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.

Why Is This Work Important?

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

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

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

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

 

List of References:

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

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

 

Research – Street Photography

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

Walker Evans

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Robert Frank

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Reflection:

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

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

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

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

 

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).

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 17.19.18

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).

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 17.19.25

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.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 17.19.31

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).

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 17.19.38

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.

 

New Digital Techniques in Photojournalism

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conventional Media and Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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