Internet Politics

For my Final Major Project, I chose to use the party leaders for the 2015 election as my subjects. The reasoning behind this was the fact it takes a key moment in time and represents it photographically, fixing my work to a specific time period. The party leaders themselves are a good example of mediation in communication and representation with each politician having a team dedicated to make sure they have the best possible impression on the public. My binary images offer a new way of seeing the party leaders and a new form of information from them, it is then up to the viewer to decide whether this is a true representation of that person, which becomes harder when the only other representation they know has been so carefully constructed. However the choice of choosing the party politicians as my subjects was also based on the increasing amount of political discussion and communication in online spaces; where the online disinhibition effect dictates, behaviour has the capacity to be extremely positive, or aggressive. Such a an unpredictable, volatile environment wouldn’t appear to be the place to discuss the future of the country and the election who decides who will run it, however the subject of politics has been increasing rapidly in online spaces and with it, certain characteristics of the modern day Internet culture.

The conservative leader and now politician David Cameron tweeted a picture of himself and Barack Obama when discussing the crisis in Ukraine in 2014 and was consequently criticised. The ‘selfie’ is perhaps the most widely known and practised phenomenon of the digital age with individuals like Kim Kardashian building and maintaining their popularity through selfies on social media such as Instagram. The selfie was perhaps first widely seen in politics with the Danish Prime Minister taking a picture of herself, David Cameron and Barack Obama at the funeral of Nelson. Although this was predominately criticised for being disrespectful to the late Nelson Mandela, further selfies like this from politicians could be seen as attempts to make the practice of politics less formal, perhaps more accessible to the younger generation. Following this event it was later discussed that Cameron had ‘bought’ himself more likes for his Facebook profile, a action usually carried out by people who have the sole fame of becoming famous on social media. The serious undertone to this humorous story poses the very real concept of bribing and buying votes, a practice which is considered to electoral fraud. Although the act of buying popularity is confined to social media, there is still a risk that individuals unfamiliar with politics will judge the validity of a party’s campaign entirely on their social media popularity.

In 2015 Conservative member Grant Schapps was accused of making changes to the Wikipedia page of himself and other Conservative Members, a claim which he denied. However it was revealed that he had in fact changed his Wikipedia page previously in 2012, attempting to remove facts and comments. It is highly likely that Wikipedia, a crowd sourced database of information, could have the capacity to get certain facts about famous individuals wrong, with some celebrities claiming that their birthday on the site is incorrect. However the ability for anyone to change the information, leaves Wikipedia vulnerable to both the process of mediation and the less subtle process of hacking. The hacking, although it can be reported and removed, can still create a false impression through the attention it inspires, leaving some people with the wrong information if they hear it out of context. The tampering allegedly carried out by Grant Schapps however would indicate that he was trying to tailor his own page and the page of his associates to create a good impression of the Conservative Party as a whole. Though whilst Wikipedia may not be the main source of information regarding politics, it is a site frequented by a large volume of Internet users, demonstrating that Grant Schapps and the Conservative Party are not adverse to the concept of mediation and manipulation to gain a positive public interest.

Aside from selfies, there has been the emergence of another popular Internet phenomenon: the meme. Political memes have been increasingly created to accompany the election and the various activities within it, such as the leaders debate. It isn’t just the public who have been engaging in this activity, the Liberal Democrats created a set of memes to try and gain awareness and popularity for their campaign by Photoshopping the party leaders to reference the popular T.V series ‘Game of Thrones’, casting their own leader Nick Clegg as one of the positively received characters, Jon Snow. David Cameron is cast as the boy King, born to inherit the throne, however there is a aspect of slander behind this casting as the character Joffery, whom David Cameron has been matched with, was a product of incest. These memes, widely criticised for the poor choice of photographs were part of a wave of new memes, one of which ridiculed the Nick Clegg for his subordinate position in the five year coalition, likening him to Sandy from Grease singing her number ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’. These pictures, whilst comical, make it evident that politics is rarely treated with respect on the Internet, with individuals voicing their opinions on each party at every opportunity.

Although freedom of speech is an aspect only brought about by this democratic rule, it appears to increasingly target individuals such as politicians in a manner of disrespect. The Internet may appear to be engaging more individuals, particularly in the younger generation, however the affect of the Internet on the psychology of representation and communication could lead to a distortion and corruption on the activities that take place from both politicians and the public. The mediation of communication and representation developing on the Internet could encourage a future age where the individual has to break away from the digital to try and interpret the physical again. For now however, whilst politics may be on the increase, it seems very fitting that that actual voting process itself remains a physical paper-based practice, apparently resistance to manipulation, mediation or hacking.

 

 

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Research – Colonial Photography

In the creative process of my work I started thinking about portraiture as a medium and how my images fit into this genre. 2014 and 2015 has seen an increase in the arts covering social and cultural history and the practice of portraiture has been integrated in some important historical events, which have impacted the world and relate to the concept behind my project. The ITV drama Indian Summers investigated a the imperial rule of India and the issues surrounding colonialism and cultural domination. Photography and portraiture was employed by the Imperial Government to create surveys of the Indian culture to observe the environment and the native inhabitants. Using photography as a form of power was a significant part of the colonial rule and portraiture was used as a process of identification and observation. The power of the gaze is a concept widely discussed in photography, with Barthes originally describing the relationship between the photographer and subject as the operator and target. This exploitative, aggressive terminology relates to the objective style of portraiture embraced by the colonial rule. The photographer can have an incredibly powerful stance over the subject and this is generally reflected in the early cultural photography where it appears as though the photographer is very much the outsider. Aside from colonial photography this stance can also be loosely recognised in the work of Walker Evan and Robert Frank in their investigations of America. Abigail Solomon Godeau addressed this outsider stance and explained that this notion of portraiture is incredibly exploitative and often results in a misunderstanding of the subject because the photographer themselves don’t understand.

