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.

Instagram Is Ruining Vacation

Mary Pilon is a journalist, author of a book about the history of monopoly and previously a writer of sports features. I came across the article ‘Instagram Is Ruining Vacation‘ by Pilon on Instagram and travel photography when reading through my Twitter newsfeed. I’ve identified that Twitter is a valuable research tool when engaging with a topic that is current and still evolving, favouriting and bookmarking articles that catch my eye in order to read them later. This article was one of those finds, it was really interesting to read about Pilon’s interpretation as she included many references to Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’. From her biography on her website, is isn’t clear that Pilon has studied photography in an academic context, neither does it look like she has studied cultural/communicative theory. Yet her article is so insightful and has pointed me towards many different directions that I can pursue for my research project. I’ve identified parts of Pilon’s article that are particularly relevant to what I want to research, or that have given me something new to think about and reflected on them.

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There are several key points in this section that I identified, first of all the notable brand name of the iPhone. Despite Apple marketing themselves to a mass amount of people, there are actually few in the world that can afford or justify the outright cost of the device, instead opting to a monthly contract. There is a slight sense of exclusivity or elitism, with the prosperous few able to afford the latest iPhone model, with the rest aspiring to their status. As I’ve explored in previous blog posts, Instagram itself can be considered as slightly exclusive by limiting the features of the application when accessed from a laptop. There is no doubt that the application was created for the smartphone and later the tablet (perhaps it was created with Apple products in mind) and therefore only the smartphone or tablet can have access to all of the opportunities.

The second point about this section, was the fact that Instagram images, specifically those of travel, are often created to show off to the people who aren’t there. Travel images are effectively the digital equivalent of the postcard, a snapshot of an iconic feature of the local area and a small tagline sharing what you’ve been up to when you’ve visited. The ‘wish you were here’ tagline could be considered as changing do ‘oh don’t you wish you were here’. But as Pilon points out, behind the idyllic travel image, is often hundreds of people attempting to make the same picture. Pilon uses the word ‘fraudulent’ when describing the images made by many and actually herself, as they disguise the reality in which they were captured. The debate surrounding photography as truth keeps cropping up in my research and is definitely a concept I feel I should be addressing in my dissertation, as it will give me an opportunity to talk about a cultural phenomenon using photographic theory, which I believe will generate some interesting answers.

 

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This section has confirmed my idea that I should be reading Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ again, with my dissertation topic in mind. Despite some criticising the use of Sontag in writing, as ‘On Photography’ is the obvious choice to go for when considering photographic theory, I believe that because Sontag was writing about photography and the social role of the practice, that it will be very relevant to be research. I especially like the part Pilon quotes from Sontag, describing cameras as ‘fantasy-machines’, as for travel images on Instagram, the photographer is effectively attempting to create the illusion of a fantasy, idyllic holiday. The images on Instagram are meant to inspire the viewers, to aspire to that level of holidaying, just as the masses aspire to be Apple users.

 

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What Pilon is perhaps touching on here with this section is an apparent focus on neoliberal ideology, although holidays are meant to be a relaxing time for the individual, the neoliberal philosophy of the self as business, means that relaxation could be seen as a unproductive or lazy. However documenting the holiday can be viewed as a productive activity, the individual is seeking and identifying moments that they feel they can share to an audience, who will then compliment and aspire to that same standard when they holiday. Or it can be a cosmopolitan notion display of the different locations the individual has visited, to be well-travelled is generally considered to mean the individual has sufficient life experience and the versatility to function in different global environments. After all the most successful companies are multi-national, therefore the most successful neoliberal individuals should display their presence in different global locations.

 

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Empowering the individual is a concept I feel I want to explore; in the Phonar (photography and narrative) module in my third year BA Photography, we discussed the ability of photography to empower the subject, therefore when the individual is making images that reflect themselves and their lives, they could feel empowered by making them. The notion of ‘artistic’ practice is also extremely interesting to me, as I am increasingly thinking that Instagram users are the artists of their own lives. They are visually representing themselves to a potential global audience in a way that wasn’t practiced before digital technology and social media. I have identified John Suler’s book Psychology of the Digital Age would beneficial for me to read in relation to my research project, the library doesn’t currently stock the title but I made a book suggestion and it will likely be in stock soon.

This article has been a really good starting point for me to research in different directions in relation to my research project, which includes:

  • neoliberalism, self-branding, photography as productivity
  • the artist on Instagram, empowering the individual
  • photography and truth, fraudulent idyllic representations
  • Instagram and exclusivity
  • Read – On Photography, Susan Sontag
  • Read – John Suler, Psychology of the Digital Age

Post-Photography Project Development

INITIAL DISCUSSIONS

As the lectures on the post-photographic module continued, I was increasing my knowledge on the idea of what a post-photographer could be, from a theoretical and a practical view. Paul Smith’s lectures showed visual examples of photographers through history producing photographs that challenged the boundaries of the current practice. Acknowledging the frame of the photograph and how this can both make and limit the practice of the photographer. From the most simple editing technique such as cropping, which can be done when taking the photograph and when editing afterwards, the photographer can have a dramatic impact on what the images says to the audience. In addition to this, the development of digital technology offers a huge range of different process to photographers, and has allowed them to create images that wouldn’t be possible in the analogue world.

