DI&C: Assignment 3

OCA
Photography level 2

Digital Image and Culture

Part 3: We are all photographers now.

Assignment 3:

What is your understanding of the ‘digital self’ and what is the effect of our everyday use of photography upon it. Discuss using relevant case studies and published research.

                                                                    OR

                                      Would Janus take make a selfie?

Word count: 3329

Quotations     605

Total             2724

Illustrations:

Figure 1:

Penelope Umbrico: Suns from sunsets on Flick’r (2006)    Page 9

Figure 2:

My image of Erik Kessels’ ’24 hours of images.’                      Page 11

Figure 3:

A Kim Kardashian selfie.                                                                     Page 13

What is your understanding of the ‘digital self’ and what is the effect of our everyday use of photography upon it. Discuss using relevant case studies and published research.

                                                                        OR

                                            Would Janus take make a selfie?

The theory underpinning this essay is taken from Guy Debord’s ‘Society of the spectacle’ and in particular thesis 13: “The basically tautological character of the spectacle flows from the simple fact that its means are simultaneously its ends. It is the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the world and bathes endlessly in its own glory.” (Debord 1970:13)

The guiding questions are: What constitutes the digital self and could a photography exhibition change the way we look? Why involve Janus, a Roman mythical god, in discussing photography in the 21st Century?

Janus was the double-faced god of beginnings, endings, gates, doorways, passages, time and transitions. In houses he was often put facing external doors to protect the household from disasters.   In the Pompidou Centre, that very visible, endlessly photographed example of post-modern architecture in Paris, the images on both sides of a board hanging in the central market hall are those of President Pompidou. Facing in opposite directions, they signify a transition or passage from the modern to something beyond it. When it was built in 1970, one of the principal architects, Renzo Piano, said that the design concept was based on a medieval market place where, on the interlinked and intersecting layers of spaces, people would meet and talk. So we have a paradox of an ultra-modern expression using a medieval concept as a vehicle to ring in the revolution-avoiding socio-political changes so necessary in France post May 1968.

In his 2013 publication, Martin Lister includes the essay “The digital image in photographic culture” by Rubinstein and Sluis in which they introduce the Janus principle :“Like a two-faced Janus, photography points in two directions at once: one side faces the objects, people and situations as they appear in the ‘real’ world, and is occupied with the representation of events by flattening their four dimensional space onto the two dimensional plane of the photograph … the other side points towards photography’s own conditions of manufacturing, which is to say towards the repetition and serial reproduction of the photographic image.” (Lister p. 25) This essay will show if or how this illustrates aspects of the digital self by identifying the transition moments and the ways in which the new medium has formed and adapted how we look, meaning both how we appear and how we see. The work used to substantiate the points made are the photography of Penelope Umbrico and Erik Kessells, the manifesto of the 2011 Rencontres d’Arles exhibition and the 2012 paper Selfiecity: exploring photography and self-fashioning in social media by Tifentale and Manovich (9).

To Martin Heidegger in 1977 is ascribed the observation that “representation is the key characteristic of the modern age” in which “ the world becomes a picture and the human being becomes a subject.”(Lister p.25) Heidegger goes back to the 17th Century, to Descartes who maintained that representation was the marker of modernity because it concerned itself with truth founded on rational and abstract principles rather than on subjective or aesthetic ones. Descartes was talking in scientific terms where experiments could be repeated and the outcomes could be represented in diagrammatic form, without any subjectivity or aesthetics involved. In making the assumption that humans are rational and capable of objectifying the world of knowledge in graphs and diagrams, he makes us consider the converse, that humans can express themselves in subjective, aesthetic, artistic and metaphysical terms too. The ontology of photography has been based on the visual representation of the science of optics, the mechanics of automatism and the objectivity of rational representation.   Logically, this all gave photographs, created by a rational human author, the credibility of having transferred reality from the object to its re-presentation.   With the advent of digital photography, based on the binary system of computer language, we would expect that that scientific quality would sustain the idea of objective representation operated by a rational human to produce objective, credible, reproducible representations. This is supported by that sage of all photographic sages, Roland Barthes who states: “The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed relations which ultimately touch me, who am here.” (Barthes, 1981:80). Those who are au fait with dark room photographic practices as well as with digital algorithmic capabilities, know that people are involved in the production of an image, be it on paper or on the screen and that the process, therefore, will involve more than just scientific, mathematical or rational principles.

In his documentaries entitled “The Century of the self,” (2002) Adam Curtis illustrates how the consumer-led policies of the early 20th Century are still in place today in the USA and in the rest of the industrialized world. The series focuses on how the work of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was used by business and politicians to read and fulfill created desires to control the masses, develop consumerism and how people saw themselves.   The prime protagonist in the series is Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew, who picked up on Freud’s contention that people are irrational and that if you pander to their selfish desires, tap into their deepest fears, in every field, they become docile and malleable. Furthermore, if you could link a product to their emotional desires and feelings you could persuade people to behave irrationally believing that they felt better for buying a certain product. The late 1920’s saw the flourishing of consumerism in the USA, the start of political spin and the commodification of Hollywood and its celebrities, and the Wall Street crash. In an interview following the death of Marilyn Munroe in 1962, playwright Arthur Miller maintains that rather than freeing man, consumerism was controlling and defining him and that it was part of the power-mad ideology of the times.

Elaine Glaser, author of Get Real: How to see through hype, spin and lies of modern life states “ When every person in a train carriage is staring at a small illuminated device, it is an almost tacky vision of dystopia. … Technology – along with turbo-capitalism – seems to me to be hastening the cultural and environmental apocalypse. The way I see it, digital consumerism makes us too passive to revolt or to save the world.” This illustrates precisely what Bernays was trying to create in the 1920s, and what debord maintained regarding the character of the spectacle. To complete the picture, in the 1950’s, Theodor Adorno wote in The Dialectic of Enlightenment: ‘Not only do we have the freedom to choose what was always the same, but, arguably, human personality had been so corrupted by false consciousness that there is hardly anything worth the name any more. “Personality,” they wrote, “scarcely signifies anything more than shining white teeth and freedom from body odour and emotions .’(Jeffries)

Psychologist Dr Tamara Hicks claims in an article of 2010 that we all have a ‘digital mask’ to engage with the technological world. She goes on to identify the plethora of internet technologies which had been introduced and to which we can add so many others which surface daily under the conceit of digital culture. Hicks observes “… All of this technology has come at us so fast and furiously that we haven’t had the time to think about how our relationship with it shapes our very identity.”(PT) It seems, therefore that the ‘digital self’ is under constant change and that we, the ‘self’, are not aware of who we are any more.

Despite the fact that we know how we are being manipulated to keep capitalist fires burning, we continue to define ourselves, unwittingly perhaps, by the information we upload to all the sites of which we are subscribers. Do we know who picks up our information, where in the world or why? Not really. The groups we belong to on Facebook and other social media websites, the ‘private’ conversations on Whatsapp or Snapchat, the searches we make on the internet, the items we purchase online, the articles we post or repost or share on social media all become part of the complex algorithms which define our composite selves and ‘know’ us better than we know ourselves.   All the information is fed to commercial enterprises which then target us using the information we have voluntarily given up. The ends are the means.

