Digital Story

 

My project officially began when I made the I Researcher video, which was one of the first tasks on the Media Research module. The task was to create a video that engaged with various ideas and concept that I found interesting and could potentially research. These ideas would then be carried forward and used when writing the first essay Sketching The Field.

I identified areas I was interested in, which included:

  • Photography
  • Photojournalism
  • Identity
  • Ownership
  • Control
  • Truth

In my BA in Photography, we were tasked with writing a short paper to present at a symposium, I based mine on photojournalism and the role of the photographer. Part of this involved investigating the relationship between photography and truth, this was an interest that I carried forward into my MA. However on the Phonar (Photography and Narrative) module, I started investigating how the conventional notion of a portrait having to depict someone, is changing in the modern practice of photography. I was specifically interested in the concept of a social media serving as a digital self-portrait, how the user feeds so much information to the social media platform. In addition to this there is a recent phenomenon of people using fake profiles to exploit and trick other social media users, which inspired the TV documentary series Catfish. Truth is a complex concept in actuality, let alone when it is translated into the digital world. It is almost impossible to truly know whether anyone is presenting a truthful identity online. However a truthful identity itself is also a complex concept, identity is fixed and ever changing, which makes it difficult to identify what the ‘true’ self is.

And now? I’m still really interested in the idea of the social media profile as a self-portrait, the way users take on a really artistic role of producing, editing and curating. They also have to negotiate the complex relationship between image and text. But the inspiration behind this activity is questionable, whether users are constructing these self-portraits purely for artistic expression or unconsciously promoting products and companies. Looking back my project doesn’t appear to have changed dramatically, with many of the core ideas staying the same. However I have worked on narrowing it down to engage with one specific idea in more detail. The real change has been the development of myself, coming from a photography background; I had to learn how to become a researcher. What was important to me was to make sure I would be an ethical researcher, not using the privilege of academia to look down on the people I planned to research. Perhaps the most important concept to consider however was reflexivity, how my subject position shapes what I am interested in and how I as a researcher have the potential to shape what I am researching, through the research process itself. I can’t position myself as an objective individual, observing from a distance because I am part of the world I am researching.

 As it is now, my media research project will investigate the concept of the Instagram profile acting as a self-portrait and the surrounding ideas. First of all identity itself, specifically the visual identity that is created using Instagram as an image-based social media. With more users engaging in the practice of self-representation, the process of creating an Instagram profile could be considered as an artistic process. The user creates, edits and curates both images and text, which then form a collective visual identity. Identity is something that changes over time and it is evidenced in the change of the images on Instagram, however with an identity that is continually changing, can it be considered as authentic? This authenticity extends when considering the amount of effort users put into the process of identity creation, when it could be viewed as continuous and free promotion for the products and companies behind the products and services users buy. Users are effectively positioning themselves as brand ambassadors and showcasing the role each product has in their lives, however it is not just the products the users are promoting on Instagram. When considering the ideology of neoliberalism, the continuous identity constructed on Instagram could be viewed as a constant process of self-branding; selling the their identity to the audience of viewers on Instagram.

I also want to consider the role of the smartphone in the process of identity creation on Instagram, as without this handheld technology, Instagram probably wouldn’t exist. The smartphone has undoubtedly changed photography, both accelerated the process and changed the way in which the user engages with the camera. Despite scholars such as Andre Bazin and Walter Benjamin claiming that the hand of the creator is not visible in the practice of photography, in smartphone photography the hand is essential in the creation, editing and posting of Instagram images. I must also consider how the smartphone will most likely become my research tool. As the application of Instagram was designed for the smartphone, I have identified that I must use it to conduct my research.

Instead of researching other social media users, I have made the choice to conduct auto-ethnographic study. I chose to study myself because I was confronted with the complicated task of both identifying which users to research and the ethical issue of observing them and using them in my research without their knowing. After deciding on auto-ethnographic study, I realised that the project was in danger of becoming uninteresting and without meaning behind it. Simply analysing images on my Instagram account wasn’t a creative, exciting research idea.What would be exciting and creative would be to take the idea of authenticity and neoliberal self-branding further. So with this in mind, the current idea for my research project is to create a fake account on Instagram, selling myself as the product. The account will be titled ‘Brand Becky’ and this will form part of the overall title of my dissertation. I will be posting with the aim of attracting followers and gaining as much approval from my posts as possible. As a researcher I will then analyse these posts in relation to identity, self-photography, authenticity and neoliberalism. There are ethical concerns with this research idea, as there were with my original idea, as this project involves the slight deception of the users who view my profile. I aim to counteract this by including an element of satire in the accompanying captions similar to the activity of the Instagram account Sociality Barbie, which was a satirical account commenting on popular Instagram culture with the use of the Barbie in the images. By using an element of satire, I hope to create the premise that my research critical account of identity creation on Instagram. Like Sociality Barbie, when the time for posting material ends, I will post a closing statement that explains the research behind the account; this will work to debrief the users that see the content.

Moving forward I need to begin creating the Instagram account for Brand Becky, and disassemble the previous research account I had already created. I need to establish a process of reflection in order to continually negotiate my own subject position and I need to identify how I will interpret the visual material I create. Above all however I need to continue reading and researching the concepts I plan to engage with in my project.

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Auto-ethnography and Self Reflexivity

The following blog post is a summary of the ideas explored in the lecture: Auto-ethnography and Self Reflexivity.

The scientific paradigm is that the world is completely measurable, by studying and measuring all elements, we can eventually understand the world. Science itself is cultureless, however it is a cultural belief and the scientific notion of fact is incorporated into culture. Science constructs knowledge as fact and non-fact (a version of true and false), in previous sessions we have identified that the media constructs different versions of reality and academic knowledge is equally as constructed. There is a production method behind the knowledge produced and there is a format in which this knowledge comes, including essays, articles, journals and photographs. Knowledge is incredibly social and also incredibly political, it is always already colonial from the periods of research where people didn’t acknowledge themselves as researchers. The discourse of academia decided who gets to research who and othered the subjects being researched. However there can be no objectivity, when it is a case of people studying people, it is not possible to take an objective stance similar to the stance taken in scientific experiments. The researcher has to consider their own position in accordance to the research and what they will be researching.

