Commonwealth

Commonwealth is a series of images depicting virtual landscapes, inspired by and made through the video game Fallout 4. This project is an experiment relating to the concept of naive realism, which proposes that reality itself is a flawed concept and therefore the practice of photography can’t depict the entirety of reality as humans perceive it. The series of images also depicts the journey of my character through the environment of the game world, the Commonwealth and my journey as a player into the gaming community. In addition to this, my series of images supports the discussions around considering video games as art and therefore considering the post-photography produced through video games as art too.

My practice could be considered post-photographic as it is challenging the historic analogue belief that photography represents the real, by deliberately capturing the unreal or virtual. In addition to this, the camera plays a different role in the practice of video games, it is the device through which the player sees and perceives the environment. Just as the viewer of the photograph perceives the world through the frame of the photograph, the player of video games sees the word through the lens of this virtual camera. However this lens is the only way through which an individual can interact with the world, which means that each player’s experience of the game is highly specific to what they see when playing.

Commonwealth is a visual project that aims to introduce the viewer to the world of gaming, through an experiment inspired by discussions around naive realism. Perhaps some viewers will look at the landscapes depicted and believe that they are real, however for some it may teach them to look closer and consider that not everything they see in an image is a version of reality, as reality itself is incredibly complex. Lastly I hope that fans of the game Fallout 4 will see these images, recognise the landscape and be reminded of their own experience of the game, their specific play through and their own relationship with the gaming community.

Below is a preview of the photo book Commonwealth and a downloadble PDF

COMMONWEALTH

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Iphoneography as an emergent art world

This paper was written by Megan Halpern and Lee Humphreys, it examines the use of iPhones by those who identify as artists and the construction of an artistic community revolving around the term ‘iPhoneography’. I’m interested in what this paper defines as artistic activity, and whether social media and cameraphone users can actually be considered as practising artists. I’ve taken quotes and sections from the paper and reflected on them in relation to my own research project.

 

In 2010, the most popular camera among Flickr users was the iPhone 3G

This is a really interesting statistic, as for this paper it was able to define that a large number of users operating on a photography-based media platform were actually using a smartphone. As the iPhone was the leading smartphone when these first-generation social media sites were the most used, it makes sense that a community was built around using this model of phone. It would be interesting for me in my research project, to try and find out how many Instagram users are still participating in this identification with the iPhone brand. Whether the user is engaging with the iPhoneography community, or whether they are simply pointing out that they love the iPhone as a brand. As Instagram is an application that was designed for the smartphone, I don’t feel that my research needs to prove that the majority of users are using a phone over a digital camera, however the fact that they are using a phone to make the images, needs to be acknowledged and researched.

 

The lens of remediation helps to place iphoneography in historical and cultural context by drawing attention to the conversation between iphoneography and photography, as well as other visual media

The theory of remediation addresses the idea of technology progressing through reform. This paper draws on Bolter and Grusin and their theory of immediacy and hypermediacy as the twin logics behind remediation. However this paper appears to skim over the definition of remediation and what place it actually has in this article, so I will be researching Bolter and Grusin further to make sure I have a clear grasp of how this article wants to talk about remediation, as I feel it may be relevant for my own research project.

 

 The massification of photo taking  and making that technology has facilitated over the last 100 years have been noted by many scholars (e.g Benjamin 1972, Bourdieau 1996, Sontag 2001)

Benjamin defines aura as that which evokes artwork’s (or natural object’s) uniqueness and permanence.

Bolter et al. (2006) re-examine Benjamin’s concept of aura in the context of virtual and mixed reality.

Aura is not dead with reproducible visual media, the claim, but rather, is constantly lost and found again, existing in a permanent state of crisis.

I picked out a few quotes from the section titled ‘Theorizing photography’, although it appears to be less about theorizing photography as a practice, but rather theorizing mass produced, social photography and redefining it in relation to Walter Benjamin’s theory of aura, in order to be able to establish this type of photography as art. Benjamin’s theory of aura is a classic debate, over whether photography can be considered as possessing a quality of aura and originality when the medium itself does not base the production of visual material on one single copy. Whereas painting, sculpture and other forms of art always produce an original, singular piece, photography, even analogue photography always allows for an exact copy of the proclaimed original. What is interesting about the use of Benjamin in this paper, is the fact that they include another writers take on Benjamin in relation to digital media. The idea that aura is constantly being lost and found in digital media is an interesting take on the theory in a contemporary context. Walter Benjamin, although still appearing to be highly accurate for the contemporary world, was writing when photography was an early invention. Therefore in order to use Walter Benjmain in relation to current, contemporary research, the researcher must acknowledge that Benjamin’s work was written for a different time period and find a way to situate this theory in relation to the current material.

