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.

Satiregram

Satiregram is an Instagram account that posts written descriptions of typical photographs seen on Instagram. These descriptions reference the trend of mainstream mass posting on Instagram, which produces images that often share very common themes. Even the profile picture of the account is an image that references what could be considered a typical profile image of a mainstream Instagram poster. The creator of this account also runs another account and there is a link to this in the profile description. The other account is also a comedic entertainment, type account, which features Drake lyrics over classic travel pictures featuring fog; the Drake lyrics over the pictures also reference fog in the words. This profile is a good example of an Instagram account that makes a critical comment on mainstream mass posting. What is really interesting about this post is that while it doesn’t feature the actual images, when I read the description it is very easy to picture posts I have seen on Instagram and images I have posted on Instagram. This account doesn’t have to feature the actual images, because the description make you realise how many images you have seen that match the description.

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Although I haven’t posted on Instagram about watching Game of Thrones, I have sent a Snapchat to my friends when I watched my first live episode of the series. If the lighting conditions were better and photographing the TV didn’t leave me with stripes from the frames changing, I probably would have posted on Instagram about it. Game of Thrones is a TV series that is enjoying by a mass international audience, therefore when the new series started again, of course there were bound to be many Instagram posts of viewers expressing their excitement.

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When Starbucks introduced their practice of asking the customer’s name to put on their cup, it started a whole Internet trend of people posting about misspelt names. A humorous activity is to go to Starbucks and give the staff a fake name or a particularly difficult name to spell, to see what they write on the cup, the evidence of which is posted on the Internet. This description also references the cafe culture trend on the Internet, which prompts users to post artistic pictures of their coffee perhaps to prove that they are part of the cultural phenomenon.

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This account features both short, succinct descriptions and lengthier ones that go into more detail, such as the one above. The satire really comes across in this post, as it takes the description one step further and details the exact process behind the image. This specific example refers to the relatively modern ritual of photographing the food you are going to eat and sharing it with the Internet. However in the excitement of photographing the food, the risk is that it goes cold before they can have a chance to eat it. In the attempt at creating the image of a perfect life with perfect food on Instagram, your actual life is less than perfect.

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This picture directly references the other account I have been looking at known as Sociality Barbie, which recreates these mainstream images but with the mass produced Barbie doll. The idea of authenticity and ‘living authentic’, whilst filling a social media account with these highly constructed and staged images seems flawed. Perhaps the people who are living truly authentic lives aren’t on social media at all. There seems to be a real sense of social pressure for those on social media, to create accounts that paint a picture of an amazing life. However this illusion takes a massive amount of free labour and time to achieve.

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This image also emphasises the important we have placed on social media as a society, with many probably prioritising posting social media over the other important commitments in their life such as work or their relationships. It also references the typical caption that mainstream posters often rely on, which is posting favourite song lyrics. These songs are usually from artist that would most likely be considered as mainstream, and perhaps in the music charts. For example I have seen quite a lot of posts with lyrics from and references to Beyonce’s new album Lemonade. There are lots of lemon and bee emojis being used, emoji coincidentally are also a recent phenomenon that has risen to popularity through the smartphone and social media.

Unlike Sociality Barbie, Satiregram hasn’t stopped posting and it still very much active. Therefore I can’t observe whether this account would work to debrief the users if and when they made the decision to end the account. For now it seems that the creator of Satiregram is continuing to post and getting inspired by mass popular culture and the new phenomenons it brings. However I can still take a lot of inspiration from this creative and critical account, as it engages with current cultural concepts in a very creative and effective way. Like the other accounts that I have looked at, this account isn’t aiming to tear down viewers and make them feel bad about themselves, rather it is aimed to make viewers acknowledge their own posting and identify where they have made the same images. It’s all about being able to picture and recognise these typical, classic images that are seen all the time on Instagram, because they are what is popular now.

The Coffee Cup Illustrations of @yoyoha

The Instagram account titled ‘yoyoha‘ is run by Josh Hara and involves a series of illustrations made on the back of a coffee cup. These illustrations are usually topical and focus on popular culture and the digital age, for example the quote from his Instagram profile: ‘Don’t forget to stop and Instagram the roses’. This account, whilst extremely creative and apparently positive, is also a critical commentary on society. However this critique appears to be a good natured attempt at reminding viewers how reliant they are on technology. In addition to this, Hara takes the typical Western activity of getting a coffee from a well known international coffee chain and uses it in a creative critical way, perhaps to also remind the viewers of how prominent capitalism and consumerism is in the daily rituals of our lives.

