Digital Story

 

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

I identified areas I was interested in, which included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sociality Barbie

Sociality Barbie is an Instagram account run by a person who is known as Darby, however when the Sociality Barbie account was first created it was anonymous. It simply appeared as if the Barbie was creating the posts as a real person, on first glance some of the images in the account could look like a real person, but when you look closer it is clear that it is the popular mass-made doll.

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The Sociality Barbie account was created to make a satirical comment on popular Instagram culture, to replicate the images that are seen so often on Instagram. Darby creates the notion that there is little individuality and authenticity in these images, they are effectively as mass produced as the Barbie. Sociality Barbie gained a lot of attention as people identified the similarity between the images on this account, to the images that are regarded as popular on Instagram.

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Whilst the images perfectly replicate popular visual culture on Instagram, the captions signal that this is a satirical comment on those images. The captions are either based on the typical captions that might be posted along with the images by serious users, or they comment on the effect taking these images have on the lifestyle of the serious poster. For example, the first image where the caption details the steps to taking a perfect picture, but by the time you take a perfect picture of your coffee it has likely gone cold. But while most of the audience would recognise the humour and find these images amusing, most of us probably make these sorts of images. One reason is because we know if we put enough hashtags in our posts, that they will be seen by more people and therefore liked by more people. But the other reason is that we see these images as the only images worth posting, because alternative images might not get as many likes, despite the fact they may be more interesting. Perhaps this is a form of neoliberal power in play on Instagram, where the users are ‘free’ to post whatever they want, however this freedom is tied to the knowledge that they will probably only gain approval if they post images that align with the prescribed norm.

This account really questions the authenticity and originality of these mass produced images on Instagram. Can these images still possess a notion of individuality when they effectively based on the same template? The scholar Walter Benjamin wrote about photography when it was first developed and when the early discussions about whether photography is art were taking place. Benjamin didn’t consider it possible for photography to be an art form, because of the nature of the practice to produce multiple exact copies, meaning there would be no original. For Benjamin the original piece of artwork possesses an aura, which is in the individuality of the artefact and the fact that it is only in one space and time. Photography however has the capacity to produce many copies that can be viewed in any context, space or time. Therefore Benjamin considered photography to be devoid of aura and originality. When considering Benjamin’s ideology in the context of digital social media, these visual copies would be considered as devoid of aura, with no originality because they are just another version of the same material. As well as Walter Benjamin, Jean Baudrillard considers photography to produce copies, or as Baudrillard refers to them as: simulations. When considering these popular mass images seen on Instagram, Baudrillard would most likely consider them as holograms. Transparent and intangible, these images are holograms that represent a fantasy that people crave, but are unable to occupy physically. Despite the fact that both Baudrillard and Benjamin’s ideas appear to be very relevant for current discussions, we must acknowledge that they were writing in the early stages of photography. They were writing at a time when digital photography and therefore smartphone photography weren’t prominent in culture. Their discussions were aimed at the practice of analogue photography and therefore we can only assume that their opinion would be the same in relation to the digital practice.

Sociality Barbie is actually a good example for the research I wish to conduct, I can take inspiration from this account and the way it makes a critical comment on the content of Instagram. In particular, the way it keeps an element of anonymity up to the end of posting, after which the creator posts an explanation behind why the account was created. This provides the user with an incite as to what the project is and what it aims to do, which is make satirical references. This explanation effectively debriefs the audience, who can then go back through the images on the account and perceive through critical eyes. I can also use this approach for my research project, retaining a sense of anonymity and mystery to the end, after which I will post an explanation behind the account and that it was for research purposes.

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

 

Social Media for Academics – Mark Carringon

 

Mark Carrigan gave a talk titled ‘Social Media for Academics’, I attended expecting it to be about different ways in which researchers could use social media to conduct research. However it was more about the identity and integrity on social media and the invested interest from the companies who own social media platforms. Below is my summary of the themes and ideas explored by Carrigan in his lecture. The ideas explored by my writing have been inspired by Carrigan’s talk and I don’t take ownership for them – to find out more about his research, visit the following website.

http://markcarrigan.net/

Carrigon described the dictionary definition of integrity to mean ‘to be cold and undivided’ and explained that people like Mark Zuckerburg might find the concept of identity on social media to be uncomplicated. Zuckerburg once made the speculation that having more than one identity meant that you have less integrity, however he retracted this idea following a large outcry. For the everyday user of the Internet and social media, identity is a highly complex concept and one that requires constant maintenance. This constant maintenance is part of what being a human being is like on the Internet now, and Mark Zuckerburg is one of the people that has an invested interest in this idea.

