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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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

 

New visualities and the digital wayfarer: Reconceptualizing camera phone photography and locative media

This is one of the first papers I looked at when working on my Sketching the Field essay, where I had to identify and establish an area to research on and research accordingly. This paper is by Larissa Hjorth and Sarah Pink, both of which are writers who are consistently producing new knowledge about the role of visual technology in culture. Both researchers are from the the RMIT University in Australia, so despite being to identify certain cultural similarities between the UK and Australia, I have to acknowledge that this article was made about locative media in the location of Australia. I was interested in this paper because it touches on Instagram and other photography-based apps and the role that this portable creative technology has on the subjects they researched. I have identified specific quotes and ideas in this paper that I believe will be important and relevant for my own research project.

 

On average, Barbara takes a picture via Instagram at least twice a day. She views the application as a succinct way to mark a place and time for both her own personal memory and also as a sign as part of her journey throughout life.

This paper conducted a series of interviews with 10 participants who acknowledged the use of photo-sharing apps such as Instagram in their lives. Obviously this quotation is a result of the data collection, the writers are able to make statements about user activity, because the user themselves have allowed the researchers to analyse them. These interviews and the data the researchers have collected are constantly drawn upon in the research paper in order to support the theory that they have engaged with, in order to produce new forms of knowledge about the subject. It is this data collection, that provides the evidence and support behind the notions the researcher tries to make. Without this data, the researcher can only make assumptions about what could be happening culturally; the data allows the researcher to make a statement and say that a cultural activity is definitely happening.

 

Talking about where you are provides an excuse to talk and share with your absent copresent (Gergson 2002) friends.

Echoing the sentiment of the postcard, sharing camera phone images says, “I’m here and I want to share it with you” (Hjorth 2005)

I have made comparisons the the travel imagery on Instagram and the dynamic of the postcard, however now I have a quotation in writing to be able to support this. I will be looking up this citation in the list of references for this paper and reading Hjorth’s piece of text in which this quote originates. Often when writers use a quote and cite it, they are pointing the reader to go and explore another piece of text, that despite it being relevant to the project, it probably couldn’t be included because it might take the paper off in a different direction. There are quite a few of these quotes that Pink and Hjorth have embedded in this research paper, that most likely points to another research project of theirs, which would provide really good theoretical support for the discussions in this paper. The other works of these authors would no doubt support my own research idea, therefore it would be beneficial for me to read them.

 

 

Through sharing playful pictures of places as part of everyday movements, camera phone practices provide new ways of mapping place beyond just the geographic: they partake in adding social, emotional, psychological, and aesthetic dimensions to a sense of place.

In-between places like trains, busses or the walk between one building to another are no longer contexts for just “killing time”. These wayfarer spaces, as an embedded part of everyday life, have now become key moments where new forms of visuality (Ingold 2007), and sociality are generated, through camera phone photography and the digital copresence associated with locative media.

Hjorth and Pink transform the notion of place and movement in this paper, in relation to the use of locative, portable media devices. These quotations identify the transformation of the concept of place, to not just consider the physical location of the subject, the photograph or the content of the photograph. Physical presence is not the most important element of social media, the concept of copresence is perhaps more important, as the viewers of the image and the content are together in the same virtual location. Place could also refer to the subject/photographer’s emotional location in the world, the culture and communities that they associate themselves with, how they place themselves in relation to other people in the environment. The notion of place also becomes interesting when you introduce the fact that many people make images when they are moving geographically. Which place becomes more important, the place at which they choose to use their cameraphone to post a photograph, or the location in the image they are posting? How can you identify where a social media user is, when they are posting on a vehicle that is moving like a bus or train? The portability of media technology provides new discussions around the term place, which I will certainly draw upon in my research project.

 

The two moments in everyday mobile media practice we have opened this article with are examples of the millions of intimate media vignettes across the world that are at once photographic, social, locative and mobile. 

