Exercise 4.2 – Foucault’s Theory of Panopticism

Facts taken from Foucault: Discipline and Punish (London, Penguin, 1977) with my own personal conclusion in the last paragraph.

Referring back to the great plague (17c), the measures taken had to be carefully planned (down to the finest detail) and executed. Just as the leper gave rise to rituals of exclusion, the plague gave rise to disciplinary projects.

They have both helped to achieve political dreams:

  • Leper – the dream of the perfectly governed city.
  • Plague – the ideal exercise of disciplinary power.

These are different principles but are not incompatible. In the 19th century, authorities exercised individual control function according to this double mode, branding (is he mad / sane, dangerous / harmless, normal / abnormal) and coercive assignment (who is he, how he is to be recognised, what sort of surveillance does he require). These were the principles developed for prisons, schools, hospitals . This led to the development of Bentham’s panopticon. By observing an outer curve from a central source it is possible to observe every point on this curve, therefore if, for example, criminals were placed around this curve, they could all be observed by one man. This is similar to the principle used today in a hospital intensive care unit. The principle can also be applied to small theatres where each actor is alone but observed by all.

Each prisoner is separated from another which is the exact opposite of those Hogarthian pictures of the masses. Control is better assured. The crowd is abolished and replaced by collective individualism. This has different but always positive effect on schoolchildren, contagious hospital patients, prisoners, madmen.

Another important mechanism devised by Bentham was that power should be visible and unverifiable and by clever design details, the use of venetian blinds etc. this could be achieved, particularly in prisons.

The panopticon allows the user to draw up differences through observation, symptoms of each patient, performance of each child etc. It can also be used as a machine to carry out experiments, to alter behaviour, to teach different techniques or to carry out different punishments.

In each application it is possible to perfect the exercise of power. This is done mainly by reducing the number of people exercising it and increasing the number it is exercised upon. This power can be used to intensify production, so this brings the theory into the commercial world. So the panopticon can unlock mechanisms throughout the whole social body.

After Bentham, Julius stated that the panopticon led to much more than architectural ingenuity. “It was an event in the history of the human mind.” Through it a whole type of society emerges.

The modern age poses the opposite problem: “To procure for a small number or even for an individual the instantaneous view of a great multitude”. We all operate within the panoptic machine, invested by its effects of power which we bring to ourselves since we are part of its mechanism.

In today’s terms our single gaze is directed outwards, towards digital media in particular, we are using a reversal of the panopticon to take control of our own personal worlds. We are no longer part of the “oppressed masses” but the implication is that the power which we exert will change the world and this is being seen at the moment via the use of social media in particular. Press photographers no longer exist, politicians can no longer deceive, vital information can  no longer be with held. Ref, Donald Trump, WikiLeaks and the recent successful campaign (on the ball) of the labour party.

Exercise 4.1 – False or Alternative Identities

Write an entry in your learning log (up to 500 words) about the creation of false or alternative identities online.


Link 2 – Online Games Unmasked

Characters in Second Life by Robbie Cooper

Bae Kyun – Eun is Persia

Plays a man because she thinks male avatars have more charisma. All the masters in the game are male. Enjoys interaction with others.

Lee Dong Chang is Bi UI

He is shy and has narrow human relationships. His avatar has the same characteristics.

Seang Rak Choi is Uroo Ahs

Poses as a little girl who buys and sells items in the game world. He has amassed a lot of gaming money (Adena).

Yoon Yae is Yahin

He is one of 33 Kings of Lineage. His managerial skills help him maintain control of Aden Castles.

Bill is Shipwreck

He transports gold bullion for the federal reserve. He logs on at Wi-Fi enabled truck stops and travels across virtual galaxies. He makes a lot of money.

Chris is Blakkphire

He plays city of heroes which is where he met his last girlfriend. He tries to make his character much like himself.

Mark is Marcos Fanzorelli

He manufactures and sells robot avatars to make an income of $200 per month (clothes for female avatars would make much more money).

Lee Eun – Sol is freelancer

He is an expert at magic. He doesn’t distinguish between reality and illusion.

T is War Catalyst

The game helped him move away from crime.

Matt is Mattokun

Uses the game to learn Japanese. He writes in Romaji and gets responses in Japanese text.

500 Words

Much has been said recently in the media about false information transmitted digitally via the social media sites in particular. This brings into question who is portrayed as false (Digital Identity) and who is real and whether it is possible to tell the difference.

Research on the course material and references via the course links show detail about the players of the computer game “Second Life” which started on the internet in 2003.

Players created avatars of themselves as they would like to be within the digital world and these avatars developed into more and more complex beings with a specific identity. They then visited other avatars and started to interact.

This was all very clean and above board and generally with no devious intent:

  • Mark Manufactures and sells robot avatars.
  • Chris plays “city of heroes”
  • Lee is an expert in magic and cannot decipher the difference between fiction and reality.

That was fourteen years ago and one of the current problems with a university degree information pack is that information is not static as it used to be.

So today things are different:

  • Donald Trump talks about misinformation and corruption within the press.
  • Theresa may employs advisers who appear to be working against the desires of key cabinet members.
  • There was Watergate and now there is “Russiagate”

So how do we know who to trust? Have our photographs been manipulated? Is the metadata inaccurate? Does the Queen tell the truth? Why don’t Sinn Fein attend the House of Commons?

There have always been warnings about Wikipedia, particularly from within academic establishments. But now that it is policed better than it was, it is probably a much more reliable source than many other sources of information.

For instance Wikipedia’s comment on the concerns related to online identity appear to me to be very sound (as follows):

“Primarily, concerns regarding virtual identity revolve around the areas of misrepresentation and the contrasting effects of on and offline existence. Sexuality and sexual behavior online provide some of the most controversial debate with many concerned about the predatory nature of some users.”

It is becoming apparent in 2017 that the connection between many (if not all) online and offline lives blur reality of experience with fiction. Back to the avatars created for “second life”. These were originally clearly defined but as time moved on the individual often found it difficult to separate out reality.

