at engaging with current world issues. In the area of photojournalism and documentary photography especially, photography has served as the means to communicate where perhaps words couldn’t. There have been many iconic images that have stood out and served as the face of some of the most important stories, including but limited to Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Kevin Carter’s image of a starving child and Nick Ut’s image of the girl fleeing a napalm attack. In many of these cases the photographer has been criticised for not intervening in the moment and helping the subject of the photograph, despite these images being the catalyst for social change. Whilst these iconic images may not have directly benefitted the subjects featured in them, in some cases they manage to incite cultural change, a great achievement for a singular image. However there are flaws in photography, past the photographer not always being able to directly help the subject they are photographing. Photojournalism and documentary photography have been the focus of much critical debate about the relationship between photography and truth. The practice of photography itself has historically been labelled as objective, with Walter Benjamin and Andre Bazin identifying the apparent lack of the human hand in the creation of the image, focusing on the mechanical production. However behind the apparently objective mechanics of the camera is an extremely subjective photographer, a human being that has been shaped by their own experience of life. A person that has their own opinion, design preference, style of photography and all of these are communicated through the image; whether the photographer wants them to be or not. Objective photography, in my subjective opinion, is impossible.

So what does a photograph represent if not the an objective truth? And if a photograph doesn’t or can’t represent the truth, then why do we still believe what is depicted in them? So, it would be foolish to suggest that all people believe what they see in photographs to be true. Audiences of images have become increasingly sceptical of the content following various editing scandals in popular media. The first identifiable cases of manipulation in the media can be traced back to the National Geographic Cover of the Pyramids, where the photograph taken was manipulated to bring the two pyramids closer, so that the image could work with the portrait orientation of the cover. The invention and increase of digital technology facilitated a wave new photographs that were altered, shaping certain genres of photography such as beauty; where it is culturally acknowledged that the photograph is probably altered. The theory supporting this scepticism is naive realism, which proposes that the reality we perceive in our own certain way, is definitely reality. In photography naive realism relates to a person looking at an image and believing the photograph to be able to represent the entirety of reality in one frame, despite there being many other elements to reality (such as movement and sound). Naive realism in reality, proposes that as humans we believe that our way of perceiving the world constitutes what reality is, that is because we can perceive colours we believe these colours are reality, despite other animals only being able to perceive shades of black and white.

In my work, I will be using the concept of naive realism, to create a visual experiment. The images that I am producing could be perceived as reality if the viewer doesn’t look closely to pick out the details, some of them are closer to the reality we experience as humans and some of them focus on details that are unrealistic to us (as the game is set in a post-nuclear war environment. These images will aim to serve as an eye-opener for those who believe everything they see in a photograph, whilst appearing to be a normal artistic piece documenting landscapes. However whilst one purpose of this piece is to be a visual experiment on the concept of naive realism, I also want it to explore the sophisticated narrative experience of contemporary gaming. Fallout 4 is a choice-based game, which means that each player of the game has the potential to create a different storyline; from the order in which the player experiences the main storyline, down to the choices that can be made during conversations between characters. This dynamic means that each different player creates their own version of the Fallout 4 story. My set of images document the version of the story that I created through the specific choices I made my gameplay. This work is important because it engages with two concepts that I believe are currently very important culturally: the world of video games and naive realism. Combing these two concepts has allowed me to create a really interesting piece of work that both follows my character’s unique story in the game Fallout 4 and plays on the idea of naive realism, by attempting to trick the viewer into believing that the landscapes in the images are of a real world.

 

List of References:

Giddings, S. (2013) ‘Drawing Without Light, Simulated photography in videogames’ in

Travinor, G. (2009) The Art of Video Games. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell

 

Digital photography: communication, identity, memory

This paper was written by Jose Van Djick from the University of Amsterdam, I chose to read this paper because I hoped it would make a good connection between the use of photography in forming an identity. I have identified important quotes and sections from this stage and reflected on how they could be beneficial for my research project.

