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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Commonwealth

Commonwealth is a series of images depicting virtual landscapes, inspired by and made through the video game Fallout 4. This project is an experiment relating to the concept of naive realism, which proposes that reality itself is a flawed concept and therefore the practice of photography can’t depict the entirety of reality as humans perceive it. The series of images also depicts the journey of my character through the environment of the game world, the Commonwealth and my journey as a player into the gaming community. In addition to this, my series of images supports the discussions around considering video games as art and therefore considering the post-photography produced through video games as art too.

My practice could be considered post-photographic as it is challenging the historic analogue belief that photography represents the real, by deliberately capturing the unreal or virtual. In addition to this, the camera plays a different role in the practice of video games, it is the device through which the player sees and perceives the environment. Just as the viewer of the photograph perceives the world through the frame of the photograph, the player of video games sees the word through the lens of this virtual camera. However this lens is the only way through which an individual can interact with the world, which means that each player’s experience of the game is highly specific to what they see when playing.

Commonwealth is a visual project that aims to introduce the viewer to the world of gaming, through an experiment inspired by discussions around naive realism. Perhaps some viewers will look at the landscapes depicted and believe that they are real, however for some it may teach them to look closer and consider that not everything they see in an image is a version of reality, as reality itself is incredibly complex. Lastly I hope that fans of the game Fallout 4 will see these images, recognise the landscape and be reminded of their own experience of the game, their specific play through and their own relationship with the gaming community.

Below is a preview of the photo book Commonwealth and a downloadble PDF

COMMONWEALTH

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

 

Tactile digital ethnography: Researching mobile media through the hand

This paper was written by Sarah Pink, Jolynna Sinanan, Larissa Hjorth and Heather Horst; all from RMIT University in Australia. This paper was particularly interesting as it identified the hand as a way to conceptualise and legitimise a research approach. But also to emphasise the presence and the role of the hand in the way that we, as subjects, engage with devices such as smartphones, tablets and any others that feature touch screens. I have identified particular quotes and sections from this paper that I feel are relevant and beneficial to my own research project.

 

Existing approaches to mobile technologies as material culture (e.g., Horst in press) as ambient, and as productive of forms of copresence and intimacy (e.g. Hjorth & Richardson, 2014) acknowledge the embodied nature of our relationships with these technologies.

However of most relevance to our interests here is the work of the phenomenological anthropologist, Ingold, who building on Merleau-Ponty’s approach, and critiquing the focus on the symbolic and cultural of linguistic research paradigms, has conceptualised the hand as an extension of the brain

…Moores has argued for a phenomenological approach to how people move online. He critiques the notion of “navigating” the Internet, and instead calls for attention to how we feel our ways through online environments

The section of theorizing the hand is almost the most substantial part of the paper, and is certainly where the writers draw on the most external references in order to legitimise this conceptualisation of the hand. They draw on the research of anthropologist, Ingold who proposes that the hand is an extension of the brain, this also compares to cultural theorists that have described mobile media technologies as an extension of identity. If I have find parallel between Ingold’s proposition of the hand and the concept of identity extending beyond the physical body, I could potentially propose that the hand is central in the construction of identity on Instagram, as it is the hand that carries out this process. This section gives me the most support when considering researching this area, I have identified that I need to research Horst, Hjorth, Richardson, Ingold, Merleau-Ponty and Moores in order to build my own take on the concepts that they engage with.

 

We also concentrated visually on the hands for ethical reasons: since we were researching privacy, we preserved participant’s own privacy by not video recording or photographing their faces.

This quote identifies how the researchers were able to carry out ethical research, as they did take photographs and video recordings of their subjects, which were used in the paper as a figure. The researchers preserved the privacy of the participants by not including their faces, which would mean they become recognisable. In addition to his however the image that was used in the paper does a very good job at preserving this privacy further, as despite the article describing the way the subject maintains intimacy with their family through the use of their tablet, the photograph just shows the tablet from a distance, without any social media open. There is nothing from the content that can be seen that would make the subjects easily identifiable, except perhaps the subjects themselves identifying their own hands, their table and perhaps their own specific layout of apps. There are names mentioned in the paper however, and as the paper includes the participant discussing their family situation and how they interact on social media, potentially these individuals might be found. Although the searcher probably wouldn’t know for sure that these would be the same people.

