The Coffee Cup Illustrations of @yoyoha

The Instagram account titled ‘yoyoha‘ is run by Josh Hara and involves a series of illustrations made on the back of a coffee cup. These illustrations are usually topical and focus on popular culture and the digital age, for example the quote from his Instagram profile: ‘Don’t forget to stop and Instagram the roses’. This account, whilst extremely creative and apparently positive, is also a critical commentary on society. However this critique appears to be a good natured attempt at reminding viewers how reliant they are on technology. In addition to this, Hara takes the typical Western activity of getting a coffee from a well known international coffee chain and uses it in a creative critical way, perhaps to also remind the viewers of how prominent capitalism and consumerism is in the daily rituals of our lives.

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Here Hara comments on the idea that technology is as central to our lives as the umbilical cord is to the baby in the womb, that we are completely dependant on it to be able to function. This perhaps tries to make the point that we should aim to loosen our dependancy on our technology and consider the other aspects of life.

Likewise in the image below, Hara comments on a similar sort of idea but specific to the mobile phone, the way that individuals can’t seem to leave the phone along. Many individuals are constantly checking on their phones, unable to live life without the distraction of notifications.

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In the image below Hara references the music video from the song Hot Line Bling from the artist Drake, in which he performed some unusual dance moves, which the whole Internet took joy in ridiculing. There were a multitude of memes and short videos mocking the music video. However this may have been Drake’s original plan, because as the song and music video went viral, it meant that a massive amount of people were aware of his music. Hara uses this viral phenomenon and shapes it to the concept of the coffee cup in this topical illustration.

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Continuing with the music theme, Hara uses lyrics from the popular Adele song Hello, to describe the feeling of seeing a mobile coffee order from the side. Here Hara again is using music from the socially renowned Adele and shaping it to make a comment on coffee culture, most specifically the involvement of the mobile phone to make orders. The helpless situation Hara describes in this image would most likely be referred to as a ‘third world problem’, which refers to the fact that many Western, affluent individuals don’t actually have to worry about the basic elements of survival and often take this for granted.

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Lastly Hara also uses the popularity of the musical icon Taylor Swift and her lyrics in this image to make a clever reference to coffee culture. Hara uses play on words to create a pun, using the ‘Tau’ from Taylor to create a word that sounds like the coffee ‘latte’. He has also changed the lyrics to relate to coffee, which further addresses the concept of coffee culture. However there may have been another reason why Hara changed the lyrics, as Taylor Swift has been trade marking many of her lyrics from her songs, making them unavailable for free use on the sale of other products. Perhaps what Hara is really referring to here, is the threat to his freedom of expression from Taylor Swift’s need to earn any and all money from what she perceives as her intellectual and creative money, despite the fact that she is extremely wealthy and perhaps wouldn’t necessarily benefit hugely from the additional money this trademarking would generate.

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I chose to research and look at the profile of Josh Hara (yoyoha) because it is a really good example of someone using Instagram and visual images creatively in order to make critical comments on topical concepts. Although Hara’s commentary on these different social phenomenons could be viewed as generally positive, he is still drawing awareness to concepts that many would perhaps take for granted. In addition to the illustrations, Hara also uses text creatively to contribute to the visual statements the images make. I can learn a lot from this account in how to make a creative visual statement and I hope to gain inspiration from the activity from this account in relation to my own research idea.

Figures of Authority

Figures of Authority is a photographic project exploring the role of communication and the representation of the individual in the digital age. Just as the digital image is defined by code, the online user is becoming increasingly condensed into information.

Activities such as politics have transitioned to online spaces where electoral candidates have begun to focus their campaigns. In this environment popularity is measured by how many times a statement is re-tweeted and debates can become highly toxic.

In an age where identity is formed using code, there appears to be a significant loss of humanity. If the potential Prime Ministers can defined by a set of figures, it would indicate society is conforming to a transition in identification, which resembles a bygone practice of cataloguing.

