Category: Coursework

Exercise 4.4 – The Selfie

What does the phenomenon of the selfie tell us about how photography is popularly used nowadays?

A selfie is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a digital camera or camera phone held in the hand or supported by a selfie stick. (Wikipedia)

The selfie was named as word of the year by Oxford English Dictionaries in 2013. Although the Wikipedia definition refers only to a hand held digital photograph, the definition of the selfie is now expanding to encompass more versions of the self portrait. It is at least a sub-category of self portrait and has been compared by scholars (Selfiecity.net, Alise Tifentale, The City University of New York)  with the early photographs, for example Hippolyte Bayard’s “Portrait of a Drowned Man (1840)”.

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The selfie has been a part of the recent photographic revolution where digital cameras can be tied into the internet mainly by social media. This has encouraged the transmission of digital photographs on a huge scale. As an example the selfie in 2013 was responsible for 4% of all the photographs posted on Instagram (Selfiecity.net). This is a large but not necessarily dominant percentage.

The selfie has been popularly used to keep the image of a person in the minds of many. This is a useful tool for self publicists such as celebrities of all kinds and so the majority of selfies show a brand which seeks social rewards. The selfie would normally demonstrate positive, happy, accomplished, proud, well dressed, seductive or sexy.

 

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Fawad Khan

It is rare that selfies show pictures of couch potatoes or people in ugly leggings. probably one in a hundred.

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But the selfie can be used to generate other responses, perhaps shock or fear or celebrity.

The Abu Ghraib photographs have been tabled in many instances and Susan Sontag’s item in the New York Times “Regarding the Torture of Others” debates very clearly whether the atrocity was the taking of the photographs or the act of war by the American Government but the most revealing photograph, taken of Lynndie England and a group of the prisoners was to all intents and purposes a selfie and can be found under the title #selfie in most social media:

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Referring back to earlier studies on Memes (Journal of Visual Culture, Limor Shifman), the tourist guy, Peter Guzli, used a selfie and inserted it into a world event, in this case the destruction of the twin towers New York, setting off a whole lot of copycat memes:

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So there are many ways of using selfies to publicise events or to gain fame by promoting yourself to “breaking news” (Paradigm Shift).

The selfe is continuously being used to prove current news items and is often the first picture to be seen in breaking news reducing the power of the traditional photojournalist. There are millions of photojournalists in the world today and although only a small amount of their pictures make their way towards the newspapers and TV channels, a vast amount of the information is transmitted as news via twitter, facebook, instagram etc. and this is becoming the news of the future. (ref. Donald Trump’s many efforts to bypass the American news media). These photographs, whether political, comical or informative,  are viewed very quickly by millions of “followers” and transmitted from “friend” to “friend” to become the news of the day.

Reference List

Tifentale, A. (2013) Making Sense of the “Masturbation of Self Image” and “Virtual Mini-Me”. City University of New York

Shifman, L. (2013) Journal of Visual Culture. The cultural Logic of Photo-Based Meme Genres. Sage Publications

Sontag, S. (2004) Regarding the torture of Others. New York Times Magazine

Cover, R (2016) Digital Identities – Creating and Communicating the Online Self. Nikki Levy

 

 

The Selfie: Making sense of the “Masturbation of Self-Image” and the “Virtual Mini-Me”

These are notes about an article by Alise Tifentale, The Graduate Centre, City University of New York

Selfie City and the Networked Camera (intro)

Selfiecity is a research project led by Dr Lev Manovich as an attempt to make sense of a multitude of selfies posted on Instagram.

What could a group of selfies taken in a specific city say about that city? Could they also help in defining social media for the future? Selfies suggest new approaches to studies of vernacular photography.

A selfie is a form of self expression as well as a communal and social practice.

The study looked at selfies taken in Bangkok, Berlin, Moscow, New York and Sao Paulo.

640 selfies were studied from each city.

Why do Selfies Matter?