The purpose of the colonial portraiture was to collect and document evidence of physical attributes to learn more about the people of the Indian culture. The practice of photography to document biological attributes, known as eugenics, has been used in many different contexts, including the classification and identification of criminals, with some sociologists claiming to see repeating characteristics in the physical attributes of criminals. As sociology developed and the human race accepted that cultural differences are just variations in the lifestyles and environments of each part of the world, the practice of photographic cataloging reduced. It was only being used for governmental reasons deemed to be necessary in society such as photographing  individuals who have been arrested and the requirement of photographic identification in the form of a passport and driving license. However with the development of digital technology we are seeing a new form of observation and documentation, but this time it is all humans that are being investigated by computer technology. It has become common practice for technology to track and record an online user’s activity on the Internet with the view of creating a profile of information which is used to tailor their search results, target them for particular advertising and even look out for suspect terrorist activity by security organisations.

It has been said that the Internet is the largest free public archive in existence, with social media forming the vast majority of all the information. There have been many instances in which this information has been harvested and exploited by commercial companies in order to target certain individuals to try and sell their products. One key aspect of free social media that many users perhaps don’t realise is that they are the product, the terms of conditions of many social media platforms specify that the information the user shares on social media is technically their property, the only difference between whether the company can offer this information out to third parties, is if the user makes their profile private. Although many see the tailoring of searches, and advertising convenient, it means that humans themselves have encouraged technology to begin a continual documentary process where a representation of the individual is formed of their online information. This is comparative to that of the colonial photographers documenting the physical attributes of a foreign culture. Physical attributes and the information on social media represents the superficial, outward representation of an individual, the true representation comes from knowing and interacting with that individual; something that doesn’t happen in either practice. By encouraging and developing computer technology, we are actually introducing a new form of cultural cataloging, where no one is safe.

Photographer Jason Scott Tilley’s photographic project ‘People of India’ worked against the notion of colonial photography by looking at the people and characters in India and photographing them having known who they are as a person, rather than the process of objective cataloguing seen earlier in the history of India. In his project, he followed the footsteps of his father in attempting to document the Indian culture with an insider stance, producing a celebration of culture and representing the difficulties that certain individuals face. Tilley avoided producing what many characterise as ‘victim photography’ avoiding a dominate stance and not showing pity towards the subjects that he photographed. This was a compassionate statement about the colonial photography in history, aiming to introduce a new form of documentary photography where the subject was respected and empowered. Jason Scott Tilley’s negotiation of his concept was specific to his own personal values and his family history and therefore would have affected the outcome that he produced. In relation to my own project, although I am affected by the notion of harvesting information, it happens to a wide variety of people, and the effects of which are yet to be fully recognised. For this reason I can’t aim to produce a new form of this digital cataloguing, because society and technology isn’t at a point of progression and there is no closure on this very current issue. Therefore I decided that my project should make a very challenging statement, to question each individual’s place in the developing digital culture and question as to whether they are happy with the future of portraiture I am suggesting.

There are similarities between the practice of cataloguing I am investigating today and the colonial photography seen previously in history. There are also similarities in the stance of myself and other photographers that have investigated similar subject matter, in that it is a concept which affects us and we feel the need to make a statement about it. However there are some very big differences which makes the approach to our subject matter very different. I do not benefit from hindsight and historical closure as the concept I am investigating is very current, in addition to this the subjects I have chosen to use are not directly linked to me, meaning I do not have the benefit of an insider stance as I don’t know, nor have I met any of them. Although these appear to be restrictions, it means that I have chosen to take a very specific approach to my project, one that makes quite a controversial statement. Instead of providing an alternative to a past event, I am investigating and describing the possible effects of a very current event.

The Wretched of The Screen – Hito Steyerl

In a tutorial with David Moore he recommended I research Hito Steyerl’s ‘The Wretched Screen’ as it would introduce me to new ideas and get me engaging with concepts that would support my project development. I sourced the text and managed to print it off despite it being quite a lot of pages however I had read the introduction briefly and it seemed to be the perfect research for my project. In order to get the most out of this text in the short time available, I identified certain chapters which I believed would be the most relevant to me and made notes on them.

In Defense of the Poor Image

  • The poor image is a copy in motion, with a substandard resolution
  • Ghost of an image – preview/thumbnail/errant/idea
  • Poor image is compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed to be copied and pasted into other distribution channels
  • Image has been liberated from the vaults of cinemas at the expense of it’s own substance
  • Poor images spread pleasure, death, threats, conspiracy theories, bootlegs, resistance, stultification
  • Contemporary hierarchy of images is not only based on sharpness but also resolution
  • A high-res image looks more brilliant and impressive
  • Neoliberal radicalisation of culture as a commodity, commercialisation of indepedant image making
  • Establishment of audiovisual monopolies
  • Poor images are poor because they are not assigned any value within the class status of images
  • Has to do with the post-socialist, postcolonial restructuring, new traditions and cultures are created
  • Privatisation of media production became more important than state controlled
  • Privatisation of intellectual content led to piracy and appropriation, rise to circulation of poor images
  • Networks in which poor image circulate = platform for new interest, battleground for common agenda
  • These environments are permeated by advanced commodification techniques
  • The viewer is enabled to participate in the creation and distribution of content, but they are also drafted into the production, the individual is an editor, critic, translator and co-author of poor images
  • Poor images – popular images, made and seen by the many
  • There is a narcissism, desire for autonomy and creation, inability to focus on a concept, readiness for instantaneous submission
  • Poor images are snapshot of the current/affective condition of the crowd: neurosis, paranoia, fear, craving for intensity, fun, distraction
  • Poor images are poor because they are compressed to travel quickly, they lose matter and gain speed
  • Circulation of poor images make a circuit, which creates an alternative economy of images, free from perfection, it reconnects dispersed audiences world-wide
  • Construction of anonymous global networks, creates a shared history, builds alliances, provokes translation/mistranslation, creates new publics and debates
  • Through losing visual substance, it gains political punch, and a new aura – no longer based on the permanence of the original but the transience of the copy
  • Circulation of poor images creates visual bonds – feeds into the capitalist media assembly lines and alternative audiovisual economies
  • The poor image is no longer about about the real thing – the ordinary original
  • Instead it is about the conditions of its existence

 

