Post-Photography Project Development

INITIAL DISCUSSIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DECIDING SUBJECT MATTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First Person Mode

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Third Person Mode

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

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

 

THE PROJECT

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

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

 

MAKING THE IMAGES

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

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

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

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

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

ContactSheet-001 ContactSheet-002 ContactSheet-003 ContactSheet-004 ContactSheet-005 ContactSheet-006 ContactSheet-007 ContactSheet-008 ContactSheet-009

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

THIS NEXT SECTION CONTAINS FALLOUT 4 SPOILERS!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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OUTPUT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Figures of Authority – Creative Process

The creative process behind my final set of images titled ‘Figures of Authority’ took place over a number of months. As identified in my initial proposal, I wanted to explore the concept of online communication and investigate how interaction in the digital environment differed from in physical spaces. This eventually led me to consider the role of communication and identity in the representation of the individual online through the use of code. This blog post details the process I took to developing my ideas conceptually, eventually reaching the end point which is my image set ‘Figures of Authority’. This blog post only covers the content and form of the image set, other blog posts detail my decision-making process in relation to presentation methodology.

After researching the dynamics of online culture and partaking in anonymous online communication I identified a term that kept cropping up which was ASL: standing for age, sex and location. This is used as a conversation opener in anonymous online communication because it is a quick method to find out three major pieces of information about the person you are communicating with. However the idea that a person with all of their characteristics and complexities could be reduced and compressed into three defining pieces of information. As a response, I decided to make a photographic piece based on the concept of ASL and how the dynamics of online communication could be limitative and manipulative as opposed to face to face communication.

Deciding on what the images would be of and how to approach this idea was quite difficult, as online communication itself can’t really be represented except through through the actual text. Originally I began the shooting self portraits on the idea of trying to represent the transient connection that is achieved in the space of an online chat room. Although the communication can infer a friendship or another sort of relationship, the fact is that there is a complete loss of physicality which is a concept I wanted to try and visually represent. If the images looked effective then I planned to conduct a series of portraits with a variety of different people in environments which would infer the individual is meeting up with a friend. I made the conscious decision to shoot digitally as I didn’t feel shooting analogue would give me any additional value; this project, being highly digital and based on digital concepts it would appear that shooting digital would be more appropriate.

I shot self portraits based on the idea that I was sitting in my room the way that I would be when I was talking to a friend. One I had taken them, I opened them up in Photoshop to experiment with different editing effects to try and make the subject in the photograph appear transient, ghost-like or like a hologram. Examples of my experimentation can be seen below:

DSC_0004
The Original Image

Contact Sheet 03_Page_2 Contact Sheet 03_Page_1

This was my experimentation with imagery at the time of the formative feedback review so I sought feedback from my peers and tutors to see whether the images were actually effective. I received some complimentary feedback however it was identified that there really wasn’t a strong visual link between the content of the images and the ASL concept. It wasn’t being translated and I hadn’t made those strong links to the ASL concept beside thinking about including text alongside the image.I needed to think about how I could change or develop the imagery to progress.

Following the formative feedback review I went back over the notes from my tutorials and came across the advice given to me by David Rule when he said there were different areas I could focus in on. These ideas were the idea of an encounter, the motivation behind the communication and the idea of the online community. I considered all three aspects in relation to the concept of ASL and determined that it suited the idea of an encounter. The concept that identity can be condensed into three pieces of information to make the dynamic of the online encounter simple is definitely interesting. Identifying the aspect I find the most interesting meant that I was in a better position to focus on what to photograph. Perhaps the most well-known genre of photography which approaches the idea of an encounter is street photography, most specifically street photography portraits. This documentary portraiture emerged with photographers such as Walker Evans and continued by photographer Robert Frank.