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Here Hara comments on the idea that technology is as central to our lives as the umbilical cord is to the baby in the womb, that we are completely dependant on it to be able to function. This perhaps tries to make the point that we should aim to loosen our dependancy on our technology and consider the other aspects of life.

Likewise in the image below, Hara comments on a similar sort of idea but specific to the mobile phone, the way that individuals can’t seem to leave the phone along. Many individuals are constantly checking on their phones, unable to live life without the distraction of notifications.

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In the image below Hara references the music video from the song Hot Line Bling from the artist Drake, in which he performed some unusual dance moves, which the whole Internet took joy in ridiculing. There were a multitude of memes and short videos mocking the music video. However this may have been Drake’s original plan, because as the song and music video went viral, it meant that a massive amount of people were aware of his music. Hara uses this viral phenomenon and shapes it to the concept of the coffee cup in this topical illustration.

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Continuing with the music theme, Hara uses lyrics from the popular Adele song Hello, to describe the feeling of seeing a mobile coffee order from the side. Here Hara again is using music from the socially renowned Adele and shaping it to make a comment on coffee culture, most specifically the involvement of the mobile phone to make orders. The helpless situation Hara describes in this image would most likely be referred to as a ‘third world problem’, which refers to the fact that many Western, affluent individuals don’t actually have to worry about the basic elements of survival and often take this for granted.

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Lastly Hara also uses the popularity of the musical icon Taylor Swift and her lyrics in this image to make a clever reference to coffee culture. Hara uses play on words to create a pun, using the ‘Tau’ from Taylor to create a word that sounds like the coffee ‘latte’. He has also changed the lyrics to relate to coffee, which further addresses the concept of coffee culture. However there may have been another reason why Hara changed the lyrics, as Taylor Swift has been trade marking many of her lyrics from her songs, making them unavailable for free use on the sale of other products. Perhaps what Hara is really referring to here, is the threat to his freedom of expression from Taylor Swift’s need to earn any and all money from what she perceives as her intellectual and creative money, despite the fact that she is extremely wealthy and perhaps wouldn’t necessarily benefit hugely from the additional money this trademarking would generate.

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I chose to research and look at the profile of Josh Hara (yoyoha) because it is a really good example of someone using Instagram and visual images creatively in order to make critical comments on topical concepts. Although Hara’s commentary on these different social phenomenons could be viewed as generally positive, he is still drawing awareness to concepts that many would perhaps take for granted. In addition to the illustrations, Hara also uses text creatively to contribute to the visual statements the images make. I can learn a lot from this account in how to make a creative visual statement and I hope to gain inspiration from the activity from this account in relation to my own research idea.

Sociality Barbie

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

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

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

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

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

Interpreting Visual Materials

In order to be able to begin to interpret the visual materials that my data collection would generate, I needed to establish how I would go about making meaning from them. Gillian Rose’s book ‘Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials’, provides an introduction into the methodologies that I could potentially use for interpreting the visual materials in my research project.

The title starts with an introduction into considering how visual methodology can be critical. Rose explains that culture is an extremely complex concept, made up of social processes, social identities and social change. Visuality refers to the way individuals see the world, what they see, how they see and what is allowed to be seen by them. In Western society, visuality is an important part of life and this is seen through an increasing saturation of visual content. This apparent centrality of visual content to culture is known as ocularcentrism, a term introduced by Martin Jay in 1993. In pre-modern times, visual images were not very important simply because there were not many of them, the move into modernity increased the production of images. Many scholars discuss why images have become prevalent in culture, from their use in science to their prominent role in mass tourism. In post-modernity the visual is still important, however the relationship between between seeing and believing is constantly being questioned. However post-modernity can still be viewed as ocularcentric because the scale that individuals engage with constructed visual experiences. Jean Baudrillard proposes that in post-modernity it is no possible to identify what it real and what isn’t, we now live in a world that is full of simulations and nothing is original anymore. Donna Haraway argues that this ocularcentric culture is only available to few individuals and institutions, particularly those with histories in military, capitalism, colonialism and male supremacy. In addition to this, there is also the concept of dominant visuality, which denies alternative ways of seeing the world other than those prescribed by the norm.