A Thing Like You and Me

  • In 1977 heroism is dead, but David Bowie releases his new single “heroes” – singing about heroes in time for the neoliberal revolution
  • Bowie sings to himself, layering clips from three different angles – Bowie’s hero has been cloned, has become an image that can be reproduced, multiplied, and copied
  • Icon is a shiny product with post-human beauty, an image and nothing but
  • Identification is always with an image – but would anyone actually want to be a Jpeg file?
  • If identification is to go anywhere, is has to be with the material aspect of the image, the image as a thing, not as representation
  • Then is it participation and not identification?
  • Emancipation was conceived as becoming a subject of history, representation or politics
  • To be a subject was good, to be an object was bad
  • The subject is already subjected, position of the subject always suggests a degree of control
  • What not be a thing? An object without a subject?
  • Struggle of representation relies on a split between: here thing – there image, here I – there it, Here subject – there object
  • What if the truth is neither in the represented or in the representation
  • To participate in an image, rather to identify with it could abolish the relationship with images
  • Walter Benjamin – it doesn’t represent reality, it is a fragment of the real world
  • To affirm the thing also means participating in its collusion with history
  • The digital image isn’t outside of history, it bears the bruises of its crashes with politics and violence
  • The bruises of the digital images are the glitches, artifacts, traces of its rips and transfers, the image is violated, ripped apart, subjected to interrogation and probing etc
  • What is the point of becoming a thing or an image?
  • Walter Benjamin emphasised the liberating force within things – awaken the slumbering collective from the dream-filled sleep of capitalist production
  • Boris Aervatov – the object should be liberated from the enslavement of its status as capitalist commodity
  • Things shouldn’t be passive, uncreative and dead, but free to participate actively in the transformation of everyday reality
  • To participate in the image as a thing means to participate in its potential agency
  • We have unexpectedly arrived at an interesting idea of the object and objectivity
  • People love the pixel, not the hero – the thing remains

 

Missing People: Entanglement, Superposition and Exhumation as Sites of Indeterminacy

  • 1935 Erwin Schrodinger devised an experiment, a cat inside a box which could be killed at any time: quantum theory dictates there are two cats inside this box, one dead, one alive – locked in a state of superposition
  • Macrophysical reality is defined by either/or situations, this experiment replaced mutual exclusivity with impossible coexistence, state of indeterminacy
  • The act of observation breaks the state of indeterminacy, in quantum physics observation is an active procedure
  • By looking at the cat we fix it in one of the two possible states, ending its existence as an indeterminate interlocking waveform, freezing it as an individual chunk of matter
  • Surely then if we apply the same logic, a missing person is both alive and dead at the same time, in a state of superposition
  • In the 20th century – an age of genocide, racism and terror, the superposition of life and death became a standard feature of various forms of government
  • Schrodinger’s box in this case became a concept of lethal detention, or mass extinction

 

The Spam of the Earth: Withdrawal from Representation

  •  Dense clusters of radio waves leave our planet every second – letters snapshots, intimate and official communications, TV broadcasts and text messages
  • A huge percentage of the pictures inadvertently sent off into space is spam
  • Image spam is one of the dark matters of the digital world – trying to avoid detection by presenting its message as an image file
  • According to the pictures dispersed, humanity is made up of scantily dressed degree-holders with jolly smiles because of their orthodontic braces
  • Image spam is our message to the future
  • In terms of quantity, image spam outnumbers the human population
  • From the perspective of image spam, people are improvable, perfectible
  • The people in image spam are the dream team of hyper-capitalism
  • Image spam tells us a lot about what the “ideal” humans are by not actually showing humans, versions that are too improved to be true
  • Image spam is addressed to the people who are far from the neoliberal point of view – it is addressed to the vast majority of humankind, but it does not show them
  • It is not an accurate portrayal of what humankind is actually not – it is a negative image
  • What if image spam was more than a tool of ideological and affective indoctrination – what if it became a record of widespread refusal, withdrawal of people from representation
  • People have begun to actively and passively refuse being monitored, recorded, identified, photographed, scanned and taped
  • Pictorial representation, which was a form of privilege, now appears to be more like a threat
  • Social media and cellphone cameras and created a zone of mutual mass surveillance – adding to the ubiquitous urban networks of control
  • People are now routinely surveilling each other by taking endless amounts of pictures and publishing them in almost real time
  • Empolyers google reputations of job candidates, social media an blogs become halls of shame and malevolent gossip
  • There have been substantial shifts in modes of self-production
  • Warhol’s predicted everyone would be world-famous for fifteen minutes – that appears to have come true long ago and now people are wanting the reverse
  • Photography is now recognisably of victimising people regardless of their status
  • We end up being represented to pieces through our data
  • Images and shame you forever, they can trap you in hardware monopolies and conversion conundrums – once images are online they will never be deleted
  • The magic fear, of cameras is reinstated in the age of digital natives, however in this age they do not take away your soul, they drain their life
  • Cameras are not a tool of representation, they are at present a tool of disappearance
  • The more people are represented, the less of them in reality
  • Ideology forces people to invest in their own oppression and correction trying to reach unattainable standards
  • The political representation of people was overshadowed by economic interest
  • There is a crisis of representation, we used to look at images as accurate representations of something or someone – now this relation is altered
  • Image spam circulates without being seen by the human eye, it is made, sent and caught by machines
  • Computers are slowly becoming as prominent as immigration walls and barriers

 

Reflection:

As I predicted, these chapters were really beneficial to research for my concept and gave me some really interesting ideas to think about. The idea of the ‘poor image’ being the one that is constructed and constantly reproduced and circulated by the public, somehow this image breaks the conventions of the capitalist society. Walter Benjamin described images like this in his age as fragments of reality, this ideology links with the modern day concepts of Jaron Lanier saying that identity is fragmented when represented online, and Suler explaining personality is a series of constellations, not compartments. Steyerl suggests that the poor image could be used in a revolutionary way, with people taking control of their own content. Steryerl goes on to explain how observation controls society, with the power to proclaim someone dead and alive at the same time. This constant act of surveillance is being rejected by more and more people as the true power of being observed reveals itself. Once an image, a representation is shared online, it never gets deleted and forms this impression of a person that may not actually be accurate. Computers are tracking our every move using GPS and identifying patterns about each individual when is then sold to commercial companies who present us with the desire to invest in our own perfection regardless of the unattainable standards of idealism. Steyerl suggests that computers are not actually a tool of representation, but instead a tool of disappearance, the more a person is represented online/digitally, the less they are in reality. Computers and people rely more and more on the online presence of an individual as opposed to the physical characteristics and behaviour which makes up personality and identity. These ideas are so relevant to my concept, the ideas of surveillance and the reduction of personality, and humanistic notions of identity the more computers observe and record society. I will definitely be considering the concepts explored by Hito Steyerl throughout the creative process of my Final Major Project and revisiting this essay to read all of it in reference to my future projects.