The development of virtual sex, for instance can drastically unsettle the division between mind, body and self (McRae). It is unlikely that this would have a positive effect.

However, the differences between Personal Identity and Digital Identity are not all for negative effect.

The freedom which social media has given to individuals who find it difficult to communicate face-to-face (for example autistic, blind, deaf, physically deformed or simply shy) has empowered them by allowing them to contribute what they have and previously found difficult to contribute, and has allowed them to grow at a much faster rate emotionally and with confidence.

Development of false identities will continue to grow (probably exponentially).

Part 4 – Digital Identities

Wikipedia Definition – “A digital identity is information on an entity used by computer systems to represent an external agent. That agent may be a person, organisation, application or device.”

An alternative to this which is much more palatable is “The entire collection of information generated by a person’s online activity. This includes usernames, passwords, online search activities, birthdate, social security and purchasing history. Especially where this information is publicly available, and can be used by others to discover that person’s civil identity, in the wider sense a digital identity is a version or facet of a person’s social identity.”


The Digital Self

Art provides opportunity for people to represent themselves.

Photography started with the “carte de visite” leading to the self portrait and then to the selfie.  The modern day equivalent of the carte de visite is the computer data which makes up a personal profile on, say, facebook or Instagram – photo, writeup, list of interest, contact details.

Avatars and Alter Egos

There are many examples of false identities being used on the internet. Often this is just a self flattering email address or an exotic chatroom username.

Second Life

The online game, second life, allows for the opportunity to develop alternative digital persona so that a person can blur the real and the imaginary. It is possible to create a personal 3-D environment and visit others:

Artists digitise work, exhibit and market to others.

Musicians digitise their performances.

the human psyche is multi faceted. Id / Ego / Super Ego.

Does super ego relate to digital self? Not really as digital self is more contrived than perfect.

After a detailed look at some of the characters in second life, the idea is developing to use the basis of this detail to write the answer to exercise 4.1

“Write an entry in your learning log (up to 500 words) about the creation of false or alternative identities online. “

This will be developed in the next blog.

Assignment 4 Planning

At this early stage of part 4, I have to consider ideas for assignment 4 – Digital Identities 1.
Idea: Take a person or group of people. Create a one minute video of each (say three total) describing their digital identity. Photograph them in their working environment and at leisure.
Possibly set up a website to display the results.

But first I need to log my discussion with Richard Weston (professional photographer and friend) relating to Assignment 4 planning.

Following my own personal brainstorm on the subject of Digital Identities, I showed Richard a rough diagram as follows:

Mind Map001A

The discussion started with an analysis of the diagram looking at groups of ideas which may interest me. It was important to choose a subject which I was passionate about. The first idea was to interview various people and discuss their digital identity producing short video clips about each one. This was my original idea but we also talked about false identities and avatars and, influenced by the course material referring to the avatars in “second life” we started to come towards the idea of a web based exercise looking at Facebook and Instagram. we talked about different approaches on facebook and considered whether there was a particular behaviour which would be of interest. I have a nephew who is autistic and who gains tremendous strength from the facebook community. Would that be a good subject to study?

But our conversation kept returning to false identities and in the end we agreed that the project should be based on setting up a new identity within Facebook and Instagram and monitoring how a digital identity could be developed from nothing.

The blog Assignment 4 – Digital Identities 1 continues from this point.





Assignment 3 -Critical Essay


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.


On interrogation of the OCA student website resources section and an exhaustive trawl of internet references it became apparent that there is no fixed definition of ‘The Digital Self’. The definition of this new subject is still evolving and, as “The Symbolic Interaction Journal” put it:

‘The impact of others in telecopresence on the formation of self has not been well studied’ (Zhao, 2005, Symbolic Interaction Journal)

Zhao goes on to try to define digital self by stating:

‘Based on the analysis of teenagers’ online experience, the present study shows that others on the internet constitute a distinctive “looking glass” that produces a “digital self” that differs from the self formed offline’

This definition was made in 2005, nearly twelve years ago. How have things changed since then? This article was referring to online presence, mainly referring to the development of teenagers. Today, there are 3.26 billion internet users, approximately 40% of the world’s population. At the turn of the century, the digital camera started to become a viable proposition for amateur as well as professional use. At this stage quality of picture was still poor but amateurs (and professionals) could see the potential and worked hard to convert from analogue technology. The fax machine started to die out and the digital scan came in. Photocopiers worked in colour as well as black and white. Telephone banking turned into online banking. Shopping was no longer about visiting the shops. Holidays were no longer booked through travel agents by asking them to telephone a resort and an airline or shipping company.

These changes have all contributed towards the formation of the digital self, a concept which is growing rapidly.

OCA course material for Graphic Design GD2 entitled “How to B” puts it well:

‘ We’re all digital now. In many parts of daily life the digital way is now the norm. Life is unthinkable without our digital life-support systems of smart software and sleek gismos’ (Graphic Design GD2, p.103)

So our digital self is many things and is in fact everything in our lives which requires some form of digital input. The majority of this is our life online but do we behave differently online to offline?

‘In early days our online activity did not have much influence over our real world persona. Things are very different today’ (Premuzic, Sept 24 2015, Guardian, How different are your online and offline personalities)

In 2015, according to OFCOM, UK adults were spending an average of 20 hours per week online, twice as much as 10 years previously. As the internet has gained importance in our lives we have given up anonymity, and have needed to mask our true identity online. Now online activity is an integral part of our real life and so as it changes our outlook on life so our real life personality changes.

At least 30% of our time online is devoted to social networking and this is one area where the integration of photography becomes powerful. No social networker needs to have a great understanding of photographic technique to produce excellent photographs at the right quality for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. An up to date mobile phone will take pictures that can be transmitted in seconds.