 

Photography’s functions as a tool for identity formation and as a means for communication were duly acknowledged, but were always rated secondary to its prime purpose of memory (Barthes 1981[1980]; Sontag, 1973)

First, communication and identity formation are not novel uses but have always been intrinsic functions of photography, even in the analogue days.

This paper acknowledges that whilst communication and identity formation were the prioritised function of photography in the early stages, it has always been part of the practice. Photography has been used for communication and identity formation since the practice began, now it’s role as memory preserver appears to be lessening slightly. Once again, I am being referred to the classic writers on photography such as Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag, which I will definitely pursue in order to strengthen my writing about photography as a practice.

 

While the internet allows for quick and easy sharing of private snapshots , that same tool also renders them vulnerable to unauthorized distribution.

This quotation identifies that the mutability of digital technology, although allowing the owner to reach new parameters in image-making and editing, it also allows other owners of the technology to use it deceptively. When you add the Internet into the equation, the chances of having complete control over digital images in the online environment is near impossible. Most users of the Internet acknowledge that there is a chance their images may turn up in another context on the Internet, when one agrees to the terms of condition, they are agreeing that the company owns a certain type of right over all the content someone posts. The freedom of the Internet poses a risk to the user that posts content, which they believe is forming their identity. If an image a viewer explicitly thinks of as part of themselves appears in another context, perhaps when another user is drawing on the content to form their own identity, it could be detrimental to the first user’s experience on the Internet.

 

…the increased manipulability of photographic images may suit the individual’s need for continuous self-remodelling, but that same flexibility may also lessen our grip on our images’ future repurposing and reframing, forcing us to acknowledge the way pictorial memory might be changed by ease of distribution.

This quotation addresses what I was discussing in the previous section, users of the Internet have to address the likelihood that the content they post might be repurposed by other users. Whether this would be considered ‘bad’ or not, would depend on the imagined emotional copyright the original poster has placed on the content they post. For some users, what they post might be intrinsic to their idea of identity formation, therefore if another Internet user was to take this content and reuse it, the original poster may feel as if part of their identity has been stolen. However if the user doesn’t place an imagined emotional copyright on the content they post, they wouldn’t mind if the other user was to repurpose the image and use it as part of their own identity construction. In fact on the social media site Pinterest, users are encourage to take other images that they see on the platform and ‘pin’ them on their own digital mood boards. The users can choose to upload their own images, or they can create a mood board that is completely made up of repurposed images.

 

Through taking and organizing pictures, individuals articulate their connections to, and initiation into, clans and groups, emphasizing ritualized moments of ageing and of coming of age.

…anthropologist Barbara Harrison (2002: 107) observes that self-presentation – rather than family presentation – is now a major function of photographs.

The so-called cameraphone permits entirely new performative rituals, such as shooting a picture at a live concert and instantly mailing these images to a friend.

A photoblog, rather than being a digital album, elicits entirely different presentational uses: college students use it to keep their distant loved ones updated about their daily life but individuals may also use a photoblog to start their own online gallery. Photobloggers prefer to profile themselves in images rather than words (Cohen, 2005)

This set of quotes addresses the changed practice of photography in a digital social context and the role of the cameraphone in facilitating these actions. The first couple of quotes identify that individuals take and share photographs in order to find their situation in accordance to the other individuals in their life. However whereas the early forms of social photography revolved around family presentation, current forms of photography focus on self-presentation and the construction of individual identity. The cameraphone is the device that allows this changed form of photography, due to the portability and the ability to perform multiple actions, from producing the image to sharing it on social media. Various phenomenons of social photography have been facilitated by what the cameraphone offers the individual such as the increasing popularity of Snapchat and the selfie: a self portrait with the characteristic aesthetic of being taken using a device like a smartphone.

 

Sometimes pictures are accompanied by captions that form the ‘missing voice’ explaining the picture.