Here the authors discuss how the material produced and the activity of these Instagram users can be considered as photographic, social, locative and mobile. They are photographic because of the actuality that camera phone photography has become embedded in culture. They are social because they encourage interaction, even if it is just from copresent friends. They are locative because this activity can be geographically placed, due to many photo-sharing apps allowing the user to tag their location. They are mobile, as the images are most commonly made when the subjects are moving through different environments, both geographically and culturally.

 

By movement we refer to the idea spatially as well as temporally, with many camera phone filters romanticizing the now into analogue-looking genres.

By movement we refer to the idea that we refer to the idea that we inhabit and at the same time are creating a world in movement, an ongoingness, that we contribute to through our own mobility and that of which mobile media play an increasingly inevitable part.

Ingold in fact contrasts wayfaring to what he calls transport.

Place, therefore as conceptualized here follows Massey’s notion of place as “open” a “constellation of processes” forever in movement, changing and unfinished (2005).

This means a departure from the dominant “network”paradigms in visual/media culture and Internet studies, towards a focus on “emplacement” whereby people, images and technologies are always situated, in movement, and part of and constitutive of place (Pink & Hjorth, 2012).

These quotations all relate to the concept of movement and how, like the concept of place, this paper talks about movement in a different manner. Movement in this paper does not necessarily exclusively refer to the physical transportation of the user/subject, but broadens to consider an more abstract notion of movement. This abstract concept of movement includes and refers to the environments the users themselves make by using Instagram, moving through their own creativity, their identity and their place culturally. Movement does sometimes refer to the fact that the user/subject is travelling, and that photographs were made whilst the subject was travelling, however movement should not always be considered to mean physical travel. Hjorth and Pink propose a shift from considering environments to be made up of networks, to considering the theory of emplacement, which is made up of these abstract notions of place and movement and how the subject is situated in them.

 

As Pink has argued, photographs are not simply about what is represented in them, but they are emergent from what was above, below, in front, and behind. They stand for not just the thing or person that they depict, but the trace made through the world by the photographer who has produced them (Pink 2012).

Pink’s take on photography and representation in this section is really interesting and I definitely want to find in which text she discusses this further by tracing the citation to the references section. This quotation acknowledges that the photograph is not just a static, fixed moment in time that is contextless. A photograph is shaped by the photographer who made it, the content that is being photographed and the device that is being used to make the image. The photographer themselves are shaped by their own life experience and the environment they are photographing is shaped by their presence. In this case Pink is referring to the subjective influence these photographers have on their images, from tracing the various routes they take in their lives, to evidence of their design preferences when editing the image. The viewer of the image can also trace the voice of the photographer in the accompanying caption by their use of language.

 

Here it is important to recognize that all forms of presence (including face-to-face) and intimacy are mediated: if not by technology then by language, gestures, and memories (Hjorth, 2005; Mantovani & Riva, 1998).

Despite some proposing that the communication through social media is heavily mediated, the writers here remind the reader that all forms of communication are mediated. The speaker and the listener, even in physical face-to-face communication are still presenting themselves in a certain type of way and choosing the manner through which to communicate to each other. However the mediation appears to become more complex on social media, particularly Instagram because of the communication being split between visual, textual and sometimes through sound in the case of a video. I want to extend this concept of mediation and communication and relate it to discussions in the photography world about the image and truth. Representation and mediation are two concepts that collide on social media such as Instagram and I believe it is important to investigate that.

 

Through the narrative of the trajectory of the photograph the story brings together the affective, material, social, and temporal elements of the routines and rhythms of everyday life.

Far from banal, a-contextualized images, these pictures deploy the newest of filters and photographic tricks to give a sense of the poetic and unique and are then overlaid electronically onto places.

These two quotes describe the photography of the Instagram user, not dismissing the fact that they record their everyday rituals, but rather acknowledging that this practice of photography is central to the lives of many. The photographs are an important part of the subject’s creative expression and therefore become important for the researcher. The seemingly uncreative photograph of an everyday task or journey, is actually an important moment of creativity for a subject that perhaps would not engage with photography if they didn’t have a cameraphone or an app like Instagram. As a researcher I’d like to focus on the important role of Instagram as one of the photo-sharing apps available in facilitating and encouraging creativity from people that wouldn’t perhaps self-identify as artists.