 

The cultural significance of photography has not been dictated by technological advancements alone, but also shaped by evolving social practice (Wells 2000). Bourdieu’s study of photography revealed photography as a process of “collective identity formation”

Liz Wells is one of the key writers on photography and I will definitely be considering her work in relation to my own research project, when it comes to theorizing photography and the practice of social photography in my own research project.  However I haven’t yet researched Bordieu’s writing on social photography, and this quote about photography as a process of collective identity formation is very relevant to what I want to research; my own project will be engaging with how users express identity using the social media application Instagram.

 

Becker defines an art world as the patterns of collective activity surrounding the production of a specific form of artistic expression

Defining art in relation to a social practice was important for this research paper as it allowed them to consider the everyday user of Flickr and the iPhone as a practising artist, because a collective group of users engage in an identifiable way. This definition of an art world could be relevant for my own research project, if I want to consider Instagram users as practising artists.

 

To examine the phenomenon of iphoneography, we chose an interpretive qualitative methodological approach because we were interested in exploring the social practices of iphoneography as an art world

In total, we conducted 20 in-depth semi-structured interviews with those who self-identify as iphoneographers

These quotes were from the ‘Case and approach’ section where the writers define the process and approach behind their research. They explain recruiting research subjects through the website Pixels and by finding Hipstamatic iPhone users from Flickr. The participants from the different places allowed a balance of perspectives. Through a period of six months and research that consisted of interviews and participant observation. The researchers explained that their approach was interpretive, which means that they relied on the fact that the interpretation they made of the subject’s interview answers and the activity they observed were accurate, and what the subject wanted to convey. This is not the approach I have proposed for my own research project, I won’t be conducting interviews but instead combining auto-ethnographic and ethnographic observation of Instagram activity. Therefore my research will be somewhat interpretive, because I will be reflecting on my own activity and attempting to identify choices made by others.

 

The third key practice of iphoneography is the manipulation of photographs through apps or what we call the presence and visualization of the artist’s hand in the iphoneographic image

For these informants, apps literally re-introduce the hand of the artist, thus re-creating aura within their iphoneography

The reintroduction of the artist’s hand in the creation of the image provides an interesting counter to Benjamin’s idea of aura, connecting to Bolter’s theory of aura being lost and found again in digital media. The hand is a concept that keeps cropping up in writing about cameraphone photography, because of the tactile nature of the device, it will definitely be a concept I will draw upon in my own research project, both as a way to research the material and as evidence of the user in the creation of artistic material.

 

we found that opinions on what it meant to be accepted as a legitimate art form also varied. For some, finding a specific aesthetic and set of rules through selective and careful curation, both online and in brick-and-mortar exhibitions would help build an art world similar to visual art worlds already established. For others, legitimation meant thinking about visual art in new ways.

There is a purpose behind this paper, although this is a research project into whether iPhoneography could be considered as art, the writers are really trying to convey that iPhoneography should be accepted as a legitimate art form. However despite this, the voice of the researchers are never seen in their writing, there is this detached sense. This could be because the paper is co-authored therefore the researcher’s can’t really use the word ‘I’ without establishing which researcher is ‘talking’ at one particular time. However in my research project, this is an aspect I will benefit from, this will be my own singular research, therefore I will have the opportunity to use my own voice. I have maximised my opportunity to express my voice as a researcher by also using myself as a subject. This paper feels a bit too clinical for me, when they are effectively describing a highly emotional, subjective concept, which is the creation of art. The concept of art is formed, discussed and reformed with the different movements and to act as if, are a researcher, you are unaffected by the existence and presence of art, seems somewhat ridiculous.

 

Overall this paper has been really beneficial for me to read, in terms of identifying theories I need to research further, writers on photography that I should engage with from a cultural theory perspective and also in considering the approach taken by the researchers. Although I personally feel that this paper seems to be too clinical and detached when describing a highly emotional practice, it does engage with some really interesting and relevant theories. The use of Benjamin and aura is situated and legitimised in this contemporary context by using another writer who has built on this concept of aura in relation to current photographic practices. The concept of the hand, as I identified earlier, is one that is being built upon by many researchers considering the smartphone/tablet as a tool for their subjects and also a tool for their own research. I will need to carefully consider the role of the smartphone in my research concept and also in relation to how I actually carry out my research.