Visual images are not often seen without accompanying spoken or written text, but the ways of conveying meaning in visual images are different from that in textual material. John Berger wrote and illustrated a book known as Ways of Seeing in which he proposed that we never just consider the thing depicted, but rather we look at the relation between things and ourselves. Just as text evokes meaning when read, an image evokes meaning by being looked at; this looking at an image also involves thinking how the image positions you as a viewer in relation to it. However it is important to consider that not all audiences would respond in the same way to the same image. In order to begin looking at images critically, Rose suggests three rules:

  1. Take images seriously, despite post-modernity suggesting images don’t necessarily depict the ‘real’
  2. Think about the social conditions and effects of the visual object(s)
  3. Consider you own way of looking at the images (as a researcher or viewer)

The image itself has three sites of meaning: the site of the production of the image, the site of the actual image and the site in which it is seen by an audience. In additional to this the image is also shaped by the apparatus used to create it, the compositional element of its appearance and the range of social, economic an political processes that surround the image. The creator of the image should also be addressed; auteur theory suggests that the most important aspect in understanding a visual image is considering what its maker intended to show, however Roland Barthes argued a case for the apparent death of the author. Nevertheless, the viewer is also an important concept in considering the way an image is interpreted, Rose introduced the term audiencing to refer to the process through which an image makes meaning when it is viewed.  The particular audience member will have an effect on the way an image is read and the space in which the image is being viewed also has an influence on meaning making.

In terms of sourcing visual material to study, Rose suggests the researcher should consider the precise format of the visual material, how much material beyond the object the researcher would need. In addition to this, when studying painting as a visual material, the researcher should decide whether seeing the original in situ is necessary, or whether a reproduction would be enough. Of course when you consider Walter Benjamin on the idea of viewing a reproduction, he would argue that seeing the original is the only way of truly seeing the painting in question, because in viewing the original the researcher would experience the true aura of the art. Regardless of whether the researcher chooses to view the original or a reproduction, Rose proposes that the researcher should become an expert on the type of images they want to examine, in order to be able to interpret them fully.

Once the material is gathered, the researcher should consider what approach they are to going to take in order to interpret them. The options Rose covers in this book include content analysis, semiology, psychoanalysis and discourse analysis (in which she splits into two: discourse analysis I and discourse analysis II). Content analysis involves focusing on the compositional modality of the image, it does not consider the production of the image of the audience reception. It is based on counting the frequency of certain visual elements in a defined set of images and analysing the resultant numbers. In order to count the visual elements the researcher needs to create codes, which are a set of descriptive labels or categories that the researcher can then attach to the image. These categories should be obvious and logical enough that if another researcher created a set of codes, they should be very similar. However Lutz and Collins argue that the reducing the image to a series of codes, results in a reduction of the meaning itself. In addition to this, content analysis has the tendency of considering the content that occurs more frequently as more important than the content that occurs rarely.

Semiology involves the study of signs, which according to semiologists, make up all of visual culture. However some scholars discuss that if all knowledge depends on signs, there is a risk that these signs may be misinterpreted. There are a number of terms involved in semiology: the sign refers to the visual element, the signified is the concept or object and the signifier is the sound or image attached to the signified. The referent is the actual object in the world to which to sign relates, an icon means the signifier represents the signified by having a likeness to it, index refers to the inherent relationship between signifier and signified and symbol means a conventionalised but loose relation between both. Denotive refers to a sign that is easily read, connotive means the signs have a higher level of meaning, diegesis is the sum of the denotive meanings and anchorage is the text provided in relation to the sign. Metonymic is a sign that is associated with or represents something else and synecdochal is either a part representing a whole or a whole representing a part. Lastly Barthes referred to a concept of mythology, in which he proposes that meaning is defined not by the content but by the form in which is comes. Interpreting these signs are all about considering the preferred meaning and the preferred reading in relation to the audience. Williamson proposes that signs create a space in which we can create ourselves, however this identity is not freely created but regulated by the environment the signs construct. Semiology has been criticised, as the interpretation one researcher makes of an image, might not be the same as the interpretation of another researcher. In addition to this, there are concerns about semiology and reflexivity, if the researcher fails to acknowledge their subject position in relation to the preferred meaning and the intended audience.

Psychoanalysis was fronted by the scholar Sigmund Freud and involves considering human subjectivity, sexuality and the unconscious. This relates to visual material as the term scopophilia refers to having a pleasure in looking. Pyschoanalysis does not have a code of methodological conduct and is only concerned with subjectivity; referring to the characteristics of the viewer and not their identity. This concept involves considering ideas including the unconscious, voyeurism (which refers to a way of seeing that distances and objectifies what it looks at) and the imaginary (a field of interrelations between subject and other people/objects). Like in semiology there are concerns in relation to psychoanalysis and reflexivity, as psychoanalysis argues that full awareness and knowledge of the self is impossible.