Following research on these two iconic photographers I set out to undertake my own street photography project for my ASL project. My area of focus was Coventry city centre, I didn’t aim to photograph a particular type of person instead I focused on people who didn’t look like they were rushing from one place to another. The important part of this project was to ask permission from the people I am photographing so that they know what situation they are entering into. An observation from the photographs of Evans and Frank was that in some cases the people didn’t appear to know they were being photographed or looked uncomfortable at the fact they were being photographed. The downside of the person knowing they are being photographed is that they can begin to present themselves in a particular manner however this is an element I feel would compliment the idea of an encounter online. Each person has a greater control over the way their character and personality comes across, meaning they can manipulate and fabricate information about themselves. When photographing I made to shoot a wide range of crops and shoot both portrait and landscape to give me a variety of images to play with afterwards. I didn’t get to shoot as much as I wanted to because the weather turned and it wouldn’t stop raining however I had identified an approach which was effective and I could apply it when photographing over Easter.

When looking at the results of my street photography I found that the landscape images were the most effective:

Street Photography

The landscape images appeared to be better composed and I felt like I engaged with the images differently. Instead of treating them as a typical portrait and moving on quickly I found that I was trying to look at the image differently because it wasn’t the conventional orientation.

ORIGINAL 2 ORIGINAL 3 ORIGINAL

Having shot a few images on based on the idea of an encounter I needed to connect these images to the ASL concept. When photographing I asked all participants whether they would be comfortable to allow me to use their age, sex and the location at which they were born for me to use in my piece. I made them aware that the choice to reveal this information was theirs and they didn’t have to. However all participants were happy to do so, which left me with three images and three sets of information to play with. When thinking about how to include the ASL information I thought back to the talk we had from practitioner David Rule who explores the role of text and the relationship between textual and visual information. The reason for exploring the idea of ASL was exploring how a person could be condensed down into these defining pieces of information, therefore I felt I should experiment with overlaying with the portraits and the information. This idea was influence by the artist Richard Galpin who constructed and mediated the view the viewer would see when engaging with his pieces. With this in mind I decided I wanted the viewer to only be able to see each subject in the portrait through the pieces of information. I have done some previous experiments in Photoshop with overlaying text and thought that this method would be effective in my construction of my images. Examples of my experiments can be seen below:

DSC_4242 black DSC_4242 white

DSC_4250 changed DSC_4250

DSC_4247 black 02 DSC_4247 white 02

An influential aspect I noted when I was making the images was that the black background was more effective than the white. With the white background, the attention is drawn to the shape of the text more than the person in the image, which although could be effective I preferred the effect the black background gives. The text is easily read in both images and I definitely think the viewer can engage and see the subject more in the image with the black background. I presented these images in my second tutorial with David Moore, he drew my attention to the fact I was merging both the physical and digital encounter together in these images rather than contrasting them. He thought that I shouldn’t include the images of the physical encounter in my project and instead I should really concentrate on making a purely digital response to avoid confusion and achieve a more effective set of images. This left me a bit lost for a few days as I didn’t really know where to go from that point, it seemed like I had hit a bit of a dead end and I was finding it hard to think of what images I could possibly produce now.

After a phase of researching I came across the terms and conditions of Facebook and started reading through them properly. I compared and contrasted them with the terms and conditions with that of other social media websites such as Twitter, Instagram and Youtube and there was one resounding similarity. Every individual partaking in these social media outlets, gives the organisation a license and free use of any content posted onto the site; this allows the content to be shared, copied, changed and stored. Use of information is a controversial topic in the digital age, with scandals such as the NSA and phone hacking raising awareness of the fact that the information people attempt to share privately can be easily accessed and taken by professional institutions or any capable individual. In addition to this, the very nature of the image has been changed from analogue photography to digital photography. Whereas the analogue photograph is defined as a physical negative or print, the digital image exists only of information which can manifest itself to resemble the ‘photograph’ on a screen. There is an interesting parallel between photography being changed to a practice of information and the idea that with using ASL as a conversation opener, that a person is being condensed down to information. This key concept of information is something I really need to focus on in my imagery.

Following this thought process I identified that I wanted to take images and change the manifestation of them from the conventional visual representation and instead display the actual information behind it. I research on the Internet how to change images into the binary code which informs them and came across a conversation website which would take an image and change it into different forms of code, one of which was binary. I attempted to input the images in this converter to see what the results would be, the visual results were quite interesting; past converting the images into binary, this engine actually assigned different colours to the code to attempt to resemble the original image. This could be changed to black and white or kept in colour however the engine still attempted to produce this visual representation of the original image. In addition to this I was still using the images from the physical encounters to test, I needed new material and to change this technique slightly for it to be more effective.