In my previous studies I acknowledged that the photographer has such an important role when producing visual material, and this responsibility manifests itself in different ways. The Phonar (Photography and Narrative) module explored photographic practices where the process was more collaborative between photographer and subject. The subject felt powerful and free to have a say on how their story was told by the photographer, which is very different to practices such as traditional documentary, where the photographer had to make an informed decision on what photograph could represent a concept as large as a war. These images are what we often describe as iconic, because they attempt to describe so much in one frame. In contrast the collaborative projects often focus on the smallest details in order to tell a detailed story about the subject themselves. There is a tension between these two approaches, because each attempts to achieve what the other could not. There is no real way to tell which approach is ‘better’ because often these images have been produced for very different outcomes.

In the lectures from Spencer, we approached the practice of photography from a theoretical perspective, considering the flaws behind the the practice and how this could affect the work we make as photographers. To begin with, the ontology of photography as discussed by Andre Bazin stated that the human species has a such a strong desire to produce the most realistic and accurate representation of themselves possible. If they can achieve this realistic visual replication, then humans need no longer fear death. For death itself is split into two elements of disappearance, the physical body disappearing from the world, and the visual evidence of that body disappearing too. Bazin described the loss of this evidential, visual memory as the Second Spiritual Death. Bazin also worked to separate photography from the other arts, commenting that despite photography achieving the most accurate representation of man, that the presence of man in the process was missing. According to Bazin, the artist or craftsman is lost in the practice of photography, this view is very similar to the ideas of Walter Benjamin, who discussed the loss of aura and originality in the practice of photography, as it can produce multiple copies of the same material.

In addition to the ontology of photography, there is the idea of photography representing the truth, which is a concept I have explored previously in my photographic studies in relation to photojournalism and manipulation. However this discussion changes with a theoretical approach, with the introduction of the term naive realism, which describes the tendency of the viewer and even photographer to believe that photographs represent the truth. The photographer believes that they are capturing the truth of what they see and the viewer believes the representation that the photographer presents them with. The limitations of the single frame are discussed often in the context of photography, so why do we still put so much faith in the practice of photography to produce truth, when reality itself is so complicated? According to Plato, reality is split into the realm of physical forms and objects and the realm of spiritual forms, which are eternal and perfect. Physical objects are those we can identify as occupying the same physical space as us, like the sofa that I’m sitting on writing this blog post. Spiritual forms are the elements we can’t see, but that we believe that be in force in the world, such as love, hate and trust. We can’t prove what these forms are but they are universally accepted in the world, the most common evidence of this is the creation of words in each language to describe them. When you consider how complicated reality actually is, can photography hope to try and represent it visually in one frame?

These discussions can lead to a very pessimistic view of photography, however I would argue that if the photographer accepts these notions and reflects on them in their work, then photography can be a practice that comments on reality, rather than trying to represent it. The key idea the photographer absolutely HAS to accept, is that the images they produce are not likely to be received in the way that they intended. The meaning will differ depending on who is looking and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Different viewers can build and extend the original meaning of the images and perhaps link them to discussions the photographer never thought of. There is the danger of course, that the images will be read in a completely different way than the photographer intended, which could be potentially damaging, to the subject or the subject matter. Therefore we come back to the responsibility of the photographer, to have an understanding of their practice.

When considering all the lecture material in relation to my own practice, I feel that it embodies much of the ideas I have explored in previous projects. For example for the Phonar module, I attempted to create a post-photographic portrait by reverse assembling the metadata scattered across the Internet from one individual, in order to demonstrate how much information we willingly give to the Internet. For my degree show project, I attempted to challenge the representation, the Internet and the photographic portrait again but this time taking portraits of people and exhibiting them as binary code. This represents the fluidity of information on the Internet and the idea that people are being increasingly viewed as information and statistics, rather than real people. My work aims to comment on current issues, it aims to be the inspiration behind a discussion, an experiment to see how people react. This experimentation with the photographic practice could be combined with the notion of the post-photographer, to produce work that is interesting but also informed by cultural theory.

 

DECIDING SUBJECT MATTER

As my field of study has changed from my BA, from photography to communication, culture and media, it is likely that my projects will shift to engage with different ideas. There is an idea that I am becoming increasingly aware of due to both my own personal engagement and from an academic approach, which is the gaming industry and community, most specifically the genre of story games. There are more and more games being released yearly, that have captivated players with the stories that they tell.

With developing technology, the games themselves have become sophisticated pieces of storytelling media, with which the user can engage and have a power over how the story progresses. This power can vary from game to game: with structured campaigns that require the player to move through the game in a specific linear way and open world games that allow the player to explore the environment at their own pace, choosing the engage with the main storyline when they wish to advance with the plot. Aside from story-based games there are games that pursue different objectives such as direct competition between players or encouraging them to build communities. The dynamic of the game does have an impact on what sort of experience the player will have: First Person Shooters (FPS) encourage the player to move through the environment, target and neutralise hostiles, whereas adventure video games encourage the player to engage with the characters and environment in order to find out more about the main storyline. Different game dynamics often share objectives, such as moving through the environment in order to find objects; in a FPS that object would be ammunition or a new gun whereas in adventure games the object is likely to be a piece of information that helps develop the detail of the storyline. The main purpose of the game however is to be enjoyable when played, to encourage the player to come back and play the game multiple times and perhaps then buy other games from a particular franchise or company. As games are situated in the entertainment industry they are made to appeal to the public, however there is no denying that games are becoming significantly more important in a cultural context.