In considering discourse analysis, Rose splits this concept into two parts: discourse analysis I and discourse analysis II. The term discourse is understood as a particular framework of knowledge about the world, which shapes the world we look at as individuals and way we act as a result. Discourse produces subjects and subjectivity is constructed through particular processes, institutes and practices define what it is to be a normal (and abnormal) human. The theorist Michel Foucault wrote a lot on discourse analysis and related it to the theory of power, those with power shape know and the ways of thinking. Discourse is powerful because it shapes the way subjects think, not by oppressing them but by shaping them through the operation of discourse. Rose proposes discourse analysis I as an approach that pays more attention to the notion of discourse expressed through images and text, whereas discourse analysis II focuses more on the practices of institutions. However Rose draws on Rosalind Gill by stating that all forms of discourse is organized to make itself persuasive. In procuring sources for discourse analysis, Tonkiss proposes that quality is not necessarily a priority, rather that the quality of the visual material is important. Discourse analysis I involves a critical reflection on your own research practice, for example a critique of the structure of academia itself in prioritising the study of certain cultures and othering the others. Discourse analysis II involves a critique on the apparatus and technologies of the institution for example a gallery or museum. Galleries and museums were characteristically visited by the middle class because only they had access to an education that included the study of art. In addition to this, the layout of the art gallery in providing singular pieces, produces viewers as contemplative eyes, and the art as objects to be contemplated, as a spectacle. It is also important to consider in what format are visual sources selected, as an archive from a museum or gallery is a product of what the dominant institutions identified as important.

There are other methods to consider visual material including ethnography, Rose also proposes that the researcher can combine methods to conduct a more detailed analysis and therefore produce new forms of knowledge. It has been really beneficial to consider the different methods of analysis available when using visual materials. Content analysis and semiology wouldn’t be very suitable as I feel it would produce a quantitative form of qualitative analysis, which although it might be useful when dealing with large numbers of data, I feel that it is too detached for the research I want to carry out, which focuses on the formation of identity. Psychoanalysis would also not be suitable as it doesn’t consider the concept of reflexivity to be possible, as I am going to be carrying out auto-ethnographic study, I will need to be an incredibly reflexive researcher, constantly reflecting on the data production, collection and analysis in relation to my own subject position. Discourse analysis would be the most relevant to my research project, as I can examine the evidence of discourse in the images and reflect on how particular discourses shape the formation of identity.

Making Photographs as Part of a Research Project

The chapter titled ‘Making Photographs as Part of a Research Project: Photo-documentation, Photo-elicitation and Photo-essays’ is from the book titled ‘Visual Methodologies: an introduction to researching with visual materials’ by Gillian Rose. Reading this chapter was important because I am planning to use photographs in my research project, which I haven’t done before, therefore I needed to make sure I had an understanding of how photographs can and should be used. From reading this chapter I was able to establish the method that I should use for my research project out of photo-documentation, photo-elicitation and photo-essays.

Photo-documentation refers to the researcher using photography as a tool to make images that document and answer specific research questions they are asking in their research project. The chapter refers to a study in which this approach could be used, which is observing evidence of gentrification in urban areas by documenting the housing, the facilities and the products available in them. The researcher adheres to a shooting script, which is a series of research questions that ultimately shape the kind of photographs that are taken. In addition to the photographs produced, the researcher would also write captions detailing why the photographs were taken and which research questions the photographs appear to answer. Photo-documentation would be suitable for researching a phenomenon that you as a researcher can clearly identify and observe in order to then document it. However the research that I am planning to carry out, aims to engage with a concept that is not clearly observable and it also doesn’t take place in a physical environment, therefore I wouldn’t be able to take photographs of it in the manner that photo-documentation suggests. The phenomenon I am investigating takes place on social media, therefore I need an approach that can operate in a digital environment.

Photo-elicitation is a method that involves giving research participants access to a camera and asking them to document their lives in relation to the research question. Instance where this method has been used is in studies that aim to see what type of products a family uses, or how they experience life as a family. This research method is effective in that it encourages the participants to have an active role in the research, giving them a more powerful voice as they are producing the data. However this more collaborative approach to research can mean that the researcher doesn’t get the type of visual data that they were expecting, or doesn’t get data that is useful to them. In addition to this, the chapter notes that this approach can be time consuming when using analogue camera technology, as the researcher has to wait for the film to be developed before seeing the images. This reference to analogue cameras as the obvious choice, exposes the fact that this chapter is slightly dated in comparison to the current situation; where nearly every individual owns a smartphone with an camera embedded in the device. The crisis of providing a camera to the participant is less relevant today, than it might have been when this chapter was written. Like many writings on photography and visual methods, this particular book was written when analogue photography was the predominate option, therefore I need to consider this chapter in relation to a wider context, most specifically the prominence of camera technology in culture today. It may be that the methods discussed in this chapter, would only suit analogue cameras, therefore I may need to discuss the implications of this method in the digital age and how to possibly rework the methods to my research topic.