Apart from social networking, the mobile phone can be used by adults or children to provide photographs which illustrate our desired identity (e.g. for selling on ebay) , for recording everyday activities (on the spot) for use as citizen journalism, for identifying information all around us rather than writing it down (a quick photograph of the calorie count on the back of a cornflake packet) or for recording information useful for insurance claims, proof of location or who we are with. All this forms part of the digital self.

The use of video is now also expanding exponentially and this adds the parameters of movement and sound.

But it’s not only about the photographs which we take, it’s also about the millions of images we are subjected to continuously. An early piece of work within this course was to photograph every photograph seen in a one day period Exposure Exercise. The number of photographs ran into hundreds and the exercise ended up as quite exhausting. The influence, sometimes sub conscious, of these photographs on the self is immense.

Once again Thomas Chamorro Premuzic writing in the Guardian brings us right up to date. He states :

‘Today more social interactions are initiated, maintained and furthered online than offline’

If this is true, and it is certainly true for some people, does this mean that we have reached “digital saturation” or is there further to go? Digital saturation could be a little like compassion fatigue and have a negative impact on future generations.

For now, Premuzic says:

‘People do not interact digitally in the way they would interact in real life. At this point the digital self has well and truly broken away and started to develop a life of its own’

‘In this parallel existence, likeability is measured by the amount of ‘friends’ and ‘fans’ acquired’ (Premuzic)

Users judge themselves and self esteem varies according to user sensitivity.

The use of photographs can become a danger. The publisher will have lost track of whether or not the photographs are for public view or restricted (usually by default they become public) and will be unaware that photographs or text could be incriminating. e.g. information could be used by the press.

There is no doubt that people drop their guard when they are networking. Dr Premuzic believes that this is mainly because you no longer need to acknowledge the physical presence of the person you are dealing with. All physical influence is removed.

‘Humans are 80% visual creatures and crave for an image. Photos still say more to us and determine more whether we like someone or not, than a million words. This is how superficial people are: looks are all too-powerful and personality is a superficial second’ (Premuzic, 2015, Guardian)

So when does social networking become dangerous?

The simple answer to this is that it becomes dangerous when it becomes addictive. There are however benefits to social networking:

  • Relationships are made more quickly
  • Physical boundaries are eliminated
  • There is a structured approach.

‘Social networking is to relationships what google is to knowledge. The websites are neither good or bad. It depends on what users do.’

The use of a photograph can be enlightening, cheerful, comical, powerfully impressive,  confrontational, insulting, shocking or frightening.

Using social networking and therefore developing your digital self has become an essential part of life for many people. It helps all ages to communicate, to retrieve information, to gain employment, to share common interests but none of these devices or means have changed the fundamental reason, the core psychological motives underlying our relationship with others. We relate to people in order to get along or to get ahead and both motives are present in social networking contacts.

Another enormous upsurge springing from the digital self is the ease with which people manage to publish their own photograph.

‘The era of cheap, lightweight digital cameras has meant that people who did not consider themselves photography buffs are now filling ever-larger hard drives with thousands of images from their lives’ (Williams, 2006, New York Times, Here I am taking my own pictures)

With the introduction of the Kodak Brownie, virtually no citizen photographer was known to take a self portrait. There appeared to be some form of moral reserve. Nowadays the selfie stick has been manufactured in millions and at tourist sites all around the world it is often impossible to view the sites because of a constant barrage of selfie sticks in the way. ref.my recent visit to the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Selfies used to be for younger people but in a matter of a couple of years this has changed and even retired couples are taking to the scene.

Is this sudden increase in the interest in self portraiture explained by narcissism?  One explanation of this change in attitude is put forward by Dr Arnett , a Fulbright scholar at the University of Copenhagen:

‘This is the idea that adolescents think people are more interested in them than they actually are, that people are always looking at them and taking note of what they are doing’

He felt this was due to the fact that adolescents have been treated differently from birth (with more respect) and generally have a greater self worth. This self worth is starting to spread into other, older people, a sort of contagion.

Jim Taylor, a trend consultant with the Harrison Group in Waterbury, Connecticut was struck by the element of self marketing in adolescents.

‘When I was a kid I didn’t want my picture taken’

‘But these kids are fabulous self marketers’

They can use this to confirm their identity and convince themselves of their status in society. They are out partying, taking photographs, eating well, doing exciting things.

The quality of modern day camera equipment and processing has also have contributed to the rise of the selfie. Not only are the photographs more immediate, they are easy to manipulate. They can be shown close to perfection (airbrushed) or distorted in some other way.

By using photographs and associating them with other information it is possible to pull information together quickly as described by Fred Ritchin in his essay ‘Toward a Hyperphotography’ (Ritchin, 2009, After Photography).

A picture is the central nucleus of an information stream which can describe as much information about a subject as required. To the picture can be attached further pictures which fully describe (or even contradict) the item. Other written information, a video or cross references to web addresses can also be attached to expand the story. All this can be achieved digitally using metadata. The digital self is now often thinking in hyperphotographic terms in order to pull together the truth of a story and to use this truth to positive effect. The negative effect could also be extracted if required. Photographs and text are so widely published that there is never a shortage of material which can be easily found.

The course material for part 4 of Digital Image and Culture (Digital Identities) refers to social gaming and avatars under the heading of ‘The Digital Self’:

With the advent of social gaming and the creation of personal avatars, people participating in social media like to develop an image of themselves which is the image of how they wish to be presented rather than who they are. It may be a dog or a cat, it may be a thing of beauty or an aggressive warrior. These images have become more and more sophisticated as time goes by. One of the stimulants of this idea was the online game ‘second life’ introduced in 2003. Artists, musicians and gamers are examples of people who have developed complex online avatars. Art has been sold, complex online projects have been developed and interactive games are abundant. For many people now this has become a very large part of their digital self and has also strayed into their real lives.