Edward Said quoted Gramski when he proposed that the starting point of critical elaboration is the consciousness, beginning to acknowledge and then know the self. However this is a complicated notion when you consider that there is a constant rebranding of the self, representing post-modernity, there is no one definitive version of an individual self. But becoming aware of the elements that constitute who you are as other people see you is the first step. What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see gender, race, sexuality – or do you see what academia historically constructed as the researcher (white, old, middle class and male) or that is, nothing at all, because you represent the prescribed norm.

Reflexivity can be divided into three approaches: confession, positionality and praxis. Confession refers to a reflective process in which the researcher considers how the self impacts on the research process, this can be completed through reflexive notes such as a research diary. However this method can be problematic because it evokes the assumption that the researcher is then free from all bias, giving the power back to them. Positionality involves considering how the self is constructed through culture, history and society – not just in the present but considering how it has been constructed through time and space; how the self is a product of discourses that have been pulled together. Positionality does not align with individualism, because that implies that everyone has experience different circumstances, when in fact positionality would argue we have been shaped by the same or similar discourses. Praxis refers to theory as practice, where the research takes place as lived embodiment of the research.

Auto-ethnography can be defined by looking at the term autobiography and dissecting the parts that make it. Auto means self, bio means life and graphy means writing, therefore autobiography comes together to mean self-life-writing. Likewise auto-ethnography can be split into auto that means self, ethno that means culture and graphy that means writing. This comes together to define auto-ethnography as self-culture-writing. Ethnography refers to engaging with a specific culture over an extended period of time collecting multi sensory data, therefore auto-ethnography replicates this process but turns the data collection inward to consider the self. Auto-ethnography can be considered to be problematic when considering the statement by Descarte in 1637 ‘I think therefore I am’, this was the foundation for Western academia and it prioritises rational thought over embodiment. In addition to this there are discussions around auto-ethnography and authenticity, as it assumes the speaking person is the authentic version, when the reality is we have multiple versions of self. Auto-ethnography could be seen as another form of truth claim, when it could be impossible to really know the internal workings of our subjectivity. Privilege is also an important concept, those concerned with representation are generally considered as being in some form of privilege, that is because they don’t have to worry about the basic elements of survival.

Auto-ethnography is a really interesting approach to research, I feel that it could take my project in a really interesting direction. Previously I was concerned with how I would choose subjects to research on Instagram, whether to just choose celebrity accounts and analyse them or whether to try and find representative accounts of the everyday Instagram user. However using the term ‘everyday’ repeatedly to describe a non-celebrity was creating this notion that the user didn’t really matter as much as a celebrity user, that they wouldn’t be as important or interesting because they aren’t well known. When in fact I find the activity of non-celebrities really interesting because they wouldn’t be used to the idea of curating and constructing a version of identity with their best interests in mind. In addition to this, there is no way of knowing whether the celebrity accounts are actually run by the celebrity in question or whether a communications team is responsible for the posts, for example the singer Adele is banned from freely posting on Twitter and instead her tweets have to go through several members of management in order to be approved. This is because previously Adele has tweeted when she was under the influence of alcohol and could have deconstructed her good reputation, which is ultimately what encourages her fan-base to buy her music. Because I didn’t want to exclusively research celebrities I was posed with a choice of how to choose subjects that don’t identify as celebrities, this would be extremely difficult as it is hard to identify exactly who everyone is from their Instagram. Some accounts are descriptive but some are very bare and I didn’t want to appear to prioritise those who described themselves in text more as this excludes those abstract accounts, which could be extremely interesting. In addition to this, I had no idea what sample size to choose and whether I should be aiming for a representative sample, or just trying to choose users from one country. It was incredibly overwhelming and there didn’t appear to be a right answer, it was after this lecture on auto-ethnography that I realised I could choose myself as a subject and complete a highly detailed analysis of how I use Instagram.

 

 

Why Is This Work Important?

Like many other individuals in the world today, I am becoming increasingly involved in the practice and the community of gaming. Fallout 4 is the first game that I have felt really connect me to the community, however when playing I felt extremely morally challenged by the questions being asked of my character and also me as a player. The entire story of Fallout 4 is complex and non-linear, due to the nature of the game, meaning every different player would experience the order of the story different and perhaps not experience parts of it at all. Whilst I appreciated I was playing a game, I also couldn’t avoid my emotional investment in the story towards my character and others. Suggesting that although the game is a fictional piece of entertainment, it could also be considered as a space in which to explore moral questions that might not, or couldn’t be asked in the context of material reality. There are on going discussions about video games being viewed as an art form, with sophisticated graphics that require a high level of computer literate artistry (Travinor 2009). A new emergent medium has been created through these video games, referencing photo-realism but building on it and creating a new stylistic world. The camera represents the device through which the game player both views and explores their world and more recently, through which the player can produce their own form of photographic-type artistry (Giddings 2013). It is this practice of videogame photography that I wish to produce, the images I intend to create will document the locations I associate with my play through of the story and therefore places I believe my character would most likely remember too. In addition to this I aim to capture the environment that my character travelled through in order to progress through the storyline, capturing these in-between places. My choice to engage with the concept of video games and video game art, is because I believe that gaming is becoming more and more important culturally. The industry is growing due to increased technology allowing for a higher calibre of games and because more individuals are becoming part of the gaming community, myself included.