In the module Open and Social media I am also considering gaming, examining how the game Fallout 4 encourages the player to engage with possible future cultural issues. The game features the invention of a synthetic human (synth) which is effectively an artificial human, made to replicate an organic human in every way possible. The most advanced synths appear to have a personality, their own sense of humour, their own likes and dislikes, therefore they appear to actually be human. Different factions within the game have differing opinions on the synthetic human, one believing them to be nothing but property, one believing all the synths should be destroyed and one believing the synths should be liberated and have a chance for an independent life. The player has to make a decision to ally with one of these factions, as there is conflict between all of them. This means the player must make their own decision on what they think synthetic humans actually are and whether they should be considered as property, dangerous/unethical technology or independent beings. However the fact that Fallout 4 is a FPS shooter is a problematic element as in the same time the player might be thinking about important cultural questions about civil rights, the game could spawn multiple enemies that the player has to kill, effectively reducing the other characters in the game (often human) to targets that need to be eliminating. When the player has to think about whether an artificial life could be considered as important as a human one, it seems incredibly counter-productive to dehumanise the existing humans in the game. As my definition of the post-photographer was built using the knowledge I had built up around the post-digital publication through the Open and Social Media module, I decided it could be interesting to produce a photographic response that would link to this module. This would also give me the opportunity to include photographic work in my response to the Open and Social Media module. However instead of concentrating on the synthetic human in my photographic project, I wanted to focus on the game experience itself, how my character moved through the Fallout 4 environment and created my own version of the story through my actions and decisions.

Just like photography in the gaming environment the player ‘sees’ through a frame, however in gaming the camera becomes the only way through which the player experiences the world. This virtual reality can only be seen through playing the game unlike reality, which the photographer sees before choosing to frame it. This conscious choice to frame the scene happens less in video games, as the player is often confronted with other choices such as where to go, when to shoot etc. There are games that do involve a conscious moment where the character frames the scene, one is called Fatal Frame an Indonesian horror game. The player has to take pictures of spirits to damage and destroy them, ‘framing’ the spirits is fatal to them.

Another game is Outlast where the protagonist is an investigative journalist. The character has a video camera, which the player can use to record important moments in the game as evidence, however the camera is also used in the scarier portions of the game where the night-mode of the camera is used to see in the dark.

In the game Fallout 4, which my project will be examining there is a choice to play in First Person Mode or Third Person Mode. First Person mode is as if you are seeing through the eyes of the character, whereas third person mode is effectively you following your character through the environment. For players used to playing shooter-type games, the First Person mode will be more natural to them as it is generally considered to be easier and more accurate to shoot. The third person mode would be better for people used to playing typical story-type games, or adventure games that include some elements of combat such as Tomb Raider.

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First Person Mode

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Third Person Mode

For the purpose of my project, I will experience the Fallout 4 environment through the First Person Mode as it makes what I see and what my character sees exactly the same. The distance between me and my character is reduced and I feel that it is my story as well as my character.

Overall I feel that choosing gaming for my post-photography project will allow me to explore themes I haven’t yet explored in my own photographic practice, whilst still engaging with similar themes that I have explored before. The use of the game Fallout 4 for my project could be considered as me using appropriated material, which is an approach I have often taken in my most recent projects. However whilst my two previous projects have used appropriated material to make a comment on how much information users give to the Internet, in this project I will be using appropriated material to comment on how virtual reality has become similar to actuality.

 

THE PROJECT

As explored in the previous section, I will be examining Fallout 4 and the experience of the player in creating and shaping their own unique story. This story is their journey from moving through the gaming environment, to progressing in the storyline, even to levelling up and getting stronger as a character. My project will be exploring the sophisticated storytelling capability of modern video games and how virtual reality is becoming ever closer to reality. Although there will be some obvious differences, like the fact that Fallout 4 is set in a post-apocalyptic future, the basic elements in the gaming experience are becoming closer to reality. Despite the addition of radiated beings, synthetic humans and robotic devices, the landscape and the buildings in the Fallout 4 environment are recognisable and similar to that of my reality. My response to the assignment will link to the idea of naive realism, where the viewer and the photographer believe that a photograph can represent the entirety of reality. Combining the idea of naive realism and the developing sophistication of virtual reality, my project will aim to try and fool the viewer into thinking that the virtual reality of Fallout 4 could actually be reality. The project will be built of of shots of the screen from when my character is moving through the Fallout 4 environment. These images will be made in the locations that are the most important in the game, where my character has had to make certain choices and complete questionable actions. My photographs will be a play on naive realism, because they will try and make virtual reality seem like reality, commenting on the idea that viewers often believe what they see. If I present these images in a manner that references traditional artistic photography, then these images could be perceived depicting reality.

