Sociality Barbie

Sociality Barbie is an Instagram account run by a person who is known as Darby, however when the Sociality Barbie account was first created it was anonymous. It simply appeared as if the Barbie was creating the posts as a real person, on first glance some of the images in the account could look like a real person, but when you look closer it is clear that it is the popular mass-made doll.

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The Sociality Barbie account was created to make a satirical comment on popular Instagram culture, to replicate the images that are seen so often on Instagram. Darby creates the notion that there is little individuality and authenticity in these images, they are effectively as mass produced as the Barbie. Sociality Barbie gained a lot of attention as people identified the similarity between the images on this account, to the images that are regarded as popular on Instagram.

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Whilst the images perfectly replicate popular visual culture on Instagram, the captions signal that this is a satirical comment on those images. The captions are either based on the typical captions that might be posted along with the images by serious users, or they comment on the effect taking these images have on the lifestyle of the serious poster. For example, the first image where the caption details the steps to taking a perfect picture, but by the time you take a perfect picture of your coffee it has likely gone cold. But while most of the audience would recognise the humour and find these images amusing, most of us probably make these sorts of images. One reason is because we know if we put enough hashtags in our posts, that they will be seen by more people and therefore liked by more people. But the other reason is that we see these images as the only images worth posting, because alternative images might not get as many likes, despite the fact they may be more interesting. Perhaps this is a form of neoliberal power in play on Instagram, where the users are ‘free’ to post whatever they want, however this freedom is tied to the knowledge that they will probably only gain approval if they post images that align with the prescribed norm.

This account really questions the authenticity and originality of these mass produced images on Instagram. Can these images still possess a notion of individuality when they effectively based on the same template? The scholar Walter Benjamin wrote about photography when it was first developed and when the early discussions about whether photography is art were taking place. Benjamin didn’t consider it possible for photography to be an art form, because of the nature of the practice to produce multiple exact copies, meaning there would be no original. For Benjamin the original piece of artwork possesses an aura, which is in the individuality of the artefact and the fact that it is only in one space and time. Photography however has the capacity to produce many copies that can be viewed in any context, space or time. Therefore Benjamin considered photography to be devoid of aura and originality. When considering Benjamin’s ideology in the context of digital social media, these visual copies would be considered as devoid of aura, with no originality because they are just another version of the same material. As well as Walter Benjamin, Jean Baudrillard considers photography to produce copies, or as Baudrillard refers to them as: simulations. When considering these popular mass images seen on Instagram, Baudrillard would most likely consider them as holograms. Transparent and intangible, these images are holograms that represent a fantasy that people crave, but are unable to occupy physically. Despite the fact that both Baudrillard and Benjamin’s ideas appear to be very relevant for current discussions, we must acknowledge that they were writing in the early stages of photography. They were writing at a time when digital photography and therefore smartphone photography weren’t prominent in culture. Their discussions were aimed at the practice of analogue photography and therefore we can only assume that their opinion would be the same in relation to the digital practice.

Sociality Barbie is actually a good example for the research I wish to conduct, I can take inspiration from this account and the way it makes a critical comment on the content of Instagram. In particular, the way it keeps an element of anonymity up to the end of posting, after which the creator posts an explanation behind why the account was created. This provides the user with an incite as to what the project is and what it aims to do, which is make satirical references. This explanation effectively debriefs the audience, who can then go back through the images on the account and perceive through critical eyes. I can also use this approach for my research project, retaining a sense of anonymity and mystery to the end, after which I will post an explanation behind the account and that it was for research purposes.

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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.

 

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.