As I have identified, the content in the games can also become an important part of culture as it prompts discussions about both current and futuristic issues, despite them happening in a fictional environment. Likewise, the practice of photography has been recognised as culturally important at engaging with current world issues. In the area of photojournalism and documentary photography especially, photography has served as the means to communicate where perhaps words couldn’t. There have been many iconic images that have stood out and served as the face of some of the most important stories, including but limited to Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Kevin Carter’s image of a starving child and Nick Ut’s image of the girl fleeing a napalm attack. In many of these cases the photographer has been criticised for not intervening in the moment and helping the subject of the photograph, despite these images being the catalyst for social change. Whilst these iconic images may not have directly benefitted the subjects featured in them, in some cases they manage to incite cultural change, a great achievement for a singular image. However there are flaws in photography, past the photographer not always being able to directly help the subject they are photographing. Photojournalism and documentary photography have been the focus of much critical debate about the relationship between photography and truth. The practice of photography itself has historically been labelled as objective, with Walter Benjamin and Andre Bazin identifying the apparent lack of the human hand in the creation of the image, focusing on the mechanical production. However behind the apparently objective mechanics of the camera is an extremely subjective photographer, a human being that has been shaped by their own experience of life. A person that has their own opinion, design preference, style of photography and all of these are communicated through the image; whether the photographer wants them to be or not. Objective photography, in my subjective opinion, is impossible.

So what does a photograph represent if not the an objective truth? And if a photograph doesn’t or can’t represent the truth, then why do we still believe what is depicted in them? So, it would be foolish to suggest that all people believe what they see in photographs to be true. Audiences of images have become increasingly sceptical of the content following various editing scandals in popular media. The first identifiable cases of manipulation in the media can be traced back to the National Geographic Cover of the Pyramids, where the photograph taken was manipulated to bring the two pyramids closer, so that the image could work with the portrait orientation of the cover. The invention and increase of digital technology facilitated a wave new photographs that were altered, shaping certain genres of photography such as beauty; where it is culturally acknowledged that the photograph is probably altered. The theory supporting this scepticism is naive realism, which proposes that the reality we perceive in our own certain way, is definitely reality. In photography naive realism relates to a person looking at an image and believing the photograph to be able to represent the entirety of reality in one frame, despite there being many other elements to reality (such as movement and sound). Naive realism in reality, proposes that as humans we believe that our way of perceiving the world constitutes what reality is, that is because we can perceive colours we believe these colours are reality, despite other animals only being able to perceive shades of black and white.

In my work, I will be using the concept of naive realism, to create a visual experiment. The images that I am producing could be perceived as reality if the viewer doesn’t look closely to pick out the details, some of them are closer to the reality we experience as humans and some of them focus on details that are unrealistic to us (as the game is set in a post-nuclear war environment. These images will aim to serve as an eye-opener for those who believe everything they see in a photograph, whilst appearing to be a normal artistic piece documenting landscapes. However whilst one purpose of this piece is to be a visual experiment on the concept of naive realism, I also want it to explore the sophisticated narrative experience of contemporary gaming. Fallout 4 is a choice-based game, which means that each player of the game has the potential to create a different storyline; from the order in which the player experiences the main storyline, down to the choices that can be made during conversations between characters. This dynamic means that each different player creates their own version of the Fallout 4 story. My set of images document the version of the story that I created through the specific choices I made my gameplay. This work is important because it engages with two concepts that I believe are currently very important culturally: the world of video games and naive realism. Combing these two concepts has allowed me to create a really interesting piece of work that both follows my character’s unique story in the game Fallout 4 and plays on the idea of naive realism, by attempting to trick the viewer into believing that the landscapes in the images are of a real world.

 

List of References:

Giddings, S. (2013) ‘Drawing Without Light, Simulated photography in videogames’ in

Travinor, G. (2009) The Art of Video Games. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell

 

Life After New Media

Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska are both influential members of the Goldsmiths university, and were recommended to me to research in relation to my Final Major Project as they discuss ideas such as mediation and the impact of mediation on society. I sourced the book Life After New Media from the library as it it co-authored by these individuals meaning I could gain perspective of the same issue but with both of their input. My notes and the reflection can be seen below:

 

 Chapter One – Mediation and the Vitality of Media

  • There is a dualism/binary opposition of “old media” vs. “new media” – media instead can be perceived as a sequence/progression of specific technology
  • Has media affected us socially/biologically or is technology just an effect of social/political change?
  • Opposition between Raymond Williams (constructionism) and Marshall McLuhan (determinism) – about hypermedia and the body
  • Concept of remediation to consider a new concept/item in relation to its history
  • “a photograph can be regarded as a perfect Albertian window” (Bolter and Grusin)
  • Media forms are meant to satisfy our “obsession with realism” and “our culture’s desire for immediacy”
  • Carolyn Marvin, tracks the status of technology when it was regarded as “new”
  • Gitelman Always Already New, “human users” are made by the technology we as humans create
  • Katherine Hayles proposes the concept intermediation – examines the boundary between biological and technological, concept of intra-action not interaction
  • Technology isn’t a means to an ends because it’s now a part of us, it uses us
  • Mediation has multiple definitions can mean thought process and can mean transmitting using media
  • Biological and Technical evolution comes hand in hand now – interdependence
  • Media may be lifelike but can it actually live?

Chapter Two – Catastrophe “Live”

  • Comparison between credit crunch and The Large Hadron Collidor
  • Past the point of no return, total annihilation
  • Credit crunch was bad for neoliberalism
  • Both events were upstaged relationships between the event and its mediation
  • Events (and media events) are narrated by media, technology has become history, tradition, seasonal
  • Media events are becoming possibly more reluctant in terms of technological development and globalisation
  • Although great conquests for mankind are suitable (?) for narration – especially by digital technology where it is accessible to the masses and can be shared
  • Is there a retreat in the narration of media events and increase in coverage of conflict/disaster/terror
  • Media is a form of mediation not a form of representation – Dyan and Katz have this ideology because media is highly performative
  • Media fragments the world
  • Rise of traumatic events is coupled with “obsessive coverage” and “disaster marathon” – in the context of terrorism mediation is the key as it is image control
  • News event = hegemonic power, transparency, immediacy and innocence
  • Couldry describes media as a form of constructionism – media events are “constructions” not expressions of a social ‘centre’ – conflicts with the idea of reality (in terms of conflict)
  • Joost Van Loon – media are more transformative rather than in/misinformative, the events don’t exist outside of their mediation
  • Baudrilliard’s theory of media events as nonevents, they are substituted by signs and symbols, closed circuit of hyper reality
  • War and money are now ‘hyper-realised’
  • Simulations aims to reduce the distance between the real and virtual
  • Media is a process that connects humans and technology, in all mediation “we” have a part
  • In disaster/catastrophe the chosen media is television – to equate TV with “real life” is misjudged
  • Guy Debord’s “the spectacle”
  • Performance in news events can cause a narration that is interpreted as fact
  • Fact is a social construction – Robert Peston, did he cause the recession
  • Relationship between performance and linear model of cause and effect – Callon thinks causation is nonlinear
  • Does accepting the notion of performance liberate conceptualism and representation?
  • In performance media there can’t be objectivity
  • There can be tensions between performative and representational media – but there isn’t a division
  • Mediation is a process rather than a spatial object – it is temporal
  • LHC project was something that had massive effect and a mass coverage but there wasn’t anything specific to see
  • Mediation incorporates representation and spatial despite being temporal