Old family photos are being digitised and published on social media alongside more recent photographs for comedy, to show physical likenesses, to share historic information. This is adding to the power of communication and is particularly relevant when communicating with past school friends, college mates or work colleagues. The power of the photograph transmitted in this way is in the speed with which it can travel around the world and the number of people it can reach. One’s digital self can share a part of many of these images.

Each individual has the ability to become a citizen journalist, recording current situations by smartphone (either still or video) and to provide this information to the press or to the police or legal system to assist with publicising an incident. Well known examples of this are:

Alexander Chadwick’s screen grab of the London tube passengers walking through the underground tunnel on 7/7.

R Umar Abbasi’s photograph of a Chinese man about to be killed by an oncoming train on the New York subway.

This removes the filter of a political press and can empower individuals giving them the ability to influence political strategies. The digital self is a powerful individual.

So where does all this information go? Frank Gillett writes in the Guardian about the battle to serve your digital self. Cloud technologies account for between 60 and 70% of all stored digital data (personal or work stuff). This includes files, contacts, photos, music and videos. All the companies involved, Apple’s icloud, Microsoft’s Sky Drive, Google Drive and Dropbox, to name a few, are currently jockeying for position in the market and many of us are currently being targeted to use their product, often without realising it. At the same time we can join up for Apple Music, Spotify or Napster. These are all becoming part of our digital footprint, our digital self.

Based on current work carried out at Forrester, Cambridge Massachussetts, The battle to serve our digital selves is expected to unfold over the next six years (no sooner). Competitors, big and little, are in the race but none has a head start. ‘Individuals will come to be defined as much by where they store their digital selves as what their nationality is. Will you become a Google, ABT, a Carrefour or a Baidu? Your choices will remake the power dynamic of the online world.’

In the last 20 years we have been introduced to the worldwide web, emailing, chat rooms, online shopping, smart phones, internet gambling, internet pornography, snapchat, facebook, twitter, instagram, linkedin, pinterest, youtube, texting, tweeting, sexting, imusic, online searching, online dating.

So, what is the motivation behind mass digital social networking at the personal level? What feeds our digital self? Is the current upsurge of social networking likely to crack soon or will it increase at the same (or a faster) pace?

Not surprisingly, we are all struggling with our own self identity. Now is the time to hone our digital self into a self that is closer to our true self in order to attain sanity with integrity.’Like it or not, we all have a digital self, a mask that we put on to engage the technological world’ (Hicks, Aug 23 2010, Psychology Today)

Although a lot of the photography we use today appears to be becoming the norm, we cannot guarantee that it is fixed. The ability to manipulate images is continuing to develop and the miniaturisation of sophisticated digital techniques still has a long way to go. We have progressed from the Canon 5D to the Fuji XPRO to the iPhone 7. What is next for the citizen photographer and his user generated content?

Some see working within the digital self as an opportunity to develop their photographic creativity and certainly there are many creative photographs, self portraits or other, moving around the world. Fred Ritchin, in his book “After Photography” goes one step further:

“In a funny way I don’t see this as photography any more. It’s communication. It’s all an extension of cell phones, texting and emailing. The photograph becomes a part of the total information flow.”


Reference List

Zhao. S. (2005) Symbolic Interaction Journal: The Digital Self: Through the Looking Glass of Telecopresent Others

OCA Course Material, Graphic Design GD2, p.103: How to B

Chamorro-Premuzic. (2015) The Guardian: How different are your online and offline personalities.  

Chamorro-Premuzic. ((2017) Wonderlancer: The Digital Self (an exclusive interview with renowned psychologist Dr. Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Williams. A. (2006), New York Times: Here I am taking my own pictures

Ritchin.F. (2009) After Photography: Towards a Hyperphotography. WW Norton

Gillett. F. (2013) The Guardian: Personal cloud services and the battle to serve your digital self

Hicks. T. (2010) Psychology Today: Understanding and creating your digital self

Williams. Z. (2016) The Guardian: Me! Me! Me! Are we living through a narcissism epidemic?

Miles. L. (2017) IET Engineering Communities: Getting your Digital Self in Order





Exercise 3.4 -Post – Photojournalism

Look at the work of one of the practitioners discussed in Project 4. Write a short analysis of one of their projects or the practitioner’s overall approach. Comment on how appropriate you think their responses are. What is your impression of the evolving nature of photojournalism?


While researching for this essay, I considered the following photographers as suitable for this detailed study:

  • Benjamin Lowy
  • Tim Hetherington
  • Michael Wolf
  • Cristina De Middel
  • Richard Mosse
  • Suzie Linfield
  • Lewis Whyld
  • Patrick Chauval
  • Luc Delahaye
  • Jeff Wall
  • Emanuel Leutze
  • Sebastian Junger

My choice was to look at the work of Sebastian Junger and in particular his film entitled “Korengal”.

The Project

Junger was in Afghanistan with the late Tim Hetherington in 2008 living with the American troops in the Korengal Valley. He produced a film entitled Restrepo in 2010 “The chronicles and deployment of a platoon of US soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley”.

After this Junger produced a further film entitled Korengal in 2014. It is a documentary which picked up where Restrepo left off, taking the viewer deeper into soldiers’ experiences of the war in the Korengal Valley.

Korengal uses mainly film shot by Tim Hetherington in 2007 / 8 and attempts to delve deeper into the individual soldier’s experiences and emotions of combat.

The film comprises a series of “close in” interviews with the individual soldiers, mainly conducted after the soldier had returned home, coupled with scenes during combat and while the soldiers were at rest.

According to Junger:

“One of the things I wanted to communicate with this film is that combat is a lot of things. It is not just one thing. It is very exciting for everybody. It is very scary for everybody. It is incredibly meaningful. It is very very sad if you stop and think about what you are doing”.

42 US soldiers died in the Korengal valley before they  pulled out in April 2010.

Korengal examines the military life and experiences of these men. They are filmed in extreme close-up as they are interviewed. They express the most intense fear and exhilaration they have ever experienced. They express bonds between each other that go beyond the intensity of their own family ties. One soldier states that he would gladly die for one of his fellows.