35 Male Wrexham

I thought back to the terms and conditions of Facebook and related it to the work of artists I have researched such as Mishka Henner, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin who have worked with appropriate/found photography to counteract the abundance of imagery in society. With this in mind I decided I wanted to work with found photography, specifically the profile pictures of Facebook users as this is a prime example of where an image is used to mediate and construct a certain representation, which in turn communicates a part of personality. I looked closely at the terms and conditions of Facebook to see what would apply to me, whether I could extract the information without the person needing to know or whether I should seek permission. I found that if I was to be using another person’s information I needed to obtain their permission and express to them the exact information to be taken and where it would be used. I went about seeking which profile pictures I could use and achieving permission, I contacted friends I have on Facebook as I felt that they would be more inclined to help my project. It also meant I could try and get a range of different ages, and locations for if I was to do anything with text it would mean that I would have some variance. I then put these into the image converter however I took it one step further and copied the code and opened it in Photoshop. This provided me with a string of white numbers on a black background which looked very effective; like a barcode. It struck me that my images could reference a barcode or a QR code with the additional challenge that instead of representing a price or link, this code would attempt to represent the whole of a person. I took these images in Photoshop and added in the ASL element, integrating the age, sex and location into the binary code.

Becky Woodall smaller

These images were so more effective than the previous images using street photography, there was a much stronger sense of the ASL concept and the idea of the digital age changing both photography and communication. There are distinct parallels between photography and online communication because photography itself is a form of communication through interpretation and I really believe that these images work off this idea. Having produced a series of these images I thought I needed to experiment a bit to see whether the original black background and white text worked, in addition I wanted to see whether it would be more effective to have the text in the same place or to move it around. Although I was comfortable with my original decisions and felt they looked very visually striking I needed to do the experimentation to find out whether another editing choice would be better for the project.

After a meeting with Anthony over my images, we discussed how effective they were and whether the aesthetic of them was actually working. The inclusion of the ASL information in the actual could be too much of a distraction, Anthony suggested perhaps the information could be the title of the piece rather than in the actual image. I would need to experiment around with the aesthetic and the inclusion of information to see which would be most effective. In addition to this, Anthony drew attention to my choice of subjects, asking why it is important we see the people who are in the portraits as opposed to reaching out to friends and family. The subjects in the work are just as important as the process of image-making and I needed to experiment to see which subjects would be more appropriate than my friends on Facebook. The response to the aesthetic and process behind my work was positive however I needed to push it further in terms of understanding why I’m making the choices I am and how this affects what statement the project makes.

In response to my apt I decided to research and think about which subjects would be more appropriate and effective for my project. In the meeting, Anthony mentioned that choosing someone known for being associated with the digital concepts and issues might work better such as Edward Snowden. With this in mind I decided to search the Internet for some curated lists on who are the most influential people on the Internet. I came across the list by Time Magazine of the 30 most influential people on the Internet which featured people as famous as Taylor Swift to a member of the public who ‘broke’ the Internet by uploading a picture of a dress which acted as an optical illusion, provoking a world-wide debate on what the colour of it was. If I was to use this list in my project I think it would affect the presentation method of the project, I wouldn’t want to feature part of this list as there is no obvious method to determine which people to include. This would mean that the project might be a book or some curated online collection. I started collecting images of the people on the list using their social media profiles, as I felt this element of communication was still important to include in the project.

CONTACT SHEET
Some of the 30 most influential people in the Internet

 

Alternatively, I also started considering using the political part leaders who are standing for the upcoming election as it is highly topical considering the election is about to take place and there has been a lot of activity online concerning their activity and intentions. Typically politicians are very well known for being able to represent themselves in a specific fashion, trying to be as appealing and professional as possible to the public to try and win their vote. As a result of this, many people feel that the activity by many politicians is simply an act and a front which doesn’t represent their true personality. The purpose behind all their activity removes all objectivity from their actions and we see a representation that is meant to sway the viewer and observer that this person is the best choice for prime minister. The presence of these politicians has become increasingly prominent online, with most politicians having their own Twitter account and Twitter account representing the party they stand for.

