Figures of Authority

Figures of Authority is a photographic project exploring the role of communication and the representation of the individual in the digital age. Just as the digital image is defined by code, the online user is becoming increasingly condensed into information.

Activities such as politics have transitioned to online spaces where electoral candidates have begun to focus their campaigns. In this environment popularity is measured by how many times a statement is re-tweeted and debates can become highly toxic.

In an age where identity is formed using code, there appears to be a significant loss of humanity. If the potential Prime Ministers can defined by a set of figures, it would indicate society is conforming to a transition in identification, which resembles a bygone practice of cataloguing.

 

The project is a photographic response to the issues surrounding online communication, digital identity and the residence of computer technology in society. Building on concerns associated with artificial intelligence and research on the online disinhibition effect it appears as though the online world is becoming increasingly compassionless, impossible to tell whether you are engaging with a person or a piece of software. In this world, information is the key aspect and the individual is being increasingly defined by their digital footprint, constructed of personal information. This inconsequential data, scattered across the Internet using applications and platforms such as social media, is used to form an impression of identity by those collecting it. The idea that an individual can be represented entirely by their information or personal ‘metadata’ references the transition in photography where the image is now made up of information. Visual data is just one form it can take, as the digital image is capable of moving between a latent and manifest state instantaneously. The concept that a person can be completely defined by information is alarming, provoking premonitions of a dystopian future where the individual is recorded and catalogued according only to their online presence.

It has been noted that the transition from physical to online spaces has an active effect on behaviour, with anonymity, disassociation, imagination all contributing to this alteration. The online disinhibition effect is an unconscious change in personality and behaviour; where the emotions of the online user can become detached. This leads to abnormal social behaviour which can take place in two ways, either a rush of intimacy leading the individual to reveal more about themselves, or a release of anger where the individual instigates and engages in toxic activity. Previous excuses for this asocial behaviour have involved the individual disassociating themselves with their actions, believing that their online self is separate. However identity and personality is not thought of as being compartmentalised anymore, but rather as a set of constellations; when an individual enters an online space, certain parts of these constellations align to form a particular arrangement of the individual’s personality. Therefore online identity is not an extension of the self, but is just as much part of them as their physical behaviour. As well altering behaviour, online spaces allow the individual greater control over their identity, with the power and tools available to mediate and construct a picture of their identity with commercial idealism in mind.

The images which form the photographic response are binary-coded portraits of the seven candidates for the 2014 General Election, using appropriated images from their social media profiles. 2010 was a very influential year with a coalition was formed and in the five years following this event, politics has steadily become increasingly discussed in online spaces. Party leaders now have Twitter and Facebook accounts, the General Election debates were trending on Twitter and online quizzes were available to see which party is appropriate for each user. The information from political leaders is notoriously ambiguous, with no guarantee that any promises will be held, or that they aren’t hiding more sinister plans. In addition to this, online spaces have contributed to the mediation of their identity, the careful construction of a positive reputation. The Figures of Authority series is making a new statement, can these binary images be considered as a representation, a portrait of this individual? Although humans can’t instantly perceive what these images are offering, computer technology would be able to instantly read and know what visual data this image is telling them. These constellations and fragmentations of identity physically represented by the mediated profiles of information an individual scatters across the Internet makes online users vulnerable, easily exploited by software. Could a future be approaching where a practice of observing, documenting and cataloguing is reinstated with computer technology assuming the authoritative role over mankind?

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Mass Image Culture

Kodak and Polaroid were the first creators of the instantaneous image making, the public immediately took to this idea and the popularity of this instant image culture has grown with the development of digital technology. With more user friendly cameras and most smartphones encompassing adequate level camera technology, the public have been enabled to produce imagery that they perhaps wouldn’t have been capable of using a film camera. In addition to this, the developed communication infrastructure has facilitated the establishment of various social media platforms, all of which allow the sharing of image and moving image content. The public can now produce and instantly share images with the world using their portable networked device. The digital device is limitless and allows for the production of endless images whereas film cameras used to be more restrictive. All these factors have contributed to the current mass image culture, where there are more images produced in a day than ever before. However with social media now representing the largest free archive of image and moving image content; can the photojournalist produce imagery that will be noticed? Or will the professional be usurped by citizen content altogether?

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The original definition of the term image is a formulation of metaphors and similes which indicate meaning; in the digital age however the term has been adapted and manipulated to reference different photography practices. In the context of Phonar, Jonathan Worth and other writers/practitioners have characterised an opposition between the term photograph and the term image. Where the photograph very much refers to the analogue print; the image refers to the coded digital entity which is fluid and able to exist in the latent and manifest form almost at once. Stephen Mayes describes a new medium of photography which has been formed due to instantaneous photography and the sharing culture. He characterised the content on social media as ‘experiential photography’ where the user captures a raw thought and releases it for the world to see. One aspect of photography that has become particularly prevalent in this experiential medium is the self-portrait, or recently characterised as the ‘selfie’. The invention of front-facing cameras has allowed the user to construct a self-portrait in a manner not available before the digital age of photography.

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This mass image trend has been recognised globally with the term being included in the Oxford Dictionary and it being referenced in high scale events such as The Oscars. Celebrity Kim Kardashian has basically shaped her career and exposure using the digital self-portrait. Photography has always been used as self expression, but now with the limitless form of digital image-making, the holder of a smartphone can use their device as a constant tool of self-expression and construct a detailed image-based identity. However with the citizen empowered in relation to their own representation and producing an archive of self-portraiture, is the work of a photojournalist redundant? Is there a need to be trained in the art of representation anymore to be qualified construct a form of pictorial identity as the digital technology enables a form of convenient, quality and instant photography that could render the needs of the photojournalist unwanted.