The Korengal, known as the valley of death, is a beautiful place. It is a major highway for Taliban activity. The Americans intercepted their activity, therefore the Taliban fought back. The Taliban soldiers are ruthless fighters. “We were not hunting them, we were waiting for them to attack us. We were constantly looking into the abyss, hearts beating. Every day somebody was trying to kill us”.

One interview with a black soldier explains the hatred which he has received in certain parts of the regiment. In interview this is easy to express (and powerful) but on a still picture it is difficult to describe the feelings.

In expressing fear, one soldier explained “It’s frightening but you put the fear away”.

Another question was “Why did you join?”

Answer: To be a sniper, to fly in aeroplanes and to travel. The result was very different but I did make good friends, often with common interests.

This immediately asks us to question the purpose of this war. A newspaper headline would have been more about sensationalising the  events.

Some of the soldiers spoke of bravery, usually in a very humble manner. “We are not brave, A brave person is one who asks about his fellow men while in hospital with his arm missing”.

One or two soldiers were concerned about whether God would hate them after what they had done. They were not reassured by the statement “You did what you had to do”. Nobody has to do this, to kill innocent men. “The guilt sets in and drives you insane.”

“You get to a point where you don’t care whether you live or die. You shoot but you don’t bother to duck. But: Then you recover and want to carry on.”


These were the soldiers of the Battle Company Second of the 503rd Infantry Regiment 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

So this is a very small part of a large army but all the participants had a sense of pride that they were doing something big.

Once they returned home they were able to sleep well at night, reassured by the belief that they had helped the local people (in some cases released them from terror) and brought them into the 21st century. They missed their families and were glad to get back to America but a number of the participants would go back tomorrow (driven) if they were given the chance. It was the most exciting thing ever.

The technique of asking a number of soldiers the same question worked well. What is bravery? What is your favourite weapon? What feeling do you get when you kill?

The interviews (close) are extremely revealing and much more powerful than a front page headline. They speak of lost friends (and occasionally family) from “The Team”. The intimate (homely) settings for  the interviews describe what these people are like.  It is particularly strong that one of the soldiers keeps coming back with more comments. He was emotional and his emotion provided the very important link between the filmed story pieces.

The power of the film is enhanced by the knowledge that Tim Hetherington died from shrapnel wounds whilst on the field of combat. This concentrates the viewer’s mind on the risks each and every person present is taking.

Junger’s  creativity was apparent throughout the film and was responsible for the viewer seeing the interviews as a series of retrospectives linking with real time activities. Very cleverly the film allows you, the viewer, to do the thinking. Somehow he was able to use the interviews to draw extreme emotion from the viewer and therefore force the viewer to think very carefully about what was going on and to ask penetrating questions.

The film has an 86% rating (high) on Rotten Tomatoes. This confirms my belief that this format of reporting has had a strong influence on the viewer and is therefore extremely successful when compared to other forms of reporting.

The Evolving Nature of Photojournalism

The  effect of compassion fatigue caused by early traditional methods of reporting has led many artists to rethink the format of their work. Apart from the use of film as shown by Sebastian Junger, artists have been using the gallery as a way of exhibiting their work both with stills and moving pictures. Every exhibition I have seen recently at the photographer’s gallery has used video as an important ingredient. Other ways of displaying such as Richard Mosse’s use of infra red also use creativity of the artist to impress their purpose on the viewer.

I have also been to exhibitions recently where performance art has been used to stress a political view (Performing for the camera, Tate Modern, 18 Feb – 12 June 2016) and (Tiago Cadet: All Prima – Home Manchester – August 20 2016).

It is not possible to predict all that will happen in the field of Photojournalism in the future. With the recent onslaught of citizen journalism; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. are having a massive influence and as seen recently, Donald Trump (President of the United States) has used Twitter to consistently frustrate the media by bypassing traditional methods and telling “The Truth?” direct to the people (the viewer) for them to make up their own minds. We live in interesting times.




Project 4 – Re-Thinking Photojournalism 2: “Post Photojournalism”

Professional photojournalists are changing their practices due to the intrusion of citizen journalists. Many are changing to more sustained , investigative , documentary projects . Others are producing work in galleries, monographs and prints.

Citizen journalism started around 9/11 and therefore the way Afghanistan was presented needed to change to avoid compassion fatigue.

Link 7 – Compassion Fatigue

David Campbell writes that it is a general belief that photographs of atrocity induce a numbing of our emotional capacity to deal with that information. World Press Photo award winner (2012) Pietro Mastruzo noted “shocking pictures no longer communicate any more”. Others, Eve Arnold, Peggy Nelson, Pavrati Nair, Gerry Badger, Xeni Jardin, Danfung Dennis, Charlie Beckett, Susie Linfield (The Cruel Radiance) have all reflected the same argument and it was probably Susan Sontag who is most famously connected to this argument in “On Photography” 1977.Sontag however retracted many of her arguments “in regarding the pain of others”.

The dictionary definition of compassion fatigue cites the diminishing response to charity appeals as evidence but, at the moment charity appeals are not having a diminished response so how can compassion fatigue exist? This is the subject of David Campbell’s thesis.

Link 8 – Infra

This project by Richard Mosse for the Deutsche Borse prize 2012 attempts to use infra red photography to try to diffuse the effect of compassion fatigue by putting an artistic (gallery) stamp on his work. Infra red film was used for military surveillance thereby linking the medium to the type of photograph defining atrocity which Richard Mosse has undertaken.

Benjamin Lowy and Tim Hetherington worked in Iraq and Afghanistan, embracing smart phone technology. Sometimes the pictures use the Instagram filters to try to attract the attention of fatigued viewers. this was all in 2012 and is pretty much history now. One of the advantages of the smart phone is the speed at which information can be transmitted out to the media. Pictures can also be edited almost instantaneously and in the case of Benjamin Lowy, this means editing to catch the public eye.