The manifesto, written by Erik Kessels, one of the curators of the 2011 Rencontres d’Arles exhibition (appendix 1), illustrates how they felt about the opportunities afforded to consumers following the internet revolution which had been in its infancy barely twenty years previously. Its linguistic style is reminiscent of the Futurist manifesto which appeared in 1909, and observers might be forgiven for thinking that the 2011 one is a parody of its predecessor. It is very assertive by marking the changes starting with the adverb and punctuation mark “NOW,” and “ABSOLUTELY PRESENT.”   In the present , and the future by implication, things relating to photography are and will be different.   The translation of the prose part of the 1909 Futurist manifesto reads: “With it, today, we establish Futurism, because …” (Italianfuturism.org).

The pronoun ‘We’ occurs in both manifestos and is emphatic in both. Although the ‘We’ in the 1909 manifesto refers only to one (Italian) man, Marinetti, the ‘WE’ in the 2011 manifesto refers to five European men, 4 of whom are established in the canon of professional photographers and one a professional curator. Given the background of the co-signatories of the 2011 manifesto, is it legitimate to feel that their ‘WE’ resents the intrusion onto their professional territory of every amateur Tom, Dick and Harry photographer using any conceivable image making product and scissors?

There is in both manifestos an emphasis of a separation from the past “WORK THAT HAS A PAST BUT FEELS ABSOLUTELY PRESENT”(Appendix 1.) “Our fine deceitful intelligence tells us that we are the revival and extension of our ancestors—…”(Futurist manifesto)

The curators have gone beyond the question ‘Is everyone a photographer?’ the photography equivalent of the 1975 Joseph Beuys poster “Is everyone an artist?‘’ because it states “ WE ALL RECYCLE, CLIP AND CUT, REMIX AND UPLOAD” which also implies that we have all gone beyond taking images, we now make images in a myriad ways and all under the umbrella of digital photography. Furthermore, in the introduction to the Arles 2011 catalogue, Clément Chéroux, curator of the Pompidou Centre and co-writer of the manifesto, claims that the importance of images has gone from ‘newness’ to ‘intensity’. In clipping and cutting (frivolous, reductive terms explaining how images are ‘made’ today), we are no longer stealing someone else’s work because the images are seen as collective cultural property and the astronomical numbers of images uploaded daily make the practice of sorting through them appear as an OCD, a madness, a loss of rational behavior taking away from the serious expertise, intentions and authorship involved in the original images.

One of the artists on show at the Arles 2011 exhibition was Penelope Umbrico whose work is eye-catching and constantly evolving. She defines herself as “an artist whose subject is photography. …It has expanded beyond the field and there are very few boundaries –”(Martin 3.2) Her most famous work is Suns from sunsets on Flick’r which started in 2006 and is on-going as more sunsets are added to the website.

Figure 1:

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-17-36-52
Suns from sunsets on Flick’r (2006) (With kind permission of the author)

Her work deals with the flood of images, in this case of suns on Flick’r, which are uploaded without any reflective or critical judgement.   Through her work, Umbrico asks us to reflect on the role played by image making and image makers in an image-saturated world. Having claimed that, Umbrico goes on to make yet more images of the over-imaged which seems to contradict her initial premise.

Although in her MA thesis on Umbrico, Minjung “Minny” Lee writes about ‘visual ecology’ which, as she explains in a footnote, was a term coined by Juan Fontcuberta (also one of the Arles 2011 manifesto contributors) to mean “the activity of artists appropriating found photographs instead of making new photographs. This recycling of images actually helps the environment, as it does not take up any new server space.” (idem) . Is the space not doubled every time an image is appropriated because it now exists on yet another server space? Umbrico and Erik Kessels continue to make work that questions our online photography behaviour making us pause to think about what our actions show about us and about society in general, how our actions impact on our constantly changing perspectives on ourselves and society. As the manifesto implies, we can make limitless images which we can ‘share’ with the world and nobody can limit our production. There is no more need for the focus groups analysed in “the Century of the Self” because all the information needed by policy makers and corporate companies is there for anyone to use.

In using the grid format to present her work, Umbrico does not present a narrative we can read in sequence and interpret. Instead, the reading of the composition takes us beyond the limits of the grid frame to wonder where all these representations of suns are taking us and why we have this compulsion to make images of sunsets to then upload them. If there is an entry point into the sun grids it is not clear. What does it say about those who upload the images? Who are we collectively? How many ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ do we want for our images? Umbrico sees the abundance of visual information on the internet as “a visual index of data that represents our collective thoughts, ideas desires and so it is a constantly evolving and spontaneous auto-portrait.” (Martin p. 3) The more we interact with the media and the technology, “the more they function as indexical records.” (idem)

The exhibition at the 2013 Rencontres d’Arles by Erik Kessels’ “24 hours of photos”, presented the same problem as Umbrico’s practice does. Kessels printed the million images which had been uploaded on to social media in a day and dumped them in a room of the Palais de l’Archevêché. Does this represent visual ecology too?

Figure 2:

img_2365

My photograph of the Erik Kessels room at Rencontres d’Arles, 2013

The installation resembled an avalanche of images about to obliterate the viewers – do we go beyond admiring the idea and its execution?

The multi-disciplinary team which worked on the Selfiecity project in thirteen global cities, analysed the demographics, the poses and expressions of those taking them. A selfie, according to Oxford Dictionaries, is “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” Jenna Wortham of the New York Times calls them “a “virtual “mini-me,” what in ancient biology might have been called a “homunculus” – a tiny pre-formed person that would grow into the big self.” (7). Also relevant to this essay is an attitude of Karen Nelson-Field, author of Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013): “We now all behave as brands and the selfie is simply brand advertising.  Selfies provide an opportunity to position ourselves (often against our competitors) to gain recognition, support and ultimately interaction from the targeted social circle. This is no different to consumer brand promotion.” (7) Debord would simply say QED at this point.

Apart from falling prey to the self-promotion, self-revealing ploys of online quizzes and other ‘fun’ social media activities, selfies express in current technological form what pen or paint portraits did in the past and reflect the revolution in snapshot photography for the masses associated with the Kodak Brownie camera introduced in February 1900.

In a dossier on the selfie in the 2014 January-February edition of Fisheye, it states that ‘selfie’ was first used in 2002 on an Australian online forum, and the ‘♯selfie ‘ in 2005 on Flick’r, but its usage did not take off until 2012 and accepted in the online Oxford dictionary in 2013. The same article states that celebrities are a step ahead of other mortals and quotes Justin Bieber who ‘selfied’ his tattoo, his six-pack, himself with a groupie, with his blond girlfriend … until eventually, the article states, “The singer quickly understood how to make people talk about him and how to make business.” (Fisheye p. 27 – my translation) In 2013 he invested $1.1 million in the app ‘Shots of me’ which allows users to make, to share, to like and to geolocate images of themselves. Kim Kardashian (10) also posted advice, it states, on how to take the perfect selfie … with pout. Last year she published a 448 page book of her selfies which sold 125,000 copies in the first three months. ( 11).