 

This paper has been incredibly useful, in both supporting the other research I have done and giving me new ideas and concepts to research next. I have identified that Larissa Hjorth and Sarah Pink are influential writers who have written a number of texts on subjects that are extremely relevant to my research. Therefore I will be seeking other work from these two authors in order to build on the research I have already done and to see if there is anything that is discussed in the other papers that I might have missed in this one.

 

 

Tagging it: Considering how ontologies limit the reading of identity

This paper was written about social media and how the tagging functions of the platforms can affect the meaning of an image. It was written by Linzi Juliano and Ramesh Srinivasan from the University of California. I chose this paper to consider how the textual element on an Instagram post, could potentially shape the meaning of the image that is being posted. I have identified important quotes and sections of the paper that I feel would add to my own research and give me new directions in which to research next.

 

Social media 2.0 relies on words to describe and order sound, video, and images. Tags are meta-data (‘data about data’) introduced via keywords that help users locate, retrieve, and file information online, in and among websites. Users actively contribute, modify, and add tags as they interact with media objects.

As a photographer, I am already familiar with the concept of meta data; data that is embedded into digital images that describe elements such as the author/creator, the date that it was made and even the camera used to take the image. However a non-photographer, or anyone else that isn’t familiar with this embedded data, would really benefit from this brief description of what it actually is. This reminds me that in my research project, I need to to acknowledge that the reader might not have come across the debates, the terms and the theories that I will be discussing in my research project. Describing and detailing these theories would also demonstrate my understanding of the subject as a researcher and make my research project appear informed and well-founded.

 

Language, both programming commands and communicative, operates on a system of representation that is at once shared and determined.

Language is what frames the way we understand the world, a system of words that have an assigned meaning in order to communicate. The world is represented linguistically through language, however it’s important to remember that language is not the only way through which the world is represented. Photography and other forms of pictorial art represents the world in a visual manner and audio technology represents the world through sound. Reality itself is the combination of the the audio and the visual, the physical manifestation and the latent existence of what is described and represented through language. Communication is shaped by the subject it is discussing, the people who are communicating and the context in which this communication takes place. It is important to consider that as communication is made through language, that moment affects the interpretation that is made, as the speaker and the listener enter a two-way process of trying to give and receive information as accurately as possible. The Internet can be problematic because it is contextless, the conditions in which a user made an Instagram post can’t be experienced by the eventual viewer of that image, which means the meaning can be changed. Because the Instagram post can consist of visual, linguistic and sometimes audio material, the way through which it communicates meaning is split and layered. It would be possible for a viewer to only consider the image and not read the accompanying caption and vice-versa, it would also be possible for a video not to be seen and heard as moving image if the user does not choose to activate it. There are many debates that I have become recently engaged with around the problematic nature behind photography and the relationship with the concept of naive realism. Representing reality is a problematic idea, both through language and through imagery, it is this relationship between these two methods of communication that makes Instagram a really interesting platform to research.

 

 

The use of keywords assumes that images, including those of people, can be accurately and universally described, by a supposedly diverse, dynamic group of users.

Yet we also pointed out that tags catch the mediatized object in a ‘cultural freeze-frame’, imposing static contextualizations, showing future users how to read the image, and, by referring to the codes performed by material bodies, associate that categorization with the lived experience.

As Lisa Nakamura wrote in her book of the same name, ‘cybertype’ is a term used to refer to a strain of techno-utopian identity categorization. This term applies to both computational and cultural stereotyping.