I also need to make sure that my research preserves the privacy of those who I am observing on Instagram, because they are not having an active role in my research, i.e. I am not interviewing them, rather observing their behaviour, activity and content on Instagram, in relation to my own as a subject. To take images from these accounts and them place them in my own research paper would be unethical, as I would not have obtained permission from the users to use their content in this way. Therefore I have identified that it would only be ethical to put my own visual content from my Instagram profile in my actual research paper, and discuss how this relates to other content from other users I have observed and researched.

 

In summary this paper has been really beneficial to me, in contributing to the concept of the hand in relation to mobile media and social practice. This paper demonstrates how the hand can be theorized and conceptualised as both the foundation of a cultural phenomenon and the tool supporting a specific research approach. I have identified that I can use the hand as both a research tool for my own research, and use the theory that this paper engages with the conceptualise the role of the Instagram in a cultural context. I still have lots of reading to do, to make sure I fully understand the way that the hand has been mentioned in previous research, and research that relates to other subjects. However this paper has been really beneficial to me, as the references point me towards other texts that are sure to provide me with this wider knowledge.

The Outage – Erica Scourti

Erica Scourti is an artist who investigates the developing presence of digital technology in the daily life of the individual, making creative responses to the software and platforms we use without thought. Scourti often uses herself as an example and her own activity on websites like social media to produce a representative view of how technology can impact the individual, but also how it can come to represent them as well. Scourti often uses video and moving image to make her responses however I was particularly interested in the book she made which combines writing and fragments of online information to make an abstract representation of Scourti and her life as a person. The book is written by a ghost writer and is based entirely on Scourti’s digital footprint, the online information is collected from a number of sources including the searches she has made, the users she is following, the statistics for her online posts and information from the profiles she has made for her online presence. These are compiled together in a book with different chapters, which investigates what actually makes a human, what represents them and what is easier to interpret. It is often said that social media represents a raw thought from that individual, however the same could be said for writing in a diary. It is interesting to see whether the writing is easier to relate to, or whether the viewer takes more from the online information.

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It is really interesting, read the writing and then looking at the digital footprint it is based on, there is a real creativity in the writing and the quality of the language used doesn’t really seem to match the simplicity of the data that is given. This is quite effective though, on the one hand it captures the reader in me and makes me want to read more and really look in to the language and try and decipher a meaning behind the piece, however the digital native in me just wants to flick through the screenshots of information as this is a practice that makes reading easy for me. By just flicking through the book, disregarding the text and making my own impression from Scourti’s digital footprint, am I using the book wrong, or engaging with the piece the wrong way? Or is this what Scourti predicted or intended to happen, to test how people who read it differently and see what interpretations they form as a result? One thing I have noted is my style of reading when approaching a piece that has both images and text in, like a magazine for example. I would flick through the images and gauge the general tone of the text, generating impressions from the images, before seeing a piece of text that really catches my eye and settling down to read it. I then make my way piece by piece through all the over bits of text, skipping over the least exciting ones and leaving them to the end. This fragmented, nonlinear approach to reading can only be the product of my viewing content on the Internet which is always fluctuating and presenting different pieces of information. As a reader on the Internet I have the role of sifting through the content and deciding which may be appropriate for me to read, a practice which I clearly apply offline too when confronted with both text and image data.

The one drawback about the book for me, is the poor quality in printing of the screenshots, whether this was intended or whether it was simply the effect of the printing method used. However the loss in quality could signify other things, although for me at first it was disappointing to think that Scourti hadn’t put more effort into the quality of the images, there is a real conceptual reasoning behind this. The consequent pixellation in the images suggests that the digital footprint, this online persona is nothing compared to the power of writing, the power of imagination and the power of actually reading something in print. Creating the impression that the online presence is just a partial representation, constantly being mediated, masked and misinterpreted by being viewed through a screen. In addition to this, for those who think the writing is confusing and doesn’t match up to what the screenshot says, it demonstrates that the online presence is flawed, you can’t see the person in their entirety, therefore you have the capacity to misinterpret them and get a false impression. This book, with all its apparent flaws is really good at getting the viewer to think and challenge what they are seeing, not necessarily something they do when viewing material online.