Figure 3:

Kim Kardashian selfie with pout:

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-17-35-18

Tumblr joins the circus with sections on selfies taken in serious places like at funerals (Obama, Cameron et all at the funeral of Nelson Mandela) and in front of books in a library.

The passage from old to new in photography seems to have been marked by, inter alia, the 2011 Arles manifesto reflecting a decisive shift to the ‘cut, clip, remix and upload’ (appendix 1), where you no longer needed to be a professional photographer but ‘a species of editor’ (Appendix 1) (pejorative?) to show your photographic work to the world. This work ‘that feels like play’ like that of Penelope Umbrico which was exhibited at Arles in 2011, has a serious critique of those unfettered practices lacking self-checking controls. Does the supposition that it feels like play mean that it lacks the gravitas of previous photography? The acceptance of the word ‘selfie’ in the Oxford dictionary in 2013 gives legitimacy to a practice which confirms unbridled digital self-promotion apparent on social networks which, sustained and abetted by new technologies, replicates and sustains those advertising practices started in the 1920s by Edward Bernays to ‘turbo-boost’ consumerism. Commerce sees the ‘homunculus’ grow, in certain respects, daily, as do their profits.

It seems that the period between 2011 and 2014 was that pivotal time in photographic history when change set in; when social media, engendered by technology, allowed digital practices to mark a shift in people’s online behaviour and when selfies did not constitute our only indexical selves. It also signifies a time during which corporate companies adapted to these changes and continued using consumer profiles to boost sales. Unable to resist consumerism and conformity, whether seen as a rational Cartesian being or an irrational, fear-ridden Freudian consumer, the self occupies centre-stage in representations of the world, regardless of audience and becomes its principal subject. The digital self is branded by capitalism, time, technology and social media.

Janus, an all-seeing mythical, irrational god, still stalking our post-modern, would not take or make selfies, in my opinion.  As god, he does not need to promote himself, he does not need to fight for supremacy in his community of one, his status never changes. As such, he does not need our ‘like’ or ‘share’ or the subjective aesthetics of Kim Kardashian, she of the (absence of) white teeth and free of body odour, to boost his self-images. Can he of ancient Rome protect us from our cultural apocalypse?

References:

Bibliography:

Barthes,R. 1981. “Camera lucida: Reflections on photography. London, Vintage.

Debord, G. 1970. The society of the spectacle. AK Press.

Lister,M. (Ed) 2013. The photographic image in digital culture. Routledge.

Martin, L.A.(Ed).:2011. Penelope Umbrico, Photographs. Aperture Foundation.

Hebel,F. (Ed.): 2013: Arles in Black. Rencontres d’Arles

Articles:

 Gergel, J. 26/01/2012. From here on:Neo Appropriation Strategies in Contemporary Photography. Interventions Journal Arles 2011.

Jeffries,S.: 09/09/2016. Why a 1930s critique of capitalism is back in fashion.

Fisheye: janvier-février, 2014:Dossier: le selfie pour tous.

Websites:

  1. https://schmid.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/from-here-on-les-rencontres-darles/from-here-on-indd/
  2. https://interventionsjournal.net/2012/01/26/from-here-on-neo-appropriation-strategies-in-contemporary-photography/
  1. http://academicworks.cuny.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1513&context=cc_etds_theses
  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-digital-self/201008/understanding-and-creating-your-digital-self
  1. http://www.italianfuturism.org/manifestos/foundingmanifesto/
  1. http://academicworks.cuny.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1513&context=cc_etds_theses
  1. http://d25rsf93iwlmgu.cloudfront.net/downloads/Tifentale_Alise_Selfiecity.pdf
  1. https://www.rencontres-arles.com/CS.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=ARL_3_VForm&FRM=Frame%3AARL_7&LANGSWI=1&LANG=English
  1. http://manovich.net/index.php/projects/selfiecity-exploring
  1. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3154758/Kim-Kardashian-selfie-taking-installation-Madame-Tussauds.html
  1. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3736305/Kim-Kardashian-reveals-expanding-selfie-book-Selfish.html

Appendices:

1.

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-18-13-08

2.  Penelope Umbrico
: email:

screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-14-06-363.  Penelope Umbrico PDF: umbrico_notes-on-suns-from-sunsets-from-flickr-and-related-work-2006-ongoing_low-res

Self reflection:

What went well:

  1. Reconnecting with Janus & finding the serendipity of 1 of the writers of the Arles 2011 manifesto linked to the Pompidou Centre which linked to Janus!
  2. Linking very contemporary articles with 17th century thinking.
  3. Discovering the ‘selfie’ research & how it could link with the essay.
  4. Discovering the breadth & depth to Penelope Umbrico’s work.
  5. Discovering the 2011 Arles manifesto & linking it to the Futurist manifesto which changed my attitude to the 2011 manifesto: I initially took it at face value but, when I analysed the language used, I came to a very different conclusion.

What could have gone better:

  1. I found I was rushing the work because I had so much else on.
  2. I wish I could have spent more time investigating Kessels’ work.

Assessment:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills: Not needed in this assignment.

Quality of outcome: It’s not perfect but the aims tied up with the conclusions.

Demonstration of creativity: In using Janus to tie the whole essay together.

Context: Adequate contextualization of the salient points analysed.

Tutor’s report

As ever, Clive’s report came, swiftly and concise:

Overall Comments

A convincing piece of work.

Feedback on assignment

I’m not going to quibble about the arguments, not that I’ve got anything substantive to say on that scored. It’s intelligently argued using interestingly selected resources and research.

The Janus theme was a very good idea. You’re obviously accomplished at constructing evidenced written arguments.

The only point I would make is about structure. You need to make it easily consumable at assessment so break the text up in to smaller ‘bite sized’ ideas and some subheadings would be useful.

You might consider beginning with a bullet list which lays out the structure of the document and hence your argument.

As an assessor I’ve always found it useful to know where I’m being taken and why before we set out.

Also it might be an idea to get someone to proof read it.

This is something I spotted, it maybe intentional it may not,…

‘Janus, an all-seeing mythical, irrational god, still stalking our post-modern, would

not take or make selfies, in my opinion. As god…’

Should it be ‘post-modern world’ and ‘As a god’?

Coursework

All fine

Research

Ditto

Learning Log

All tickety boo now.

Suggested reading/viewing

You know what you’re doing and what you need, carry on.

Pointers for the next assignment / assessment

You’ve already suggested an idea to me so let’s see where it goes. Any advice you need in the interim please email me.

I have every confidence in your abilities.

 

Reflection on the tutor comments:

I feel that the comments are very relevant and leave no doubt as to what I should do which I hope will be reflected in my reworked essay below.

 

Revised assignment:

The contents page, the references i.e. bibliography, websites, magazine articles & appendices etc have not changed so I will not replicate them here.