It is this need to transmit information in a way which will catch the eye that so many modern photojournalists have learned to employ. For example, Paul Chauvel has taken his photographs of war torn countries home to Paris and shown them intermingled with touristic scenes of Paris to elicit sympathetic and urgent responses. Not an easy task.

Link 10 – Luc Delahaye (The Palestine Hotel)

Here is an example of bringing imagery from the news into the gallery. The Tate have an example of a perfectly ordinary photo of Bagdhad, large and panoramic, showing the hotel in the foreground, taken in 2001. The hotel was frequented by reporters working on the Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq. On April 8 2003 the Americans turned their guns on the hotel and shot two journalists and injured three others. By turning his camera onto the life of the journalists, Delahaye has converted this rather ordinary photograph into a work of art accepted by the Tate.

Link 11  and Link 12- Tim Hetherington’s Sleeping Soldiers

Apart from the fact that Tim Hetherington died whilst within a field of combat, the work which he did on sleeping soldiers certainly raised many eyebrows. Once again, he was trying to illicit sympathy for the soldiers photographed so that his story would be taken seriously without the viewer having to focus on the gruesome reality of combat. The pictures were taken in Afghanistan in 2008 and exhibited at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool (and others). His posthumous use of the gallery to display his story was extremely successful. This shows the power of museums and in particular, the war museums in London and Manchester.

Picturing Atrocity – Atrocity and Action – Mark Durden

Luc Delahaye took as examples of photojournalism at its best (almost art) from Sebastaio Saldago and Don McCullin. But he took his art one step further. He used pictures of journalistic note around the world and blew them up large to show in the gallery e.g. link 10 – The Palestine Hotel above. Other examples are the Paris Metro and Economic Poverty in Russia.

The tension between Documentary and the pictorial can be seen in one of Delahaye’s most contentious art pictures which graphically details the body of a dead Taliban soldier.


“I want to characterise the work as documentary pictorial. By this I mean that Delahaye challenges classic documentary uses of the medium in the emphasis given to the formal and aesthetic qualities of the image. in contrast to the emotionalism and rhetoric of photojournalism his photography is more understated and ambiguous.”

Delahaye’s pictures entail a slow record of newsworthy and historical moments. the scale of his pictures (large) invite allusions to the art of the great French painters – Delacroix, David and Gericault – as well as holding a relationship to the contemporary art of Jeff Wall, Gursky and Andres Serrano.



Exercise 3.3 – Breaking the News

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 pictures.     link     http://www.ibtimes.com/new-york-post-subway-death-photo-unethical-or-just-tasteless-918619

The blog was written by Christopher Zara on 12/04/2012 at 2:47 pm. The title of the post was “New York Post Subway Death Photo: Unethical or just tasteless?”.

It brings the reader up to date with an incident on the New York subway where a black vagrant in New York pushed a man of Chinese origin into the path of an oncoming train.

The victim, Ki Suk Han, was subsequently killed by the train, the suspect, Aheem Davis ran away but was later stopped and arrested by police.

To this day, the case has not been fully cleared and the suspect, who freely admitted what he had done, is still being detained, hoping to have the charge of murder reduced to some form of manslaughter.

Christopher Zara’s blog poses one very important dilemma for the New York Post who issued an article soon after the event showing a picture of the victim seconds before he was crushed to death. The title of the article included the words “This man is about to die”.


The photograph was one of a series taken by freelance photographer R.Umar Abbasi who happened to have his camera with him at the time and the use of the photograph has been severely criticised by the general public but also by distinguished experts such as Kevin Z Smith, chairman of the “society of professional journalists”.

Smith publicly announced that the New York Post were unethical. “The article and the photo made it all the way up the chain of editorial command and nobody stopped it”, said Smith. He then went on to ask about the feelings of the widow. “There were so many levels of ethical lapses, it’s disturbing”.

Other comments by bloggers were:

“Whoever took the picture that’s on the cover of the NY Post should be arrested for not helping the dude that got killed”

“Who let this man die on the subway?”

The New York Post did not respond to a request for comment.

There were many more comments from other sources.

One of the problems with the bloggers is that one could easily form a misguided opinion of the outcome. It is interesting to note that the original blogger, Christopher Zara, has since had his account stopped by Twitter. The other bloggers may have been commenting without all the facts and however passionately they felt about the incident, they could be wrong.

In order to put the whole story together it would be necessary to take an approach similar to Fred Ritchin’s  hyperphotography where the controversial photograph is the central point and all the information available is attached via metadata.

By analysing some of the follow-on articles (up to March 2016) the following facts have come to light:

  • The photographer, in his defence, stated that the reason he had photographed a number of times was to alert the train driver and persuade him to stop, therefore claiming that he was the hero. This still avoids the question of whether it was ethical to pass the photograph onto the NY Post.
  • The daughter of the victim brought a case against New York City Transit, saying that the driver should have been able to stop in time. Knowing her father, she may have been supporting the victim or she may simply have been trying to obtain compensation.
  • The NY Post who were severely criticised for publishing the photograph continue to do so (including their latest article on March 3rd 2016).
  • The suspect has declared that Han started the argument and was drunk and violent.
  • The suspect has stated that he is bipolar and was under the influence of Marijuana whilst not taking his medication. He has also stated that he was not thinking straight due to an incident two days before where an acquaintance had thrown away his favourite shoes. We have to remember that he is a vagrant.

Although Han had had an argument with his wife on the morning of the fatal accident, was drunk at the time and showing a violent tendency it appears that she was upset when he died.



Although Davis was a vagrant under the influence of drugs and in a bad state of mind, he did not commit premeditated murder and is most likely to be charged with manslaughter.


For the photographer, it was difficult to decide what to do with the photographs. If his story about trying to alert the train driver is honest (and I think we have to assume it is) then even though he has not photographed any of the violence he must think about the effect his picture would have on Han’s family and friends, let alone the general public.