Marshall McLuhan references mass media in his book Understanding Media, he describes every form of media and possession as an extension of the self. Previously the predominant forms of expression were through possessions such as the house, car and all these were indications of style and the presence of wealth. However social media and photography has facilitated a new dialogue of self expression which opens self expression up to anyone capable of owning a smartphone. As previously discussed, the self-portrait has now become the dominant mode of self expression, particularly in the digital native generation which has contributed to the mass image culture. McLuhan also references mass trends and collective experience in discussing that the tribal nature in mass online culture is particularly strong perhaps influenced by the sense of detachment to online life. As a result society has seen a new wave of terminology to address volatile actions seen in online culture such as ‘trolling’, ‘catfishing’ and ‘revenge porn’; some of which have now had laws passed to enable prosecution. In addition to this there have been some individuals and organisations utilising the nature of the mass image culture to attract attention and spread destructive ideology such as the self proclaimed ‘ISIS’.

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This radical Islamist group have been attempting to spread their ideology and recruit members to their cause. Their image is predominately constructed through moving image footage of graphic nature which is then spread using social media in order to attract an audience. Fred Ritchin in his first book explored the capacity of digital technology to construct our own image, a power which was only previously held by high level individuals. Part of the reason why ISIS have been so successful is the capacity to construct their own image and disseminate their ideology using digital technology and the mass image culture. As addressed in my post on hacking; there will always be individuals that choose to target and exploit and as the number of images produced and shared gradually increases, perhaps the number of these volatile individuals will also increase.

Writer Walter Benjamin was one of the earliest individuals to identify the increase of images through reproduction and the effect it could have. He discussed the concept of ‘aura’, a feeling that is established by distance, for example an individual can be in the aura of a distant mountain range; this aura can be deconstructed by reducing the distance, or creating a reproduction of the original. Benjamin describes that as the reproductions increase; the desire to see the original decreases because the individual no longer feels the need to seek it. As a result the value of the original could appear to decrease because of the loss in interest. In photography the concept of reproduction has changed through the transition from analogue to digital; where the analogue print has a longer, consecutive process of reproduction and an original negative, the digital image is fluid and can be reproduced in an instant, with no indication as to what constitutes as ‘the original’. The ease of reproduction and the capacity to search and obtain images through Internet search engines and social media has perhaps contributed to a devaluation of the image which is also encouraged by the hacker culture. The digital image instead of remaining as a photograph, has been characterised as just information and in the digital age there is a expected entitlement to free information. For the photojournalist, despite the capacity of digital technology to narrative effectively it means that there is the constant danger of their work being devalued because of the nature of the digital image and the dynamic of the mass image culture. Perhaps this is why there has been a revival in film photography, because the photographer feels a sense of value and aura in the analogue print that has been lost in the digital.

The mass image culture is a trend brought about by the transition from analogue to digital, it has facilitated the citizen to explore a new medium of self-expression using their networked camera device however it has also enabled individuals to exploit it. The apparent loss of aura and the fluctuating nature of the digital image has become a challenge to the photojournalist as their work is under threat from devaluation due to reproduction. In addition to this, the photojournalist is threatened by the capacity of social media to act as a free image archive which could mean the professional photographer is usurped by the new experiential medium Stephen Mayes described. Overall the current state of the image is fluctuating, causing a redefinition by some practitioners to distance the analogue print away from the digital image as the properties of both are extremely different. It is unclear whether the mass image culture either compliments or destructs the current practice of photojournalism. Time will be the factor in tracking the nature of the image and the whether the mass image culture will destruct it’s value in the digital form.

 

 

Super Media – Charlie Beckett

I wanted to have a good understanding of media techniques along with my understanding of photojournalism as photojournalism itself is a form of media. I was aware that the whole book wouldn’t be necessarily as useful as a photography text however I wanted to research in the area of media to have a comprehensive and thorough understanding of the medium of reportage. My notes and evaluation can be seen below:

  • Networked journalism proposes there are advantages for taking the opportunity of collaboration – we can do more together than we can apart
  • Networked journalism is born out of opportunity and also out of need
  • The tools journalists are using are constantly expanding for example blogs allow anyone to publish and contribute and mobiles let anyone share what they witness
  • The natural state of media is two way and collaborative
  • Journalism becomes more open, transparent and flexible
  • Journalism shouldn’t be defined by who does it but by the actual content
  • Three stories convinced Beckett that journalism has changed: Danish cartoons, Africa and London Bombings
  • Media has the power to shape society and events so we need to care about the future of journalism
  • Journalists will always be different, you need to compare each journalist’s experience
  • Journalists are supposed to remain objective however more often than not they will have a partial view
  • The public tend to have an opinion of the media based on the last one they experienced
  • There’s an increase of free news media
  • The potential of journalism is greater however the quality needs to be maintained as it is under threat
  • Fragmentation can cause the quality to waiver
  • Sometimes the threat will come from commercial or political forces
  • Our interconnected world means we are reliant on information
  • Journalism can alter the course of events as well as narrate them
  • Media is also partial, sometimes there are instances where information is withheld by authorities
  • Journalism is changing for social, economic and technological reaons
  • Networked journalism includes citizens, interactivity, open sourcing, wikis, blogging and social networking
  • Likening media to the environment and suggesting it can become polluted – Roger Silvermoon
  • Print media is declining (a symptom of illness?)
  • Is the world of cybermedia going to be run by citizen journalism?
  • When our journey quickens it’s hard to find our feet and keep track
  • There are certain new phrases associated with new media
  • New technology and political liberalisation gives the public a greater role
  • Networked journalism = demand for journalism and social utility
  • Distinctions between amateur, producer, product, audience and participation are broken down and blurred
  • Networked journalism is the semantic divide between old media and new media
  • Tom Armitage introduced the term “Next Media”
  • Netroot: political activism on blog and social media (Jerome Armstrong 2002)
  • Global challenge to journalism is it’s ability to deal with complex narratives of terror and community
  • Media should be more diverse but it is under threat from being thin and fragmented
  • Media literacy is extremely important, the practitioners must be equipped for the task
  • People should be given the skills, tools to interact and produce critical journalism
  • All journalists must have a sense of responsibility and their rights including networked journalists, they must have a sense of objectivity and what truth is
  • Journalists don’t really have a choice, their work is likely to become networked
  • If everyone can realise the potential of digital news media then media could become “super” in nature
  • Journalism isn’t a safe career anymore, hundreds have lost their job
  • The introduction of technology and efficiency has changed the business model
  • This could be considered a revolution however revolutions historically don’t succeed
  • Polis (research into journalism and society at London School of Economics) different media markets are moving at different speeds
  • Not all changes are because of the technology, Lads mags grew rapidly then declined because of socio-economic change, they fell away because of online material
  • There is a parallel revolution, journalism is becoming cheaper because of mobile phones and video cameras – producers have cut their costs by cutting people
  • Traditional media are more sophisticated and can be made at a lower price due to technology
  • Technology produces platforms that are accessible to online viewers and readers
  • Journalism is now distributed through computers and smartphones
  • The rise of online journalism presents economical challenges to news media – Google and YouTube are the most powerful companies and also influential in journalism
  • Public interest has also shifted and conventional media has been slow to address this
  • Two approaches – to defend old media and to investigate the potential of new media
  • Need to understand old from new and be able to track changes
  • What is the degree at which journalism is operating online
  • There are 100 million blogs tracked by Technrati
  • Blogs versus Journalists – bloggers tend to be more opinionated and can engage through the media through comments
  • The difference between personal/journalist bloggers is becoming blurred
  • Estimated 6.6 billion people are online
  • Presence of hand held devices have increased
  • Largest media outlets now include Google and Disney
  • Wholly online news sites can range from academic sources like opendemocracy.net and some are built up of collated public information
  • People are still reading newspapers they aren’t obsolete, in 2006 sales were up but gradually TV began to take over
  • Mainstream media is typically on print or TV and has some support still as not everyone wants to watch the news on their phone
  • Radio has continued to flourish because the nature of it fits in with the modern lifestyle
  • Continuation of mainstream media is down to the skills and experience of it’s participators – Channel 4 News continues to thrive, content and quality is key
  • Main stream media audience is declining
  • Sometimes the audience isn’t transferring online, it is disappearing completely
  • Advertising has completely changed, it is invasive online and interferes with the online experience
  • Culture is loosing interest in conventional media – the audience gets news from ‘spoof’ programs such as Mock The Week
  • Young audiences are getting news from friends and social media – one third of all YouTubers are between 18 and 24 and Facebook/Twitter offers a sense of community
  • Revenue generation is harder online because the audience wants free information, this is similar for TV
  • Organisations like Sky use TV and Film to get customers in, the news channel alone doesn’t attract the audience
  • Fragmentation is a result of more choice in the digital and online world of media
  • More outlets don’t necessarily mean a better knowledge or service
  • Ethnic minorities statistically are the first to leave mainstream media (perhaps they feel they have been misrepresented)
  • Although the quantity of producers has increased, the diversity has not
  • Journalism is competitive, each trying to create a feeling of community
  • Because of the reduced cost of printing, newspapers are often given out for free
  • Journalism is always accused of lacking quality
  • Changes in media have social effects and this in turn shapes journalism
  • Suggests that journalism has been ‘dumbed down’ to appeal to the masses
  • Public services are in retreat, the budget cutes have put a squeeze on activity
  • Just taking journalism online is not the answer

Evaluation:

This book has been incredibly insightful and there are a number of comparisons that can be made between journalism and photojournalism in terms of the changing nature. Comparative to photojournalism, journalism has become collaborative in the digital age, Beckett introduces the term ‘networked journalism’ which is a term I definitely plan to reference in my research paper. The idea of working to maintain quality in media is a concept other writers have touched on such as Fred Ritchin therefore I can use his and Beckett’s ideology together to comment on this subject. The fact that the London bombings was another case study makes me consider using it in my research paper as a case study for the changing tools of professional photojournalism where the photographer reverted to the phone to take the images. I am also interested in the dualism between conventional media and social media as the relationship is challenging; where social media attracts a younger audience and appears to disseminate information effectively, there is the notion that conventional media contains objective content of a better quality because social media tends to be more subjective. This is definitely a comparison I want to address however it’s not important enough to feature in heavily in my research paper so I plan to dedicate an independent blog post to it. Overall this book has been really beneficial in terms of gaining knowledge in relation to media as a whole, not just photojournalism and it is evident that the some of the same complexities are present in photojournalism are also present in journalism. I will definitely be using the ideology from Beckett in my research paper and further in my blogging in association to citizen journalism and the apparent conflict between conventional media and social media.

 

Reference: Beckett, C. (2008) Supermedia: saving journalism so it can save the world. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing

Twitter Discussion: Artificial Intelligence

A key part of the Phonar course is the element of connectivity and openness, this is mostly achieved through the social media platform Twitter. Phonar participants are encouraged to tweet their ideas and notes surroundings the concepts explored in the Schedule with the hashtag ‘phonar’ which allows anyone interested to view all of the tweets related to the Phonar concepts.