Chapter Three – Cut! The Imperative of Photographic Medium

  • Chapter looks at mediation through photographic practice, the productive and performative aspect
  • Happens on different levels, perceptive, material, technical and conceptual
  • Studying ‘the cut’ concept – where the moment of photography, film and sound is shaped
  • What makes a good cut?
  • Photography is more than the perception of frozen “snapshots”
  • Paradoxically photography attempts to arrest/capture the flow of life
  • Richard Gaplin “Viewing Station” (2010) physical installation that mediates the viewers/engager’s viewing experience to perceive the landscape
  • Practice of cutting contextualises our relationship and place in the world – can frame a situation and pose a problem/solution
  • Separation and relationary dualism
  • Photography is involved with time
  • There is always photographic possibility and the moments in time that are captured
  • Photography is ubiquitous, we can’t travel without an image (passport) and we are likely to have seen an image of where we are going
  • Photography is replaced with the photograph, memory with the memory (Barthes on memory and photography)
  • Intuition/instinct – both are similar, biological process
  • Intellect cuts up photography into fragments (is then passed off as a truthful representation of reality)
  • Photography is a way of “moulding” (Bergson)
  • Photograph is perception, a film still is an image of memory – when we put them together neither is effective (Alexander Sekatiskiy)
  • Eadweard Muybridge worked with stoppage of time and made the cut into a temporal process
  • The photograph reduces movement into a series of “static” moments
  • Muybridge’s horse/Zeno’s arrow appear to be motionless despite the image depicting movement
  • Karen Barad – photography is about how we interact with the world
  • The use of apparatus, they are not “passive, observing instruments… they are productive of (and part of) the plethora” Bohr on physics
  • We want to suggest a ‘good cut’ is an ethical cut
  • Photography could be seen as producing life forms rather than just recording them
  • Photography can be described as having a lifeness
  • Stieglar’s proposition “the image in general does not exist” – the photograph/life is a form of perception
  • “The menial image” and “the image-object” are both post-perception, both products of the cut
  • There is no image or imagination without memory
  • Stiegler “Digitization… introduces manipulation even into the spectrum”, “Photons become pixels that in turn are reduced to zeros and ones”
  • Moving image is far more effective for memory than photography
  • We are less concerned with scientific accuracy
  • Photography is a safe zone in which one can take on the chaos of the world
  • We can explore the liquidity of culture without drowning in it
  • Nina Sellar’s ‘Oblique’ series hybrid space of performance and surgery in images – photograph as a window
  • The encounter with photography defines the interpretation/effect
  • Reference to the “cut” of the photographic process and the surgeon’s cuts in the image
  • Apple has made the “cut” more accessible through software
  • All cuts are not morally the same, the surgeon’s cut is not ethically similar to media
  • Levinas – violence is constitutive of society, concept of “good violence” is because the outcome is beneficial
  • Element of audience as the spectator in violence
  • Sellar’s project as a lesson for media age about the way image production has become more mechanical
  • Sellar’s images have a non-humansitic element
  • By perceiving/being exposed to violence the viewer participates in their own undoing
  • The pleasure in perceiving “the cut” in Oblique series provokes feelings of horror and desire

 

Reflection:

This book has been so influential in giving me an introduction into the concept of media and mediation and how this impacts the audience and indeed the artist when producing work. The idea of the ‘cut’ being this identifiable, almost tangible moment we can perceive and analyse is so interesting and definitely applicable in many discussions. It relates to David Campbell’s notion of context; where the photographer makes inclusions and exclusions to frame the image and can leave out some of the context which would make the viewer interpret the image in a different manner. ‘The cut’ is a concept that photographers and other artists working with other methods of image-making need to consider, previously it has been related to the notion of photography and truth, whether the image could be deemed truthful however now with David Campell’s input it is more about whether the image is responsible. This responsibility doesn’t just lie with the producer, it is increasingly encouraged in the audience, the viewer now has the task of seeking their own imagery and making sure they are viewing it in the right context to get the most accurate interpretation. The work ‘Viewing Station’ by Richard Gaplin is a really good example of mediation, as it shows something physically changing the viewers perspective of the subject, a concept that can then be easily imagined metaphorically, each and every image maker is creating their own viewing station through which the viewer perceives the subject content. This is a concept I really want to apply to my own work as it is very relevant to the dynamic of online communication and how identity is something that is constructed and mediated by the individuals involved. In an online conversation it is easier to control what information is known by the subject, to some extent if the participants are never going to actually physically meet or see each other, this mediation can become untruthful and corrupt with an individual completely fabricating their identity. It is really important to consider how identity has the capacity to and is often mediated in online spaces, no matter how subtle. Therefore I want to include a reference to the ideas from Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska, perhaps using the ideas demonstrated by Richard Gaplin in my image-making process. Ultimately what mediation suggests is that society is being subtly moulded into new forms of perception and communication, a concept that my Final Major Project builds on. It has become evident that digital technology is so embedded in our daily lives and that we now rely on it to operate in the world, therefore we must start recognising that our digital presence is an aspect of ourself that are accountable for. If we consider how active each individual is on the Internet then we have to consider that their digital self might be the one that more people use build their impression of identity and personality. My work will aim to build on this statement and depict how a the perception of a person can become distorted through this practice of mediation. Overall I am really glad I researched this book as it has given me many good points and approaches to consider when I come to create my own subject matter. The idea of mediation and ‘the cut’ are two aspects I will be taking forward in my project and considering throughout my creative process.

