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?

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Interview with Fred Ritchin (Bending The Frame)

In order to make sure my research on Fred Ritchin’s writing was comprehensive I made sure to revisit the interview held with him by Jonathan Worth in which he discussed the ideology behind Bending The Frame. My notes and evaluation can be seen below:

Will people disbelieve photographs?

  • In Our Image – 1990
  • Russell Brand from Adobe went on TV to broadcast the program of Photoshop – he put himself in a photograph to show how easy it is to manipulate a photograph
  • Ritchin said that if everyone will do this there will be a loss of belief in the image – the photograph will no longer be a “quotation” of reality, the mechanism of documentary photography is the concept that once you’ve framed a scene you can only do slight style changes to the image not completely disrupt it
  • Photographs have lost their credibility – it is good that people are less naiive, one of the reasons why the images of the killing of Osama Bin Laden weren’t released was because the government didn’t think the public would believe them
  • There is no longer a credibility with the witness – in the news images we really don’t know what’s going on, we can’t depend on a photograph or a video without the knowledge that it could have been manipulated
  • Man has the power to make the world that of their own image, photographs must conform to their own image rather than proposing or exposing an alternative view
  • Previously photo-manipulation was only accessible to high end corporations such as the National Geographic – the manipulation was to effectively move back in time and move the photographer – we are looking at a completely different era in the making and perceiving of images
  • In terms of being an author of the text/photographer there is a feeling of a voice being diminished when editors choose to manipulate the content.
  • In photographs there used to be a safety because people couldn’t read photographs which is why Ritchin moved in photo-editing because the photograph could suggest so much more and give people many different interpretations
  • The choice of images from some editors are confusing- there was an iconic image of a classical pianist which they disliked because it suggested he was creative, they didn’t think that classical musicians were creative; only Jazz were creative. Ritchin then found an image of a young jazz player in an apartment looking to the sky – they didn’t like the fact he was looking up in the sky because it could suggest something different.
  • As a photo-editor you can have much more impact and argue for the right images to be shown- could be more useful as a photo-editor as there are many photographers but not many photo-editors
  • ‘A vision of Iran’ was one of the first influences of subjective journalism as it was one vision of Iran – Ritchin was told by his boss that they never liked it
  • We need subversive media to counteract the definitive viewpoint
  • The point of photography is not to celebrate itself but to be useful in the world
  • The internet was very much a liberation from the pay model – people could access free content rather than paying a monthly fee from an organisation like the Times
  • Ritchin did work on multimedia possibilities – taking a conventional photo essay and producing a multimedia version as an experiment. The idea was to branch away from war and to try to show peace using Bosnia as an example as a peace treaty has just been signed. Worked with Peress, he would should the footage and take the photographs and Fred Ritchin edited the footage and images. It took around seven weeks to edit a nonlinear narrative as opposed to taking a day to edit a linear narrative
  • You had to take each image and try to think of all the links that it had with the other content- this is the key of non linear narrative deciding which images the viewer would go to when they clicked a singular image.
  • People weren’t used to clicking on image, Ritchin has to suggest to people that you could click on the image because people weren’t used to engaging and interacting with an image in that respect
  • Instead of conventional media telling you what’s going on you as the reader/viewer have to collaborate with the photographer/content producer to make sense of the situation
  • This was presented as a stand alone however it was rejected because it wasn’t in paper form, traditional organisations have been slow on engaging with digital technology
  • Digital media has a different architecture to analogue media as it is mostly code based
  • If we knew the consequences of the automobile at the time of making it, what would we have done to start changing it differently
  • Digital photography is not more efficient photography it is just a different way of self expression and describing the world – David Rogebury used cameras to visualize music
  • Sometimes it’s good to be a bit more pragmatic and show examples
  • What we used to consider marginal photography is now mainstream and the conventional mainstream media is collapsing
  • How can we avoid the apocalypse not how can we wait for it to happen so we can make good photographs of it – proactive photography/reactive photography
  • Instead of there being one way to frame the world – there are multiple ways to frame the world
  • The insider telling the outsiders what is going on – how can be hybridise media and take the best from the citizen and the best from the journalists to produce a new effective form of media
  • We need to build new bridges into the understanding of the world instead of waiting for the horrors and showing them which we have done as media for a long time
  • Post photographic photographer – the photographer after the latest paradigm shift

Evaluation:

As expected most of the ideology in here is reflected in my notes on the book Bending The Frame because Fred is discussing the same ideology he used in the actual book. There are many overlaps and sometimes I find it is easier to hear the points as opposed to reading them, because I can actually hear the tone and context in which Ritchin discusses them. As discussed in my post of Bending The Frame I will be using some of the case studies Ritchin uses in Bending The Frame in my research paper to explore different themes, for example using the National Geographic cover in relation to manipulation. There are some points that I didn’t quite pick up on in the book of Bending The Frame that I have picked out in this interview that I will definitely be developing on either in my research paper or the independent blog posts I plan to write with my extended research.