My project will hopefully link with the ongoing debate over whether video games can be considered as art. As I will explore in my project, the environment created by game designers are often so close to reality that the eye could potentially be fooled. There is so much detail put into tricky aspects such as water, clouds, wind and elements like the character interacting with the environment. The talent and craftsmanship of these game designers have been praised by many, and some artists have used games as a basis for producing their own imagery, just as photographers use reality to create their own work. However aside from the graphics and game design, the actual games themselves and the stories that they tell are also being debated over. Games such as Life is Strange and The Last of Us have created and told such detailed and emotional stories, that have been likened to the cinematic art. In the latest game Quantum Break, there are 25 minute cut scenes where live action is used to portray the shifting storyline, before the game play begins again. The live action characters are the same ones that are in the gameplay, allowing the player to engage with an incredibly advanced story, that when viewed can be seen as a movie-type experience. Then there are the people who make art from video games, more and more artists are using the game environment to make their own pictures, often through screen shots of the game when they are playing. However when someone has created the environment you are photographing, there could be issues with the ownership of that art, as the game designer could easily claim that the content within the image was theirs because they created the environment in the first place. This is the approach I want to take when creating my images, because it allows me to make a personalised series of images that relate directly to my character and my story. I will also be bringing the conscious framing from photography into my gameplay experience, when deciding which moments to take pictures of.

 

MAKING THE IMAGES

As I play games on my Xbox One, I don’t have the same advantage that PC Users have to be able to take a screenshot. I attempted to take a screenshot on the Xbox One of Fallout 4, but it only captured a picture of the menu screen, because the game interpreted my action as a reason to pause the game. I quickly realised I needed to either adopt a PC set up and replay the game to get to the point I was at, or find a new way of capturing images from the gameplay using my Xbox. Replaying the game on PC wasn’t really an option for me, as I wouldn’t be able to afford a whole new gaming set up and I wouldn’t be able to remember the order in which I discovered the Fallout 4 world, what I said in each conversation, what perks I chose first etc. There would be no way I could follow exactly the same journey, therefore I had to find another way to produce imagery. I decided that because I was bringing the nature of photography into the gaming environment, that it could be a really interesting idea to actually use my camera and take photographs of the screen. I would be interacting with the virtual reality just like I would be if I was photographing reality. However as I would if I was photographing reality I needed to make sure that I adjusted my camera settings to suit the content that I was photographing. I needed a shutter speed that was slightly slower than I would use normally, to make sure that my images wouldn’t show the frame rate of the game, which produces a distorted image. I also needed to make sure I was photographing the screen from straight on, not above or below, which would also change the appearance. I found that a particular spot on the sofa in the living room would provide me with this good angle, so I always shot and played from there in order to keep my images looking consistent. I also had to think about the lighting conditions in the living room when I was photographing, making sure that no sunlight was on the screen. If I was photographing in the evening, the artificial lighting would make the images have a slightly yellow hue, and often it meant the images would be too dark or grainy. I therefore tried to shoot all the images in periods of daylight, between sunrise and sunset, to try and replicate the same lighting for each image. Therefore the only variation in the lighting conditions of the images, would be when the times of day and the weather changed in the virtual reality of the game.

So I started taking photographs of the screen when playing, and uploaded them to my computer. Immediately I was met with my first design decision, my character observes the environment like I would observe reality through a set of eyes, however because I am playing a game that involves shooting, travelling to different locations, keeping track of my health – there were various different icons on the screen. I had to decide whether to keep them in the image, or whether to crop the whole image smaller so that they weren’t there. There is also a pointer in the middle of the screen, with which the player can interact with the environment, if you put the pointer over an item you can pick it up, when you are shooting that pointer becomes your aim. I needed to decide whether to keep the pointer in the image as well, or whether to take steps and Photoshop this element out.

The two images below show the two different options I had available to me, the first one features all the elements of the gameplay including the compass and health points whereas the second one is cropped to remove those elements and Photoshopped in order to remove the green pointer.

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After considering both of the images, I decided that the second version would suit the ideology behind my project. If I am trying to replicate and reference reality in my images in order to try and fool my audience, I should make sure that the images don’t have these obvious gameplay elements, as this would give it away immediately. Although I am expecting the audience to realise that these images aren’t actually of reality, that there are some details that are slightly different, I don’t want them to realise straightaway. I want the audience to look carefully at the images to be able to pick out the details that don’t compare to their reality, in order to see that these images are of a virtual reality. If the audience don’t look carefully and just glance at the images, I want there to be a possibility that they could believe that the images are of reality.

Once I had the right aesthetic and design to my images, I began a series of shoots in the Fallout 4 virtual environment. These shoots varied in nature, in one session of gameplay I would aim to retrace the steps my character made, beginning from Vault 111 and following what the main storyline was for my version, but in other sessions of gameplay I simply roamed the environment freely, capturing the moments of that gameplay session that I felt was important to my character. I steadily built up a catalogue of images that depicted both important locations in the game in relation to the story and important moments that I experienced in relation to my discussions of Fallout 4 in my Open and Social module. Interestingly enough, most of the images, if not all of them depict a scene where I would have just killed a human, super mutant, synth or wasteland creature, making each image depict a sort of virtual graveyard. Despite the beauty of this virtual environment and the important moral questions the game asks the player, the fact that this game is still a FPS could perhaps detract from the moral gameplay experience. Contact sheets of all the images I created after a series of shoots can be seen below.