Gruesome imagery is increasingly becoming a part of the everyday news cycle in an age when everyone is equipped with a portable camera. Would it have been any different today? Not really!

My personal view is that he should have kept the pictures to himself. If the police or the court required them they could then have been used as evidence.

Finally, my conclusion is that the New Your Post were the biggest culprit. They were totally wrong to publish the photograph, and in particular the controversial headline. These were used purely to sensationalise the incident.







Project 3: Re-Thinking Photojournalism 1: The Citizen Journalist


It is hoped that official journalists will still be required to record events such as press conferences etc. but the pictures which hit the headlines today are often from the most savvy passer-by who happens to be in the right place at the right time.

To record this phenomenon, Simon Roberts created a series entitled “The Last Moment” (2011 – 2014) to illustrate how people use their camera phones to record newsworthy events. He scans photographs from the broadsheets to reveal the halftone patina of the analogue reproduction. He then creates an opaque mask and deletes portions of the image to reveal the individual cameras which are snapping the event. The final picture is not of the event but of the people snapping. “circles of various sizes that float free in semi-transparent skies” A sort of tribute.

He points out that “The Decisive Moment” and the “Kodak Moment” are now historical. Like the previous work we have done on this module, it is no longer the single picture but a more complex map of pictures which defines the moment.

The idea of translucence  (link 3) , especially as it relates to optics and lenses, is central to the work. Roberts masks off the background using a white layer to create a ghostly veneer – a negative space – patterned by different constellations of artificial disembodied “eyes” each one a self contained world. Translucidity is not only a visual aesthetic running through “The Last Moment” but a metaphor for the various ways a camera functions and is used in today’s global society.

Alexander Chadwick

Alexander Chadwick’s screen grab of the London Tube passengers walking through the underground tunnel on 7/7 is an historic moment in citizen photojournalism. The picture is blurry and impressionistic which is now regarded as a bonus in these days of the plasticity of the digital image.

If you want to get good action shots, they mustn’t be in focus. If your hand trembles a little, then you get a fine action shot” (Robert Capa).

Apart from anything else the poor technical quality of a user generated content (UGC) image will restore confidence in the authenticity of the photograph. However this effect will probably be short lived as it is just as easy to modify the content of a poor quality image.

In the long term the question on so many people’s lips is whether the citizen photojournalist while photographing suffering and humiliation “I’m just doing what anybody would do!” will confirm an increasing acceptability of recording such events or whether it will destroy society’s relationship to the photographic image more broadly.

Blurring Boundaries – Stuart Allan (From course set book – Martin Lister (2013): The Photographic Image in Digital Culture)

Is Photojournalism dying?

Is the press dying? The press is dying because it is more interested in frivolity.

After 7/7 the press had to start brushing up their ideas. The most important requirement was to try to maintain authenticity of their own work but also to accept that the citizen journalist was here to stay. At this point Yahoo and Reuters advertised in the New York Times for “people with camera phones”  to work for them. A paradigm shift appeared to be underway.

The argument against using citizens as journalists was that all people are incorrigible sensationalists and that a balanced view is what is needed but there is no doubt that the material which these people are providing is being widely used, still more and more as each year goes by. This argument was made in 2007 and it is now ten years on.

A new role for the journalist / editor started to evolve. It was very important and particularly involved a curatorial role. In this way all photojournalists can work together to produce a better world. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts” but newspapers and their editors are still wary of the pitfalls of citizen photojournalism.

Having read this passage I believe that the detail is of a repetitive nature and, quite frankly there was not much more in it that was not in the synopsis in the course notes.

Link 4 – 2012 Denver Cinema Shootings

Jose Navarro’s post in 2012 of you tube footage of the shootings in a cinema in Denver shows very poor quality film. Jose is trying to say that it is a disgrace to sensationalise the incident and: “Who on earth would photograph  the incident in the first place”.

We are so desensitised to this sort of occurrence now that we take it all in our stride and are not particularly shocked as he was.

What is going on at the moment with Donald Trump in America, the cruelty and the prejudices are much worse. They still have a strong effect on the majority (I hope).

Link 5 – The 7/7 bombings and citizen journalism

More substantiation of the significance of citizen journalism and the phone camera. Another article which repeats itself on the same subject.


Exercise 3.2 Controversial

Exercise 3.2

Find one or two recent photographs in 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.

Looking at pictures by Joel Peter Witkin could never be described as a pleasant experience and yet they are very clearly described as art. This living artist frequently uses dead body parts in collages and displays (photographed in Mexico because of contravention of the US laws).

His works have been labelled exploitative and have sometimes shocked public opinion.

I can accept that his work is art and is indeed quite spectacularly presented, using his own very detailed and innovative ideas but I cannot “like” it.

For this exercise I have used one of his pictures of a living person which is equally as controversial in its own way.

It is entitled “Sanitarium” and is of a naked woman being treated, I suspect, with colonic lavage in the sanitarium.:


This work famously inspired Alexander McQueen in his exhibition “Spring / Summer 2001 Collection”.

The collection was displayed in a warehouse set up as a mock sanitarium, and the finale of the show was to display a woman (Michelle Olley), significantly overweight and naked, in the same pose as in Witkin’s  “Sanitarium”.


To me the whole idea of using a Joel Peter Witkin pose in the show was pure sensationalism, especially as this woman was surrounded by stick thin, anorexic models with the latest designs draped over them. It was a gimmick but what it did achieve was to make people think beyond the show, to research Witkin and to start to debate the issues which he presents. Does that make it a success? I suppose it does. Looking at reviews of the show and reviews of Witkin’s work, many contradictions were apparent.

“I think Joel Peter Witkin shows life as it is, rotting at the point of birth, and McQueen puts pretty girls into ugly frocks.” Rose Taylor.