What is your understanding of the ‘digital self’ and what is the effect of our everyday use of photography upon it. Discuss using relevant case studies and published research.

                                                                        OR

                                            Would Janus take make a selfie?

Theoretical structure:

Guy Debord’s ‘Society of the spectacle’ and in particular thesis 13: “The basically tautological character of the spectacle flows from the simple fact that its means are simultaneously its ends. It is the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the world and bathes endlessly in its own glory.” (Debord 1970:13)

The guiding thoughts and questions:

  •  The passivity and self-referential qualities are encouraged by social media (with a strong consumer bias).
  •  What constitutes the digital self?
  • Why involve Janus, a Roman mythical god, in discussing photography in the 21st Century?
  • Could a photography exhibition change the way we look?

Why Janus?

Janus was the double-faced god of beginnings, endings, gates, doorways, passages, time and transitions. In houses he was often put facing external doors to protect the household from disasters.   In the Pompidou Centre, that very visible, endlessly photographed example of post-modern architecture in Paris, the images on both sides of a board hanging in the central market hall are those of President Pompidou. Facing in opposite directions, they signify a transition or passage from the modern to something beyond it. When it was built in 1970, one of the principal architects, Renzo Piano, said that the design concept was based on a medieval market place where, on the interlinked and intersecting layers of spaces, people would meet and talk. So we have a paradox of an ultra-modern expression using a medieval concept as a vehicle to ring in the revolution-avoiding socio-political changes so necessary in France post May 1968.

The digital age and consumerism:

In his documentaries entitled “The Century of the self,” (2002) Adam Curtis illustrates how the consumer-led policies of the early 20th Century are still in place today in the USA and in the rest of the industrialized world. The series focuses on how the work of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was used by business and politicians to read and fulfill created desires to control the masses, develop consumerism and how people saw themselves.   The prime protagonist in the series is Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew, who picked up on Freud’s contention that people are irrational and that if you pander to their selfish desires, tap into their deepest fears, in every field, they become docile and malleable. Furthermore, if you could link a product to their emotional desires and feelings you could persuade people to behave irrationally believing that they felt better for buying a certain product. The late 1920’s saw the flourishing of consumerism in the USA, the start of political spin and the commodification of Hollywood and its celebrities, and the Wall Street crash. In an interview following the death of Marilyn Munroe in 1962, playwright Arthur Miller maintains that rather than freeing man, consumerism was controlling and defining him and that it was part of the power-mad ideology of the times.

Elaine Glaser, author of Get Real: How to see through hype, spin and lies of modern life states “ When every person in a train carriage is staring at a small illuminated device, it is an almost tacky vision of dystopia. … Technology – along with turbo-capitalism – seems to me to be hastening the cultural and environmental apocalypse. The way I see it, digital consumerism makes us too passive to revolt or to save the world.” This illustrates precisely what Bernays was trying to create in the 1920s, and what debord maintained regarding the character of the spectacle. To complete the picture, in the 1950’s, Theodor Adorno wote in The Dialectic of Enlightenment: ‘Not only do we have the freedom to choose what was always the same, but, arguably, human personality had been so corrupted by false consciousness that there is hardly anything worth the name any more. “Personality,” they wrote, “scarcely signifies anything more than shining white teeth and freedom from body odour and emotions .’(Jeffries)

Digital imaging relevance:

In his 2013 publication, Martin Lister includes the essay “The digital image in photographic culture” by Rubinstein and Sluis in which they introduce the Janus principle :“Like a two-faced Janus, photography points in two directions at once: one side faces the objects, people and situations as they appear in the ‘real’ world, and is occupied with the representation of events by flattening their four dimensional space onto the two dimensional plane of the photograph … the other side points towards photography’s own conditions of manufacturing, which is to say towards the repetition and serial reproduction of the photographic image.” (Lister p. 25) This essay will show if or how this illustrates aspects of the digital self by identifying the transition moments and the ways in which the new medium has formed and adapted how we look, meaning both how we appear and how we see. The work used to substantiate the points made are the photography of Penelope Umbrico and Erik Kessells, the manifesto of the 2011 Rencontres d’Arles exhibition (Appendix 1) and the 2012 paper Selfiecity: exploring photography and self-fashioning in social media by Tifentale and Manovich (9).

How true is our digital imaging?

To Martin Heidegger in 1977 is ascribed the observation that “representation is the key characteristic of the modern age” in which “ the world becomes a picture and the human being becomes a subject.”(Lister p.25) Heidegger goes back to the 17th Century, to Descartes who maintained that representation was the marker of modernity because it concerned itself with truth founded on rational and abstract principles rather than on subjective or aesthetic ones. Descartes was talking in scientific terms where experiments could be repeated and the outcomes could be represented in diagrammatic form, without any subjectivity or aesthetics involved. In making the assumption that humans are rational and capable of objectifying the world of knowledge in graphs and diagrams, he makes us consider the converse, that humans can express themselves in subjective, aesthetic, artistic and metaphysical terms too. The ontology of photography has been based on the visual representation of the science of optics, the mechanics of automatism and the objectivity of rational representation.   Logically, this all gave photographs, created by a rational human author, the credibility of having transferred reality from the object to its re-presentation.   With the advent of digital photography, based on the binary system of computer language, we would expect that that scientific quality would sustain the idea of objective representation operated by a rational human to produce objective, credible, reproducible representations. This is supported by that sage of all photographic sages, Roland Barthes who states: “The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed relations which ultimately touch me, who am here.” (Barthes, 1981:80). Those who are au fait with dark room photographic practices as well as with digital algorithmic capabilities, know that people are involved in the production of an image, be it on paper or on the screen and that the process, therefore, will involve more than just scientific, mathematical or rational principles.

Psychological implications:

Psychologist Dr Tamara Hicks claims in an article of 2010 that we all have a ‘digital mask’ to engage with the technological world. She goes on to identify the plethora of internet technologies which had been introduced and to which we can add so many others which surface daily under the conceit of digital culture. Hicks observes “… All of this technology has come at us so fast and furiously that we haven’t had the time to think about how our relationship with it shapes our very identity.”(PT) It seems, therefore that the ‘digital self’ is under constant change and that we, the ‘self’, are not aware of who we are any more.

Despite the fact that we know how we are being manipulated to keep capitalist fires burning, we continue to define ourselves, unwittingly perhaps, by the information we upload to all the sites of which we are subscribers. Do we know who picks up our information, where in the world or why? Not really. The groups we belong to on Facebook and other social media websites, the ‘private’ conversations on Whatsapp or Snapchat, the searches we make on the internet, the items we purchase online, the articles we post or repost or share on social media all become part of the complex algorithms which define our composite selves and ‘know’ us better than we know ourselves.   All the information is fed to commercial enterprises which then target us using the information we have voluntarily given up. The ends are the means.