Overall I am really pleased I have researched Erica Scourti’s work and I will continue to follow her progress as artist because she is engaging with the same ideas I am, but in quite a different way. The use of herself as a subject is quite brave, but also not dissimilar to a number of other artists, who usually feel that they can represent themselves better than anyone else can. However Scourti has taken it a step further and has introduced a flawed representation of herself, created by herself, to make a statement about the way you can misinterpret a person from their digital footprint. This piece of work suggests that you can’t find out all about a person from their fragmented identity placed online, all you are seeing is the mediated representation they have created for you. This provoked me to start thinking, that perhaps computers, as they take all the searches made, tags listed and content posted could produce entirely the wrong impression of a person, yet still call it accurate. Researching this book has been really useful to me and I will definitely be taking on board some of the ideas that Erica Scourti has engaged with in her project. The one key thing to remember for me, is that sometimes, quality doesn’t often equal effectiveness, Scourti’s pixellated images in the book were far more effective once I had reflected on the reasoning behind them. When approaching the creative process for my own project and thinking about presentation methods I need to balance this idea of quality and effectiveness, to see whether an alternative route would be more effective.

 

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.

 

Definitive Blog Post: Presentation and Evaluation

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

Photojournalism Now: roles and responsibilities

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

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

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Analogue photography in photojournalism originated around the framing of a moment, which then became heavily associated with ‘straight’ or evidential photography (Rosler 2004a: 264). These singular images were integrated into the current format of news, acting as an entry point for the viewer. However when forming a narrative in photography, usually a sequence of images is needed. It could be seen that the singular analogue photograph is limited in capacity, bound by the frame (Rosler 2004b: 189 and 190).

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In contrast the digital image is a coded entity, considered as fluid and able to exist in both the latent and manifest state almost simultaneously (Fontcuberta 2014: 37). Although still bound by the edges of the frame digital photography appears to have the capacity to change the current forms of narration.

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

 

Photojournalism itself emerged with the industrialisation of news and the surge of mass markets, both contributing to the creation of the illustrated magazine, or photo essay (Warner Marien 2002: 8). The evolution of digital technology has allowed photojournalists and photo editors to explore new methods of narrating an event. Where the photo essay was product of industrialisation, digital technology provides the photojournalist with an escape into new forms of media (Worth 2013b). Time Magazine has certainly embraced this liberation by producing dynamic new features like ‘Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek’ (Ritchin 2013: 59)

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

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

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The use of moving image, sound, interactivity and creative data visualisation in these features support the explorations into new, effective narrative forms, which perhaps could not be achieved through the single photograph (Rosler 2004b: 189-190). In a recent interview, Stephen Mayes described digital, online photojournalism as rolling, a continuous stream of information (Worth 2013b). This environment is perhaps suited to a more creative, contextualised and comprehensive narrative moving away from the safety of the photo essay format.

The digital native culture has fully accepted the new form of photographic image; the instantaneous nature along with the developing communication infrastructure has helped shape the current mass image culture. This dynamic conflicts with the ideology of Walter Benjamin who discussed the loss of aura through reproduction and proximity. (Benjamin 1992: 225). The tools of this mass image culture can be integrated into photojournalism as demonstrated by Benjamin Lowy, who used a combination of smartphone photography and the application Hipstamatic to produce his images (Ritchin 2013: 68).

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However they were met with negativity, head of a photojournalist festival Jean-Francois Leroy stated that using an app reduced the control over the photograph and actually worked to ‘standardise photography’ (Ritchin 2013: 69). Lowy’s images are accessible and familiar, with the aesthetic and format referencing social media such as Instagram. This technique allows the audience to relate and consume the content easily. However the danger of producing this comfortable imagery is that the content doesn’t work to challenge or provoke the viewer, referencing the current trend of main-stream media producing content the audience want to see not what they need to know (TED 2011). The mass image culture has generated an archive of safe, consumable imagery that works to promote, not provoke.