 

The project is a photographic response to the issues surrounding online communication, digital identity and the residence of computer technology in society. Building on concerns associated with artificial intelligence and research on the online disinhibition effect it appears as though the online world is becoming increasingly compassionless, impossible to tell whether you are engaging with a person or a piece of software. In this world, information is the key aspect and the individual is being increasingly defined by their digital footprint, constructed of personal information. This inconsequential data, scattered across the Internet using applications and platforms such as social media, is used to form an impression of identity by those collecting it. The idea that an individual can be represented entirely by their information or personal ‘metadata’ references the transition in photography where the image is now made up of information. Visual data is just one form it can take, as the digital image is capable of moving between a latent and manifest state instantaneously. The concept that a person can be completely defined by information is alarming, provoking premonitions of a dystopian future where the individual is recorded and catalogued according only to their online presence.

It has been noted that the transition from physical to online spaces has an active effect on behaviour, with anonymity, disassociation, imagination all contributing to this alteration. The online disinhibition effect is an unconscious change in personality and behaviour; where the emotions of the online user can become detached. This leads to abnormal social behaviour which can take place in two ways, either a rush of intimacy leading the individual to reveal more about themselves, or a release of anger where the individual instigates and engages in toxic activity. Previous excuses for this asocial behaviour have involved the individual disassociating themselves with their actions, believing that their online self is separate. However identity and personality is not thought of as being compartmentalised anymore, but rather as a set of constellations; when an individual enters an online space, certain parts of these constellations align to form a particular arrangement of the individual’s personality. Therefore online identity is not an extension of the self, but is just as much part of them as their physical behaviour. As well altering behaviour, online spaces allow the individual greater control over their identity, with the power and tools available to mediate and construct a picture of their identity with commercial idealism in mind.

The images which form the photographic response are binary-coded portraits of the seven candidates for the 2014 General Election, using appropriated images from their social media profiles. 2010 was a very influential year with a coalition was formed and in the five years following this event, politics has steadily become increasingly discussed in online spaces. Party leaders now have Twitter and Facebook accounts, the General Election debates were trending on Twitter and online quizzes were available to see which party is appropriate for each user. The information from political leaders is notoriously ambiguous, with no guarantee that any promises will be held, or that they aren’t hiding more sinister plans. In addition to this, online spaces have contributed to the mediation of their identity, the careful construction of a positive reputation. The Figures of Authority series is making a new statement, can these binary images be considered as a representation, a portrait of this individual? Although humans can’t instantly perceive what these images are offering, computer technology would be able to instantly read and know what visual data this image is telling them. These constellations and fragmentations of identity physically represented by the mediated profiles of information an individual scatters across the Internet makes online users vulnerable, easily exploited by software. Could a future be approaching where a practice of observing, documenting and cataloguing is reinstated with computer technology assuming the authoritative role over mankind?

Phonar Task: Spoken Narrative

This task was a completely new one, with no pictures or images. The brief was as follows:

“Record a personal story to share with the group.

You should speak your story in person and it’s telling should last approx. 2 minutes (if you prefer to record and publish in advance, that’s fine, otherwise it’s delivered live in session and stays within the closed group).

You should especially consider your choice of story/subject, your audience and your verbal delivery – in terms of your script, language, pace and intonation. No accompanying soundscape.

No pictures. Just a story.”

I found it extremely hard to find a story to tell, I couldn’t immediately think of anything that had happened to me that I wanted to reveal to the class. There are a few people who know a lot of things about me but it was hard to tell them some of the stories even though I know them really well so I wasn’t comfortable about sharing these to the class. In addition to this, some of the stories I know and affected me aren’t mine to tell therefore I didn’t want to tell something that didn’t belong to me. Instead I settled on a more comedic example and decided to try and use my creative writing skills from my English A Level to try and narrate the story effectively. I picked one of my many ‘blonde moments’ that have helped me learn the hard way, this was the time when I accidentally stapled my thumbs together whilst trying to fix the stapler. With the story decided I then needed to figure out how I was going to tell it. I eventually decided on an over dramatic style to try and make the story a bit more humorous because of the obvious contrast between the writing style and the content. I wrote out the story and then sent it to a Coventry University English student to have it proof read after which I considered and made the changes that she suggested.