This set of quotes describes the nature of tagging in a digital context and in relation to the use of tagging in accordance with the research material of the paper. The first quote highlights the problematic optimism of the keyword, which becomes the tag, to be able to describe the entirety of reality and to be able to communicate this reality to a vast diversity of users, who each understand the world in a different way. The second quotation acknowledges the problematic state in considering the post as a fixed entity, one that will not be read away from the context it was created in. However due to the Internet being so fluid, it is very possible that an image posted on Instagram could re-emerge in the future, whilst the surrounding environment would claim the post to contain current material, the content itself could be dated and inaccurate due it being seen out of its time. The third quote has introduced a new term to me and is one I believe I will use in my research project, when discussing the textual element of Instagram. The term ‘cybertype’ aims to describe the futuristic, utopian categorization brought about by the era of digital technology. The idea that a concept as complex as identity (in the case of this paper) can be flattened and split into a number of words, is very problematic to me, as identity itself is a concept that is fluid and always changing.

 

 

This linguistic classificatory control privileges certain interests over others and emerges only out of localized, popular, and (by proximity and immersion) powerful interpretations of what is important or legitimate.

The models cannot fully model ‘themselves’ (if at all), rather they are modeling their ability to fit the categories assigned to them.

What these quotes pick up on, is that according to the popularity of some looks or identities, that the marginalized are in danger of becoming more so, because of the way the Internet favours the content that is searched the most. This in turn either reinforces or creates the notion that a popular identity is more legitimate than an alternative one. In the case of this paper, girls are uploading pictures of themselves to a site in the hope of having their identities and bodies approved by other users of the Internet, therefore it could be damaging to their self esteem if their contribution is deemed to be unimportant. In addition to this, instead of the viewer making their own assumptions about the subject in the image, instead they are reading the tags assigned to the subject and evaluating how well they align to the ideals promoted by the language used to describe them. Whereas the most important phenomenons are probably those that can’t be explained by a set of succinct terminology. The representation of the subjects are potentially being limited by the framework of the accompanying text. This is definitely a concept I need to consider when addressing the textual component of Instagram.

 

The site maintains raced and gendered codification, strengthened by participant-commodification and simultaneously creates a limited notion of alterity.

The part stood out for me as it described the idea of the subject commodifying themselves in order to fit into this set of cultural tags. It is almost as if the tags are categories that are assigned to the subject in the photograph in order to sell themselves to the most appropriate viewer. Despite the aim of this tagging system to make content become more searchable in an Internet that appears to be saturated, it changes the dynamic to resemble that of a market place. Self-branding and selling the self as a commodity is a neoliberal concept, there is the danger that the subject conforms to neoliberal ideals without even realising it.

 

There is little to no contextual framing besides the button that begins the process: ‘play’. Once begun, the viewer(s) stream through random connections and performances of spectacular mediatization.

These random, rapid connections do not contextualize or tag, and therefore the power of encounter is left more or less intact.

The paper then goes on to explain that there are strategies to avoid the problematic framework of tagging, that embraces and attempts to replicate the physical experience of the encounter in a digital context. The example given by the paper is Chatroulette.com, as the quotes above explain, the communication on this chat website is unframed. The users do not experience each other through the reading of limiting singular terms but instead the conversation begins instantly. The participants of this communication take on the role of actively asking questions and seeking answers in order to find out more about the identity of the other. However Chatroulette doesn’t work in the same manner as Instagram, although Chatroulette could definitely be considered as social media, the framework is very loose and the participant engagement is quite large. The user has to be committed to the experience of the conversation and has to dedicate quite a significant portion of time to it. Whereas on a platform such as Instagram, the involvement of the user doesn’t need to be longer for a second, the app can be neglected and revisited over the period of a month or year. The conversation in Chatroulette needs to be tended to in the minute, once that moment has ended, there is no guarantee that the users will be able to find each other on the site again, if they didn’t exchange details. The structure of Instagram although according to this paper it could potentially limit the full expression of identity, it does actually help the user cultivate longer-term relationships with the accounts that they choose to follow. It allows the user to search for accounts they already follow in order to access them quickly and in turn it makes the user themselves easily searchable for the users that follow them. The tension between findability and unhindered identity expression is a relationship I should and will consider in my research project.