 

Current photojournalism can be perceived as ‘Networked’ (Beckett 2008: 2) with citizens and professionals contributing content. The millennium saw an increase of citizen journalism in media with the 911 attacks acting as the catalyst. Imagery from camera phones became more commonplace in photojournalism as the holder of a smartphone can become an instantaneous producer and publisher. This was particularly evident in the coverage of the 2001 Twin Towers attack and the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, which comprised of still image and moving image content.

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The raw aesthetic of citizen camera content often convinces the viewer that fabrication is less likely. Reduced naivety to manipulation has even provoked the public to question aesthetically perfect images, despite any status of legitimacy. The proximity of the citizen to their environment could also improve their representation. This insider status coupled with a greater awareness generates new questions (La Grange 2005: 125). With no belief in the image, and more citizens taking up a camera, is there actually a demand for the professional photojournalist anymore?

 

Manipulation is a process that was present in analogue photojournalism, however it has gained more awareness in the digital age. Both Ritchin and Rosler addressed the February 1982 National Geographic cover in reference to photographic truth (Ritchin 1990: 26, Rosler 2004a: 271). The distance between the pyramids was digitally altered, potentially destroying their historic association to ‘immutability’ (Rosler 2004a: 270).

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The parameters of manipulation in photojournalism have never been defined which has perhaps allowed instances in which images are changed to achieve ‘conceptual accuracy’ and ‘aesthetic pleasure’. (Rosler: 2004a: 276). Ethical guidelines in relation to the practise of manipulation must be defined in the context of photojournalism (and distanced from conceptualism) to avoid the exploitation of the audience through naivety (Bersak 2006).

 

A photojournalist’s role can be to construct a representation of victimisation and suffering. There is a responsibility on their part to photograph in a manner that avoids exploitation and misrepresentation, far from Barthes’ original dynamic of operator and target (Barthes 1993: 9). Abigail Solomon Godeau in her ‘Inside/Out’ essay examined the stance taken by photographers in representation of vulnerable subjects, which is especially complex when the photographer isn’t native to the culture and environment. In Kevin Carter’s well-known image, his ‘outsider’ approach could be viewed as imperialistic as there is no personal involvement or connection (La Grange 2005: 125).

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The distance created in the image reduces the relationship between the photographer and subject to an observing eye (Ritchin 2014: 36). However this is the stance photojournalism desires to achieve objectivity. It has produced iconic imagery Barthes would define, as punctum, drawing an emotional response, but is that enough to help the victim? (Barthes 1993: 26-27). A comprehensive understanding of the subject’s situation might establish continuing support from the audience. Perhaps the future structure of photojournalism should begin with an objective ‘outsider’ image to capture audience attention, which then leads to the larger, more informed body of work producing using the ‘insider’ approach (La Grange 2005: 125). This could work to solve the notion of subject exploitation and misrepresentation.

 

In photographic representation, context is the defining concept, however it is equally important to establish the right context for the final outcome (Rosler 2004a: 263, Johnston: 2011). The photojournalist’s responsibility extends past the action of taking a photograph; the imagery must be circulated to the right channels. Marcus Bleasdale has avoided ‘preaching to the already converted’, (Worth 2013a), choosing to adapt his body of work ‘Rape Of A Nation’ (Bleasdale 2008) into different forms to engage with alternative audiences.

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In contrast to this, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin created the body of work named ‘The Day That Nobody Died’ to comment on the practise of photojournalism (Broomberg and Chanarin 2008).

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The work was pieces of photographic paper exposed to the sun over the course of a day and has been exhibited in the contemporary art community most recently at the Shanghai Biennale. The significance of this work was the conceptual nature, which means it would be most effective in an environment where it would be perceived as art. Although the work is associated with photojournalism, to publish it in the environment of this genre would be taking it out of context and reducing the capacity to communicate effectively. Conceptual photography is a separate genre and needs distancing from the informative imagery normally associated with photojournalism (Rosler 2004a: 259).

 

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

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

 

Evaluation

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

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

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

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

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

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