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Because this project has generated so many images, I had in mind that I wanted to create a photobook or zine type publication, as I didn’t want to have to narrow all of these images down to a number below ten (which is what I might have to do if I was presenting these images as a series of prints). These images are made in a consistent manner and would suit being presented in a consistent style as well, meaning a photobook would suit the project as these images could be presented in a linear consistent manner. However I identified that this number of images would most likely be too much and I had already acknowledged that some of the images weren’t as strong as the others. With this in mind, I started to identify which images were the most important in the series, in relation to the moments in the story they referenced. These images depict the vault, my character’s old house, the Red Rocket, the museum of freedom, Diamond City, The Castle, The Railroad HQ, Virgil’s cave, the teleporter I built in Sanctuary, Bunker Hill, the site of the Institute (after it is destroyed) and the destroyed Prydwen, which was the HQ of the Brotherhood of Steel. These locations mark important moments in the storyline where my I had direction of my character to make certain decisions as to where the storyline progresses. These moments happened in a particular order, which would most likely be different when compared to another player, therefore I had to remember and establish that order in which I completed the storyline and position the photographs accordingly.

THIS NEXT SECTION CONTAINS FALLOUT 4 SPOILERS!!!

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Vault 111 – where my character took refuge when the bombs fell, joined by her husband Nate and her baby Shaun. However the inhabitants of this Vault were actually tricked into an experiment in cryogenic freezing. My character and her family were frozen for around 100 years before the vault was manually overridden, allowing a group of people to open the chamber with my character’s husband and baby. The group stole the baby Shaun and shot the husband Nate, before refreezing my character for a period of time. My character awakes when the cryogenic chamber stops working, to discover the dead bodies of everyone else in the Vault. My character escapes the vault and begins the adventure to try and find where Shaun has been taken to.

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Sanctuary – the images depicts where my character’s old house was, my character returns to find the household robot Codsworth trying to keep up his cleaning duties. Codsworth seems affected by the radiation, but informs my character that 210 years have passed since the nuclear attack on America. Codsworth tells my character to start the search for Shaun in the nearest town Concorde, but warns that there are people who did survive the nuclear attack who could be potentially dangerous.

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The Red Rocket – this truck stop is on the way to Sanctuary, it is here that our character meets the first companion of the game, a dog named Dogmeat. The Red Rocket also provides our character with a potential base, as there are various work benches that allow the opportunity for weapon/armour development and the ability to cook food for health points. Dogmeat now accompanies my character through the game and helps defend against enemies, as well as being able to hold items.

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The Museum of Freedom – in the city of Concord, our character meets the first faction of the game known as the Minute Men. Our character saves the last known Minute Man and the group of people he his protecting from radars and a Deathclaw. The last Minute Men, Preston Garvey tells our character about the faction which has nearly died out, their ethos is to help anyone and everyone that needs help, with the hope that they can build a huge support network. It is through Preston Garvey and the other members in the group that our character finds out Diamond City would be the best place to visit next in order to find Shaun.

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Diamond City – this is a developed settlement, made up of humans (there are no synths, ghouls or super mutants allowed here). Here my character meets Piper, the editor of a newspaper that comments on the many disappearances of people. Piper explains that an organisation known as the Institute is rumoured to be kidnapping people before replacing them with artificial copies. After Piper my character meets Nick Valentine, an early model synthetic human, which the residents accepted into their community after he saved the Mayor’s daughter. Valentine is a detective and begins to help with the search to find Shaun, directing my character to go after one of the kidnappers who they are able to identify as Kellogg.

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The Castle – My character builds a strong tie with the faction known as the Minute Men, with Preston Garvey suggesting that my character becomes the new General and leader. In order to fully re-establish the Minute Men in the Fallout 4 world, Preston recommends that my character helps retake the old HQ of the Minute Men, known as the Castle. This was one of the most important moments in my play through of the game as I worked really hard to defeat a really strong enemy, the Mirelurk Queen. I didn’t have very good weapons and my armour wasn’t very good so I needed many tries to defeat the Mirelurk Queen. Once I finally did, I got a real sense of achievement, although my character didn’t really benefit from this win, as a player I felt accomplished.

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Virgil’s Cave – when my character finds Kellogg we manage to find out that he does know about Shaun and that Shaun is indeed with the Institute. However before we can find out more, Kellogg turns hostile and my character has to kill him, to avoid being killed. We salvage important parts from Kellogg’s body, finding that he has synthetic technology in his body, which has allowed him to live longer. In Goodneigher we analyse this hardware that was embedded in his brain to find out more about the Institute, my character learns that a scientist named Brian Virgil actually left the Institute. My character travels into the Glowing Sea (an area full of radiation where the nuclear bomb was dropped) in order to find him. When my character finds Virgil we discover that he is a Super Mutant, which allows him to live safely in the glowing sea. Virgil is sympathetic when he hears about the kidnapping of Shaun and gives my character a schematic to make a teleporter, which is the only way into the Institute.