Research – Street Photography

When I identified that street photography would be the best approach for the photography in my ASL project I wanted to research two defining examples of cultural street photography and portraiture: Robert Frank and Walker Evans. Their two pieces of photographic work examining the American culture and environment uses an approach I felt I would like to take when photographing my subjects. It references an encounter and the aim of the image is to provide a somewhat detached response providing an overview of that person and their place in their social environment. Although my project will be focusing more on the person than the landscape, I still need to consider the landscape and the background in the composition of my images as this will have an effect on the image and the interpretation taken.

Walker Evans

Walker Evans is considered to be an influential photographer in the area of documentary and cultural photography, renowned for his objective style approach. Evans was in the era heavily influenced by Cartier Bresson and his ideology surrounding the ‘decisive moment’ and being an observer of the environment. This detached style references Barthes’ dynamic of the operator, spectator and target as the viewer of the photograph becomes the observer over the subject and their relationship to their environment. I chose to look at Walker Evans’ book ‘American Photographs’ to examine the manner in which he explored the American culture through both portraits and landscapes.

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  • It is noticeable in this portrait that the subjects are aware they are being photographed however they don’t look comfortable being in the frame – there is a sense of annoyance and disturbance
  • The photograph is taken slightly from above due to the subjects being seated in their vehicle, this creates a notion of power imbalance with the photographer holding the position of authority and control
  • The crop is quite open so the viewer can see the background behind the subjects, they can see that they are in a car in a street with moving traffic around – the viewer can make their own assumptions and interpretations of the environment in which the subjects occupy

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  • This portrait is different to the last one as although the photographer still has control over the representation; the power dynamic appears to be slightly less imbalanced
  • The subject appears comfortable in front of the camera and happy for the picture to be taken as opposed to the previous photograph
  • The background being close to the subject prevents the viewer from attempting to consider their environment, it is clear that the purpose of this photograph is for the viewer to look solely at the subject
  • Shooting in black and white, although the only choice in that time, brings out the texture of the wood background and the print of the clothing
  • The contrast appears to be fairly high in this image which accentuates the shadows and the details brought out by the black and white tone

 

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  • It is unclear here whether the subject knows they are being photographed or whether they have chosen to look away from the frame – the close crop would suggest that Evans was close to her but as a viewer we can’t know this
  • The crop is close as before but this time the subject does have some interaction with the environment so the viewer doesn’t just consider the subject on her own – there are some details about the environment which is interesting to look at which is perhaps why Evans shot in a different manner to the previous portrait

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  • There is a definite sense of power and respect in this portrait, the subject is shot from slightly below which indicates that they have a greater authority in the relationship between subject and photographer
  • Being black and white, the details in the photograph are very apparent, the buttons and texture of the uniform and the emblem on the hat
  • The eye contact means that the viewer engages with the subject and attempts to make an interpretation about their character

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  • This portrait, although similar to that of the previous close-crop portraits, appears to focus on a person of a lower socioeconomic background, this impression comes from his attire
  • Despite the probably difference in status, the image doesn’t appear to be a domination of the subject, the photograph is taken at the same eye level as the subject, not looking down on him which gives the viewer the impression that both the subject and photographer are equals
  • The subject is confronting the camera holding a gaze with the lens which suggests that this is a powerful, strong individual, there is no subordinate behaviour shown in his reaction to being photographed

 

Robert Frank

Robert Frank is perhaps well known most for his project, The Americans, which is what I am looking at in my analysis. As in immigrant to America from Switzerland, Frank is discussed for his ‘outsider’ position when photographing the subject in his project The Americans, as he was relatively unfamiliar to the culture and environment having grown up in another country. Frank was associated with Walter Evans however his style of photography appeared to offer a new perspective on the subject content. I have chosen to research Frank in relation to his approach to street photographer as proclaimed ‘outsider’ and how this may have had an impact his process of photographing. Choosing the American environment and culture as a subject pits Robert Frank up against the other great photographers of the time, like Walker Evans, which provides me with a good basis for comparison. Although Evans may not be completely classed as an ‘insider’ to the cultural and socioeconomic groups of subjects he photographed, it is thought that was closer to the American dynamic than Frank.

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  • Instantly I see a more abstract, creative approach to photographing the subject matter than Walker Evans did previously.
  • The focus has shifted from trying to capture portraits, or urban landscapes and is more about capturing the aesthetic of the environment in front of him, observing interesting opportunities to frame content.
  • He has captured the people, most likely without their permission however there is a aspect of privacy as it is hard to tell who the subjects are in the image, suggesting a consideration from Frank, accepting that this from of photography can be intrusive
  • This image depicts what is perhaps considered the outsider stance, however it is made in an interesting way, this image doesn’t presume to represent anything about the subject other than their relationship within the environment he has captured, and the interesting composition – Frank hasn’t selected the people, he has framed the opportunity

 

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  • This image is slightly different to the first image I have analysed, it doesn’t particularly look like the conventional American environment, as it strays away from the urban street environment
  • The image is so very well composed, it looks more like documentary photojournalism that it does a study of the environment
  • There is a sense of lifestyle in this image which is perhaps established with the landscape orientation, the viewer doesn’t associate this as a portrait as starts to relate to it as an image of reality