 

Overall this paper has been really beneficial to my research project as it has allowed me to consider the textual element of Instagram and how it could affect the meaning of the image. In this case, the paper examined how tagging can potentially limit the expression of identity, as it suggests that identity itself can be flattened and expressed in a series of linguistic terms. The nature of the Internet to favour the popular content also means that those images tagged with terms that aren’t deemed to be popular, are at risk of being branded as unimportant and illegitimate. This paper has exposed the tension between the framework of social media to allow users to be able to find other users and other content, and that of the users own identity expression. This relationship is very interesting to me as a researcher as it builds on the ideas discussed in photography in relation to the image and text, how as an artist, you need to consider how the textual element of your work (if you choose to include it) will shape the way it is interpreted by the viewer.

Iphoneography as an emergent art world

This paper was written by Megan Halpern and Lee Humphreys, it examines the use of iPhones by those who identify as artists and the construction of an artistic community revolving around the term ‘iPhoneography’. I’m interested in what this paper defines as artistic activity, and whether social media and cameraphone users can actually be considered as practising artists. I’ve taken quotes and sections from the paper and reflected on them in relation to my own research project.

 

In 2010, the most popular camera among Flickr users was the iPhone 3G

This is a really interesting statistic, as for this paper it was able to define that a large number of users operating on a photography-based media platform were actually using a smartphone. As the iPhone was the leading smartphone when these first-generation social media sites were the most used, it makes sense that a community was built around using this model of phone. It would be interesting for me in my research project, to try and find out how many Instagram users are still participating in this identification with the iPhone brand. Whether the user is engaging with the iPhoneography community, or whether they are simply pointing out that they love the iPhone as a brand. As Instagram is an application that was designed for the smartphone, I don’t feel that my research needs to prove that the majority of users are using a phone over a digital camera, however the fact that they are using a phone to make the images, needs to be acknowledged and researched.

 

The lens of remediation helps to place iphoneography in historical and cultural context by drawing attention to the conversation between iphoneography and photography, as well as other visual media

The theory of remediation addresses the idea of technology progressing through reform. This paper draws on Bolter and Grusin and their theory of immediacy and hypermediacy as the twin logics behind remediation. However this paper appears to skim over the definition of remediation and what place it actually has in this article, so I will be researching Bolter and Grusin further to make sure I have a clear grasp of how this article wants to talk about remediation, as I feel it may be relevant for my own research project.

 

 The massification of photo taking  and making that technology has facilitated over the last 100 years have been noted by many scholars (e.g Benjamin 1972, Bourdieau 1996, Sontag 2001)

Benjamin defines aura as that which evokes artwork’s (or natural object’s) uniqueness and permanence.

Bolter et al. (2006) re-examine Benjamin’s concept of aura in the context of virtual and mixed reality.

Aura is not dead with reproducible visual media, the claim, but rather, is constantly lost and found again, existing in a permanent state of crisis.

I picked out a few quotes from the section titled ‘Theorizing photography’, although it appears to be less about theorizing photography as a practice, but rather theorizing mass produced, social photography and redefining it in relation to Walter Benjamin’s theory of aura, in order to be able to establish this type of photography as art. Benjamin’s theory of aura is a classic debate, over whether photography can be considered as possessing a quality of aura and originality when the medium itself does not base the production of visual material on one single copy. Whereas painting, sculpture and other forms of art always produce an original, singular piece, photography, even analogue photography always allows for an exact copy of the proclaimed original. What is interesting about the use of Benjamin in this paper, is the fact that they include another writers take on Benjamin in relation to digital media. The idea that aura is constantly being lost and found in digital media is an interesting take on the theory in a contemporary context. Walter Benjamin, although still appearing to be highly accurate for the contemporary world, was writing when photography was an early invention. Therefore in order to use Walter Benjmain in relation to current, contemporary research, the researcher must acknowledge that Benjamin’s work was written for a different time period and find a way to situate this theory in relation to the current material.

 

The cultural significance of photography has not been dictated by technological advancements alone, but also shaped by evolving social practice (Wells 2000). Bourdieu’s study of photography revealed photography as a process of “collective identity formation”

Liz Wells is one of the key writers on photography and I will definitely be considering her work in relation to my own research project, when it comes to theorizing photography and the practice of social photography in my own research project.  However I haven’t yet researched Bordieu’s writing on social photography, and this quote about photography as a process of collective identity formation is very relevant to what I want to research; my own project will be engaging with how users express identity using the social media application Instagram.