In this case the discussion was provoked by the article Fred Ritchin introduced to Phonar about an advance in Image-Recognition software. I was particularly interested in this article because the advance of artificial intelligence is a concept that raises many issues, perhaps the most common is the idea that computers are expanding their capacity to replace humans. Does the element of software change the nature of existing practises? For example could a software version of Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ reference historic actions of documenting and examining a culture with the view of dominating it such as the British colonisation of India? Although the film ‘The Matrix’ still seems a futuristic concept, the act of teaching a computer to examine and essentially understand it’s environment and the people in it could essentially equip them with the tools and knowledge to eventually dominate humans. Perhaps this has already happened? How many people in the world today are completely dependant on technology to survive?

The discussion was shared between myself, Matt Johnston and twitter user Jon Jolley and was based around this speculation whether artificial intelligence has actually reached the point of human thinking. Jon Jolley argued that although computers can ‘decode and describe an image’, it can not fully understand it yet and that we still haven’t seen an existence of ‘robotographers’. To which Matt Johnston responded with the question of whether GoogleMaps could be seen considered as a robot photographer. Certainly although the technology of GoogleMaps is responsible for the imaging of infrastructure we increasingly rely on; it still took the human to drive the car with the camera mounted upon it, to collate this information. With this logic, saved actions in Photoshop could be considered as editors as the human constructed the process but the technology carried it out.

In today’s society it is evident that technology has improved the capacity of the camera to construct the potential for a perfect image by choosing the right settings and even being able to detect a smile which activates the shutter. When posed this fact Jolley counteracted with the view that technology has been equipped with a number of ‘tools’ previously unseen but in it’s current state digital technology doesn’t have the ‘objectivity’ to ‘form a narrative’. However he immediately challenged this notion with an article declaring that a patented book writing system has been responsible for the creation and sales of a vast amount of books, suggesting that technology does have the capacity at least to create a linear narrative. Through examination it became clear that artificial intelligence does actually have the capacity to complete tasks that suggest a thinking process however the exact nature of which is yet to be defined.

Matt Johnston focused around the term previously used to describe the thought process in constructing a narrative which was ‘objectivity’. We typically have a split between subjectivity and objectivity in relation to the construct of content, especially news content. However are these terms the ones to be used in relation to the process of construction made by artificial intelligence? Certainly they replicate that of the human thinking process however they are only measuring data and using algorithms to complete the task given to them. Matt Johnston introduced two terms that would perhaps better examine and describe the contrast between human and artificial intelligence; these are evidentiary and emotive. The evaluation and usage of data by artificial intelligence would the evidentiary thought process whereas the emotive thought process completed by the human would be the inclusion or exclusion of emotion in the construction of their narrative. Subjectivity and objectivity would still be applicable to the emotive thought process as an object approach is the removal of personal emotions which would allow the issue to be examined without bias.

It is clear that Fred Ritchin is right in his urge that we start to redefine the changing environment around us and stop relating unfamiliar content to the outdated ideology we feel safe in. Once we start re-describing our environment we are in a state where we can examine and understand change. As David Campbell outlined, we construct and engage with narrative to fulfil our need to contextualise ourself in relation to our surroundings, therefore it stands to gain that if we define the world we will be able to better understand it. However the examination of the technologic evolution may not become completely achieveable through definition. Ritchin defines digital imaging as ‘quantum mechanics’, the more we try to quantify the effects of the digital revolution, the harder it will become to measure as the evolutionary process fluctuates.

Post Photographic Portrait: Process and Reflection

After a series of weekly tasks, this particular task serves as a more substantial project, the brief can be seen below:

The culmination of this module will be the production of a “post-photographic portrait” of Jill Jarman‘s piece for Cello performed by Laura Ritchie

Your decisions throughout  this process should build upon and further develop the work we’ve begun in creative workshop and throughout the lecture series. This process should be evidenced explicitly and succinctly on your blog as well  ( a 500 word reflective summary would do the trick).

To listen to Jill Jarman’s Cello piece click here

The piece itself takes the light from faraway stars and transforms it into a scripted musical piece for the cello. I listened to it to get some inspiration as to what I could do for this task as it could be incorporated in my own piece of work. The music was extremely abstract and sounded to me as an experiment into the sound a cello could make rather than a piece of music designed for the listener to hear and enjoy. I appreciated the experimental nature and it made me want to produce something that would draw attention from the viewer/listener and provoke a response either action or thought-based. Although it was well executed and it’s a really interesting idea I didn’t feel particularly drawn to the piece itself so I started drawing on the ideas from Phonar and tried to apply them to my own current interests.

I took the ‘Post Photographic Portrait’ title and started developing on this idea in relation to the tasks and content we have examined in Phonar. I originally started thinking about producing an image for a blind person made completely of sound as I enjoyed working with sound in the tasks. Then I started thinking of the concept of representation and how I could create an abstract form of representation, drawing on the ideas from Shahidul Alam of using different tools to achieve an outcome. I speculated as to whether I could produce a portrait through different mediums such as sound. The notions of a portrait are constantly changing whereas it used to be strictly a depiction of the individual with fixed elements such as the angle and crop it is now expanding. A portrait has become more about representation than depicting and this is what I wanted to explore in my Post Photographic Portrait.