Rencontres d’Arles 2011 Manifesto:

Linguistic analysis:

The manifesto, written by Erik Kessels, one of the curators of the 2011 Rencontres d’Arles exhibition (appendix 1), reflects the style of the Futurist manifesto which appeared in 1909, and observers might be forgiven for thinking that the 2011 one is a parody of its predecessor. It is very assertive by marking the changes starting with the adverb and punctuation mark “NOW,” and “ABSOLUTELY PRESENT.”   In the present , and the future by implication, things relating to photography are and will be different.   The translation of the prose part of the 1909 Futurist manifesto reads: “With it, today, we establish Futurism, because …” (Italianfuturism.org).

The pronoun ‘We’ occurs in both manifestos and is emphatic in both. Although the ‘We’ in the 1909 manifesto refers only to one (Italian) man, Marinetti, the ‘WE’ in the 2011 manifesto refers to five European men, 4 of whom are established in the canon of professional photographers and one a professional curator. Given the background of the co-signatories of the 2011 manifesto, is it legitimate to feel that their ‘WE’ resents the intrusion onto their professional territory of every amateur Tom, Dick and Harry photographer using any conceivable image making product and scissors?

There is in both manifestos an emphasis of a separation from the past “WORK THAT HAS A PAST BUT FEELS ABSOLUTELY PRESENT”(Appendix 1.) “Our fine deceitful intelligence tells us that we are the revival and extension of our ancestors—…”(Futurist manifesto)

Is everyone a photographer now?

The curators have gone beyond the question ‘Is everyone a photographer?’ the photography equivalent of the 1975 Joseph Beuys poster “Is everyone an artist?‘’ because it states “ WE ALL RECYCLE, CLIP AND CUT, REMIX AND UPLOAD” which also implies that we have all gone beyond taking images, we now make images in a myriad ways and all under the umbrella of digital photography. Furthermore, in the introduction to the Arles 2011 catalogue, Clément Chéroux, curator of the Pompidou Centre and co-writer of the manifesto, claims that the importance of images has gone from ‘newness’ to ‘intensity’. In clipping and cutting (frivolous, reductive terms explaining how images are ‘made’ today), we are no longer stealing someone else’s work because the images are seen as collective cultural property and the astronomical numbers of images uploaded daily make the practice of sorting through them appear as an OCD, a madness, a loss of rational behavior taking away from the serious expertise, intentions and authorship involved in the original images.

Penelope Umbrico:

One of the artists on show at the Arles 2011 exhibition was Penelope Umbrico whose work is eye-catching and constantly evolving. She defines herself as “an artist whose subject is photography. …It has expanded beyond the field and there are very few boundaries –”(Martin 3.2) Her most famous work is Suns from sunsets on Flick’r which started in 2006 and is on-going as more sunsets are added to the website.

Figure 1:

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Suns from sunsets on Flick’r (2006) (With kind permission of the author)

Her work deals with the flood of images, in this case of suns on Flick’r, which are uploaded without any reflective or critical judgement.   Through her work, Umbrico asks us to reflect on the role played by image making and image makers in an image-saturated world. Having claimed that, Umbrico goes on to make yet more images of the over-imaged which seems to contradict her initial premise.

Although in her MA thesis on Umbrico, Minjung “Minny” Lee writes about ‘visual ecology’ which, as she explains in a footnote, was a term coined by Juan Fontcuberta (also one of the Arles 2011 manifesto contributors) to mean “the activity of artists appropriating found photographs instead of making new photographs. This recycling of images actually helps the environment, as it does not take up any new server space.” (idem) . Is the space not doubled every time an image is appropriated because it now exists on yet another server space? Umbrico and Erik Kessels continue to make work that questions our online photography behaviour making us pause to think about what our actions show about us and about society in general, how our actions impact on our constantly changing perspectives on ourselves and society. As the manifesto implies, we can make limitless images which we can ‘share’ with the world and nobody can limit our production. There is no more need for the focus groups analysed in “the Century of the Self” because all the information needed by policy makers and corporate companies is there for anyone to use.

In using the grid format to present her work, Umbrico does not present a narrative we can read in sequence and interpret. Instead, the reading of the composition takes us beyond the limits of the grid frame to wonder where all these representations of suns are taking us and why we have this compulsion to make images of sunsets to then upload them. If there is an entry point into the sun grids it is not clear. What does it say about those who upload the images? Who are we collectively? How many ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ do we want for our images? Umbrico sees the abundance of visual information on the internet as “a visual index of data that represents our collective thoughts, ideas desires and so it is a constantly evolving and spontaneous auto-portrait.” (Martin p. 3) The more we interact with the media and the technology, “the more they function as indexical records.” (idem)

Erik Kessels:

The exhibition at the 2013 Rencontres d’Arles by Erik Kessels’ “24 hours of photos”, presented the same problem as Umbrico’s practice does. Kessels printed the million images which had been uploaded on to social media in a day and dumped them in a room of the Palais de l’Archevêché. Does this represent visual ecology too?

Figure 2:

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My photograph of the Erik Kessels room at Rencontres d’Arles, 2013

The installation resembled an avalanche of images about to obliterate the viewers – do we go beyond admiring the idea and its execution?

Selfies: endless self promotion or brand advertising or is it the same thing?

The multi-disciplinary team which worked on the Selfiecity project in thirteen global cities, analysed the demographics, the poses and expressions of those taking them. A selfie, according to Oxford Dictionaries, is “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” Jenna Wortham of the New York Times calls them “a “virtual “mini-me,” what in ancient biology might have been called a “homunculus” – a tiny pre-formed person that would grow into the big self.” (7). Also relevant to this essay is an attitude of Karen Nelson-Field, author of Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013): “We now all behave as brands and the selfie is simply brand advertising.  Selfies provide an opportunity to position ourselves (often against our competitors) to gain recognition, support and ultimately interaction from the targeted social circle. This is no different to consumer brand promotion.” (7) Debord would simply say QED at this point.

Apart from falling prey to the self-promotion, self-revealing ploys of online quizzes and other ‘fun’ social media activities, selfies express in current technological form what pen or paint portraits did in the past and reflect the revolution in snapshot photography for the masses associated with the Kodak Brownie camera introduced in February 1900.

In a dossier on the selfie in the 2014 January-February edition of Fisheye, it states that ‘selfie’ was first used in 2002 on an Australian online forum, and the ‘♯selfie ‘ in 2005 on Flick’r, but its usage did not take off until 2012 and accepted in the online Oxford dictionary in 2013. The same article states that celebrities are a step ahead of other mortals and quotes Justin Bieber who ‘selfied’ his tattoo, his six-pack, himself with a groupie, with his blond girlfriend … until eventually, the article states, “The singer quickly understood how to make people talk about him and how to make business.” (Fisheye p. 27 – my translation) In 2013 he invested $1.1 million in the app ‘Shots of me’ which allows users to make, to share, to like and to geolocate images of themselves. Kim Kardashian (10) also posted advice, it states, on how to take the perfect selfie … with pout. Last year she published a 448 page book of her selfies which sold 125,000 copies in the first three months. ( 11).

Figure 3:

Kim Kardashian selfie with pout:

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-17-35-18

Tumblr joins the circus with sections on selfies taken in serious places like at funerals (Obama, Cameron et all at the funeral of Nelson Mandela) and in front of books in a library.