It is the voice in the caption that I also wish to research in my project, as it is not just that image that speaks to the viewer; the textual element is just as important in negotiating meaning. However I want to address the fact that choosing a caption that works when accompanying the photograph, is a highly artistic practice. This is where I can bring in discussions from the world of photography in relation to cultural theory, which I believe will give my project a greater depth and produce new forms of knowledge.

 

Digital photography is part of this larger transformation in which the self becomes the centre of a virtual universe made up of informational and spatial flows; individuals articulate their identity as social beings not only by taking and storing photographs to document their lives, but by participating in communal photographic exchanges that mark their identity as interactive producers and consumers of culture.

Some theorists have claimed that personal pictures are the equivalent of identities (‘our pictures are us’) but this claim appears to understate the intricate cognitive, mental, social and cultural processes at work in identity formation (Chalfen 2002).

Having one’s photograph taken, as Barthes observes, is a closed field of forces where four image-repertoires intersect: ‘the one that I think I am’ (the mental self-image); ‘the one I want others to think I am’ (the idealized self-image); ‘the one the photographer thinks I am’ (the photographed self-image); and ‘the one the photographer makes use of when exhibiting his art (the public self-image or imago) (p-13).

Cultural ideals of physical appearance, displayed through photographs and evolving over time, often unconsciously influence the mind’s (idealized) images of self (Lury 2002).

Instead, control, over one’s ‘self portrait’ is a subtle choreography of the four-image repertoires, a balancing act in which photographic images ‘enculturate’ personal identity.

In this day and age, (digital) photographs allow subjects some measure of control over their photographed appearance, inviting them to tweak and reshape their public and private identities.

This section draws on the concept of using photography as a tool for building identity, there is so much in this section. I particularly want to draw on Barthes’ four repertoires, or the four images of self the individual has, including the public self the photographer represents in an artistic context such as an exhibition. I want to propose that the individual on Instagram is drawing on all four of these ideas of self at once, in the fact that the individual is creating and curating an image of self by posting material on Instagram, regardless of whether the individual is physically visible. The images posted on a user’s Instagram account could be considered as a collective self representation and the user is the curator of that. Therefore the user is viewing themselves and their own identity, as both the subject of the image with an emotional investment in their own self-image and as a critical observer, the creative professional that is curating their self-image.

This paper has been really beneficial in supporting some of the concepts I have been proposing, such as using photography to express and build of a representation of the individual’s identity. This paper has examined the shift in the priority of photography, from memory preservation to identity formation. However when I consider this paper in relation to Andre Bazin’s writing on the ontology of photography, I feel I can strive to create a new take on photography in the context of Instagram. When an individual is creating an identity through imagery and publishing this identity on a platform such as Instagram, it could be considered that the platform is the basis for memory preservation, preserving the identity of the individual. However when creating this collective visual identity, the individual becomes both the subject and photographer, the creator and curator. The individual in question takes on an emotional and professional role in the construction (and perhaps preservation) of identity. I will further research the reference in this paper when it draws on Barthes and the four repertoires of identity and relate this to my own research.

New visualities and the digital wayfarer: Reconceptualizing camera phone photography and locative media

This is one of the first papers I looked at when working on my Sketching the Field essay, where I had to identify and establish an area to research on and research accordingly. This paper is by Larissa Hjorth and Sarah Pink, both of which are writers who are consistently producing new knowledge about the role of visual technology in culture. Both researchers are from the the RMIT University in Australia, so despite being to identify certain cultural similarities between the UK and Australia, I have to acknowledge that this article was made about locative media in the location of Australia. I was interested in this paper because it touches on Instagram and other photography-based apps and the role that this portable creative technology has on the subjects they researched. I have identified specific quotes and ideas in this paper that I believe will be important and relevant for my own research project.