With an idea in mind I needed to try and visualize the outcome, this meant picking who would be the person represented. I initially thought of producing a self-portrait through the notion of sound by making a soundscape; I would mostly include song, as I am known for singing quite a lot of the time. This idea was interesting to think about however it didn’t quite have the depth I wanted, for me this project was less about trying new techniques and more about creating an informed piece that would encompass the ideology of Phonar.

Eventually my attention was drawn to one of my current habits which is watching YouTube videos by the organisation Rooster Teeth. Their job is to play video games and record their footage to create a video which either informs the viewer how get achievements in campaign style games or give them ideas of what to do in open world type games. The content in particular that I watch comes from Achievement Hunter, which is a subsection of Rooster Teeth and mainly produces videos named ‘Let’s Play’. These videos feature the footage and recorded voices of the Acheivement Hunter community and without ever seeing them; I feel a sense of familiarity through their voices and their verbal interaction. I can identify who is talking and I know the dynamics between each of the employees purely though the audio content of the game.

This concept encouraged me to consider the other traces of the individuals online and whether this archive of inconsequential information could play a part in representation. I collated these ideas and brought them to an apt with Jonathan whereby we decided on the exact nature of the project. The proposal for my Post Photographic Portrait can be seen below:

I am going to challenge the notion of a portrait by attempting to reverse-engineer an image of some the Achievement Hunter individuals that I feel that I have become familiar with over the course of watching their YouTube videos. The concept of this notion is that the digital image is built up of two forms of data, visual data and metadata. This metadata of the image is the element I am interested in for the sake of creating this portrait. In terms of appearance I have not met these individuals therefore I can’t count on the visual element to form my impression, I need use the metadata. One element of the metadata is the voices from their videos; I feel a great deal of familiarity through these voices and by hearing them continuously I have built an impression and perception of these characters. The next step of this project is to explore and obtain the rest of the ‘metadata’ available to me in the form of their online presence, their location, their activity and their movements. My post photographic portraits will be in the form of data visualizations that will come together to form an abstract representation of each Achievement Hunter member.

With my proposal written I then started to think about gathering and collating the inconsequential information. It then became clear that in order to produce an effective piece of work in the remaining time period, I would have to focus my efforts on one individual rather than trying to tackle the group. I decided to choose the founder of the Rooster Teeth and Achievement Hunter company; Geoff Ramsey.

In addition to my proposal, Jonathan gave us the following questions to consider which would help us when tackling the brief:

What’s my problem?

What’s the solution?

What wouldn’t happen if this work wasn’t made?

I found these questions extremely hard to answer initially as I couldn’t think of my project in terms of a problem and a solution. Jonathan explained to us that unless the work we made would work to solve or expose an issue or concept then all we would be producing is ‘decorative work’. We were divided in the class and asked to explain our idea for the Post Photographic Portrait to each other, the listener would take the information given and apply it to the previous questions ready to present back to the group. The idea behind this act was that if your concept could be easily lost in translation from person to person, it would most likely be unachievable through the process of viewing as a final object. This process really helped to finalize my ideas and I was able to formulate my answers to the questions:

What’s my problem?

The problem I want to identify is the relationship between the inconsequential data left by a person online and representation.

What’s the solution?

The solution is to gather all the metadata of a single person from the inconsequential data they have left on the Internet and reverse-engineer a portrait – playing with the notion of a portrait

What wouldn’t happen if this work wasn’t made?

The viewer wouldn’t consider their own online presence and how much inconsequential data is available to the online community. Although the Internet is a great means for communication and is meant to be a positive tool, there can be consequences to leaving trails of fragmented data.

With foundations built in the right direction I began to gather information from each different online avenue. Initially I targeted sources that I am familiar with and that I use on a daily basis such as Facebook and Twitter, from these social media platforms I could find out Geoff’s location and a bit about his likes and interests. With Twitter especially I also discovered the members of Geoff’s family including his wife and daughter, as there are a lot of pictures and tweets about them. I then went on to find informational sources such as his designated Wikipedia page and his own profile page on the Rooster Teeth website. In addition to this I started paying close attention to the audio from the YouTube videos and exported the audio from the ones I felt best represented Geoff, these audio clips would be broken down and reconstructed to form a soundscape.

The initial archive of data can be seen below:

Geoff’s Facebook likes and groups

TempleOfApe MarthaMain ModestMouse Rhianna JayZ Visitors TowTheLine LazerTeam Goliath AchievementHunter SportsNation BurnNotic StatusKill RedVsBlue Deathtraps Battlefield PeopleKillRadio KathleenZueich CaitiWard WillbrooksWildAnimals AmericanAirlines A.JohnBolanger TheFORT GriffonRamsey PostNet Austin360 JoelHeyman NPR Xbox Zeilner Bros BarackObama Gnap!TheatreProject UnicornRampant BleepLabs ImagineThatProductions GearsOfWar Freddlew Dom’sRoosterTeethRelatedPhotos TentBaby RVBGloryDays TroublePuppetTheatreCompany

 

Geoff’s Twitter Hashtags

marriedtoanartist brohemian ItBegins Florence Italy HappyHour stronghands miamiheat2015 WorldCupBrazil2014 veronicamarsmovie embarrassed slowmoguys lovemylife ingoodcompany toocute SeriousBusiness kidsthesedays SXSW emasculated RollTide proudparent proudmoment officallyAmerican GuessTheChest HappyAnniversary luckiestdude jacksjobinjeopardy FatGuyFriday

 

Twitter Data Visualisations and Mapping

http://bluenod.com/user/geofflramsey

http://mentionmapp.com/mm/classic/index.php#user-geofflramsey

Also went to Twitonomy to get data analytics of Geoff’s Twitter Profile:

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In addition to this I noticed that Geoff featured his unique Xbox ‘gamer tag’ on his Achievement Hunter profile page.

http://achievementhunter.com/geoff

I decided to try and use this piece of information to try and find more about Geoff in relation to his gaming activity so I entered the phrase ‘gamer tag search’ into a search engine and it brought up the site featured below:

http://www.xboxgamertag.com/

http://www.xboxgamertag.com/search/DGgeoff/

This was a surprise to find as it was an example of Xbox sharing the information of their users and allowing it to become public. Not only can you see the point score of the individual but you can also see if they are online and what games they are playing; there is also a history of game play and achievements within those games. Whilst the data doesn’t reveal the identity of the individual there is the apparent issue of data being used in a manner than was unexpected. I certainly didn’t know that as an Xbox user, my data would or could be extracted and displayed on a platform such as this. It raises the questions of the exact terms and conditions an individual agrees to when they sign up to a service that requires personal data, if they don’t read the contract they can be agreeing to anything. The key concept is control in relation to releasing data and whether you can trust that the organisation that receives your data. In the age of free information you must keep in mind that if you are not paying for a service online you are most likely to be the product being bought and sold by third parties.

Once I had collected some data I felt I should start use them to make suitable visual content, for example reason I took the Facebook likes and inputted them into the website ‘Wordle’. This tool allows the user to create a visual collaboration of words and have control over the layout, font and colour. My decision making process for creating this visual outcome can be seen below:

Wordle Process

  • Copied all the hashtags down on paper exactly how they were written then typed them up into the create box
  • Colour: Black red and green because these are the colour scehemes for Rooster Teeth and Achievement Hunter
  • League Gothic – strong but allows expression
  • Layout: Mostly Horizontal

The finished Wordle piece looked like this:

Geoff's Facebook Likes

With an archive of information collected I needed to think about a viable output and whether this would be suitable for the audience I wanted to target. As I wanted to engage with other Internet users it is obvious that my piece of work needs to be digital and easily findable on the Internet; I also want to attract the attention from younger viewers perhaps those interested in the gaming culture as they might be able to recognise where I have found the information therefore it will become more personal to them. The digital interactive tool ThingLink could be a possible tool, I created the sense of a journey with my Alientated Sensory Landscape however there was only a limited sense of control for me in getting the viewers to discover the information in a specific sequence. Although this wasn’t an essential aspect in the Alientated Sensory Landscape task, I wanted to keep the control with the Post Photographic Portrait and lead the viewer on a carefully constructed journey. For this reason I decided on the idea of a blog, as put together effectively, it can be easily navigable and allows a wide range of media to be incorporated such as embedded sound material, video and the ability to include hyperlinks to outside sources. I would be able to create a different page for each piece of content I wanted to display and construct the exact order in which it can be viewed. Although I usually try and make my academic blog as easily navigable as possible with menus and categories for the viewer to sift through, this blog would be an artefact in itself, with a definitive order in which each page can be seen. This journey of travelling through the pages creates the narrative in which the viewer will follow to find more about the person.

I did consider allowing the viewer have some control into exploring about the individual in question however I felt it was important to replicate this loss of control seen once we scatter information across the internet. The viewer would have the choice of entering into this journey however once immersed they would have no control over the information they saw and the order in which they would see it. The only option they would have would to exit the blog; I do not think that the viewer would need to see the whole of the experience to learn something from it therefore even if they did exit it would still raise some questions for them.

However there would be some element of choice in the exploration, one really important aspect for me was giving the viewer the capacity to see each source of information for each page and to learn about each tool used to extract and display different information. However I didn’t want to make it obvious, I wanted the viewer to discover the sources of information for themselves. Therefore I decided to put in links that were harder to find initially but when found would be easy to identify on each page these would redirect the user to another tab, pausing the journey and leaving it waiting for their return or alternatively the viewer could leave the tabs until the end to examine. This achievement of finding the information is also an attempt to keep the viewer engaged and interactive, rather than a bland pattern of just clicking ‘next’.

With an initial blog constructed I then brought it before Matt Johnston in an apt to see whether my idea was translating clearly. He liked the concept however though the viewer needed to be free to navigate through the different aspects by themselves, this greater amount of control would encourage the viewer to engage and interact with the website. The blog needed to be more fluid and I needed to replace the screenshots taken from other websites with data visualisations made from my own tools and with my own colours. We also identified that the Wordles created weren’t extremely effective as they weren’t actually visualising data, and as my research had informed me the viewer will be looking for a the information when presented with this sort of aesthetic. In addition to this he encouraged me to be creative with the personal information and to produce a CV with it as this biographical information wasn’t completely working. However Matt liked the colour scheme, the black, green and white does reference the visual idea of code and he felt the soundscape of Geoff’s voice worked well.

Following this feedback in mind I then started to rework my blog, changing the theme and structure to become more fluid. I also built on the screenshots taken from Twitonomy and made my own data visualisations using an Excel spreadsheet which allows the user to make and customise charts, the new version can be seen below:

Twitter Data 01 copy

With the updated version of my blog completed I needed to rearrange the content to fit the new theme: Spun. This theme features either a static page or displays the latest blog posts; each feature image from the blog post is put into a circle on the page. There was enough space to have ten blog posts without the need for further navigation so I designated the following subjects for each one:

  • Introduction to the Post Photographic Project
  • Biographical Information
  • Avatars
  • Twitter Data
  • Twitter Mapping
  • Soundscape / Voice Actor
  • Vines
  • Instagram
  • Xbox Gamer tag and gaming activity
  • Source of information

This would also be the order in which they would be displayed on the front page, hopefully encouraging the viewer to read the introduction first and the sources last however the choice would still be theirs. I also needed to think carefully about what feature image to use and how it would fit in with the existing colour scheme. Each image selection had to relate to the content of the blog post and also have elements of green, black and white. Once selected I hate to manipulate some of the logos and images in Photoshop to get the colours right or to lay a slight black and white overlay which would make the colourful ones fit in better with the other choices.