 

Photojournalism Now: Roles and Responsibilities

Photojournalism in the digital age is subject to many complexities and the role of the photojournalist continues to develop. Current debates and discussions surrounding the practice of photojournalism include but are not limited to: responsible representation, manipulation, citizen contribution and the evolution of digital technology. With photojournalism expanding and diversifying there appears to be less control over the nature and the authors of the content produced. In addition to this, the parameters of the professional photojournalist are in a continuing state of flux: a concept predating digital, but amplified by it (Ritchin 2014: 13).

It can be argued that photojournalism formed the understanding of photography as evidence, as it placed a demand on the photographer to create visual representations of the event or issue being investigated (Rosler 2004a: 264). The photograph assumed this demanded role of truth teller despite the apparent limitations to representation posed by the singular framed moment. In addition, despite manipulation always being present in photographic history, speculations about photographic ‘truth’ appeared to gain more prominence (Sontag 1978: 52). The launch of Photoshop Version 1 in 1990 meant that the process of manipulation was accessible to anyone, not just the industry (Adobe n.d.). The resulting ease of manipulation provoked a redefinition of photographic meaning in photojournalism. It now appeared to resemble a visual metaphor instead of the original, evidential form desired. It is thought that digital technology has increased the potential of the image to narrate. However it also appears to have cracked the credibility that the photograph used to possess (Rosler 2004b: 188).

 

Analogue photography in photojournalism originated around the framing of a moment, which then became heavily associated with ‘straight’ or evidential photography (Rosler 2004a: 264). These singular images were integrated into the current format of news, acting as an entry point for the viewer. However when forming a narrative in photography, usually a sequence of images is needed. It could be seen that the singular analogue photograph is limited in capacity, bound by the frame (Rosler 2004b: 189 and 190). In contrast the digital image is a coded entity, considered as fluid and able to exist in both the latent and manifest state almost simultaneously (Fontcuberta 2014: 37). Although still bound by the edges of the frame digital photography appears to have the capacity to change the current forms of narration.

Ritchin likened digital imagery to that of ‘quantum physics’ (Worth 2013b) where the more we try and investigate and examine, the more the data fluctuates. We can extend this metaphor and describe analogue photography as chemistry in both a literal and conceptual sense. Although there are many possibilities, each one can be explained by a series of chemical reactions, constructed and carried out by the practitioner. It has been stated that the purpose of photography is to be ‘useful in the world’ and the capacity of digital technology could take photojournalism further however it needs the practitioner to become ‘proactive’ and take on the responsibility (Worth 2013b). Perhaps the fluid nature of the digital image will encourage new explorations in this field.

 

Photojournalism itself emerged with the industrialisation of news and the surge of mass markets, both contributing to the creation of the illustrated magazine, or photo essay (Warner Marien 2002: 8). The evolution of digital technology has allowed photojournalists and photo editors to explore new methods of narrating an event. Where the photo essay was product of industrialisation, digital technology provides the photojournalist with an escape into new forms of media (Worth 2013b). Time Magazine has certainly embraced this liberation by producing dynamic new features like ‘Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek’ (Ritchin 2013: 59) ‘Faces of The Dead’ (Ritchin 2013: 94) and ‘Watching Syria’s War’ (Ritchin 2013: 92). The use of moving image, sound, interactivity and creative data visualisation in these features support the explorations into new, effective narrative forms, which perhaps could not be achieved through the single photograph (Rosler 2004b: 189-190). In a recent interview, Stephen Mayes described digital, online photojournalism as rolling, a continuous stream of information (Worth 2013b). This environment is perhaps suited to a more creative, contextualised and comprehensive narrative moving away from the safety of the photo essay format.

 

The digital native culture has fully accepted the new form of photographic image; the instantaneous nature along with the developing communication infrastructure has helped shape the current mass image culture. This dynamic conflicts with the ideology of Walter Benjamin who discussed the loss of aura through reproduction and proximity. (Benjamin 1992: 225). The tools of this mass image culture can be integrated into photojournalism as demonstrated by Benjamin Lowy, who used a combination of smartphone photography and the application Hipstamatic to produce his images (Ritchin 2013: 68). However they were met with negativity, head of a photojournalist festival Jean-Francois Leroy stated that using an app reduced the control over the photograph and actually worked to ‘standardise photography’ (Ritchin 2013: 69). Lowy’s images are accessible and familiar, with the aesthetic and format referencing social media such as Instagram. This technique allows the audience to relate and consume the content easily. However the danger of producing this comfortable imagery is that the content doesn’t work to challenge or provoke the viewer, referencing the current trend of main-stream media producing content the audience want to see not what they need to know (TED 2011). The mass image culture has generated an archive of safe, consumable imagery that works to promote, not provoke.

 

Current photojournalism can be perceived as ‘Networked’ (Beckett 2008: 2) with citizens and professionals contributing content. The millennium saw an increase of citizen journalism in media with the 911 attacks acting as the catalyst. Imagery from camera phones became more commonplace in photojournalism as the holder of a smartphone can become an instantaneous producer and publisher. This was particularly evident in the coverage of the 2001 Twin Towers attack and the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, which comprised of still image and moving image content. The raw aesthetic of citizen camera content often convinces the viewer that fabrication is less likely. Reduced naivety to manipulation has even provoked the public to question aesthetically perfect images, despite any status of legitimacy. The proximity of the citizen to their environment could also improve their representation. This insider status coupled with a greater awareness generates new questions (La Grange 2005: 125). With no belief in the image, and more citizens taking up a camera, is there actually a demand for the professional photojournalist anymore?