 

On average, Barbara takes a picture via Instagram at least twice a day. She views the application as a succinct way to mark a place and time for both her own personal memory and also as a sign as part of her journey throughout life.

This paper conducted a series of interviews with 10 participants who acknowledged the use of photo-sharing apps such as Instagram in their lives. Obviously this quotation is a result of the data collection, the writers are able to make statements about user activity, because the user themselves have allowed the researchers to analyse them. These interviews and the data the researchers have collected are constantly drawn upon in the research paper in order to support the theory that they have engaged with, in order to produce new forms of knowledge about the subject. It is this data collection, that provides the evidence and support behind the notions the researcher tries to make. Without this data, the researcher can only make assumptions about what could be happening culturally; the data allows the researcher to make a statement and say that a cultural activity is definitely happening.

 

Talking about where you are provides an excuse to talk and share with your absent copresent (Gergson 2002) friends.

Echoing the sentiment of the postcard, sharing camera phone images says, “I’m here and I want to share it with you” (Hjorth 2005)

I have made comparisons the the travel imagery on Instagram and the dynamic of the postcard, however now I have a quotation in writing to be able to support this. I will be looking up this citation in the list of references for this paper and reading Hjorth’s piece of text in which this quote originates. Often when writers use a quote and cite it, they are pointing the reader to go and explore another piece of text, that despite it being relevant to the project, it probably couldn’t be included because it might take the paper off in a different direction. There are quite a few of these quotes that Pink and Hjorth have embedded in this research paper, that most likely points to another research project of theirs, which would provide really good theoretical support for the discussions in this paper. The other works of these authors would no doubt support my own research idea, therefore it would be beneficial for me to read them.

 

 

Through sharing playful pictures of places as part of everyday movements, camera phone practices provide new ways of mapping place beyond just the geographic: they partake in adding social, emotional, psychological, and aesthetic dimensions to a sense of place.

In-between places like trains, busses or the walk between one building to another are no longer contexts for just “killing time”. These wayfarer spaces, as an embedded part of everyday life, have now become key moments where new forms of visuality (Ingold 2007), and sociality are generated, through camera phone photography and the digital copresence associated with locative media.

Hjorth and Pink transform the notion of place and movement in this paper, in relation to the use of locative, portable media devices. These quotations identify the transformation of the concept of place, to not just consider the physical location of the subject, the photograph or the content of the photograph. Physical presence is not the most important element of social media, the concept of copresence is perhaps more important, as the viewers of the image and the content are together in the same virtual location. Place could also refer to the subject/photographer’s emotional location in the world, the culture and communities that they associate themselves with, how they place themselves in relation to other people in the environment. The notion of place also becomes interesting when you introduce the fact that many people make images when they are moving geographically. Which place becomes more important, the place at which they choose to use their cameraphone to post a photograph, or the location in the image they are posting? How can you identify where a social media user is, when they are posting on a vehicle that is moving like a bus or train? The portability of media technology provides new discussions around the term place, which I will certainly draw upon in my research project.

 

The two moments in everyday mobile media practice we have opened this article with are examples of the millions of intimate media vignettes across the world that are at once photographic, social, locative and mobile. 

Here the authors discuss how the material produced and the activity of these Instagram users can be considered as photographic, social, locative and mobile. They are photographic because of the actuality that camera phone photography has become embedded in culture. They are social because they encourage interaction, even if it is just from copresent friends. They are locative because this activity can be geographically placed, due to many photo-sharing apps allowing the user to tag their location. They are mobile, as the images are most commonly made when the subjects are moving through different environments, both geographically and culturally.

 

By movement we refer to the idea spatially as well as temporally, with many camera phone filters romanticizing the now into analogue-looking genres.

By movement we refer to the idea that we refer to the idea that we inhabit and at the same time are creating a world in movement, an ongoingness, that we contribute to through our own mobility and that of which mobile media play an increasingly inevitable part.

Ingold in fact contrasts wayfaring to what he calls transport.