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  • This image looks very much like a fashion portrait, similar to the work of that of Richard Avedon
  • It appears to reference the timeless, elegant look we now call vintage, however at the same the look would have been in fashion with the upper class individuals
  • Although this does look more like a portrait, there is still something different about it, the lack of eye contact creates the impression that subject is being observed, perhaps without their knowledge

 

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  • This image is very similar in aesthetic to that of Dorthea Lange and her portrait, Migrant Mother, there is a distinct similarity between the wooden background and the tone of the image.
  • As with many of Franks other images there is a lack of eye contact with the subjects in the photograph, exaggerating Frank’s outsider status as he appears to be an observer
  • The subjects appear to be very comfortable in front of the camera, regardless of whether they know they are being photograph or not, this technique of looking away from the camera could actually put the subject more at ease, creating the possibility that Frank isn’t predominately observing

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  • Robert Frank also documents the environment and the traces of human existence, capturing the lasting impact humans have had on the American landscape
  • The subject matter being the road could perhaps reference the increasing levels of travel as infrastructure developed and so did the idea of the American, prompting many to move to the cities in order to try and make their success in an urban environment
  • The idea of straying away from portraits is an effective and different approach to photographing the American environment, perhaps the portraits could be referred to as the landscapes of culture.

 

Reflection:

There are both parallels and differences between the way Evans and Frank shoot and this is because of their different shooting styles, however the concept of the ‘outsider’ is also very relevant. With Walker Evans it appears predominately as though Evans aims to capture the individual and in doing so, considers their relationship to their surrounding environment, sometimes incorporating features in the photograph. There is a lot of eye contact in Evans images and he appears to treat the subject with respect, his framing giving them a power status, or at least the status of equals in his images, which encourages the viewer not to pity them. This stance is not taken however in the image of the two individuals in the car who appear to be frustrated at being photographed, focusing down on the main issue with street photography; whether to ask the subject if they will accept being photographed and when to ask this question. In the cases where it is obvious Evans has most likely entered into an agreement with the subject before hand, there is a specific type of image being taken, staged and controlled by both the subject and photographer. In the real candid photography, the subject does not primarily give the photographer permission to take the photograph and must instead express their emotions in the frame the photographer takes. Some individuals will reject this however others will continue their actions or not even notice the image is being taken. This approach would suggest to give a more accurate representation of the subject as if they not are aware of being photographed, they are less likely to change their behaviour and present themselves differently. Analysing Walker Evans images has introduced me to ways to frame my own street photography and thrown up cautions and challenges I may encounter when producing my images.

With Robert Frank’s images there is a distinctly different approach to the way he photographs his subjects, almost always appearing to be a detached observer. This stance of photographing and his immigrant status must have encouraged the discussions around his process being that of an ‘outsider’ as he is not inherently familiar to the culture he is photographing. Abigail Solomon Godeau addressed the outsider stance as being a negative position in the case of Diane Arbus photographing the outsiders in society. It is explained that the works of Nan Goldin and Larry Clark were a more positive form of photography because they are deeply involved in their subject matter. This would indicate that Robert Frank’s photography should be destructive to the subjects he is photographing because of his outsider status, however to me, this doesn’t appear to be the case. The important thing to consider when photographing people, is whether this is going to be a portrait, a representation of them, if that is the case then the insider approach would definitely be desired. However Frank appears to be photographing the environment, making the people part of his composition and therefore not trying to presume he knows anything about them. There isn’t really much to indicate that Frank is trying to represent anything other about them than their physical relationship with the environment he is photographing. One really interesting aspect about Frank’s photographs is that he appears to try and reference other images from other photographers in his own, I observed similarities between Frank’s images and that of Richard Avedon’s fashion portraits and Dorothea Lange’s renowned image of the Migrant Mother. This could be intentional or it could have been a subconscious decision made by Frank in his photographic process, but is something to consider when approaching my own street photography.

The most important thing for me to consider after researching these two photographers is my stance to the individuals I will be photographing and whether I want to try and assume an insider or outsider stance, and which one would be the most appropriate for my concept. As I am investigating the idea of the instantaneous encounter, I would think that an outsider approach is needed as I can’t assume to know anything about the subjects I am photographing apart from the information I can gather on sight. However I can’t take the same approach as Robert Frank and simply document them in relationship to their environment because it is the people I am interested in, as on the Internet you do not know where the person actually is when talking to them. Therefore I must try and disregard the environment when photographing these individuals and just photograph them as exactly the same place as they were when I first engaged conversation with them. This will mean my images stay true to the idea of the encounter and that I haven’t let my status as a creative interfere with the way the image is taken. What I really want to make sure however is that I am on a level with the person I am photographing, because on the Internet the power statuses that may be established in the physical encounter become void. My images should show that like entering an anonymous conversation, that the power levels are at an equal at the beginning of this encounter.

Choosing renowned street photographers like Walker Evans and Robert Frank have been really beneficial to me, however I am aware I could be criticised for not choosing a more recent example of street photography because my concept is so digital. The reason behind this was because I wanted to research and view the idea of the physical encounter at a time when developed digital technology didn’t exist, as the physical encounter would be the predominately way of meeting other people. I didn’t want to research photographs where the encounter could be corrupted by the subject’s knowledge and capacity of digital technology. Therefore I could apply the ideals behind photography of physical encounters and apply it to my own project to further exaggerate the difference between the online encounter and the physical one. The research into these photographers has given me a good direction to follow in approaching the subject matter of my own project and I feel confident in identifying the approach I want to take when making my own images.

 

Conventional Media and Social Media

Historically in the practice of photojournalism, conventional media was the sole form of publishing and the format was predominately the illustrated magazine or photo essay. Industrialisation facilitated the invention of the printing press which meant that the magazine and newspaper could be reproduced quickly on a mass scale. As a result, photojournalism could be distributed to a larger number of viewers than ever before which meant that the images were being seen by a wider audience. With the invention of digital technology the photojournalist was introduced to range of new techniques which could be used to display their imagery such as moving image and web space. Digital communication and transmission of images also improved which accelerated the pace of photojournalism which had been previously held back due to the slower photographic process of analogue. Communication diversified and expanded out with the creation of social media in the late 1900s which allowed Internet users to connect with each other in a manner previously unseen. The framework and technology of social media continued to develop and the integration of photo/video uploading meant that the user could become a publisher of content. Now in the current state of photojournalism there appears to be a overlap and a conflict between conventional media and social media in relation to the practice of photojournalism and the dissemination of information.