 

Manipulation is a process that was present in analogue photojournalism, however it has gained more awareness in the digital age. Both Ritchin and Rosler addressed the February 1982 National Geographic cover in reference to photographic truth (Ritchin 1990: 26, Rosler 2004a: 271). The distance between the pyramids was digitally altered, potentially destroying their historic association to ‘immutability’ (Rosler 2004a: 270). The parameters of manipulation in photojournalism have never been defined which has perhaps allowed instances in which images are changed to achieve ‘conceptual accuracy’ and ‘aesthetic pleasure’. (Rosler: 2004a: 276). Ethical guidelines in relation to the practise of manipulation must be defined in the context of photojournalism (and distanced from conceptualism) to avoid the exploitation of the audience through naivety (Bersak 2006).

 

A photojournalist’s role can be to construct a representation of victimisation and suffering. There is a responsibility on their part to photograph in a manner that avoids exploitation and misrepresentation, far from Barthes’ original dynamic of operator and target (Barthes 1993: 9). Abigail Solomon Godeau in her ‘Inside/Out’ essay examined the stance taken by photographers in representation of vulnerable subjects, which is especially complex when the photographer isn’t native to the culture and environment. In Kevin Carter’s well-known image, his ‘outsider’ approach could be viewed as imperialistic as there is no personal involvement or connection (La Grange 2005: 125). The distance created in the image reduces the relationship between the photographer and subject to an observing eye (Ritchin 2014: 36). However this is the stance photojournalism desires to achieve objectivity. It has produced iconic imagery Barthes would define, as punctum, drawing an emotional response, but is that enough to help the victim? (Barthes 1993: 26-27). A comprehensive understanding of the subject’s situation might establish continuing support from the audience. Perhaps the future structure of photojournalism should begin with an objective ‘outsider’ image to capture audience attention, which then leads to the larger, more informed body of work producing using the ‘insider’ approach (La Grange 2005: 125). This could work to solve the notion of subject exploitation and misrepresentation.

 

 

In photographic representation, context is the defining concept, however it is equally important to establish the right context for the final outcome (Rosler 2004a: 263, Johnston: 2011). The photojournalist’s responsibility extends past the action of taking a photograph; the imagery must be circulated to the right channels. Marcus Bleasdale has avoided ‘preaching to the already converted’, (Worth 2013a), choosing to adapt his body of work ‘Rape Of A Nation’ (Bleasdale 2008) into different forms to engage with alternative audiences. In contrast to this, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin created the body of work named ‘The Day That Nobody Died’ to comment on the practise of photojournalism (Broomberg and Chanarin 2008). The work was pieces of photographic paper exposed to the sun over the course of a day and has been exhibited in the contemporary art community most recently at the Shanghai Biennale. The significance of this work was the conceptual nature, which means it would be most effective in an environment where it would be perceived as art. Although the work is associated with photojournalism, to publish it in the environment of this genre would be taking it out of context and reducing the capacity to communicate effectively. Conceptual photography is a separate genre and needs distancing from the informative imagery normally associated with photojournalism (Rosler 2004a: 259).

 

It would be accurate to state that the digital age has changed the field of photojournalism, however it would be more perceptive to suggest that it has amplified some of the existing issues. The photograph as evidence has had an unstable history perhaps due to the limitations of the single-image approach (Renaldi 2014). The nature of the digital image and the techniques made available through digital technology has facilitated a new mode of delivery, which is more contextualised (Johnston 2011). Though with the format of print journalism and objective imagery remaining ever present, it appears that a balance of reactionary and proactive, insider and outsider photojournalism is approaching (Worth 2013, La Grange 2005: 125).

However there are considerations that must be addressed such as truthful representation, manipulation, contextual information, circulation to appropriate channels and photographic responsibility (Rosler 2004a: 271, Ritchin 2009: 26, Johnston 2011, Bleasdale 2008). In addition, the parameters of the professional in the current state of photojournalism still need establishing in order to maintain quality in the field (Ritchin 2014: 13). After investigating it would appear that when confronted with complexity, the photojournalist (professional or citizen) must produce an effective, innovative narrative with the tools available, which depicts a responsible, informed representation of the subject. It should challenge and provoke a response from the right audience and be viewed in the appropriate environment (Johnston 2011).

 

 

List of References

 

Adobe Adobe Photoshop release history. [online] available from <http://kb2.adobe.com/community/publishing/925/cpsid_92587/attachments/photoshop_release_versions_history.pdf&gt; [5 January 2015]

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

Beckett, C. (2008) Supermedia: saving journalism so it can save the world. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing

Benjamin, W. (1992) ed by Arendt, H. The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. London: Fontana

Bersak, D. (2006) Ethics in Photojournalism: past, present, and future. [online] available from <http://hdl.handle.net/1721.1/39148&gt; [27 January 2015]

Bleasdale, M. (2008) Rape of a Nation [online] available from <http://www.marcusbleasdale.com/index.php#mi=2&pt=1&pi=10000&s=0&p=0&a=1&at=0&gt; [5 January 2015]

Broomberg, A and Chanarin, O. (2008) The Day Nobody Died [online] available from < http://www.choppedliver.info/the-day-nobody-died/&gt; [27 January]

Fontcuberta, J. (2014) Pandora’s Camera. MACK

Johnston, M. (2011) David Campbell – Narrative, Power and Responsibility [online] available from < https://soundcloud.com/mattjohnston/david-campbell&gt; [27 January 2015]

La Grange, A. (2005) Basic Critical Theory for Photographers. London: Focal

Ritchin, F. (2013) Bending The Frame. United States: Aperture

Ritchin. F. 2009 After Photography. New York: W. W. Norton & Company

Rosler, M. (2004a) ‘Image Simulations Computer Manipulations: Some considerations.’ in Decoys and Disruptions: selected writing, 1975-2001. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press

Rosler, M. (2004b) ‘In, Around, and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography).’ in Decoys and Disruptions: selected writing, 1975-2001. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press