Carrigon described that the Internet was once defined by anonymity, however we are moving towards a world where the right to be forgotten is something you have to demand in order to achieve it. The old concept of digital dualism; that the digital world is separate from the physical world is slowly disintegrating as digital devices are increasingly interwoven into everyday life. With the online world everywhere, the ability to go offline seems to be diminishing, with the individual constantly being switched on and connected. With an increasing engagement in the online world, concepts such as identity, community and integrity are being discussed more. However these discussions are being led by the heads of companies who stand to benefit from how these concepts are then shaped online. The main idea social media platforms are trying to establish is openness, there is an illusion that there is no place to hide in the world anymore. Whilst this may serve as a defence against hostile anonymous or pseudonym Internet users, the fact is that the heads of the companies who promote openness almost always have an option to hide whenever they want to. The idea of openness is being pushed onto users, along with the concept that only social media allows us to fulfil the desire to communicate and share.

The website  details that there are over three billion Internet users, so why are we all cooperating wilfully with this progressive change to openness? Social media offers the illusion of having complete control over identity and self presentation on the Internet, it satisfies our need to be hard. Otherwise how else would we have the opportunity to communicate our ideas to a potentially global audience? However with the opportunity, there is a fear that the Internet and technology will eventually replace us. Increasing occupational polarisation in the labour market demonstrates that there are diminishing numbers of middle tier jobs, perhaps because of the increase in automisation. With decreasing middle tier jobs, there is a struggle to seek high powered, high paid jobs to avoid being trapped in a low paid, insecure jobs; no one wants a zero hour contract. There has been a growth in technology resulting in the development of self driving cars and even the introduction of algorithmic journalism. There is also a push towards automation in higher education, creating video lectures instead of having the teacher present to deliver the content. There is a fear created that unless we commodify ourselves and engage with the process of self branding social media encourages, that we will get left jobless and forgotten.

Social media apparently gives users the power to create a career through this self branding process, there has been a recently massive growth in bloggers, vloggers and YouTubers rising to success and generating huge profits. These Internet celebrities are being talent spotted by companies who see an opportunity to get their products advertised to a global market. But with an increasing amount of people seeking this level of Internet fame, social media is likened to a digital X factor, with thousands of people jostling for fame and only a handful of people succeeding, because only a few people can actually be sustained by this career option. For those who seek fame through another option, there is always the concept of making your pet cat Internet famous, with owners making careers out of monetising their pets. The underlying formula for the success of social media, is attention, this is what keeps people coming back even if it is in a negative approach. Those people posting/blogging/tweeting/instagramming about Kim Kardashian’s latest nudes are satisfying social media’s need for attention to thrive. Identity therefore in social media and the Internet is a tricky concept to negotiate in relation to being authentic and demonstrating integrity. With more and more people shouting loudly and frequently in this growing process of self-branding, it becomes harder for individuals to stand out from the crowd. Self-branding on social media is not a new concept, but it has become ubiquitous to society, it’s become an everyday habit. Users are constantly engaging in a process of free work, in order to reap the valueless accomplishment of Internet recognition, with only very few actually receiving monetary  rewards.

In relation to the academic and social media, integrity and multiple identities is very complex. In higher education the academics have multiple audiences on social media including their students, other academics and their families. The academic would probably only want to present research material to other academics and the students, but they would want to share personal information with their family. However social media is contextless and what the individual shares on social media, is shared with all of their multiple audiences simultaneously. There is a constant conflict with what is appropriate online, should the academic self censor in the knowledge that not all content is appropriate for these multiple audiences? Or should there me a more developed understanding among the social media community that there are different versions of the self that we present in different spheres?

 

This talk turned out to be really quite useful, as I am looking at the concept of neoliberalism, authenticity and self branding in relation to celebrity practice on Instagram in my essay for the module Identity and Difference. Therefore I will definitely research Carrigan’s ideas in more depth and see the theories he considers in relation to these concepts. Neoliberalism and self branding is a concept that is very relevant for my dissertation as well, as the everyday individual is encouraged to engage with this process of self-branding in order to cultivate followers. The neoliberal idea of working and improving on the self is heavily encouraged on social media and I want to explore the influence of this concept in the images everyday Western users post on Instagram.

Research – Colonial Photography

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

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

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

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

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

You Are Not A Gadget

You Are Not A Gadget, by Jaron Lanier is a book I had briefly started reading when I was working on the Phonar module (Photography and Narrative) and it brought up some really interesting aspects about the self and the relationship between a person and digital technology which I thought would be good to include in my research surrounding my Final Major Project. The first chapter particularly outlines the what a person is and how they could be changed by their interaction with digital technology.