The final version of the story can be seen below:

Time was running out. In five minutes dinner would be ready. If I didn’t finish this Geography homework I would get my first ever detention. I was racing the hands of time. My fingers started cramping. I pushed through the pain, this had to be done. I had entered a zone where nothing could distract me. My hand sped across the page leaving trails of spiralled ink that would eventually form my essay. Three minutes left, two minutes left, one minute left… and ‘beep beep’. Dinner was Ready! I had done it. There was only one task left to complete; stapling the pages of my essay together. I reached for the stapler and pressed it down. Nothing happened. Panicked, I tried again. Still nothing. I could hear the clank of cutlery being laid on the table. Desperately I pulled the stapler back to examine the top moving my thumbs up the cold metal bar and pressed upwards to see if the stapler was working. It clicked and I felt a stab of pain in my thumbs. Dropping the stapler I gasped and look down. In my haste to test the stapler I had managed to staple my thumbs together, each pin of the staple neatly impaled in both thumbs. Crying out in shock I fled downstairs searching for the one person on Earth to get me out of this predicament; my mum. Torn between frowning and smiling she learnt forward, grasped the staple with a thumb and finger and pulled. With another yelp of pain I was free. But with two bloody holes to remind me of the dangers of staplers.

I was pleased with my story; although I am mainly interested in photography I did enjoy studying English and creative writing so it was a good chance to really engage with this written-based task. I felt confident bringing this piece of work to the Phonar session to read as I enjoyed the experience writing it so I felt I would enjoy the experience of sharing it.

Reflections:

When in the Phonar session it became apparent to me that the experience wasn’t really going to be as I expected, I suddenly felt really nervous and unintentionally volunteered myself to go second. I rushed my story and spoke too fast to let the concept and perhaps the comedic value to be noticed, if I had delivered this story with great confidence then perhaps I would have received some response from the audience but perhaps not as they all seemed to be too nervous to laugh. After reading my story I was able to vanquish the nerves and really listen to the other stories delivered by the class, some of which were absolutely amazing. To see a reflection on what I considered to be the most effective story please click here. There were a number of stories delivered, some read from a script, some delivered from memory and some pre-recorded and played back. Something I noticed was that I really engaged and related to the stories that came straight from the person where it was clear they had no script they were speaking from memory because I felt there was more truth behind them; the other deliverances although effective perhaps didn’t have that element of raw truth there was also an aspect of performance. This relates to the ideas from David Campbell on power, narrative and responsibility as we all made certain choices over how we were going to deliver this narrative. Perhaps a pre-recorded, scripted response allowed the teller to have more control over the narrative and make those exclusions and inclusions whereas simply speaking from memory delivered a more fragmented form of narrative which could be considered less effective. In addition to this I started reflecting on my own narrative which is a highly dramatised version of the event that happened, my narrative could be considered as completely untruthful as the style was fabricated to produce a response. I had the responsibility as a storyteller and I didn’t tell an entirely truthful account of the event that happened because in retrospect I can’t remember the precise details. These details can be considered the context of the event and without all of the information I couldn’t produce an response which was entirely accurate.