With the structure decided I then needed to perfect the content, the following paragraphs detail a short summary of what is in each post, what I used to create it and my intentions and inspiration behind them.

Introduction to the Post Photographic Project

This was simply an extension from the existing content featured in the original blog; although I wanted viewers to draw their own conclusions from the work I felt it was necessary to provide an introduction into what the project was about. However the fluid nature of the updated blog would mean that the viewer could choose to read the blog post or they could miss it out and form their own view on what the project was about. This project for me was an experimentation into representation however it does have the underlying issue about the consequences of inconsequential; although Geoff Ramsey appears to be one of the individuals Fred Ritchin talked about being able to control his own image; other users of the Internet may not have the same knowledge of security.

Biographical Information

I took the ideas from Matt Johnston and attempted to make a file that appeared like it was an official document detailing Geoff’s biographical information. I typed the information into word using the font ‘American Typewriter’ to make it resemble an official piece of text, after that I printed the document out and drew lines through the text that resembled the first part of the address but was in fact just the address of the Rooster Teeth Office. Geoff never discloses his home address online for obvious reasons therefore I wanted it to look like this part had been scrubbed out for security reasons. I then crumpled the page slightly to look like it had been tucked away in a filing cabinet and scanned it back into the computer to make an image file.

Avatars

Following the research avenues given to me by Jonathan and Matt I wanted to reference and take inspiration from the work of Robbie Cooper and include a section on the different avatars that Geoff adopts in order to enter the gaming world. I searched through the YouTube footage from various games to find two defining shots: Geoff’s character viewed from the eyes of another player and the view from Geoff’s character himself. I then put these two together in Photoshop to make the final image, an example of which can be seen below:

Combined 03

As the project draws on the concepts of self representation I felt it was important to examine these alternate representations of Geoff’s self. It is interesting that in some cases the individual chooses to look completely different to how they resemble in real life, sometimes they choose appearances based on experiences and interests in their personal life, for example Geoff’s Minecraft avatar is a reference to the RedVsBlue character Grif for which he provided the voice.

Twitter Data

The ability of websites such as Twittonomy and HootSuite to analyse and display a user’s activity is somewhat unnerving. It references the thorough investigations the secret service might conduct to find specific information on a person of interest. It highlights the fact that many third parties will pay to access the inconsequential information you share online and displayed in this format it can tell a completely stranger a lot about your personal habits. I usually flick through Twitter before bed and perhaps most of my activity happens at that point; although I am clearly happy for my followers to know this information I am not so comfortable about this information being there for any Internet user to examine. As referenced in the blog post earlier I had to change the appearance of the Twitter I had gathered, however I feel the new updated visual outcome is much more suited to the environment in which it had been placed and it resembles a piece of my own work rather than snatched data.

Twitter Mapping

This identifies with the same concept as the Twitter Data; however websites such as BlueNod actually allow the investigator to examine the different connections the Twitter user makes; the terminology to describe this is Associate Mapping. It is a remarkable piece of software however I can’t help but thinking that people could find a lot about my location and my habits through other users that don’t have the same privacy settings as me. I chose to complete a screen recording because it wasn’t possible to embed the software in the space of the blog and if the viewer didn’t have a Twitter account, they wouldn’t be able to access this website for themselves and see the connections. I took advantage of the technology on offer and used it to my advantage, I didn’t want my blog to appear elitist by only including content that could be accessed by Internet users that are involved with social media platforms, this would also mean I remove my capability to access different audiences.

Soundscape / Voice Actor

Hearing Geoff and the other member of Achievement Hunter was the catalyst for this project as I really felt I knew them by hearing their friendship dynamic and their characteristics. This idea that someone could be represented through ‘data’ such as their voice and not just their physical appearance was a really interesting concept for me and draws on the idea of Phonar where as a photographer we need to consider the use of sound in digital projects. In some aspects, including different elements such as the written word, images, video and sound it would allow me to access the different kinds of learners. Some people engage more with sound and others with pictorial examples; by expanding across different mediums I have increased my capacity to access and engage with different audiences; a concept that Marcus Bleasdale and Aaron Huey have used to great effect.

Vines

Vine was a very new social media platform to me however it struck me as strange when I saw that a lot of Geoff’s Vines featured his wife and young daughter. Although this would be typical of a normal Vine user, Geoff Ramsey has a huge fan base on the Internet due to the popularity of those videos and sometimes Internet users take advantage of the anonymity of online spaces to exploit content such as this. There will be people that look at children on the Internet in a darker light and it was discomforting for me to see that their were lots of videos of a young child online with no security around them other than to disclose his exact location. Regardless of the physical security of his child, Geoff has actually exposed her to virtual exploitation. Perhaps this darker side of the project would encourage my audience to consider their virtual safety as Internet users in addition to their physical safety.

Instagram

Geoff Ramsey actually served in the US Army as a photographer and his involvement in this social media platform really expresses that. There is a wealth of photographs that can actually inform the viewer a great deal about Geoff that he perhaps doesn’t disclose in other areas of digital space for example it is clear that he and his wife have cooking as a hobby as there are a lot of images of food preparation. However similar to that in the previous section, there are quite a lot of images of his daughter and although the location is secret there is still that potential for a user of the Internet to extract this image and claim ownership of the content to do what they would like with it.