There appears to have been a convergence between social media and conventional media and between the citizen and professional photojournalist. Writer Charlie Beckett in his book Supermedia describe current journalism at ‘networked’ with both professional organisations and citizens contributing image and moving image content. Conventional media has attempted to participate in social media, The National Geographic now has an Instagram where the employed photojournalists can post images which will then be seen by the organisation’s 30 million followers.

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This attempt by conventional media indicates that the digital native culture is an audience with which they want to engage and the best method for this is transmission through social media. However the structure and social media could perhaps have an impact on the professional photojournalism seen in conventional media; Instagram is restrictive in the fact that it only allows a square format so the original photograph taken has to be cropped which could manipulate the meaning and effect intended. In addition to this photojournalism has seen new methods in producing imagery such as Benjamin Lowy who used smartphone imagery and the application Hipstamatic to produce his photojournalism content.

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The aesthetic of his images, achieved through applying a ‘filter’ (preconceived set of editing actions), became so popular that a ‘Lowy’ filter’ has been created which enables the app user to replicate Lowy’s style. This imagery heavily references the style of images seen on social media such as Instagram and is perhaps softer, more aesthetically pleasing than the majority of imagery we usually associate with photojournalism such as the image by Nick Ut of the girl whose village was attacked with Napalm in Vietnam. These photographers could be considered as too ‘soft’ for photojournalism, the purpose of which is to provoke a response from the reader in order to make social change. Lowy’s images however are comfortable and convenient to consume therefore the reader doesn’t react as much to them. By attempting to link and reference social media it appears that the professional form of photojournalism reduced it’s power to provoke and inform.

The purpose behind social media is to communicate, where previously this may have been predominately text-based, in the current state of photojournalism and communication it can be perceived as increasingly image-based. Where the photoessay was the product of industrialisation, it could be considered that social media is the product of digitisation and the practice of photojournalism appears to evolve into different forms in order to maintain commercial gain as well as disseminating information. Social media now stands as the largest archive of free image and moving image content which has encouraged conventional media to dip in and acquire content to display using conventional platforms. Perhaps the most influential example of this was the happenings in the Abu Ghraib Prison where it was alleged that U.S soldiers subjected their prisoners to torture.

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The significance of this event was that the participants actually shared the documentation of the happenings using social media and were consequently identified as the perpetrators. In this case social media resembled the both the organisation responsible for this crime to to discovered and the organisation responsible for publishing the official story covering it. In extension, the radical group ISIS is using social media in order to spread their ideology and construct an image of terror. The conventional media outlets that are using social media to disseminate information could potentially be perceived as linked to these radical groups in their choice of platform. The blurred boundaries of participation and publication seen in social media could initiate an element of corruption in the practice of photojournalism. If the audience can’t distinguish what is informative and what is performative, the original purpose of photojournalism is rendered mute and could actually begin to encourage destructive, not constructive social change.

The convergence between social media was perhaps inevitable as conventional media would appear foolish not to engage with the mass audience of digital natives using social media to communicate. However once the lines between conventional and social, informative and performative are lost; it could cause confusion over what the purpose of the image being viewed actually is. In addition to this, volatile organisations are now attempting to exploit the audience of social media by taking advantage of collective mass image trends and the power of social media to communicate specific imagery and ideology. If the future of photojournalism is to continue being networked there perhaps needs to be a clearer distinction between informative and social imagery to enable the audience to respond in the appropriate manner. In addition, the content from professional, informative photojournalists needs to maintain the notion of photographic realism and quality to avoid being associated with social media by the aesthetic and therefore reduces the capacity to provoke. The purpose of photojournalism is to facilitate social change and this could be established through the use of both conventional media and social media however the issues associated with each form need to be addressed in order to protect the audience.

Camera Lucida – Roland Barthes

Although I already had prior knowledge of Barthes, it was apparent in my research that I needed to research his writing more thoroughly as the photographic history texts I had been reading referenced him heavily. To make sure I had an accurate and comprehensive understanding of his ideas I set myself the task of reading Camera Lucida and drawing out points that would be relevant to my symposium. My notes and evaluation can be seen below:

  • Could we say that photography is unclassifiable?
  • The photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially
  • Sunya – the void (Buddhism)
  • A single photograph is never distinguished from it’s meaning, it is impossible to perceive a photograph without it’s signifier
  • A photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see
  • The operator is photographer, the spectator is the viewer and the viewer is the target
  • Two experiences that of the observed subject and that of the subject observing
  • Photography can be disturbance to the citizen and the person being photographed (passive victim)
  • Subjectivity in photography
  • Photography is every-day adventure
  • A spectator is interested in photography for sentimental reasons
  • Two different effects of a photograph – studium (a general, average effect with commitment) punctum (breaks the studium effect, pierces the viewer and draws an emotional response)
  • To recognise the studium is to appreciate the photographer’s intentions
  • We class ‘good’ photographs as ones that speak and induce us
  • Analysis does not come into the punctum effect – punctum is usually a detail
  • Does punctum have more power of expansion?
  • “The studium is ultimately always coded”
  • Punctum has a certain latency
  • Punctum is an addition
  • In order to ‘find’ a person depicted, is photography enough to the effect
  • Can you really recognise someone from a photograph?
  • Photography’s referent is not necessarily the content within the photograph
  • The presence of a thing is never metaphoric but the meaning behind it could be
  • Photograph – image revealed by the action of light
  • Because it’s a photograph, it evidence that the subject was there and was depicted (certificate of presence)
  • The photograph is violent because it fills the sight by force
  • The photograph is ‘flat death’
  • Photograph can’t concieve duration
  • Stigmatum is the new punctum, with time as the intensifier
  • Is photography a shared hallucination ‘it is not there’, ‘but it has indeed been’
  • Photography could be mad or tame, time is photographic ecstasy
  • Two ways of the photograph – to subject to the code of perfect illusions or to confront it in the wakening of intractable reality