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The Rail Road – between finding out about the teleporter and making the teleporter, my character comes across the faction known as the Rail Road, after following the Freedom Trail to find an old church. The Rail Road HQ is down in the basement, after a mission with Rail Road member Deacon, we are accepted into joining them. My character learns that the Institute is responsible for the invention and creation of synthetic humans, however they only view them as their property. The Rail Road believe that because synthetic humans have been created to be so close to real humans, that they do have independent feelings and personalities and therefore they have a chance at living life away from the Institute. In addition to this, the perception of the Institute as the synths being their property, is very similar to that of slavery. The Rail Road seeks our help in liberating the synthetic humans that want freedom within the Institute, asking my character to make contact with their inside man in the Institute if my character manages to make it in.

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The Teleporter in Sanctuary – as a player, you can choose where you build the teleporter and which faction you choose to help you. I didn’t want to pledge allegiance to either the Rail Road or the Brotherhood of Steel, which have very different ideologies. I decided to go back to my home town Sanctuary and ask Sturges (a member of the Minute Men) to help me get into the Institute. I do manage to get into the Institute, where I find a synthetic version of Shaun. The real Shaun is actually 60 years old, my character was frozen for longer than we realised. The real Shaun is known within the Institute as Father and he is director of the Institute, as well as being the subject DNA of all the synthetic humans. It was his DNA, safe within the Vault and free from radiation, which was why he was kidnapped. Father asks my character to align with the ideology of the Institute, to try and see that they are improving mankind by making a new version.

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The battle of Bunker Hill – this was the moment where I had to decide which faction I was going to ally with, Father sent me to try and recapture some escaped synthetic humans from Bunker Hill. However the Brotherhood of Steel also learned about the escaped synths and had the aim of destroying them all, the Rail Road were responsible for the escape of the synths in the first place and wanted to protect them from both the Institute and the Brotherhood. I decided to protect the synthetic humans from the Brotherhood of Steel, which made me enemies with them. I was still allied with the Institute,  in order to to help my main allies ,the Rail Road who were attempting put together a plan to liberate all of the synthetic humans in one go.

38

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The Destroyed Prydwen – Following Bunker Hill, my character became enemies with the Brotherhood of Steel, who attempted to eliminate the Rail Road by attacking their HQ. This prompts the Rail Road to want to destroy the Brotherhood, the Institute also want the Brotherhood removed because of their interference with the Institute’s technology. Although I didn’t really want a violent solution, it seemed that the story had escalated too far to not remove the Brotherhood, as they continue to attack my character and the other factions. The two images above depict the wreck of the airship known as the Prydwen, which is where the Brotherhood were based. My character placed explosives in the airship before escaping and detonating them, the ruin of the Prydwen remains explorable in the site where it crashed. Although I interacted with the Brotherhood of Steel before this moment in the storyline, I felt that the ruins of the Prydwen really represent the hard choices I had to make as a player.

42

The ruins of the Institute – following the removal of the Brotherhood,my character continues to do tasks for the Institute while the Rail Road puts their plan into place. One of these tasks involves fixing and restarting a nuclear generator, which would help the Institute power their research in new ways and new scales. The Rail Road’s plan is to target this nuclear reactor and to blow the Institute up, after rescuing all of the humans and synths that want evacuation. This plan is put into action, the Rail Road is teleported into the Institute and they begin evacuating synths and other humans. My character goes to find Shaun, but he is on his deathbed because of a terminal cancer, Shaun is disappointed in my character but explains how my character can disable the synthetic humans that are attacking anyone who is trying to escape. My character then comes across a synthetic boy who looks like a 10-year-old Shaun, who believes that he is my character’s human son. As a player, I chose to take this synthetic version of Shaun and all of the Rail Road leave the Institute. My character is teleported to a rooftop overlooking the site where the Institute is underground and presented with a button to detonate the Institute. The image above is part of the crater where the Institute used to be, a site filled with radiation that is similar to that of the Glowing Sea, where the original nuclear bombs were dropped. It is here that you realise this play through of the game, simply replicates the war that created this post-apocalyptic environment in the first place – as the title sequence states ‘War Never Changes’.

These images resemble the main moments in the storyline, these are fixed and will appear in the order that can be seen above. The rest of the images I sorted and sequenced to fit around these main points in the story, the other images represent free play and travelling between the important locations. The sequence of the images can be seen below.

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OUTPUT

With the images and the sequence decided upon, I needed to decide on the output. I had already identified that I wanted to create a photo book because of the number of important photographs that make up this series of images. Although the total of images exceeds the 10-15 specified by the brief, I feel it would be detrimental to the narrative of the project, if I didn’t include all of the images. This journey is a complex and detailed account, which is specific to my play-through of the game Fallout 4. In order to establish my complete investment in the game and the storyline, I feel I have to feature the entire visual story. I chose to make a digital photo-book online with the creator Blurb. I recorded a preview of the book and downloaded a PDF for people to be able to view offline at their leisure.

One of the last decisions for the project was the title. I had a few ideas, which can be seen below:

  • Lily
  • Charmer
  • Lily of the Commonwealth
  • Charmer of the Commonwealth
  • Commonwealth Lily
  • Commonwealth Charmer
  • Commonwealth

Lily was the name I chose my character from the beginning of the game, when I also chose what I gender I was going to play as, what she was going to look like and what strengths she had. From the beginning I chose to work on the elements such as charisma and luck, which would make sure that my character can persuade other characters she meets to bend to her will. This choice to go for charisma informed the decision behind the second title: Charmer, which was the code name I selected when joining the Railroad. I decided to use the reference to my game strategy when choosing the name Charmer, as my character was charming her way through the game environment. The fictional world that the Fallout 4 game is set in, in the former State of Massachusetts, however it is known only in the game as the Commonwealth. Therefore I started playing around with combinations of the character names and the name of the game world to try and make a good title.