In addition to this, the election debates broadcast on T.V were being continually commented on across social media as they were taking place, transforming this social space into an environment of political opinion and campaigning. Interestingly enough it is at this moment when I observed that the behaviour of online individuals became particularly toxic towards some of the party members, demonstrating the online disinhibition effect I had previously researched. The combination of this change in politics, as well as the confusing and bias representational activity from politicians made the party leaders a very appropriate subject to choose for my Final Major Project. By taking their portraits from social media and displaying the underlying code, it demonstrating another form of information which is presented to us, but in an alternative manner. It would be highly interesting to observe people’s reactions to these portraits, as most people are detached from these individuals so there shouldn’t be many emotive reactions to displaying these people as information. However it is highly conflicting that someone who could have the power to run the country in the following months, can be represented so simply as this, it is a very limitative form of representation.

I really took to the idea of using the politicians in my work, as it is topical, it makes an effective statement and it contextualises my work in a specific time period by associating it with a well-known event. Using the leaders of the political party also gave me a smaller number of images which would mean the project could work as a wall piece, which might work better as I want to try and present these images as a typical portrait would be to try and get the viewer to engage and relate. Following this idea, I downloaded a photograph of each party leader from their corresponding Facebook page and compiled them together, ready to convert into code. As researched previously, the terms and conditions of Facebook specify that by making a page public, the creator allows the use of any content such as images and text to be taken and downloaded from the page.

CONTACT SHEET

Using these images, I converted them into the binary code using the same process I had used for the previous images and made files out of them in Photoshop. It was here that I played around with different colours again to see which was the most effective, changing the background from black to white and the text as well.

David Cameron black background
David Cameron
Natalie Bennett white background
Natalie Bennett

 

The black image looks like the binary code is an extract because the numbers appear to go on outside of the frame whereas in the image with the white background, it looks like there is a border to the image because the white creates an impression of negative space. In addition to this the black image connects to the concept behind Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series; we relate black backgrounds to screens much more because of the original appearance of computers, where there was white and coloured text on a black background. In addition to this the black background looks more sinister which reflects that the pieces have a serious undertone, whereas the white images don’t look very intimidating. For these reasons I decided to keep my pieces as white text on a black background and not even show the images with a white background at my next formative feedback review. I estimated if people thought I should experiment with the colours they would give me that feedback and if they didn’t it would mean that they found the images effective.

In the build up to the second formative feedback review I was trying to make decisions about how big the pieces should be in the exhibition. This process was initialised when hearing we would have to stipulate what presentation method we would be employing after the second formative feedback review. After submitting these requirements it would be very hard and unlikely to change them so I needed to make sure I had a good idea of what size my images should be by the end of the session. I decided to offer a decision between three different sizes, the first a very small print of about 10cm x 10cm, the second a slightly bigger print of 21cm x 21cm and the last a large-sized print of approximately 80cm x 80cm. The largest size wouldn’t actually print out however I wrote down the specifications for the size so people could visualise the image at the correct size. I posed the question of size on my formative feedback review sheet and asked the opinion of the group in the verbal feedback session as to what size I should make the images. The general consensus from the class was the medium sized print of 21cm x 21cm was the most effective because they were big enough to read but small enough to require the viewer to come in closer and examine the images. The smaller prints were too hard to read and the largest sized print would demand any extra attention from the viewer because they would be big enough to read from a greater distance. In addition to this the medium sized print relates to the idea of an average portrait which will hopefully increase the likelihood of my viewers attempting to relate to the images. With my content and the size of my images decided upon, I then moved onto researching presentation methods and how my images would work in the exhibitions in Coventry and London. Overall I’m really pleased with the content I have made, at the beginning of the project I couldn’t have imagined the images I have now produced but I’m glad I have chosen to specialise in this area.