“I like McQueen but I really don’t like Joel Peter Witkin. To use dead body parts for the pictures? Seriously? Sick”. Evgenii Potapenko, Paris, France.

“This is arguably, one of the most important fashion shows ever, up there with Marc Jacobs infamous Spring 93′ Perry Ellis grunge collection.” Fleetwitchmac.

What seems to be unanimous is the respect which McQueen received for putting this show on (16 years ago).

But there are many examples of respect for Witkin’s work as shown by the article in the New York Times shown here

The opening line is “The calculated madness of Joel Peter Witkin’s photographs conveys a sense of 19th century horror:”


Like the dream works of symbolist painter Gustave Moreau:

In my opinion the paintings of Gustave Moreau are much gentler and, of that era much more literal.  https://www.wikiart.org/en/gustave-moreau

In conclusion, I cannot love the work of Joel Peter Witkin, I can only acknowledge that the art world has benefitted from being exposed to his pictures. He is a prolific producer of art and one cannot imagine what motivates him to consistently generate such vast quantities of horrific material. I cannot find one single piece of his art which I would be confident in displaying to the ordinary people of this world.









Part 3 – Project 2 – Digitising Atrocity

Post Mortem

It was common in the 19th century to photograph “post mortem” and often this would be the only photo of that person. One of the reasons for this was the very high level of infant / child mortality.

Today this trend is starting to return with free access to smartphones, to take photographs of the body or to take selfies before, after and during funerals. Also there are many pictures of parents taken with their child (perhaps in hospital) to help the grieving process.

There are also many more gruesome pictures published on the internet than ever before of car crash victims, beheading by terrorist groups or whatever. There seems to be an increasing demand for such pictures.


This brings on the debate of whether it is good that the internet allows one to see the extent of state – inflicted violence (or any other violence for that matter). This shows the real effect of war and violence rather than the sanitised version. However, this sort of imagery can also help to incite fear and elicit sympathy as with terrorist organisations since the turn of the century.

WJ Mitchell wrote extensively on this subject as did Mary Warner Marion. It is not only terrorists who are guilty of inciting fear and eliciting sympathy but governments as in the case of George Bush’s carefully designed photo ops, designed to lead the public astray in order to demonstrate themselves as the victor. Also when the Abu Ghraib photographs of torture were released in 2004, it showed how governments today cover up the atrocities which they create themselves.

Atrocity and action: The performative force of the Abu Ghraib Photographs: Peggy Phelan

Atrocity photographs ask questions: What do the photographs do? What actions do they prompt? What actions do they prohibit?

They pose questions about action: What has been done? What still has to be done?

They push the viewer into considering: What can I do?

For a digital photograph there is a double: When the photograph was taken and when the photograph was viewed.

Atrocity photos are even more powerful than that in that they expose the “given to be seen” and the “blind spot”. both are central to seeing the photograph.

In relation to the present tense, a photograph (freezing of the model’s action) is akin to death. To look at a photographic portrait, one intermingles the past moment of the shutter’s click with the moment of reception and exposes the “this will have been” , the action conveyed by the future anterior. To Barthes the reception of portrait photography activates a mourning process, reheasing for the final stillness. Implicit in Barthes’ argument is a linear notion of temporal intervals: the photograph was taken in the past, seen in the present and projected into the futurity of the subject’s death. If the subject has already died, when the reception of the photograph takes place, the energy of anticipating death is reversed and sends the viewer into a contemplation of the subject’s past, in particular a deep mourning. This grief constitutes “punctum” as defined by Barthes in “Camera Lucida”.

Atrocity photographs, however often bypass this grieving process and generate an urgency in the present tense. They are performative, not constative.

The Abu Ghraib photographs of 2004, and their disquieting revelations, haunt diverse political landscapes today. These hauntings are dissipated in different ways around the world: they have been used as legal evidence, shown in art exhibitions, triggered acts of violence, used as the subject of performances, films and critical essays.

Death is a void, or condition of imagelessness. The pivot between the subject without image and the body as nothing but image constitutes the ongoing atrocity performed via the Abu Ghraib photographs. Looking at a prisoner in a hood with his fists cuffed to the bars is to obviate the notion of the distinction between living and dead.

The Abu Ghraib photographs dramatize the fact that we don’t know what the image conveys. They not only document atrocity but they create it.

Gilligan on a box is the most well known image. A man standing on a box, in a cloak in theatrical style, wired up, presumably to be executed by electric shock. It is what we don’t know as well as what we know which is important in interpreting this picture. The image limits its own opacity. We see the limit of our capacity to see it.

The photographs show the brutality involved in covering it up.

By looking at the blind spot the limit of sight produces a rejection of the idea that one can know what and who one sees when looking at atrocity (punctum).

Link 2 – Art Under Fire – The Guardian – Article by Ghaith Abdul Ahad

The dilemma of Iraqi Art started long before Saddam when artists became official state functionaries paid by the government.

Under Saddam, artists were forced to produce works that glorified the leader and put him at the centre of everything. Now they are less constrained and the subject they most want to depict is the violence around them.

In the middle of all the chaos after Saddam, artist Karim Khalil produced his best work, a series of a dozen 20 to 30 cm high marble and bronze figurines depicting a man from Abu Ghraib with a sack (marble) over his head.


This is one of the marble statuettes. The most significant bronze model is based on the photograph of the man standing on a box with electrical wires connected to him ready for execution. Many artists have attempted to replicate this in their own style.

Before the war art did not sell well, there was not much money. After the war it sold well but now, people are nervous about their art for different reasons. They are in fear of attacks from religious extremists, being intimidated by people like the Mahdi army. Iraq is now filled with negative stories. Everything is bad: the health system is bad, electricity is scarce, water is polluted, the police are corrupt and these things have brought on the satirist, somebody who did not exist in the Saddam regime. They have freedom to make jokes (but not about the American regime or to criticise the occupation.

Wow that was a disturbing subject, I’m glad that’s over.

Exercise 3.2 will follow.