Conclusion:

The passage from old to new in photography seems to have been marked by, inter alia, the 2011 Arles manifesto reflecting a decisive shift to the ‘cut, clip, remix and upload’ (appendix 1), where you no longer needed to be a professional photographer but its pejorative ‘a species of editor’ (Appendix 1)  to show your photographic work to the world. This work ‘that feels like play’ like that of Penelope Umbrico, exhibited at Arles in 2011, has a serious critique of those unfettered practices lacking self-checking controls. Does the supposition that it feels like play mean that it lacks the gravitas of previous photography? The acceptance of the word ‘selfie’ in the Oxford dictionary in 2013 gives legitimacy to a practice which confirms unbridled digital self-promotion apparent on social networks which, sustained and abetted by new technologies, replicates and sustains those advertising practices started in the 1920s by Edward Bernays.  Commerce sees the ‘homunculus’ grow, in certain respects, daily, as do their profits.

It seems that the period between 2011 and 2014 was pivotal in photographic history when change set in; when social media, engendered by technology, allowed digital practices to mark a shift in people’s online behaviour and when selfies did not constitute our only indexical selves. It also signifies a time during which corporate companies adapted to these changes and continued using consumer profiles to boost sales. Unable to resist consumerism and conformity, whether seen as a rational Cartesian being or an irrational, fear-ridden Freudian consumer, the self occupies centre-stage in representations of the world, regardless of audience, and becomes its principal subjected end-product. The digital self is branded by capitalism, time, technology and social media.

Janus, an all-seeing mythical, irrational god, still stalking our post-modern world, would not take or make selfies, in my opinion.  As a god, he does not need to promote himself, he does not need to fight for supremacy in his community of one, his status never changes. As such, he does not need our ‘like’ or ‘share’ or the subjective aesthetics of Kim Kardashian, she of the (absence of) white teeth and free of body odour, to boost his self-image. Can he of ancient Rome protect us from our cultural apocalypse?

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The start of my sketchbook.

One of the topics for discussion at the last Thames Valley Group meeting was ‘sketchbooks’ and how we use them.  I only started using one, as an experiment, in April, after I had started the DI&G module .  Why was everyone insisting that they were an indispensable tool in their practice?  Why are so many esteemed photographers including their sketchbooks in exhibitions of their work?  I have suddenly realised that my starting with sketchbooks came after an OCA study day to see the “Gathered Leaves” by Alec Soth exhibition at the Science Museum, London, in which his sketchbooks, which I could barely see in the vitrines because I was in a wheelchair, made a very big impression on me.  It also helped that I found his work so inspiring and could see its development in his sketchbooks.

I am putting the first 2 pages of my sketchbook experiment here because fellow TVG member, Anne, blogged that she was not sure how to start her sketchbook & I couldn’t upload my images in the ‘Comments’ section of her blog.

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Page 1 of my first ever sketchbook.
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Page 2 of my first ever sketchbook.

Perhaps ‘sketchbook’ does not seem to be the appropriate word at this stage but, later on , this happens:

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On the left hand page, there are 4 ‘flaps’ with images which are linked to the ideas underneath.
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Ideas on part of an exercise in Part 2

Page 79: Exercise 3.4: Post-photojournalism.

Page 79: Exercise 3.4

Post-photojournalism.

Brief: Look at the work of one of the practitioners discussed in this project. Write a short analysis of one of their projects or the practitioner’s overall approach. Comment on how appropriate you think their creative responses are. What is your impression of the evolving nature of photojournalism?

There are three requirements in this exercise:

  1. Choose a practitioner and do a short analysis of his work.
  2. Comment on the appropriateness of his creative responses.
  3. Give my impression of the evolving nature of photojournalism.

  1. The photojournalist is Tim Hetherington whose work I came across by accident, as I shun war photography generally, three years ago, . There was something about his images which presented a different perspective on the subject so I bought his book ‘Infidel’.  The book has an introduction by Sebastian Junger who was with Tim in Afghanistan for a total of five months, sometimes together and sometimes separately. They worked together on assignment with one platoon in the Korengal Valley, which is known as the deadliest valley in Afghanistan. They recorded video to document their experiences, and this footage went on to form the basis for Restrepo, the movie, the outpost where Junger and Hetherington were embedded, which was named after a combat medic, Juan Restrepo, killed in action.

In the introduction, Junger sets out the situation & conditions in which Tim produced his work: “There was nothing at the outpost – no running water, no hot food, no communication with the civilian world, no alcohol, no drugs or girls or entertainment of any kind – and so if the enemy didn’t shoot at you, it was pretty much a wasted day in your life … it was very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that without combat there was no story to tell. … I remember one stifling June day in the middle of a real combat drought – nothing for two weeks straight – and almost every soldier at the outpost was asleep … I remember sitting there thinking that this was pretty much hell on earth: twenty guys trapped on a hilltop with the heat and the dust and the tarantulas and the flies and nothing to do but wait for someone to try to kill them.” (1. p15)  Tim came creeping through the camp and said: “You never see them like this, they always look so tough, but, when they’re asleep they look like little boys. They look the way their mothers probably remember them.” (idem) and this started Sebastian writing.

When I look at the images, I do not see the anguish normally associated with war photography. In the portraits of the soldiers I see people having fun, a sense of brotherhood, a community displaying emotions seen in normal, everyday life. The men are human beings with normal, everyday needs and expressions. It is this ability to see the person inside the uniform which I thought was breathtaking in the work.

           In the film, Restrepo the movie, as Junger explained, “It’s a completely apolitical film.         We wanted to give viewers the experience of being in combat with soldiers, and so our cameras never leave their side. There are no interviews with generals; there is no moral or political analysis. It is a purely experiential film.” (2)

  1. How appropriate is his creative response?

Tim found stories to tell in moments when there appeared to be none. He found ways of telling those stories in ways nobody else seems to have found relevant: the poster, next to a bunk bed, of a naked pin-up woman behind an insect strip covered in flies / ?, hanging just in front of the woman is a fly swat , while above the poster is a black spider happy not to be caught on the insect strip.   Torment in many guises caught in an image. Hetherington found ways to reflect the living human element in a war zone / the deadliest outpost in Afghanistan. Could anyone be more creative in such circumstances.

In the video on what constitutes conceptual photojournalism (3), Broomberg and Chanarin were so dissatisfied when they were asked to judge the World Press Photo Awards that there were so many clichéd images from Afghanistan and Iraq which seemed to repeat the ideas photographed in the Vietnam war, that they started asking questions of photography in a war zone: What constitutes legitimate photographs of soldiers at war? They refer to an image in the competition by John Moore taken in Rawalpindi on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007 which acted as a catalyst for their conceptual work. The image is blurred and askew & had no information except attesting to the fact that he, the witness, was there. This image made the photographers ask the question “ How much does a photograph of an event need to represent that event to be evidence of the event?   How much do we need to see for the image to act as evidence? They asked the question ‘How can we be subversive as embedded photographers in Afghanistan?’  The only way was to refuse to take a picture, to deny the photograph; the embedding form which photographers have to sign does not allow them to take images of dead or wounded soldiers or of enemy fire & no visual evidence of conflict at all. Given those restrictions, the pair went to Afghanistan, with digital a camera and a roll of light sensitive paper and took what has since become that icon of what to them is true, & the antithesis of photography “The Day Nobody Died” (2008).  The images they took with their digital camera they deleted.