Sontag, S. (1978) On Photography. London: Allen Lane

TED (2011) Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles” [online] available from < https://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles&gt; [27 January 2015]

Warner Marien, M. (2002) Photography: A Cultural History. 4th edn. London: Laurence King Publishing

Worth, J. (2013a) Marcus Bleasdale in conversation for #phonar [online] available from < https://archive.org/details/MarcusBleasdale121113&gt; [5 January 2015]

Worth, J. (2013b) Stephen Mayes, Fred Ritchin and Jonathan Worth [online] available from <https://archive.org/details/MayesRitchinWorthFull&gt; [5 January 2015]

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

New Digital Techniques in Photojournalism

The transition from analogue to digital photography has facilitated new forms of photography including the increasing prevalence of moving image and sound in photographic work. According to practitioner and writer Joan Fontcuberta where the analogue photograph is static and linear, the digital image is fluid and able to exist in the latent and manifest state almost simultaneously. Where analogue was often criticised for being too slow, the digital image has the capacity to innovate photojournalism in terms of both speed and delivery. The emergence of immersive and interactive media has transformed the practice of photojournalism and created the opportunity for new modes of delivery. However in the current state of photojournalism it appears that format of the singular image in the context of the photoessay is remaining present, perhaps photojournalists needs to break the framework that analogue has laid down in order to progress and produce effective, digital photojournalism.

Stephen Mayes characterised digital technology as the escape from the photoessay which was a product of industrialisation. Time Magazine have embraced this liberation and worked to create innovative new features such as Snowfall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek, Faces of The Dead and Watching Syria’s War. Snowfall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek is a digital feature which tracks the timeline of an avalanche that affected the lives of many people.

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Despite sharing a resemblance with the format of the traditional photoessay, as the viewer scrolls down through the feature the capacity of digital technology is revealed with embedded photographs, video and sound. In addition to this the viewer takes an active role in reading as they can choose to activate or deactivate the content in the feature. Time Magazine also produced Faces of the Dead which features creative data visualisation combined with photography to produce an interactive feature.

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Each portrait is made up of many little squares which the viewer can choose to click on; each individual square represents a U.S soldier who has been killed in action and by clicking their square the photograph of him and information about him can be seen. It is a creative construction that is extremely thought provoking when the meaning is understood, the viewer is confronted with the knowledge that all the tiny squares resemble the death of a person and the effect created is serious and reflective. In addition to this Time Magazine have established the platform Watching Syria’s War which is comprised of video content contributed by citizens which is then organised and archived into different categories.

 

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Fred Ritchin stated that photography and video are intertwined, there can now be a photofilm and a film still each existing as separate entities. In photojournalism now, video is just as important as photography as the kinetic properties allow for a greater capacity of representation and information. The element of citizen participation also contributes to a more accurate representation as they have the ‘insider’ status Abigail Solomon Godeau explores. The digital techniques used by Time Magazine explore and demonstrate the capacity and potential for digital photojournalism. The use of moving image, still image, sound, data visualisation and data visualisation works to create a more informed, contextualised feature which will work to engage and provoke the audience to take social action. It is evident that digital technology has the potential to innovate the field of photojournalism however it needs practitioners and organisations to take on the challenge.

The project ‘This Is Kroo Bay’ by Save The Children uses new digital techniques to examine and portray the lifestyle and stories of a particular culture.

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The use of sound, image and moving image immerses the viewer into the situation and lends to a more participatory viewing experience. By drawing away from the limitative single image approach we allow for new modes of delivery which are comprehensive and contextualised from which the viewer can learn more from what they could possibly learn from the single image format. In this sense, aesthetic and linguistic context works together to form a larger, more informed narrative. However the slower pace of this approach could conflict with the accelerated speed of the current news cycle, in terms of reactive photography, the single image could be considered the most appropriate format because of the simplicity and compatibility. Fred Ritchin debates that as photojournalists campaigning for social change, there needs to be more ‘proactive’ photography, negotiating issues before they happen as opposed to reacting to the events afterwards. If the nature and dynamic of the news cycle can be adapted to suit proactive practitioners, the capacity of photojournalism could grow to seeking preventative social change.

Accompanying new digital technology is the creation of a different type of media, social media which was primarily invented to facilitate communication on a global scale. As Stephen Mayes identified, we are now producing content for the screen and the idea of screen culture is predominately associated with social media communication. Where the photoessay was product of industrialisation, it could be perceived that social media is the product of digitisation. With the production of communication technology comes the idea of intelligent technology; it is now possible to Internet software to seek and store metadata about each individual which then builds up a picture of trends, habit and preferences. This knowledge is then sold to third parties who choose to target the individuals with specific adverts, search results and suggestions. This process has contributed to the formation of what TED speaker Eli Pariser characterises as ‘online filter bubbles’ which construct and shape the information seen by each individual.

The idea of digital technology shaping the information that is seen by each individual is perhaps destructing the ideology behind the democratic state; freedom of information. By shaping results, technology is effectively restricting other results meaning that the citizen has less control over the photojournalism they can see. There are alternative search engines such as DuckDuckGo which doesn’t track and store search inputs however there are not widely known. As the public continues to search using this tracker technology they risk becoming a spectacle, perhaps with the stored information there will be more discovered instances such as Abu Ghraib. The concept of intelligent technology deciding which information the citizen sees is perhaps comparative to the choice made by conventional media and social media in deciding what the audience needs to know. However this technology increasingly restricts the challenging content and presents the public with information it consider they desire. The evolution of new digital technology has perhaps facilitated a trend in photojournalism where the viewer is no longer confronted with the provoking imagery that will facilitate social change.

Overall it is evident that technology has the capacity to innovate and revolutionise photojournalism with the introduction of new elements such as moving image, sound, interactivity and data visualisation. These new modes of delivery have developed a form of photojournalism which is more informed and contextualised and will perhaps be more effective at narration. However the development of intelligent technology is perhaps threatening the purpose of photojournalism to inform. By giving it the power to restrict and tailor the content seen by each individual the technology deconstructs the notion of presenting content that the public needs to know and instead gives them content it expects them to desire. In order to progress and discover the full potential of digital technology to narrate it appears that intelligent technology needs to be addressed and negotiated to avoid the manipulation of important information.