Whilst I was considering this it also dawned on me that while some of the stories were comic, most of them exposed a story that was extremely precious to them and made them feel vulnerable. This causes us to identify with how the subjects we engage with might feel when we ask them to give their story to us to tell for them. However in addition to this I realised that I found it extremely hard to share even a comical story about myself because of the feeling of exposure, so how hard would I find it to expose something extremely personal about myself? I decided to set myself a further task to try and write down something about myself that I would find hard to share. It would then be up to me to share this story, the results of this further task can be seen below:

“I found, and still find university hard. I was always uncertain about going to university to the point that I might not have ever made it; my parents did question whether it was something I really wanted to do because I was feeling daunted by the whole prospect. But I visited universities and engaged with Coventry so I chose that to be my first option. I already had it in my head that I would only ever go to Coventry however I put a second option down just for the sake of it.

I got my grades, was really pleased with them and started preparing. I had feelings of excitement but these were soon drowned by feelings of anxiety and sadness as I felt like I would be leaving all that I was living for behind. One of the hardest things to do was to say goodbye to my boyfriend for the very first time, even though I knew exactly when I was going to see him again. I cried a lot and the feelings of excitement vanished.

On the day of moving into university I was feeling detached from the situation, getting ready just felt like going through the motions of a normal day, it hadn’t really hit me that I would be moving out for the foreseeable future. The moving in process was a complete blur as my parents had a limited time to park, although I remember mum took the time to make my bed for me, probably to try and make this experience that little bit easier for me to manage. In hindsight I knew they were probably expecting me to have a stressful time as they had already had experience with my older sister. It was only when they were on the way home that I realised I was alone. I reconnected my situation immediately and it felt like I was literally hit by the anxiety. I had no family, no boyfriend, no friends, no food and most importantly: no routine. I had literally no idea what to do.

This feeling of complete helplessness continued through the freshers week and although I made friends with the best set of people I found it extremely hard to settle into my environment. I would make the choice to go out, buy clothes and be ready then a few minutes later the prospect would make me sick and I would return the clothes and retreat inside myself. The one person who I felt I could be myself with wasn’t there anymore and I was completely unsure of how to act and who to be. In the next few weeks I completely relied on my boyfriend, my family and eventually a councillor to get me to a good place again. I still feel like I need to apologise for my weakness and commend them for their strength in helping me. It has taken over two years for me to feel comfortable at university. Here in this house, with great support from everyone, with modules that I find interesting and engaging and ultimately with some self-belief and confidence, I finally feel okay.

I have gone through a big process of self-evaluation and I’m still working at it. I have identified that I love routines and feeling comfortable so when I need to feel safe I construct a plan of what I’m going to do in a day and when I’m feeling confident I let go and experience life. I feel like university has allowed me to both find myself and look at myself critically and it has benefitted me. However this experience hasn’t yet ended and I am looking at embarking on another huge journey of change when it does. But I am looking at my future with feelings of excitement that are slowly enveloping and reducing the feelings of anxiety.”

The process for writing this story was extremely simple, I simply sat at my laptop and typed. It was important to me that it came from memory and that I didn’t rely on other people to help me produce this, therefore I didn’t get it proof read, I just read through it quickly and corrected any spelling mistakes. In reflection this experience was quite easy to write as it felt very much like I was just talking to myself. I know that if I was to read this out loud in an environment like the Phonar class I would feel vulnerable. However I think I would approach this with a positive attitude having evaluated my original response and identifying that my first narrative couldn’t be considered completely truthful. This story is completely truthful and although I have made some certain exclusions for the sake of length I feel that I can present this as a truthful piece of narrative. Consequently if anyone did want to know more about my experience I feel like this piece is a good entry point, referencing the ideas from Fred Ritchin. My story is acting as the front page image and if the reader wanted to know more they only have to seek me out to receive more details.

In conclusion I feel like I have engaged with the morals behind this task, examining the feelings of vulnerability that a participant may be subjected to and the important of constructing the narrative in an honest and genuine fashion, informed by a foundation of context. When moving forward I will build on the ideas from David Campbell about power and responsibility in relation to narrative, Fred Ritchin in terms of engaging with the reader and trying to provoke and response, and finally from Wasma Mansour as she identified the importance of the subject and their feelings of intellectual and physical safety.