Which of the two bodies of work is more creative? If the embedding rules given to us in the video by Broomberg are correct, then Hetherington contravened them by showing a dead/wounded soldier (1. p80) which gives the punctum in the body of work which otherwise would lose its gravitas. In my opinion, Broomberg & Chanarin do not enlighten me regarding any aspect of the war – their piece simply tells me that they were somewhere where the light affected their light-sensitive paper in that way. Their work makes me reflect on war imagery generally, and I agree with them that it has neither changed nor affected opinions or the outcomes of war much over the incessant world conflicts. They claim that their work is anti-conceptual. Val Williams refers to their work as “idiosyncratic, inventive and iconoclastic. … end products which are very much encompassed within the terms of artistic partnership – a free-ranging thought process contained within very particular boundaries of carefully tempered and organized working practices.”(4). Williams claims that their work is “work which emerges is a combination of art practice, archival experiments and a very singular form of photojournalism.” (idem)

Tim Hetherington presented the war in ways not done before, but, given the embedding rules, and wanting to present conventional images, there was little else he could have done. He gave his subjects a voice: he recorded their views of their situation at the end of the book. In the film ‘Restrepo the movie’ which he did with Sebastian Junger and which won and was nominated for multiple awards, Hetherington brought the internal world of the soldier into sharp focus. How appropriate was his creative response? Given his restrictions as an embedded photographer, in my opinion it was more resourceful response than a creative one. Had I not seen the work of Broomberg and Chanarin, I would have said Tim’s work was very creative.

  1. My impression on the evolving nature of photojournalism.  Given the emerging democratized photojournalism of the people by the people, and Fred Ritchin’s prognosis that we will not have conventional newspapers after 2020, I can see that the light at the end of the tunnel for the career is a train coming the other way. The only thing which will temporarily slow down its demise is if the authenticity of the images supplied by the public is brought into question time and again. The quality of the images in terms of composition and technical quality,is no longer important; in fact, the grainier and the more out of focus an image is, the more it is considered authentic and it is the authenticity of the digital image which can so easily be altered which has damaged the whole digital apparatus for conventional photojournalists. It does not appear to matter that analogue images have been altered before but it is the ease with which this can be done which seems to cause offence. I suspect that the UGC is so popular because the public feels that they could have taken the image – it makes people feel that they were there. The UGC practice has blurred the boundaries between the formal photojournalist and the smartphone user – there is no more us & them. The newspaper content is constantly changing: like the focus groups highlighted in the series “The century of the self”, newspaper editors are aware of what readers want; what expands circulation figures is not in-depth debates and questioning but infotainment; not political analysis but sensational images. In his analysis of Restrepo the movie, Junger stresses that “there is no moral or political analysis. It is a purely experiential film.” (2) In cash-strapped newspapers, what the people want is what the people get. Fleet street is no longer the hive of news industry – there are no more newspapers being produced there. As Fred Ritchin indicates, we will soon be producing our own equivalents of on-line social media newspaper articles in our own virtual communities.  Our social media pages already circulate articles from the papers and other news media read and shared by people who have the same interests as we do – but they have their own journalists with their own smartphones.  Big digital or analogue cameras can put their users, seen as ‘professionals’,  at risk if they are in sensitive situations like the London riots of 2010

References:

  1. Hetherington, T. 2010. Infidel. Chris Boot.
  2. Wikipedia: Sebastian Junger
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TvpxG9fLqo
  4. http://www.broombergchanarin.com/no-statistics-text-by-val-williams/
  5. http://restrepothemovie.com
  6. Ritchin,F. 2013. Bending the Frame. Aperture.

Page 75: ex. 3.3: Breaking the news.

Page 75: Exercise 3.3

Breaking the news.

Brief: Read this blog about the New York Post’s image of a man about to be killed by a subway train. Read the details of the blog carefully and write up your own analysis of the event. Comment on the ethical decision of the commuter who took the picture.

 

My analysis of the event:

Is the event in question the publishing of the photograph, i.e. the intent of the newspaper editorial team, or the taking of the photo, i.e. the intent of the commuter / photographer? In both cases, we can only surmise because the intentions are not given in the article.

 

The intent of the newspaper team:

Possible intentions: because the photo appeared on the front page, neither the victim nor the photographer were well-known and no reasons were given overtly or covertly for publishing the image, we can assume that sensationalism / ‘lurid curiosity’ (2), which leads to increased circulation and therefore revenue, was at the heart of the m.o. in this case, in my opinion.

 

The article (2) tells us that ethical guidance such as ““Minimize Harm” section of the SPJ’s Code of Ethics, a set of working guidelines voluntarily adopted by journalism schools and many working journalists. The section advises journalists to show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. It also says to avoid pandering to “lurid curiosity” and to show “good taste” when covering gruesome subjects.” (2)

Photojournalists are guided by their own newspaper’s code of ethics which covers the editorial team too. In this case the commuter / photographer is not bound by any ethical standards, but those who publish the images are. John Long, for 15 years chair of the NPPA ethics committee states: “Newspapers have an obligation to publish images, even horrifying ones, that might affect public debate over important issues … we as a society could learn from them and make decisions for society,” (1). I have no idea what we would learn from the publication of this image. Long adds: ““If I was the night editor, I don’t think I’d run it.” However, he adds, “it’s a contract between a paper and its readers, and it’s different from paper to paper. The New York Post is not known for its subtlety in taste decisions.”

Long reflects my analysis for the coverage of this incident by the NYP.

 

The intent of the commuter / photographer:

The stated intention for taking the photo was given as wanting to warn the train driver that something was amiss. Like the writer of both quoted articles, I don’t subscribe to it because he could have used the torch on his phone rather than the camera to alert the driver. If he had the presence of mind to use the flash on his camera, he could have had the same presence of mind to intervene in the situation by pulling the victim back, I think. Had I been there, I think I would have frozen to the spot & not been able to do anything given the pending disaster as I saw it happening, possibly in slow motion.

 

 

Of the commuter’s responsibility, John Long of the National Press Photographers’ Association ethical committee: “Your job as a human being, so to speak, outweighs your job as a photojournalist,” he adds: “ You live your life with the values you got somewhere along the line,” he says. “I do not approach photojournalism as the be all and end all. It’s an honorable profession, but the values I bring to my job come from other sources.” (1)

 

I am certain that, given the facility of taking and uploading images to social networking sites, we are also aware of the consequences of our actions. There is that time delay between those two actions in which we must be aware of what we are doing and why.