Mass Image Culture

Kodak and Polaroid were the first creators of the instantaneous image making, the public immediately took to this idea and the popularity of this instant image culture has grown with the development of digital technology. With more user friendly cameras and most smartphones encompassing adequate level camera technology, the public have been enabled to produce imagery that they perhaps wouldn’t have been capable of using a film camera. In addition to this, the developed communication infrastructure has facilitated the establishment of various social media platforms, all of which allow the sharing of image and moving image content. The public can now produce and instantly share images with the world using their portable networked device. The digital device is limitless and allows for the production of endless images whereas film cameras used to be more restrictive. All these factors have contributed to the current mass image culture, where there are more images produced in a day than ever before. However with social media now representing the largest free archive of image and moving image content; can the photojournalist produce imagery that will be noticed? Or will the professional be usurped by citizen content altogether?

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The original definition of the term image is a formulation of metaphors and similes which indicate meaning; in the digital age however the term has been adapted and manipulated to reference different photography practices. In the context of Phonar, Jonathan Worth and other writers/practitioners have characterised an opposition between the term photograph and the term image. Where the photograph very much refers to the analogue print; the image refers to the coded digital entity which is fluid and able to exist in the latent and manifest form almost at once. Stephen Mayes describes a new medium of photography which has been formed due to instantaneous photography and the sharing culture. He characterised the content on social media as ‘experiential photography’ where the user captures a raw thought and releases it for the world to see. One aspect of photography that has become particularly prevalent in this experiential medium is the self-portrait, or recently characterised as the ‘selfie’. The invention of front-facing cameras has allowed the user to construct a self-portrait in a manner not available before the digital age of photography.

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This mass image trend has been recognised globally with the term being included in the Oxford Dictionary and it being referenced in high scale events such as The Oscars. Celebrity Kim Kardashian has basically shaped her career and exposure using the digital self-portrait. Photography has always been used as self expression, but now with the limitless form of digital image-making, the holder of a smartphone can use their device as a constant tool of self-expression and construct a detailed image-based identity. However with the citizen empowered in relation to their own representation and producing an archive of self-portraiture, is the work of a photojournalist redundant? Is there a need to be trained in the art of representation anymore to be qualified construct a form of pictorial identity as the digital technology enables a form of convenient, quality and instant photography that could render the needs of the photojournalist unwanted.

Marshall McLuhan references mass media in his book Understanding Media, he describes every form of media and possession as an extension of the self. Previously the predominant forms of expression were through possessions such as the house, car and all these were indications of style and the presence of wealth. However social media and photography has facilitated a new dialogue of self expression which opens self expression up to anyone capable of owning a smartphone. As previously discussed, the self-portrait has now become the dominant mode of self expression, particularly in the digital native generation which has contributed to the mass image culture. McLuhan also references mass trends and collective experience in discussing that the tribal nature in mass online culture is particularly strong perhaps influenced by the sense of detachment to online life. As a result society has seen a new wave of terminology to address volatile actions seen in online culture such as ‘trolling’, ‘catfishing’ and ‘revenge porn’; some of which have now had laws passed to enable prosecution. In addition to this there have been some individuals and organisations utilising the nature of the mass image culture to attract attention and spread destructive ideology such as the self proclaimed ‘ISIS’.

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This radical Islamist group have been attempting to spread their ideology and recruit members to their cause. Their image is predominately constructed through moving image footage of graphic nature which is then spread using social media in order to attract an audience. Fred Ritchin in his first book explored the capacity of digital technology to construct our own image, a power which was only previously held by high level individuals. Part of the reason why ISIS have been so successful is the capacity to construct their own image and disseminate their ideology using digital technology and the mass image culture. As addressed in my post on hacking; there will always be individuals that choose to target and exploit and as the number of images produced and shared gradually increases, perhaps the number of these volatile individuals will also increase.

Writer Walter Benjamin was one of the earliest individuals to identify the increase of images through reproduction and the effect it could have. He discussed the concept of ‘aura’, a feeling that is established by distance, for example an individual can be in the aura of a distant mountain range; this aura can be deconstructed by reducing the distance, or creating a reproduction of the original. Benjamin describes that as the reproductions increase; the desire to see the original decreases because the individual no longer feels the need to seek it. As a result the value of the original could appear to decrease because of the loss in interest. In photography the concept of reproduction has changed through the transition from analogue to digital; where the analogue print has a longer, consecutive process of reproduction and an original negative, the digital image is fluid and can be reproduced in an instant, with no indication as to what constitutes as ‘the original’. The ease of reproduction and the capacity to search and obtain images through Internet search engines and social media has perhaps contributed to a devaluation of the image which is also encouraged by the hacker culture. The digital image instead of remaining as a photograph, has been characterised as just information and in the digital age there is a expected entitlement to free information. For the photojournalist, despite the capacity of digital technology to narrative effectively it means that there is the constant danger of their work being devalued because of the nature of the digital image and the dynamic of the mass image culture. Perhaps this is why there has been a revival in film photography, because the photographer feels a sense of value and aura in the analogue print that has been lost in the digital.

The mass image culture is a trend brought about by the transition from analogue to digital, it has facilitated the citizen to explore a new medium of self-expression using their networked camera device however it has also enabled individuals to exploit it. The apparent loss of aura and the fluctuating nature of the digital image has become a challenge to the photojournalist as their work is under threat from devaluation due to reproduction. In addition to this, the photojournalist is threatened by the capacity of social media to act as a free image archive which could mean the professional photographer is usurped by the new experiential medium Stephen Mayes described. Overall the current state of the image is fluctuating, causing a redefinition by some practitioners to distance the analogue print away from the digital image as the properties of both are extremely different. It is unclear whether the mass image culture either compliments or destructs the current practice of photojournalism. Time will be the factor in tracking the nature of the image and the whether the mass image culture will destruct it’s value in the digital form.