 

Reference: Worth, J. (2014) Fred Ritchin in conversation for Phonar.org [online] available from <https://archive.org/details/FredRitchinPhonar14&gt; [5 January 2015]

 

The Photographic Image in Digital Culture – Martin Lister

I had identified that this book was extremely likely to be beneficial to me as I have become increasingly interested in the digital age and the impact on the image. In relation to my symposium however there was one chapter that appeared to be more relevant than the others so I made the decision to focus on that however there were some points in the introduction that could be useful too. My notes and the evaluation can be seen below…

Introduction:

  • There is more photography than ever and this has become hard to grasp
  • We should approach photography as a socio-technical object’
  • Photography can be perceived as hybrid and relational
  • Photography appears to be everywhere and nowhere
  • Is photography a ghost medium or a residual practice
  • The theory of photography must be studied with the theory of software and computation
  • Visa: Pur L’Image is a French photojournalist festival
  • Will photography (along with other elements) and software become one meta-media?
  • Phrase ‘it has been photoshopped’ has become part of society
  • Software automates, simulates and augments an existing medium whilst adding functionality
  • Nina Lager Vestburg is a picture research for the Guardian, they moved premises to suit the digital age
  • Getty Images have expanded their interests and reach into a ‘crowd-sourced’ stock

Chapter 11 – Blurring Boundaries (Stuart Allen)

  • Andy Grundberg (1990) of New York Times said that with film, photography was always rushing to keep up with news and now it’s the other way around
  • Digital world usurped the photojournalist mainly because of television – now images and articles support television
  • Pat Kane from London’s Sunday Times said “the claim of the photographic to bear true witness is currently collapsing from in side and outside” – the digital image culture will bring knowledge for the public to decide what is real and what is not
  • Life Magazine folded in 1972 – people said that photojournalism was dead
  • Digital cameras meant that photojournalism could compete with TV
  • In the UK especially photojournalists and paparazzi were being confused (in the lead up to Diana’s death)
  • Journalism on the Internet was changing to journalism of the Internet
  • 911 was one of the major catalysts for the increase of citizen journalism (less than ten minutes after the first plane was hit, there were eyewitness accounts on the internet)
  • Columbia Space Shuttle explosion in 2003 – the image from cardiologist Scott Lieberman taken with an SLR
  • Similarly was the case of Iraq Prison Abu Gharib where the citizens actually involved took images
  • The Asian Tsunami also showcased the power of the citizen journalist – the eyewitness imagery would and could contribute massively to mainstream media
  • Citizen journalism is bottom-up contribution
  • With the London bombings there was a lack of information so news organisations collated images/footage from citizens to produce a comprehensive view on the event
  • Nick Danziger photojournalist from ‘The Times’ said recording human existence was not a job for the amateur as professional journalism goes beyond the eyewitness and delves into inquiry
  • Yahoo and Reuters wanted citizen journalists to contribute and ‘work’ for the company/news service
  • Citizen journalists inspired a celebratory language of revolution
  • New technology has made it easier to capture and distribute imagery
  • ‘Incorrigible sensationalist’ – hooked irreversibly on subject matter designed to please
  • Kyle MacRae “if you can only find a way for them to sell their stuff, you have the potential to create something very big”
  • Flickr and Twitter would be the next foreboding challenge to photojournalism’s discursive authority
  • Vinukumar Ranganathan, Mumbai Colaba attack – he posted a slideshow of 112 images on Flickr, London’s Daily Telegraph stated it was the best first hand account
  • Aran Shanbhag used Twitter to upload audio and Flickr to upload photographs and told the New York Times he had a “responsibility to share my view with the world”
  • Janis Krums used iPhone to upload a photo of US Airways emergency landing in Hudson River to TwitPic
  • Citizen journalists have redefined the power of information with some footage exposing officials such as the police to be lying
  • Content from citizen journalists can be left completely unseen unless a professional journalist funds and uses it effectively
  • In the London Riots, professionals and citizens collaborated together however uneven – photojournalists with SLR’s just weren’t safe (Lewis Whyld from the Press Association switched to using his Blackberry and the images were published in newspapers around the world, the photographs themselves helped to incriminate people and count for losses claims)
  • Photojournalism is in a state of flux, open to a new definition
  • Citizen witnessing has proven to be powerful and useful in terms of exposing and telling news events
  • What is gained in immediacy is lost by skill – David Levene (Guardian Photography)
  • Many news organisations are struggling and need to cut costs therefore photojournalists are considered a luxury in terms of expenditure
  • Some photojournalists have transformed their practice to resemble that of a documentary photographer, drawing their process out and choosing exhibitions to display their work
  • The rigid ‘us’ and ‘them’ binaries will prompt questions regarding the integrity of norms, values and protocols

Evaluation:

There are many perceptive points in this chapter and there is a lot of content examining citizen journalism which is a subject I plan to discuss in my research paper. I am particularly interested in the role of the smartphone as a tool in citizen and professional photojournalism which is something Stephen Mayes also addresses so I can combine the two ideologies together. In addition to this, Charlie Beckett writes on citizen journalism so I can integrate his viewpoint as well to form a comprehensive argument. The Abu Gharib Case is definitely an influential example of the way in which social media and the citizen have become influential in the digital age of photojournalism as the citizen can be a producer and publisher of content. I plan to address the relationship and opposition between social media and conventional media in an independent blog post however I feel it might not be quite important enough to address in my research paper as it is more of a comparison rather than an examination with a moral behind it. There are various case studies such as the Scott Lieberman image of the Columbia Space Shuttle and the case of the London Riots which I will definitely be considering using in my research paper because I believe that they are influential and relevant examples to use. The book itself does appear to be quite current in the discussions and case studies used, I did try and address the fact that book sources might not be recent enough in relation to discussing the current state of photojournalism by seeking the most recent edition of this book. In response I believe that I have obtained current, effective and topical information and this content will be very influential in the writing of my research paper.