Evaluation:

Although my subject is the current state of photojournalism it was really important to research older texts such as Camera Lucida because the historic practice of photojournalism has shaped and influenced the current state. It has been described that digital photography has been trapped in the shell of the analogue practice therefore it’s necessary for me to understand the history in order to compare and comment on how the practice could continue. A vast amount of Barthes’ ideology is relevant today however I am mindful that I am adapting it to apply to the current age of image-making, his discussions are not based around the digital image. One concept I am particularly interested in using in my research paper is the two responses to the image: studium or punctum. I believe that this discussion is still heavily relevant today and will continue to be relevant for as long as the still image is still produced. We can relate the punctum concept to the imagery writers such as Fred Ritchin have defined as iconic imagery, photographs that have provoked a large response because of their challenging or controversial content. However we can also see this effect in the age of the digital image with practitioners such as Marcus Bleasdale and his work Rape of A Nation, in addition to this the current winners of the World Press Photo have produced provoking imagery. It can be thought that the purpose of photojournalism is to produce punctum images, photographs that will provoke a response from the audience and make them attempt to help the subjects depicted. In contrast the studium response from the image would perhaps be more suited to imagery from an art context, where the audience can view and appreciate the technique as opposed to being ‘pierced’ by the content. The different environment will affect the interpretation from the photograph and this is a concept I plan to address in my research paper. For example work from Broomberg and Chanarin comments on photojournalism but shouldn’t be perceived as photojournalism or interpreted in the way.

Aside from image response, Barthes also addresses the triangular dynamic between the photographer, subject and viewer. It is in this instance that we are reminded he was writing in a time when representation was still a very one-sided process, collaborative representation wasn’t really being seen as it is now. In modules like Picbod and Phonar we as photographers are learning that the subject’s role in their own representation is really important and helps to avoid their misrepresentation or exploitation. Barthes’ target, operator and spectator dynamic is outdated and perhaps something which I should comment on in a negative manner in my research paper. Representation and responsibility is interlinked and the photojournalist should aim to represent the subject in the most accurate and empathetic way possible. In addition to this the term ‘subject’ has been replaced by some practitioners like Sarah Davidmann who refers to the people in her photographs as ‘participants’ because they have an active role in the representation. Ritchin wrote that it is important to progress and stop using archaic terminology to describe the world despite it being familiar to us, this is a concept I can address in association to Barthes’ outdated photographer/subject/audience dynamic and stress the importance of the photographer taking the responsibility of portraying their subject with empathy and accuracy.

There are many other interesting points raised in Camera Lucida however the ideology I have addressed above is that which I believe will be most effective in my research paper in association to the concepts I wish to discuss.I approached this text with an expectation that some of the writing wouldn’t be relevant to the digital age because of the period in which it was written and I have been careful not to associate it heavily with digital photography as Barthes would only have been writing in reference to analogue. However I have identified one instance in where the ideology is still extremely relevant and addressed another concept which can now be perceived as outdated, however they are both beneficial. Overall this book has been extremely beneficial to research and has provided me with some historical ideology to contrast and compliment current writers such as Ritchin and Mayes. In addition it has developed my knowledge of photographic history and as a result I am equipped with a more comprehensive overview of photojournalism.

 

Reference: Barthes, R. (1982) Camera Lucida. London: Cape

Photography: A Critical Introduction – Liz Wells

Photography: A Critical Introduction edited by Liz Wells is a staple text in the area of photography and is always my reference point for other material and further research. I set myself the task of researching this book in order to widen my knowledge and identify other writers and practitioners I could consider research in relation to my research paper. As with the other historic texts I researched, there were some chapters more relevant to my research paper than others so I chose to focus on the ones which I assessed would be more useful to me and skimmed the others for potential information. It is also important to address that I chose the most recent edition of the book to make sure that I had the content that was as up-to-date as possible which impacts heavily on my research as my research paper is about photojournalism in its current state. I have made sure that when researching my sources have been as current as possible and where not I have considered and evaluated that the ideology may not be as relevant as it was in the specific time period. My notes and the evaluation can be seen below:

  • Geoffrey Batchen – photography had been a ‘widespread social imperative’
  • ‘Straight photography’ versus ‘Pictorial’ photography
  • Photography was the best means of communication in the industrial age
  • Walter Benjamin commented in reproduction and aura
  • Photography validated our experience of ‘being there’
  • Sontag ‘photographing something is essentially an act of non-intervening’
  • Sontag defines the photograph as a ‘trace’ – directly stencilled from reality
  • Reading the image: semiology is the science of signs
  • Barthes commented on structuralist methodology and the studium/punctum nature of images
  • In documentary investigation, those being represented are being done so through the camera’s ‘gaze’
  • Documentary is a lifestyle genre, movement and tradition – there isn’t a single persepective
  • Karin Becker Ohrn – documentary is journalism, sociology and history (the goal is to bring about social change)
  • Martha Rosler – documentary is a ‘practise with a past’
  • French photographer E. Appert produced crudely montaged photographs in his book Les Crimes fe la Commune in 1871 – it was convincing enough because the public believed that the camera was incapable of lying
  • In the 1930s the paradigm of documentary was to put the subject within the frame of a social problem
  • Michael Foucalt – power resides with everyone in the social system
  • John Tagg – the burden of representation
  • Documentary in the age of post modernism, realism is under attack
  • Lithography and painting were replaced by photography
  • Photography went under a process of relocation and negotiation
  • K. Robins – Photovideo is photography in the age of the computer
  • We have a difference between ‘photographs’ and ‘photographic images’ – the epistemological and ontological status of visual images has changed
  • Post-photographic era was discussed by William Mitchell however it was addressed earlier by Wombell
  • K. Robins – the photographic image in digital culture
  • William Mitchell – new digital age of electrobrigade, a process of improvisation where parts are stitched together to form something
  • Jonathan Cary (art historian) the construction of virtual spaces is very different from the ‘mimetic capabilities of film, photography and television’
  • Walter Benjamin proposed that reproduction allowed ‘plurality of copies for a unique existence’ (his book Illuminations features essay written by Benjamin)
  • Walter Benjamin – a similar process to mechanical reproduction takes place digitally, the nature of the image is reproduced or simulated and stored digitally
  • The new urban experience is characterised by speed/rapid change/fragments – it brought around the developing infrastructure and new, conflicting viewpoints
  • The camera puts the ‘eye’ on the action that might not be seen otherwise, the shutter ‘freezes’ the action (through editing and other actions a narrative can be formed)
  • The camera reveals an ‘optical unconsciousness’
  • Photography and moving image can be used as a tool to document and examine the changing industrial society
  • Bill Nichols – The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems, there are three features in capitalism: entrepreneurial, monopoly and multinational
  • Codes have ideological weight however there is a danger that misrepresentation can be drawn
  • The sheer number of photographs in the world means that no image will ever be seen in its own in the digital culture – concept of intertextuality (the relationship between texts)
  • The photograph is at the centre of a ‘complex of concurrent messages’
  • Change of meaning from pre-digital to digital – rolling narrative
  • Term ‘techno culture’ is becoming more relevant
  • Photography is usually defined as realist because of the technological/mechanical nature
  • Indexical quality (sequential arrangement)
  • Photographic meaning is subject to code, context, operations, decisions regardless of whether it is analogue or digital
  • Fred Ritchin commented on photographic realism and the digital
  • Martha Rosler discussed that manipulation is integral to photography – objective realism is not an essential quality of the medium (Digital Dialogues)
  • Fred Ritchin (In Our Own Image) manipulation is damaging the integrity of the photograph)
  • There are semiotic complexities in the image
  • Proposed a secure category of stable verifiable images whose ethical status could be credited
  • Authorship is the key concept – and perhaps the credibility of the photographer and the organisation
  • Rosler has the view that manipulation of the photographic concept
  • Mitchell and Benjmain have the view that the digital age introduces a new approach to ‘seeing’
  • Another viewpoint is excitement about the techno culture and how the Internet plays a part in the production and transmission of visual images (the photographic culture is potentially outdated, limited to a recording function
  • Rosler commented on the commodification of images
  • The idea of photography and truth is relatively ‘modern’ and is partial, fragile and complex
  • Rosler essay – Image Simulations, Computer Manipulations: Some Considerations commented that discussions of photo-manipulations aren’t the key to the concept of photographic truth, manipulation has always been part of photographic history
  • Photography is a tool of communication and is undergoing a change
  • “Straight photography” is its own genre, has its own history, politics and frameworks where manipulation is avoided
  • Can a manipulated image be considered as a version of the truth? Photomontages by Dadaists/John Heartfield discusses a search for truth through manipulation perhaps to be considered as ‘conceptual truth’
  • Ultimately the meaning of the photograph is created by each viewer and the interpretation and meaning form/drawn
  • Photographic truth does not depend on technology – photography for propaganda didn’t start or finish with the transition to digital
  • William Mitchell – connection between post-modernity and post-photography
  • The tools of digital imagery have adapted to the post-modern era – digital medium ‘privileges fragmentation’ and ’emphasises performance’ rather than evidential truth
  • Artist Esther Panda – the work by the computer will encourage a specific and more prevalent examination of the manipulation present in photography
  • William Mitchell – Photoshop is a heuristic (stimulating ideas for further discussion) tool for understanding photographic representation
  • Manipulation is coupled with the ideology of post modernism – self conscious, playful use of language and style creates a parallel between digital image and poststructuralist theories of language and meaning
  • There will never be a concrete resolution on the ideas of meaning
  • Geoffery Batchen draws on these ideas, photography is a digital process
  • Photographic meaning itself is unstable because is relies on drawing on elements that aren’t there (signs and semiotics)
  • Technological determinism (William Mitchell) seeing technology as an autonomous force having definite outcomes
  • Technological evolution with the camera being replaced by the computer
  • ‘Image revolution’ refers to a wider expansion of visual techniques changing the way in which we will see imagery
  • The image has shifted from visual quotations to visual conceptualism – post photography replaces chemicals with codes, false polarisation between past and post photography because of evolving technology
  • Ritchin/Rosler/Mitchell all have viewpoints
  • Photography is indexical and sequential, dissolution of the singularly moment

Evaluation:

As expected this book has been incredibly useful in locating further sources to research such as Walter Benjamin on the subject of reproduction and the mass image culture. I had already identified that his essay on art and mechanical reproduction would be a beneficial piece of writing to research in relation to the history and beginnings of the mass image culture and how his ideology is still heavily relevant to the current state of photography and photojournalism so reading Wells’ book was further confirmation to this. The one interesting and insightful point from Wells was the opposition and comparison between Fred Ritchin and Martha Rosler on the subject of manipulation, I haven’t researched Rosler and her writing yet and it appears that her ideology would be a a good counter argument against Ritchin which would mean my discussions on manipulation would be informed and balanced as a result. Having already researched Ritchin’s writing on manipulation I will set myself the task of reading Rosler’s writing beginning with the essay referenced in this book. In addition to this I haven’t fully investigated Ritchin’s In Our Own Image, choosing to read the more recent texts Bending The Frame and After Photography however the ideas explored by Liz Wells from this book are heavily relevant and still appear current, so I will also make an attempt to research Ritchin’s first text further. Ritchin and Mitchell’s suggestion that the digital age is changing the way the audience ‘sees’ the image is also a concept that will factor in the writing of my research paper however I plan to focus more on the photographic process rather than the way the audience receives it. However I will research this further and write about it in an independent blog post to demonstrate I have a comprehensive view of the state of current photojournalism that extends past the content of my research paper. I am very aware that the word count and the ten minute time limit is going to be restrictive when decided which content to include so the further research will be evidenced in these separate blog posts in an attempt to demonstrate my wider knowledge. Overall Liz Wells’ book has been a highly beneficial tool in gaining new ideas in relation to my investigation of current photojournalism and has sign posted me to other writers and practitioners who examines specific content such as manipulation more closely. Through reading this book I have received direction on where to research next in association to the concepts I wish to discuss.