 

Research – Art and Text

When I identified that I wanted to use textual support in the form of captions and/or an artist statement, it was suggested I research further into the use of text in art as this could impact the method I would choose  to include text. I had to decide whether the captions would be considered as part of the image, or whether they would just be the titles of the images, in which case they could exist as captions. The book Art and Text constructed by Aimee Selby provides an insight into the way text is used in art through a series of essays, a background into text and many different examples of text as art.

 

Mel Bochner produced work called ‘Language Is Not Transparent’ in 1970 which was made using chalk paint on the wall. The concept behind the work was to investigate the spatial properties of text, how it’s presence can exist as signage and reality, the relationship between the suggested and the real is constantly fluctuating. The black paint dripping would suggest this piece is a act of graffiti and vandalism, however the white chalk written on the black paint references the way in which text is used in schools to teach. This piece demonstrates that text has many roles and uses in society, sometimes it’s physical presence is the statement, whereas in other cases it is the meaning from the language that is the statement. This is a really interesting introduction into the way text and language can be used in many different ways, and it is just as much about thinking of the way it physically interacts with the environment as well as the content.

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Catherine Street’s work ‘I see nothing in your plan but risks, terrible risks’ is a demonstration of how a title can be incorporated into the work in the form of a caption. The piece is collage and oil paint onto a magazine page, with the background depicting this magical, fantasy-like environment whilst the caption is layered on top, resembling a physical extract from a book. The likeness to a page of a book creates the tone that this work is fictional, story-like and poetic in nature, not mean to make a statement about reality but instead exploring the notion of imagination and hope. This is indicated by the impression the viewer has that they are looking up at the night’s sky, suggesting that the concept is dreams and the consequent inevitability of them ever coming true. I can take inspiration from this work in relation to my own project, considering how a caption can still look like an extract but yet still look really effective and stay true to the concept.

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Artist John Baldessari produced an interesting piece of work called ‘I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art’ in 1971 which was a commission from the Nova Scotia College of Art. The piece itself was meant to make a statement about modern art and discussions over the quality of the piece against the concept behind it. The idea that value is assigned by the craft behind the medium rather than if it makes an interesting statement or inspires discussions. The most interesting aspect of this commission piece for me is the use of the artist’s own handwriting in the work, an option which is open for me to use in my project. Handwriting is a form of identity, through signatures and letters we create our own identity through the way that we write. As my project is about identity it would be an interesting element to consider in relation to how my captions are produced. Previously I was of the opinion the captions would be typed and printed however I could potentially use handwriting to reference the images of colonial photography I have come across in research. The captions were handwritten alongside the printed photographs by either the photographer or the printer, to describe the subject content. I could replicate this approach and handwrite my own captions in my project. Upon reflection however this idea is flawed because I am trying to make a statement about identity becoming information and computer technology taking an observing role over humanity, therefore my using my own handwriting I would be reintroducing a human aspect of identity. If the computer collects the different forms of information, it would also be computer technology that titles the images for the benefit of being able to file it away, my original idea of having typed captions was tested however it remains to be the most appropriate choice for my project.

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I came across two pieces of work by Stefan Bruggeman named ‘Sometimes I Think Sometimes I Don’t’ and ‘I Can’t Explain And I Won’t Even Try’  both exhibited in 2001. The pieces are physical installations of text using vinyl lettering which is an adhesive, securing to the wall with minimal protrusion, giving the impression that the piece is simply part of the wall. This simplistic yet modern approach could be suitable for my project and would give it a contemporary feel which could compliment the content of my project. The drawbacks with this idea is the distinct difference between this flat installation and the way my prints are being exhibition, as they come away from the wall to give the impression they are floating on the wall. Having the captions flat on the wall as vinyl stickers could conflict with this notion, the fact that vinyl lettering in itself is a quite a modern statement could take away from the prints and encourage the viewer to look at the captions as a separate piece of work. In addition to this, the university would be featuring vinyl lettering on the wall with the Collective Vision logo and additional text to give details about the exhibition, if I also used vinyl lettering it would give the impression that this is a installation the university has made as opposed to being part of my concept. Although vinyl lettering is a really interesting and modern way of exhibiting text, it is not appropriate for my project because it would exist to make a statement apart from my prints.