 

Becker defines an art world as the patterns of collective activity surrounding the production of a specific form of artistic expression

Defining art in relation to a social practice was important for this research paper as it allowed them to consider the everyday user of Flickr and the iPhone as a practising artist, because a collective group of users engage in an identifiable way. This definition of an art world could be relevant for my own research project, if I want to consider Instagram users as practising artists.

 

To examine the phenomenon of iphoneography, we chose an interpretive qualitative methodological approach because we were interested in exploring the social practices of iphoneography as an art world

In total, we conducted 20 in-depth semi-structured interviews with those who self-identify as iphoneographers

These quotes were from the ‘Case and approach’ section where the writers define the process and approach behind their research. They explain recruiting research subjects through the website Pixels and by finding Hipstamatic iPhone users from Flickr. The participants from the different places allowed a balance of perspectives. Through a period of six months and research that consisted of interviews and participant observation. The researchers explained that their approach was interpretive, which means that they relied on the fact that the interpretation they made of the subject’s interview answers and the activity they observed were accurate, and what the subject wanted to convey. This is not the approach I have proposed for my own research project, I won’t be conducting interviews but instead combining auto-ethnographic and ethnographic observation of Instagram activity. Therefore my research will be somewhat interpretive, because I will be reflecting on my own activity and attempting to identify choices made by others.

 

The third key practice of iphoneography is the manipulation of photographs through apps or what we call the presence and visualization of the artist’s hand in the iphoneographic image

For these informants, apps literally re-introduce the hand of the artist, thus re-creating aura within their iphoneography

The reintroduction of the artist’s hand in the creation of the image provides an interesting counter to Benjamin’s idea of aura, connecting to Bolter’s theory of aura being lost and found again in digital media. The hand is a concept that keeps cropping up in writing about cameraphone photography, because of the tactile nature of the device, it will definitely be a concept I will draw upon in my own research project, both as a way to research the material and as evidence of the user in the creation of artistic material.

 

we found that opinions on what it meant to be accepted as a legitimate art form also varied. For some, finding a specific aesthetic and set of rules through selective and careful curation, both online and in brick-and-mortar exhibitions would help build an art world similar to visual art worlds already established. For others, legitimation meant thinking about visual art in new ways.

There is a purpose behind this paper, although this is a research project into whether iPhoneography could be considered as art, the writers are really trying to convey that iPhoneography should be accepted as a legitimate art form. However despite this, the voice of the researchers are never seen in their writing, there is this detached sense. This could be because the paper is co-authored therefore the researcher’s can’t really use the word ‘I’ without establishing which researcher is ‘talking’ at one particular time. However in my research project, this is an aspect I will benefit from, this will be my own singular research, therefore I will have the opportunity to use my own voice. I have maximised my opportunity to express my voice as a researcher by also using myself as a subject. This paper feels a bit too clinical for me, when they are effectively describing a highly emotional, subjective concept, which is the creation of art. The concept of art is formed, discussed and reformed with the different movements and to act as if, are a researcher, you are unaffected by the existence and presence of art, seems somewhat ridiculous.

 

Overall this paper has been really beneficial for me to read, in terms of identifying theories I need to research further, writers on photography that I should engage with from a cultural theory perspective and also in considering the approach taken by the researchers. Although I personally feel that this paper seems to be too clinical and detached when describing a highly emotional practice, it does engage with some really interesting and relevant theories. The use of Benjamin and aura is situated and legitimised in this contemporary context by using another writer who has built on this concept of aura in relation to current photographic practices. The concept of the hand, as I identified earlier, is one that is being built upon by many researchers considering the smartphone/tablet as a tool for their subjects and also a tool for their own research. I will need to carefully consider the role of the smartphone in my research concept and also in relation to how I actually carry out my research.