PART ONE – WHAT IS A PERSON?

Chapter One – Missing Persons

  • Software expresses ideas, it is also prone to the “lock-in” of ideas
  • World Wide Web 2.0 called “open culture”
  • Process of fragmentation has demeaned interpersonal interaction
  • Communication in digital age presents a reduced expectation/representation
  • Technology changes people, an extension of the self
  • Jeremy Bailenson – avatar in virtual reality transforms self esteem and self perception
  • Identities can be shifted by the ‘quirks of gadgets’
  • Hive mind is the audience, who is the presenter?
  • Different media stimulates different potentials in human nature
  • Shouldn’t make pack mentality more efficient, should explore/develop the individual mind
  • Is virtual reality like a drug?
  • What is the human relationship with technology?
  • Tim Berners Lee invented design of current Web – was meant for a community of physicists
  • Dave Smith made MIDI (music software)
  • Design is key to software, design is key for any influential arrangement – the Tube was designed without ventilation and can’t be changed
  • Computers are much more powerful – MIDI now exists in phones
  • Lock-in removes design options based on convenience/efficiency
  • Now MIDI is hard to change to culture changes to suit it
  • Operating system UNIX – has some MIDI characteristics
  • UNIX has been incorporated into society
  • Files are now a part of life
  • What do files mean for human expression?
  • Is anonymity and pseudomyity a good thing?
  • Rise of the Web exposed human potential
  • Fad for anonymity has empowered sadists
  • Google brought about tailoring through ads and searching
  • Google discovered an influential part of the market
  • Using the cloud for storage was developed/implemented
  • Subculture “cyber totalist” or “digital Maoists”
  • Criticism of digital culture is it tries to split the group into incredibly niche sections
  • Marxism/Freud’s ideology about battling the subconscious
  • There are significant challenges to the Internet now – UNIX inability to keep up with time and MIDI nuance challenged
  • Emphasising the crowd means de-emphasising individual human beings
  • Encouraging non-humanistic actions is encourage mob-like behaviour (trolling/catfishing)
  • Deep meaning of human personhood has been reduced to an illusion of bits
  • Online culture is a global issue however it is not the priority
  • Be a person not fragments to be exploited, don’t be defined by software
  • Active campaign in 1980s and 1990s to promote visual elegance in software
  • Apple and Microsoft worked on different designs
  • New York Times promotes ‘open digital politics’

 

Reflection:

Jaron Lanier makes some really interesting points in the emerging behaviour of people through using technology, focusing down on the concept of the ‘hive mind’: where everyone acts as a collective online, presumably because it is believed there is more strength in numbers. Despite a person being able to exist on their own, people are drawn together on the Internet and showcase ‘pack-like’ behaviour when their ideals and ideas are threatened, drawing in their connections to create the impression they are the stronger force. Lanier goes on to say that by emphasising crowd behaviour, we are in fact de-emphasising human beings, which in turn encourages mob-like behaviour such as trolling and catfishing. There is a similarity between this book and the research I have conducted in other fields such as the paper on the online disinhibition effect. Suler describes the individual as having a personality like a constellation, where different aspects align when entering an online space. Lanier also recognises this, but calls it fragmentation, and explains that a fragmented individual is easily exploited by software. As Lanier states, the Internet, digital technology and all the characteristics that come with it are a part of life now, almost everyone recognises what a file is and uses them on a daily basis. The idea of Freudian and Marxism ideas that everyone is battling their subconscious could also be a reason why some individuals act and present themselves differently online, because parts of their subconscious desires are filtering through into their online presence. Lanier states the online culture is a global priority, with darker corners of the Internet emerging as people put more of their inhibited thoughts online, and trolling occurring on an increasing level, however this issue has not even been considered to be a priority until this current age. Only in the past fews years has disruptive, destructive online behaviour been addressed, with a law being passed prohibiting the act of ‘revenge porn’, where individuals post explicit videos and pictures of their ex boyfriend/girlfriend online for everyone to see. Each and every individual toxic act like this needs to be addressed and mitigated, however in a democracy, sometimes the line between freedom of speech and toxic behaviour is difficult to draw. It has been incredibly beneficial to include Jaron Lanier’s ideas in my project and I will go on to read the rest of the title and build on his ideas in my future projects, I hope to include his ideas when I go on to do my Masters in Communication, Culture and Media.

 

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.