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The next piece of work I came across was ‘Photograph of a book (Art Is To Enjoy)’ by Matthew Higgs which comes from a series of book covers framed and presented as an artefact. The reason I was so interested in this work wasn’t as such the use of the book cover, but the way the text was the important part of the image and the methodology behind the mounting and framing used by Higgs to make this artefact. The mount and thin frame is comparable to Jason Scott Tilley’s work in his project ‘People Of India’ where the careful construction of the artefact mirrored the careful and considerate approach to photographing the portraits that were exhibited. I had decided on aluminium prints as I assessed with the help of Emma Critchley that my prints would be better without a frame as it would encourage the viewer to rely entirely on the information. However there was another route I could take with these images and present them in a manner which heavily referenced that of a portrait, in this case I could potentially include the captions in the actual print, would then, when framed, make the captions part of the actual artefact. If I changed my process to reference that of Higgs and Tilley, I could really pursue the avenue of making my images look like portraits, which would encourage the viewer to engage with them as portraits and try to relate to them. This is an interesting approach I needed to consider against the notion of just presenting the audience with a simplistic, clean presentation method with the captions existing externally from the print. I was torn between these two options as both of which would be a really interesting way of exhibiting the prints, however I assessed that the unframed print would be more true to my concept, as although I am attempting to make a statement about identity, it is more about the individual being represented entirely through information than it is about referencing portraiture.

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Reflection:

This research was extremely eye-opening and made me realise how diverse text can be in the creative process, how the physical presence and materials are just as important as the content. However it may be that the physical presence of the work is the statement behind the project, or in some cases it is the content of the language which reflects the concept. I have seen many different uses of text which have challenged my current wishes for my project in a very positive way, in most cases I have assessed that these methods are not appropriate for my work however I have been able to really focus down and identify the reasoning behind these choices whereas previously I was relying on intuition. I was very close to changing the direction of my project altogether to use text and presentation methods to reference portraiture more however upon reflection I realised that my original methodology would be more true to the idea I wanted to convey at the moment. If I wanted to rework this concept and exhibit it in a different manner I would definitely pursue the portraiture avenue as I think this would be really interesting. Overall it has been really useful to my creative process to research this book, as well as an abundance of new ideas that I will no doubt be visiting in relation to future projects, it has strengthened the choices I made in my creative process by challenging their legitimacy in comparison to other methodology.

The Day Nobody Died – Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

In an apt with Anthony looking at my first draft of the research paper he advised me to consider looking at artistic work within photojournalism or artistic work that can be associated with photojournalism. Photography is a vast medium with various genres and subsets such as photojournalism, documentary, commercial and art and although they can reference each other, it is important that the audience perceives each individual body of work in the most effective environment.

To investigate this idea further I researched artists Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin who produced a body of work named ‘The Day Nobody Died’ which was a conceptual comment on the practice of photojournalism and the experience of war. Broomberg and Chanarin put themselves in the place of a photojournalism, being linked with a troop operating in Afghanistan but they produced work that is meant to be perceived and read as art. Their aim was to reflect the banality posed by the moments of waiting between period of action in war. They achieved this by taking large roles of photographic paper and exposing them to the sun on a day in which there was no active conflict taking place, these sheets of photo-paper were then developed and exhibited in gallery spaces, most recently at the Shanghai Biennale.

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Evaluation:

This work, although associated with photojournalism, is not actually and shouldn’t be considered to belong to the genre of photojournalism. It is an artistic body of work and belongs in an environment where is can be perceived as art; as Barthes discussed there are two responses to an image: studium which is a critical, appreciate response and punctum which is an provoked, emotional response. This work requires the studium approach where the viewer can appreciate the techniques and thought process behind the imagery; this is the appropriate viewing experience for a piece of art. Photojournalism however desires to achieve the punctum process, an emotive response from the image which compells the audience to take action in relation to the content. As Fred Ritchin professed, the purpose of photography is to be useful, in this aspect photojournalism must strive to be useful and provoke social change. In contrast, art is about exploring new methods in which to describe the world with different techniques and perceptions. It has definitely been beneficial to research Broomberg and Chanarin and I will be including this avenue of research in my paper and the independent blog posts I plan to complete.

 

The State of Photography Symposium

As further research, I visited The State of Photography at the Birmingham library at which Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin would be speaking. Although they wouldn’t necessarily be speaking about their work The Day Nobody Died, it means I can grasp their motives behind their work. My notes and evaluation can be seen below:

  • Kriegsfibel – collection of WWII newspaper clippings by Brecht, photographs in newspapers were confusing, the image needed to be decoded, (1955 when photos in news were relatively new)
  • Has photography always been in crisis since it was made?
  • Brecht’s issue with photograph seems to be one we still address today
  • Brecht combined the images with poetry, to teach/direct how to consider and interpret the image (was also interested in aerial photography which was invested in WWI)
  • Access to media has changed today in photography
  • Imperial war museum allowed one archivist access to different perspectives, from the bomb being made to the reform of Liverpool after the war
  • “To win the war you have to win the war of images”
  • The photo opportunity- things are created for the camera and nothing else, relationship between the event being made and the camera documenting it is intrinsic
  • What would be the contemporary images associated with the wars today in Iraq/Iran
  • B and C took the original book War Primer and ‘vandalised’ it by screen printing in new images that are associated with conflict events today (the sources for the images are listed in the back)
  • Image ownership and the life and economy of the photograph, it is a piece of currency and has value, makes it uncomfortable when it is of someone’s suffering
  • Now did AP get to license the images of the Abu Gharib prison? They have more people watching social media than they have journalists on the ground and they bought the images from the relevant social media pages which enabled them to license
  • Bigger narrative of the book is that photography has changed
  • Biometric camera, used by the military to record the individuals they have killed
  • We now have another genre, the photograph of the photographers taking a photograph
  • Photograph of the Obama ministration when they saw the footage of Osama Bin Laden being killed, they were clever on choosing their imagery, they didn’t do what Bush wanted to do in creating an iconic image to throw back against the image of 911 ingrained in society – there is an image of a Navy Seal lying next to Bin Laden’s body to measure the height however it has not been released (B a d C are effectively holding out until this image is inevitably released)
  • The original book was meant to be an opera so B and C have created a video with conflict footage with the music from some of the opera
  • War primer led to the opera project and in Germany they were shown Brecht’s bible, he had used his bible as a notebook when he had run out of paper, B and C wanted to make a contemporary repose to the bible – working with quite radical philosopher who studied the old testament
  • The bible book became a symbol for this unsigned agreement we have with the state without ever being aware of making it
  • They paired imagery with relevant text which reflected on this violent and punishing nature
  • Phrase that appears again and again in the bible is ‘and it comes to past’ ‘so it came to past’ – this kind of links to the structure of soaps these days, these phrases came to represent acts of miracles or good luck which they juxtaposed with pictures of magic tricks. In addition to this there are images of Nazi soldiers being tender toward each other
  • New book project with Grain – for medical reasons many people aren’t allowed in the archive because of the reduced oxygen content in the air, B and C worked with this limitation to build on it, using the memory of the archivist rather than the images as they have the major relationship and connection with these photographs
  • Images in memory is a very interesting concept because for some unknown reason,
  • The mind creates these connections with content that you don’t really know how or why it is connected

Evaluation:

Attending this symposium was really beneficial to me as it informed me about Broomberg and Chanarin and their thought process behind their practice. Although reluctant to define and associate themselves with a particular genre of photography, from seeing their imagery and hearing the ideology behind each body of work I formed the impression that they should be considered as artists or art-based image-makers as they use images to form their work whether it be photographs produced by themselves or using appropriated imagery. I had identified when researching their work The Day Nobody Died that they shouldn’t be considered as photojournalists and attending this symposium confirmed this view and as a result it is important that their work shouldn’t be considered as photojournalism. Their motive is to describe the world differently and although they chose events and locations that are heavily associated with photojournalism, the work should only be viewed in an art context. This is a concept I wish to address in my research paper and use Broomberg and Chanarin in association with this. Overall my research on these practitioners has been extremely useful and I have come away with a case study and visual example for my research paper and blog posts.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction – Walter Benjamin

Illuminations in a book that contains essays from Walter Benjamin, in particular I wanted to read The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction as it was addressed in my first practice run that I would benefit from Benjamin’s perspective in association to photojournalism and industrialisation. However I also considered that there might be some points that are relevant to the mass image culture which is a concept I have addressed in my research paper. My notes and evaluation can be seen below:

  • ‘In principle a work of art has always been reproducable’
  • Reproduction in writing would resemble a similar story
  • Lithography enabled graphic art to resemble reality and keep up with the pace of painting
  • The eye can perceive faster than the pen can draw, pictorial reproduction needed to speed up to suit visual culture and speech
  • In 1900 technical reproduction reached the standard where it had prominence and place in society
  • A perfect reproduction is lacking in presence in time and space – the original has a unique existence in the world
  • A reproduction loose authority
  • In photographic reproduction, the process can bring out details that were previously unseen in a status that is out of reach for the individual
  • ‘Aura’ is defined as a unique phenomenon of distance (you are in the aura of a distant mountain)
  • The significance of ‘masses’ culture is that it reduces the distance, or the desire to be close through seeing a likeness
  • By seeking this likeness/these reproductions we ‘pry an object from it’s shell’ and ‘destroy its aura’
  • Uniqueness of art is also its ‘tradition’ (ritual function)
  • Reproduction draws art away from the dependance on tradition
  • There is also a cult value seen in art
  • Photography and film are new forms of art that have different artistic functions
  • In photography, exhibition value displaces cult value, the early portrait resembled cult values especially for memorial purposes
  • As the exhibition value grew the stance changed and broke out into new mediums
  • Images appeared to have a hidden political value ‘captions became obligatory’
  • Primary question in 19th Century debates as to whether photography is still art, has it completely transformed the nature of art?
  • The camera presents a performance of the subject – this performance is tested out by the camera, the audience takes the stance of the critic (moving image)
  • The distinction between audience/author/writer is being diminished
  • Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the mass audience towards art – ‘the conventional is uncritically enjoyed’
  • Individual reactions are predetermined by the opinion of the masses – simultaneous mass/collective experience
  • Dadaism is all about the literal pictorial representation
  • The slow nature of the painting allows for contemplation but the quick pace of film and photography doesn’t allow this time to interpret and reflect because the viewer is just confronted with more material almost immediatly
  • Duhamel ‘I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images’
  • Quantity has transmuted quality, the mass dynamic has changed the dynamic of society – masses seek distraction whereas art demands the attention of the individual
  • Distraction means avoiding difficult situations whereas art seeks to tackle the difficult

Evaluation:

As expected this essay gave me a better incite into the psychology and ideology behind the mass image culture that I will definitely be addressing in my research paper and independent blog posts. The concept of ‘aura’ being established and diminished through distance is really interesting, for example we no longer feel the need to go and see the world because we can summon a photographic reproduction of it. Aura is definitely a concept I will be addressing in my research paper in relation to the saturation seen in the mass image culture, photojournalists struggle to produce anything that can be perceived and interpreted as new because everything has already been photographed. The idea of the masses looking for this collective experience of distraction I believe is heavily relevant in the digital age – the audience are trying to avoid challenging content by seeking content that can be easily consumed. Photojournalists such as Benjamin Lowy have perhaps contributed to this distraction by producing soft, comfortable photographs which references image-based social media. In addition to this the idea that reproduction and photography had to adapt to keep up with the desired speed of the audience is very interesting and can be applied to digital photography, if anything we can speculate that from analogue to digital, this speed has vastly accelerated. In addition to this the affordable, user friendly smartphone has facilitated the consumer to contribute their own pictorial representation, now they don’t have to wait for professional photojournalism to publish content because they can produce and publish their own. I had identified that Marshall McLuhan would be my leading writer in association to the mass image culture however is is evident that Benjamin’s essay, although it could be perceived as outdated, presents ideology that is perceptive and highly relevant. Overall I have gained a beneficial, historic perspective of photography, photojournalism and the mass image culture which I will definitely be integrating in my research paper.

 

Inclusions and Exclusions: Content of Research Paper

With the approximate target of between 1,500 and 2,000 words (depending on the pace of the presentation), it was clear that I would need to make certain inclusions and exclusions. Although everything I have read can be relevant in some context (even in the ruling out of subject matter), it can’t all be included in this short research paper. If I was doing an dissertation or thesis for a PHD or Masters, I could take these concepts and elaborate on them but my research paper needs to be specific and concise in order to be effective and keep the audience interested. Below is a list of all the concepts and issues I would like to include in my paper:

  • The effect of digital technology on how the audience ‘sees’ the image and how this relates to Walter Benjamin: aura and proximity. Reproduction and generic content in the digital image means that images are skimmed – the proximity between the audience and the image is reduced by the ease of discovering and seeing
  • Mass image culture reduces the impact of the Barthes punctum affect – the desensitisation of the audience to imagery and shocking content – relate to Ritchin, can there be any defining cover/iconic imagery anymore?
  • Social media against conventional media – is the instantaneous nature and the sharing facility more suitable for the fast pace of news today? Who will control the content and who will be responsible for it now the traditional gate keepers are being displaced?
  • Consumable content – mass image culture has possibly shaped photojournalism and other information to become easier for the audience to consume – can reference Benjamin Lowy’s images in this aspect. His imagery is similar to that of Instagram/Polaroid camera therefore the imagery is relatable and easy to consume, but how does this make his imagery useful if it doesn’t provoke? Reference filter bubbles (Eli Pariser) and how the audience should be challenged.
  • Manipulation and the effect on photographic truth, the exploitation of the audience for the sake of a better aesthetic, the place for editing in photojournalism, Martha Rosler’s viewpoint on keeping ‘straight’ photography and conceptual photography separate.
  • New digital techniques, liberation from the photoessay, what new features have been run in response to the new technology available – focus on the case studies from Time Magazine, talk about the new front page in digital photojournalism? What is the responsibility of the photojournalist?
  • The approach to representation – reference Abigail Solomon Godeau’s Inside/Out, Barthes spectator/target, Martha Rosler ‘victim photography’ how exploitation and misrepresentation could possibly happen through photojournalism, the ethics behind photojournalism as a practice
  • The circulation and context of photojournalism as a final outcome – the importance of considering which environment would be most effective for each individual body of work. Marcus Bleasdale changed his existing body of work into a series of comics and now a video game to engage with different audiences. Broomberg and Chanarin however are not photojournalists but artists who produced a work that comments on photojournalism, this work should be kept separate from the genre of photojournalism as this work would be misinterpreted and perhaps be less effective
  • Citizen journalism and the term ‘networked journalism’ from SuperMedia, Charlie Beckett – the increase of citizen content and footage in the reportage of the world, the believability of the content because of the aesthetic and the relationship of the photographer with the environment, do we need the professional photojournalist anymore when we have this free, continuous stream of information from the citizens?
  • Hacker culture and the concept of leaked news in the digital age with the celebrity nude photo scandals, does hackerism have a place in the world of photojournalism, does it reveal news that would otherwise have been hidden, is this news actually in the interest of the public and in that case why was it held back? The idea of all information should be free in the online world against the need of the professionals/publications to make a profit through imagery, social media represents the largest archive of images and video in the world
  • What is a professional photojournalist in the current state of photojournalism? With citizens producing imagery and the ‘free information’ culture created, is there any viable market for the professional journalist anymore? If conventional media starts using the content of social media there might be no place for the professional. Reference Chicago Sun Times example, reference Sports Illustrated for getting rid of their photographers

 

Evaluating the importance of each concept and whether it had a place in my symposium paper was extremely difficult as everything listed above is relevant to the concept of photojournalism now. I had to determine which concepts would link together and flow effectively in the space of 1,500 to 2,000 words. Initially I based my structure on an opposition of Fred Ritchin and Stephen Mayes ideology so naturally I chose to include some of the topics spoken about by these writers which are: new digital techniques, manipulation, the nature of the digital image, the smartphone, mass image culture and the definition of the professional photojournalist.

However in the process of writing and rewriting my drafts it appeared that I needed to include more areas such as the issues associated in representation and photojournalism in the context of art. For this reason I included the work of Broomberg and Chanarin and researched ideology surrounding the representation of vulnerable people. This meant that I had two additional sections, and therefore I needed to trim down and make the original writing more concise. After various other redrafts it was identified that my current structure didn’t appear to flow as effectively as it could do, so I examined the point of each sentence and paragraph in relation to my overall question and adapted the structure slightly. I took some case studies out and rewrote parts of my introduction and conclusion, this was all to refine my symposium paper.

Looking back on the original list of content reminded me that I did have to exclude an awful lot of content, not only in relation to the concepts I couldn’t include altogether but in addition, I could have gone into much more detail on the concepts I did incorporate. In response to this, I have decided to write a series of stand-alone blog posts which examine each individual content, where I will be able to discuss in detail what I would have liked to discuss in my symposium paper. These individual subjects will be:

  • The Professional Photojournalist
  • Citizen Journalism
  • Manipulation in Photojournalism
  • Representation in Photojournalism
  • Hacker Culture and the Impact on Digital Photojournalism
  • The Final Visual Outcome: circulation and context
  • Mass Image Culture and the Impact on the Image
  • Social Media and Conventional Media
  • Exploring New Digital Techniques

There are certain points addressed in my original list that will be encompassed in these broader topics as some of them relate to the same or similar themes. These independent blog posts will be published and marketed on my social media outlets to inform the viewer that there is additional content, should they wish to read further. In summary, this is my response to my problem of deciding which content to use in my symposium paper. If I was to continue this work further after the module I might consider releasing these smaller scale pieces either in the form of a talk or visual presentation.

Marcus Bleasdale and Aaron Huey

Marcus Bleasdale is an award winning photojournalist however like Sebastio Salgado, he didn’t start his career in photography; he started working in a bank. Whilst working at the bank Bleasdale started experimenting with photography and the crises in the Balkans caught his attention, as it did with many members of the bank. However whilst the people around him were thinking of conflict in terms of their own investment, Marcus sympathy towards the victims and subsequently left his job to pursue a career in photography. After attempting documentary photography Marcus Bleasdale reflected on his practise and identified that he needed to be educated in how to effectively construct a narrative. After studying photography he then began his career in photojournalism, perhaps not knowing how effective his work would be.