What makes photo-elicitation different from photo-documentation, is the interview that the researcher has with the participants who have taken the photographs. This interview allows the researcher have more control over the study and perhaps direct the interview in order to make sure the research questions are answered. The chapter explains that whilst some of the interviews could be structured, usually the researcher would simply identify an image and ask the participant to explain the ideas behind its creation. Whether the images are considered in a linear or non-linear approach is up to the researcher and the participant; the participant may seem enthusiastic about discussing an image that is not at the beginning of the series and likewise the researcher may come to the conclusion that some images may not be as relevant as others. What is interesting about this section in the chapter, is that it suggests the researcher doesn’t look at the developed prints before the interview, they could send them back unseen to the participant, which allows for the participant to remove any images that they feel are unsuitable. This would hopefully maintain the trust between participant and researcher and extend the feeling of control the participant has over what they choose to share with the researcher. However what the chapter doesn’t identify, is that the company or person responsible for developing and printing the images, would have definitely seen the content of the images, meaning that there is no complete confidentiality in the subject. In order to conduct an ethical research project, the participants should be introduced to the idea that the developer/printer will see the content of the images, to make sure that they have the chance to mediate the content of their images. Though some may argue that this would affect the sort of images the participant would take and make them less truthful or instinctive, I would argue that the participant already knows they are being researched, therefore the possibility for full instinctive behaviour would always have been affected.

This section also discusses the photograph as an object; it is a tool for both representation and performance. The photograph represents both the content that it is depicting, and the cultural significance behind it, which is drawn out when the photographer has the chance to explain the meaning behind it. It is this needed for explanation that prompts the idea that the photograph is dependant on the context in which it is being viewed. You can consider the photographs that would be produced by the method of photo-elicitation; in the context of social media, family photographs would be considered and viewed as the documentation of memories, the viewer can choose to communicate that they like/dislike the image or ignore it. However in the context of a research paper, these images would be picked apart by the reader and considered as a critical visual artefact. In addition to the environment, it is the accompanying explanation (or lack of) that is important in communicating meaning. The relationship between photography and text is an interesting concept to consider in the context of art. However in research, the meaning communicated from the image must either be completely clear (like you would expect from photo-documentation) or accompanied by a detailed explanation from the photographer. In terms of analysing the content produced from these visual methods, I didn’t give this section too much attention because Gillian Rose has written another book that is about the interpretation of material produced from visual methodology. I have downloaded the book and will be reading it in order to find out how to use the visual material once it has been produced.

 

It is clear from reading this chapter, that photo-elicitation is the method that would best suit my research project, however the are several elements that pose a complication. First of all, as I have identified earlier on in this blog post, this chapter was written when analogue photography was the predominate technology and therefore the text is shaped around the practice of analogue photography. I need to redefine how the method of photo-elicitation would operate in a digital context, this involves identifying the cameraphone as a research tool and the fact that the process of making, sending and analysing the images would be much quicker. I need to consider how the accelerated practice of digital photography, compares to the slower, considerate practice of analogue photography and what the implications could mean for the visual data that is produced. Second of all, I have decided on conducting autoethnographic study in my research project, which means that there is no collaboration between researcher and participant, because I am both. This complicates the idea of having an interview with the participant to find out more about why the specific photographs were taken, because as the photographer I would already know. The answer to this issue would be to have periods of self-reflection, where I as a participant, explain the reasoning behind the images I have created. Then I, as a researcher can build on this reflection and critically analyse it. This would be extremely complicated, as I can’t draw a definitive line between the researcher and participant. I can’t expel the researcher from my mind when I am attempting to consider my photographs as a participant, likewise I wouldn’t be able to get rid of my own personal opinions when attempting to critically analyse the material. This is not necessarily bad, as it is impossible to observe the world as an objective individual, because I am in the world. I need to make sure that I am incredibly self-aware when carrying out this research. The idea of reflexivity is incredibly relevant here, which I analyse further in other blog posts.

 

Bibliography:

Rose, G. (1962) ‘Making Photographs as Part of a Research Project: Photo-documentation, Photo-elicitation and Photo-essays’ in Visual Methodologies: an introduction to researching with visual materials  London: Sage

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