My final decision was to choose ‘Commonwealth’, as it refers specifically to the environment that is depicted in the landscapes. I was able to get a really good image of a flower in the wasteland, I might have included the name Lily and used it to refer to my character in the wasteland. However this implies that my character is much better than the other characters, my character is definitely not perfect and is effectively a mass murderer, so I felt trying to liken her to a perfect flower would be false advertising. The title ‘Commonwealth’ was short, succinct, effective and relevant and worked really well for the minimalistic appearance I wanted to achieve, in order to try and convince the viewer that the landscapes are actually real.

Lastly, I decided to make the cover for the photo book a blue that references what is known as ‘Vault-Tech Blue’. Vault-Tech is the company that made the Vault in which my character was protected from the nuclear bombs and is the first place my character sees when beginning her journey through the post-apocalyptic environment. Therefore I felt that featuring this specific colour of blue would help frame the journey from start to finish. In addition to this, the colour palette in many of the images appears to be blue, therefore the cover sets the tone and there is a consistent colour theme throughout the images.

A summary of the project, the video and the PDF can be viewed HERE

Post-Photography Assignment Brief

The aim of this module is to enable students to show the transition from a “traditional” photographic supplier to an informed “post-photographic” storyteller.

Start by considering Fred Ritchin’s comment from After Photography;

‘In the digital environment a new kind of photograph emerges, neither mirror nor window but a mosaic. It allows for multiple pathways leading to new avenues of exploration – a hypertext. Like Alice’s mirror, the hypertext photograph can lead to the other side, whether to explore a social situation or to create an image poem. The photograph is no longer a tangible object, a rectangle resembling a painting, but an ephemeral image made of tiles.’

Was he saying that digital images are now all ‘Simulacra’ in the manner that Baudrillard interprets their connection to reality?

Photographs have always been half-truths, so can we use that to our advantage in creating visual poems?

Through a set of 10-15 photographic pieces* you should examine a journey inspired by truth or fiction. This could be an epic adventure like the Life of Pi or the distance from your fingers to the keyboard.

Your images should provoke the reader to interrogate their meaning. The images could be accompanied by text or they could become a pathway through to another screen. The final work should take the audience on a journey, one that leaves them compelled to ask questions about your presented virtual reality.

You are expected to experiment with different approaches and challenge the boundaries of visual photographic expression.

Useful reference material might come in the form of images from social media, magazines, blogs, films, books, music, advertising in all its forms, the family photo album and other practitioners.

Your research (included within your blog) should detail the development of your ideas, and your practice as well as any shifts in the direction of the project. The blog should include weekly reflections (approximately 100-200 words in length) throughout the duration of the module.

*A “photographic piece” refers to either a single photographic image or collection thereof (in the form of a montage or diptych, triptych etc).

 

Initial Thoughts:

The key element to this brief is to try and embrace the concept of post-photography, changing from a traditional photographer, to a post photographer. The brief draws on the ideas of Fred Ritchin in relation to post-photography, however I believe that the lecture material will continue to develop and build on this concept. Fred Ritchin comments on how the digital age has changed the traditional analogue practice of photography. With advanced technology, which is more user-friendly, there are many more photographers now than there was when only analogue was available. In addition to digital cameras, the camera phone has become such a prominent element in daily life and the practice of photography.

The term photography now covers such a vast range of equipment, purposes and outcomes and there is much debate about what the photograph is anymore. In the context of the module Phonar (Photography and Narrative) we explored the idea of the photograph representing this analogue creation, using the term image to define an outcome that was created using digital technology. This separation between photograph and image helped us better define what practice we were considering. However the creation of the photograph is not the end point, traditionally photographs could be displayed in various different physical ways, from galleries to newspapers. This complicates the idea of a separation between photograph and image, because a photograph that has been made with analogue technology, could then be made digital through processes such as the scanning and uploading of a negative or print. In addition to this, the original form of the photograph could be changed once in a digital context, with the advanced and extended editing capabilities available from digital technology. Although assigning different terms can help to identify different types and approaches to photography, it is extremely hard to simplify a process that keeps growing, developing and intersecting.

My initial idea of what a post-photographer is, stems from an introduction to what a post-digital publication could be, which I was introduced to on the module: Open and Social Media. A post-digital publication is an outcome that considers the physical and digital technology available and chooses a process and practice that is suitable for the content the publication engages with. This choice doesn’t necessarily have to be exclusive to the physical or the digital, it could be a hybrid of both or take different forms in a physical/digital context. The key element is to acknowledge all processes and not be distracted by the revolutionary nature of developing digital technology, using it just because it is new. Post-digital isn’t necessarily a retro-rejection of digital technology, but a retrieval of methods that might have been forgotten or overshadowed by the digital age. Therefore I my idea of a post-photographer, is one who considers each and everyone of the different types of photography being practiced in the world and choose which approach suits the subject matter you want to represent. Just like the post-digital publication, the post-photographer doesn’t necessarily have to be exclusive to one photographic process, as some of the most interesting projects have engaged with a notion of hybridity. Or they have acknowledged that the form of their photographic project might need to change to be viewed effectively in a physical/digital context. I believe that the key concept of the post-photographer is the ability to understand the motives, purposes and effects behind each method of photography and be able to reflect and comment on this in their own work.