Bleasdale began work in the Democratic Republic of Congo examining the conflict and those affected by it; working his way down the river documenting the population. Previous bodies of work produced by documentary photographers didn’t depict any change whereas Bleasdale wanted to expose the truthful situation rather base his work on a preconception. Marcus Bleasdale professes that photography is working to understand the concept or issue and the impact on the people involved; if your thought process is right you can effectively engage and reflect. Engaging on a personal level is extremely important to make the work strong, if there is no passion behind the content the higher authorities won’t be persuaded to instigate change. Bleasdale was personally affected and engaged by the conflict in the Congo where the issues of commerce were exposed; consumers of electric products are fuelling conflict perhaps without realising it. The body of work produced by this examination of the Congo was ‘The Rape Of A Nation‘ and can be considered as the most well known content from Marcus Bleasdale; however despite the strength of the work there is a reason for this awareness.

Marcus Bleasdale has identified along with other professional such as Fred Ritchin and Stephen Mayes, that magazines are not the only source anymore; digital technology has expanded the capacity to reach people. A photographer is an author of an idea and as such they are relied on to both produce and publish the work; the supplier role of the photographer has been extinguished. Therefore as publishers the photographer must draw on inventive methods to get their work seen by different audience; perhaps considering using an existing body of work in a different manner. A body of work can be constantly evolving, assuming different forms to engage with different audience, Marcus Bleasdale has taken this idea and applied it to ‘The Rape Of A Nation’ through the process of collaboration. It was taken and transformed by visual artist Paul O’Connell into a series of comics which were created to engage with a younger audience. In extension Bleasdale is also developing a video game called ‘Blood Minerals’ which will reflect ideas about The Congo conflict and aim to address another demographic. Bleasdale stresses that it is important to include a take action feature as without one, the audience can be captivated by the piece of work but without a means of taking action both everyone involved with the image are rendered helpless.

Aaron Huey is most well known for his work as a photographer for the National Geographic however his photographic career started before this with photographic origins in traditional documentary work. His Pine Ridge project was a serendipitous find and despite no interest from publications, Huey examined in creative and alternative methods until interest was sparked because the culmination of that work was visually what they had not seen before. Huey proved that he makes works on his own terms, taking risks where necessary to make sure that story is told. His role in the National Geographic meant that he could reach more people and this force behind him coupled with the strength of his belief is the driving force behind his work. Huey expressed that great work comes from going into the unknown and greater depth comes from constant re-examination; through this process the project will evolve into a body of work with real substance. He explains that a story of size can create immense pressure for social change which may spark a change reaction, for example some of the features from the National Geographic has gone on to change international law.

Huey references Stephen Mayes by stating there are boundaries of magazines as they take portions of photographic ideas to fit their own structure, the can remove the context and limit potential from a body of work. The process of collaboration can break the boundaries of the existing medium and as a result of which can get your work seen by a new demographic. In response to this concept Huey collaborated with visual artists Shepard Fairey and Ernesto Yerena to produce pieces of street art. As these two visual artists have a big following, it was a way to ensue that Aaron Huey’s concepts and passions were seen by an entirely different audience and through which they would hopefully share with others in turn.

In reflection it appears that collaboration is a key concept not only with the subject in the photograph as Mansour and Davidmann profess, but also in the publishing and distribution of the work prior to producing it. Both Bleasdale and Huey have expanded the capacity and reach of their work through this collaboration and as a result stand to engage with a much wider audience. This hopefully will culminate in a very small minority of the world’s population who are unfamiliar with the concepts and issues they address in their photography. This links heavily to the ideology of Shahidul Alam as Bleasdale and Huey are exploring the different tools available to them as photojournalists in their drive for social change. The use of different mediums has allowed them to really identify the strengths and weaknesses of their current work and also allowed the opportunity for previous work to evolve. As Aaron Huey identified, practitioners must find the ‘soul’ of the concept that drives and interests them, then they will begin to explore what really matters. The repetitive concept throughout the work of practitioners such as Mansour, Davidmann, Bleasdale and Huey is that their purpose is to provoke social change, not just produce ‘pretty pictures’. This nature is reflected in the questions that Jonathan Worth asked us in relation to our final piece in Phonar:

  • What is the problem?
  • What is the solution to it?
  • What wouldn’t happen if this work wasn’t made?

This ‘problem-solving’ approach to a body of work is the catalyst to evoke pieces with substance and gives us the means to move past the production of ‘decorative work’ and enter the field of social change.