Place, therefore as conceptualized here follows Massey’s notion of place as “open” a “constellation of processes” forever in movement, changing and unfinished (2005).

This means a departure from the dominant “network”paradigms in visual/media culture and Internet studies, towards a focus on “emplacement” whereby people, images and technologies are always situated, in movement, and part of and constitutive of place (Pink & Hjorth, 2012).

These quotations all relate to the concept of movement and how, like the concept of place, this paper talks about movement in a different manner. Movement in this paper does not necessarily exclusively refer to the physical transportation of the user/subject, but broadens to consider an more abstract notion of movement. This abstract concept of movement includes and refers to the environments the users themselves make by using Instagram, moving through their own creativity, their identity and their place culturally. Movement does sometimes refer to the fact that the user/subject is travelling, and that photographs were made whilst the subject was travelling, however movement should not always be considered to mean physical travel. Hjorth and Pink propose a shift from considering environments to be made up of networks, to considering the theory of emplacement, which is made up of these abstract notions of place and movement and how the subject is situated in them.

 

As Pink has argued, photographs are not simply about what is represented in them, but they are emergent from what was above, below, in front, and behind. They stand for not just the thing or person that they depict, but the trace made through the world by the photographer who has produced them (Pink 2012).

Pink’s take on photography and representation in this section is really interesting and I definitely want to find in which text she discusses this further by tracing the citation to the references section. This quotation acknowledges that the photograph is not just a static, fixed moment in time that is contextless. A photograph is shaped by the photographer who made it, the content that is being photographed and the device that is being used to make the image. The photographer themselves are shaped by their own life experience and the environment they are photographing is shaped by their presence. In this case Pink is referring to the subjective influence these photographers have on their images, from tracing the various routes they take in their lives, to evidence of their design preferences when editing the image. The viewer of the image can also trace the voice of the photographer in the accompanying caption by their use of language.

 

Here it is important to recognize that all forms of presence (including face-to-face) and intimacy are mediated: if not by technology then by language, gestures, and memories (Hjorth, 2005; Mantovani & Riva, 1998).

Despite some proposing that the communication through social media is heavily mediated, the writers here remind the reader that all forms of communication are mediated. The speaker and the listener, even in physical face-to-face communication are still presenting themselves in a certain type of way and choosing the manner through which to communicate to each other. However the mediation appears to become more complex on social media, particularly Instagram because of the communication being split between visual, textual and sometimes through sound in the case of a video. I want to extend this concept of mediation and communication and relate it to discussions in the photography world about the image and truth. Representation and mediation are two concepts that collide on social media such as Instagram and I believe it is important to investigate that.

 

Through the narrative of the trajectory of the photograph the story brings together the affective, material, social, and temporal elements of the routines and rhythms of everyday life.

Far from banal, a-contextualized images, these pictures deploy the newest of filters and photographic tricks to give a sense of the poetic and unique and are then overlaid electronically onto places.

These two quotes describe the photography of the Instagram user, not dismissing the fact that they record their everyday rituals, but rather acknowledging that this practice of photography is central to the lives of many. The photographs are an important part of the subject’s creative expression and therefore become important for the researcher. The seemingly uncreative photograph of an everyday task or journey, is actually an important moment of creativity for a subject that perhaps would not engage with photography if they didn’t have a cameraphone or an app like Instagram. As a researcher I’d like to focus on the important role of Instagram as one of the photo-sharing apps available in facilitating and encouraging creativity from people that wouldn’t perhaps self-identify as artists.

 

This paper has been incredibly useful, in both supporting the other research I have done and giving me new ideas and concepts to research next. I have identified that Larissa Hjorth and Sarah Pink are influential writers who have written a number of texts on subjects that are extremely relevant to my research. Therefore I will be seeking other work from these two authors in order to build on the research I have already done and to see if there is anything that is discussed in the other papers that I might have missed in this one.