I expect my definition of the post-photographer to develop throughout the module and as the brief states, I will be making weekly reflections on the content that is explored and how this changes my idea of what post-photography is and what my response to this brief could be.

Figures of Authority

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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]

Definitive Blog Post: Presentation and Evaluation

On the 24th and 25th of February, I presented my research paper Photojournalism Now: roles and responsibilities at the Herbert Gallery in Coventry. The paper I presented and a recording of me presenting it can be seen below with an evaluation of the experience.

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).

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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).

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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).

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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)

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‘Faces of The Dead’ (Ritchin 2013: 94)

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and ‘Watching Syria’s War’ (Ritchin 2013: 92).

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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).

 

Evaluation

Having delivered a small presentation in first year and written an academic essay in second year I felt I was equipped to tackle the requirements of this module. However the desire to write a quality paper and the pressure of presenting to an external audience made the experience more worrying. Choosing to examine the current state of photojournalism as a whole was an ambitious idea, and it meant that I had to complete detailed research for each concept I wanted to include, it also meant I had to make compromises on the content of the paper. I believe I negotiated this issue effectively by choosing themes that would flow well in the structure of my paper and completing further blog posts to address the themes that I had to exclude. This means that the release of my research paper will be accompanied by a set of independent  pieces of writing which demonstrates my extended research into other important aspects.

In terms of the research itself, it was challenging to read the amount of material I wanted to read in order to inform my writing, this meant I had to organise and limit my research and really consider which sources were going to be beneficial enough to read all the way through or whether it was a case of selecting the most appropriate and relevant chapters. If I was to attempt this type of project again I would make an effort to read more key, historical photographic texts first before progressing down to the specific subject matter as I believe this would make my investigation and the writing of my paper a more chronological and linear experience. One aspect I found challenging was my introduction and I believe this adapted approach would have enabled me to write a more coherent introduction from the start. In addition I would have liked to research more theoretical photographer texts in order to inform and support my understanding of the medium itself, be able to apply my own ideology and relate this to visual examples in the paper. However I appreciate that while perhaps not all of the texts I would want to have read would have been possible in the time frame, I definitely think that if I was slightly more organised and put in a greater work effort at the beginning, I would have been able to complete more research.

The presentation itself was an accelerating experience I had expected some stumbles however they weren’t the ones I made in the previous practise run which demonstrates that no matter how much you practise, there is always the possibility of nerves to affect you. However I feel that I did present to the best of my ability, making a conscious effort to look up and out at the audience and inserted pauses for images to be considered and between each paragraph break. I also made the conscious attempt to slow my speech down as in the previous practise run I had been faster than practised individual  read-throughs. All these efforts meant that I felt my paper was delivered effectively, despite a few nervous mistakes.

In the questions it was addressed that I had been optimistic in my attempts to compares one genre of photography into a ten minute presentation and paper. I was expecting this question and I was able to answer it by referring to the series of independent blog posts I have written to address that I appreciate there is more to the medium than that which is in my paper. Another question was asking whether the single image approach can ever be effective in photojournalism. To which I responded that as Fred Ritchin stated, the single image can act as an entry point to the viewer and I appreciated that in some contexts it is not possible to view a comprehensive, contextualised body of work. So the singular photograph could possibly still act as this entry point however as addressed in my paper it needs to be followed by the larger, more informed body of work. The next question addressed my comparison of analogue and digital photographer and asked whether I had a preference for either one in relation to photojournalism. I responded by discussing that is was actually a case of ability and capacity. I referred to further research by explaining analogue was always criticised for being too slow to keep up with the war and it is digital technology that will keep up with the demands of the continuous 24 hour news cycle. However I went on to discuss that it digital photography appears to be trapped in the form of analogue so to be able to progress in digital photojournalism, the practitioner needs to break the existing boundaries. The thought of answering questions prior to the presentation as very nerve-wracking as it isn’t possible to prepare completely, there is still an element of unknown. However the experience was actually quite enjoyable, because I had the research I was able to talk openly and easily about the subject.

In terms of my professional practice I think that this module and the experience of the symposium has made me aware of my aptitude and preference for writing over the actual process of taking the image. I had previously considered completing a Masters course but I wouldn’t know what photographic work I would want to produce, however with this experience I could now go on to do a theoretical MA which requires the completion of a thesis instead. In addition to this it is made me want to investigate the digital age further with the ideas I explored in Phonar about constructed identity. I will also continue the research methods established in the module and apply it specifically to my Final Major Project but also for any photographic project in the future as I believe this will help me produce conceptually informed pieces of work.

The experience of this symposium module has been extremely beneficial in terms of strengthening my research methods, informing my upcoming photographic practice and deciding where I might want to go in the future after university. Overall I have immensely enjoyed the experience as it has been stimulating and challenging but incredibly rewarding.