 

The case often cited which raises this thorny ethical question is that of award-winning photojournalist, Kevin Carter, who took the image in the Sudan of a starving child on her way to a feeding station, being seemingly stalked by a vulture and that Kevin committed suicide shortly afterwards: “an act some attributed to guilt over what he had witnessed.” (1)

 

In his book Bending the Frame, Fred Ritchin also tells us that shortly after having been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for that image, one of Kevin’s closest colleagues, Ken Oosterbrook, had died, killed in the cross-fire in a town outside Johannesburg. “Dealing with his own issues, including drug addiction and guilt, Carter was distraught … he committed suicide leaving a note explaining that he was ‘depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & hunger & pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners.   I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.” (Ritchin Pp 22-23).

 

So the implied cause and effect in the article (1) behind the suicide was not that straight forward. The same may be said of the commuter in this case who had probably never sold an image to the press in the past. As with the practices of photojournalists in the past, theirs is the responsibility to provide the images, the editorial staff take on the responsibility for how / if the image is broadcast. In this case, we are not dealing with a photojournalist who has been schooled in the ethical implications of diverting a course of action he has been asked to cover; could we be possibly dealing with a commuter who sees the role of a newspaper as an agent for the dissemination of infotainment?

There is enough material to cover this topic for a Ph.D proposal, never mind exercise 3.3 of a section of a module of a B.A. degree.

 

 

 References:

  1. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2012/12/04/new-york-posts-subway-death-photo-was-it-ethical/#72e047f01a6d
  2. http://www.ibtimes.com/new-york-post-subway-death-photo-unethical-or-just-tasteless-918619
  3. Ritchin, F.: 2013. Bending the frame. Aperture Foundation.

Page 72, Ex 3.2: a controversial image

Page 72: Ex 3.2

Brief:  Find one or two recent photographs within the public domain that you consider to be ‘controversial’ or to transgress social barriers. Write a short entry in your learning log (up to 500 words) about why you feel it is controversial.

A controversial image which transgresses social barriers.

From the Mailonline page:

Get ’em off! Armed police order Muslim woman to remove her burkini on packed Nice beach – as mother, 34, wearing Islamic headscarf is threatened with pepper spray and fined in Cannes (Mail online)

The image, which can be found here , has the following text attached to it: “The woman is then ordered to remove the blue garment. Most of the other people on the beach on a sweltering summer’s day were wearing trunks or bikinis.

The implications are that 1) the woman is challenging the status quo by not wearing what would be natural to wear on such a hot summer’s day; 2. She is not like the rest – her difference made her a target.  The ignorance shown by the editorial team on clothes worn in areas where there is little protection from a fierce sun further distances the subject in this image from the viewers.

This image and the text with which it appears transgress social barriers from a western culture because they are perverse: they exude sexism (why couldn’t the state use female police officers to handle the case?), racism (she appears to be the only woman of colour on the beach)and ageism (younger women were not threatened) on the part of the police officers, and the series of which this is just one image, reflects a voyeurism which embodies all the other perversions.

The complicity of the photographer in all the images compounds the attack on the woman.

The complicity of the newspaper editorial pack in all the images on its website compounds the attack on the woman.

The complicity of the press agencies who distribute the images compounds the attack on the woman.

This image reminds me of the images taken by Nazi photographers of the Jews in the concentration camps, analysed extensively in The Cruel Radiance by Suzie Linfield: like this woman, the Jews were helpless in the face of a nationalist ideology which objectified them.

Should this have any place in a society governed by the European Convention of Human Rights which was based on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which, in turn and ironically, was based on the Code Napoleon? In the preamble to the UDHR we find the following opening sentence:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

In which way is the woman in these series of images, forced to undress in public, treated with dignity? Her difference sets her apart and she appears therefore, to be a vulnerable target to the state.

If we look at the same image covered by the Guardian here, we find that her face has been obliterated (presumably to restore a modicum of dignity). The text under the Guardian image reads: French agency AFP saw a ticket given to the woman by police, which said she was not ‘wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism’. Photograph: Vantagenews.com.

 The mission statement of London based Vantage News on its website is:  Vantage News is a news/photo agency with a difference. Vantage News aims to provide the best, most professional and honest service to its suppliers and clients.

Is VN flicking off responsibility for providing the image by stating that Agence France Presse saw the ticket being given to the woman and so, by implication, called all the other news agencies to the party?

The same image appears on the front pages of most European national papers.  The composition  and technical qualities of the image make me think that it is taken by a press photographer who had been primed about the swoop and so could control all his/her honed skills in image making; it was not an example of democratised image making, in my opinion.

This image transgresses the social barriers set up by the European Convention of Human Rights in not affording this woman her human right to dignity.  The French law which had permitted this attack to take place has since been revoked and the attack declared illegal.  It has not stopped French Police going up to bathers wearing  hijab in the water and asking them to leave – again this is transmitted via images taken by photojournalists.

The cynic in me, however, makes me believe that this could be a huge set-up by the French press agencies to stir up public sentiments against Muslims at a time when there are no other catastrophe news to keep photojournalists working. Maybe.

 

 

 

TV Group meeting

We met at Bordon which, for me, meant an overnight stay with my eldest and another 90 mins drive on Saturday morning into the depths of I don’t know where but it’s a good thing that Fran in my SatNav knew!

It was a big meeting with 13 members, two of whom were new, plus tutor Jane Taylor.

What did not go well:

  •  Last time I attended a TVG meeting I came away with some good ideas to take my work forward.  This time, although we had some time at the end & I could have put my line out to see what others thought of my ideas, I felt that we had had a long day, people were tired and weren’t prepared for this.  So perhaps in future, a slot could be programmed into the meeting for discussing people’s current work.

What went well:

  •  I enjoyed seeing the continuation of the work  ‘Lifting the curtain’ Keith Greenough has done since his graduation.  I particularly liked the b/w images which seemed like pen and ink drawings which, combined with the art paper he chose to use, made the images look like art miniatures.
  •  I was glad I showed my messy workbook so that those who weren’t used to keeping a sketchbook did not feel they have to be neat and tidy.  Having said that, I did appreciate the neat sketchbooks on show as they looked like works of art in themselves and something I might aspire to in the future.
  • Although the discussion on the series “The Century of the self” by Adam Curtis did not start off well, there were several ideas being batted around the room which made sense to me.  I was pleased to have spent the 4 hours watching the series because, although it was not explicitly about photography, it was about how we see ourselves and how others see us & can choose to exploit what they see for their benefit, purporting  to be doing it for our benefit.  The concept of politicians using focus groups  to garner information about what people want in order to then use that information to keep themselves electable, reminded me of teaching practices in the last 20 – 25 years.    From my viewing, I particularly appreciated the comments made by playwright Arthur Miller on the idea of suffering & I shall be going back to them.
  • Everyone appreciated the effort Richard Down and Catherine Banks put in to organise the meetings to enhance our learning experiences with the OCA distance learning courses.  This  made me feel that I ought to be helping Amano organise events  in the SW as the expense of attending the TVG meetings and the study days in London is becoming quite prohibitive.