Xbox Gamer tag and gaming activity

As I explained previous in my blog post, I was surprised to come across a range of websites that would enable the searcher to find out about the user of each individual GamerTag and find out their gaming activity. Although this information wouldn’t disclose any real important data such as the location of the Xbox or the real name of the individual, it was still unnerving to find that anyone could be tracking and following my progress as I played Xbox games. I tried to replicate this ‘live stream’ idea by finding a way to embed content associated with the games into my blog. I liked the idea of the Vine videos playing content on loop and wanted some way create a file with content of this nature. I then remembered a previous Phonar session where Jonathan explained that a previous Phonar student had used ‘GIFs’ to portray their content, this would be perfect for my needs. I used content from the YouTube videos to try and make GIFs of Geoff playing the game in question and paired it with the information featured on these GamerTag websites. GIFs are very popular across the Internet on platforms such as Reddit and Tumblr which are mostly used by a younger audience. It is the young audience using social media platforms that I am keen to engage with as some of them will have the most to learn about online security and actually would be the ones most at risk; especially with the lowering age in which a user can sign up for social media and the capability for the individual to lie about their age.

Source of information

I felt it was really important to reveal where the information for each different section came from as this would potentially highlight and/or expose platforms in which the viewers might have their own information displayed. I also wanted to show which tools were used to create information such as the Twitter Connections and the Twitter Analysis so that people could see where an Internet user could extract this information. It was also to explain that although I feel like I know this person and it is certainly easy to build an impression and representation on them online, I have actually never met them therefore I can’t consider myself as a friend of his. The term ‘friend’ in relation to online activity has a completely connotation to that of physical communication; for example I went through the process of removing people linked to me on my social media platforms that I would actually never speak to again and probably wouldn’t go out of my way to communicate with them if I saw them in person. The concept of representation and relationships on the Internet are two aspects closely interlinked and it is worth considered in relation to the inconsequential information that we share. Could an anonymous user trick you into thinking that they had met you and engaged with you purely from this inconsequential data, and in extension could a computer build up a realistic impression of you from the content shared online?

Finally with all the content sorted I then added in an extra menu at the top of the blog which categorised the different posts into the sections: Look, Watch, Read and Listen. This would enable the viewer to choose which medium they wanted to engage with if they didn’t want to interact with all of the content. This also referenced the structure of the website Matt Johnston showered me where the viewer could choose which content to engage with and create their own narrative of discovery.

The completed version of my blog can be seen by following the link below:

http://rebeccawoodallpostphotographicportrait.wordpress.com/

Considering the distribution for my finished piece was also an extremely important aspect of the project itself, practitioners such as Marcus Bleasdale and Fred Ritchin have identified that the photographer role has extended to become a publisher. In response I have made sure to examine the audience that I want to engage with this piece and consider the best methods available to me in order to distribute it. Twitter will be a useful tool in getting the final output seen by a range of digital users as I can tweet a link to it and add in different kinds of hash tags. It would be foolish to only use the Phonar hash tag, as Marcus Bleasdale said in his interview with Phonar I would be ‘preaching to the converted’. Many of the people involved in Phonar already know the issues involved with consequential data so this project might be of interest with them however it won’t be a real journey of revelation and discovery for them. However I won’t rule out using the Phonar hash tag because if individuals like my work they can circulate it to the right channels in which people could stand to learn from it. I want to spread it across social media platforms and hopefully let it be shared by those who find it interesting and engaging however even if they do not share it I would hope that they are considering the issues addressed.

An extension to this Post Photographic Project would be to reproduce the content in different forms, perhaps collaborating with professionals in different mediums to engage with a different demographic. For example I could see if I could create an installation piece where the viewer physically moves through a space of built up of virtual content. The interactive element would be transformed and projected into the format of an exhibition meaning that the viewer could choose to move through the space as they wish, replicating the fluidity of the blog structure. The use of different content such as sound, video and images would also work to create an immersive reality; it would actually be really interesting to see how this physical set up would work in order to create a feeling of familiarity with the character. As Fred Ritchin suggested, the greatest reward and effect comes from face-to-face communication and sharing the same physical space as another. This installation would fall partway between physically meeting the individual in question and my original blog piece as it takes these virtual elements but presents them physically.

This project has been extremely engaging and rewarding and has if anything provoked more issues that need to be examined in relation with my existing idea of representation. Above all I have discovered that the practise of photography has been expanded and the ‘photographer’ now encompasses a multitude of different approaches to producing photographic content. Digital technology has meant that sound and video can now be used to great effective either with or actually to actually replace the image. As Fred Ritchin explained, photography is now in ‘dialogue’ with video and the two techniques are so closely interlinked with the capacity to make a ‘photofilm’ or to take a ‘still’ from a moving image piece. The digital revolution has meant that most the content seen in today’s culture is viewed from a screen; and where there is a screen there is nearly always the capacity for sound. It is because of these key concepts and issues that provoked me to explore and produce content from each different outlet, although in this case the finished product is still in it’s very early stages open to much more development. I have found myself slightly limited in my own capabilities and the structure of commerce as I could have collaborated with a web designer or paid for a better template that would have perhaps pushed my blog past it’s existing parameters. This is definitely a key aspect to consider in the future as collaboration has been proven to produce some amazing results in the case of Marcus Bleasdale. I feel I have been able to research and examine the issues involved with this project and produce a suitable outcome for the intended audiences.