By posting selfies, people keep their image in other people’s minds. They are used to post a specific impression of oneself (seeking social rewards). We now all behave as brands and the selfie is simply brand advertising. It is an opportunity to position ourselves. Trying to sell the best version of #me. Positive, happy, accomplished, proud, well-dressed, seductive or sexy.

So, selfies are a means of self expression, a construction of a positive image, a tool of self promotion, a cry for attention or love, a way to express a sense of belonging to a community.

These are the majority and then there are the oddballs but it is rare that selfies contain pictures of couch potatoes or people in ugly leggings.

On Instagram, selfies are not everything. Only approximately 4% of all photographs posted are selfies.

Selfie of old and new genre of photography

The selfie can be describes as an emerging sub-genre of self portraiture. The first acclaimed example of an artistic self portrait was Hippolyte Bayard’s Self-Portrait of a Drowned Man (1840). Traditionally self portraits outdoors were taken next to a classical or Egyptian ruin. Indoors a mirror was often used or with a plain (studio) background. For today’s self portraits, the background choices are endless.

Why Instagram Matters

In 2013 there were 150 million Instagram users. the population of the world was 7.1 billion so Instagram users are a fairly small percentage. Mainly smartphone users and average age 23. But Instagram automatically adds geospacial information and time stamps which are important for this study. All pictures are square. 612×612 and we can view it as an archive in the process of becoming. Unfinished, live and living.

Art of the Masses

The selfie is the vernacular of the 21st century. It has already entered the museum and the art world. The video installation National #Selfie Portrait Gallery was a fine example. The artworks are often presented as large sets of images. This raises the question “Are all selfies art?” Perhaps they are to the masses if not to the conservatives.

Taking a snapshot of a paradigm shift

Since the connection of the smartphone to the internet, the practise and experience of everyday photography have become more important than the pictures themselves. Social media has created an enormous paradigm shift in what types of stories are considered “breaking news”. It may be the home video of a baby performing a particular trick. The simplicity of online sharing of images taken with smartphone is one of the factors that contributes to the shift.

Summary

Selfiecity reaches into different fields of enquiry. The project is about photography and self-portraiture. Yet it is as much about measuring the limits of the latest software designed to analyse large amounts of visual information. The project views social media as a vehicle of voluntary interpersonal communication, thus becoming a study of human behaviour.

note: The term #selfie was first used on Instagram on November 19 2013. The first hashtag was used on Instagram on January 27 2011.

 

Regarding the Torture of Others

Article in NY Times by Susan Sontag, May 23 2004 (Link 7)

This article refers to the photographs taken in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (originally Sadam Hussein’s most infamous prison).

The Bush administration started by trying to limit a PR disaster. But they referred only to the photographs. Sontag was more interested in the crime of what they depict rather than the photographs themselves. In her view the pictures showed the results of torture not just the results of humiliation as described by the US government. An admission of torture would nullify America’s right to undertake unilateral action on the world stage.

It is unusual for the perpetrators to include themselves in photographs of the victims of war. In Nazi Germany there were many cases where the Germans photographed the victims of war for their own personal benefit but they never included themselves in the pictures. there were pictures in the 1880s and 1930s of white Americans grinning beneath the naked mutilated bodies of black men and women but these were regarded as justifiable at the time.

Where once photographing war was the province of photojournalists, now the soldiers themselves are all photographers, swapping images, transmitting photographs by email and (today) social media. Today the photographs play a different role, more to transmit information than to preserve and keep in an album.

Today there are many instances where individuals log every aspect of their lives down to the act of brushing their teeth. This is a photographic record just like the soldier’s record of an atrocity at war, which today cannot be avoided.

When transmitted, the pictures are usually there to describe “fun” contrary to the attempt by George Bush to show the American efforts as the opposite. And there are many instances in American life today where fun has been extended to the unnatural – pornography, video games of killing etc. Easy delight in violence and sexual humiliation appears to have grown. Is it fun whether it is real or a fantasy? To stack naked men was regarded by many as a college prank.

The effect that the pictures had on the Bush administration was much more powerful than the many words which had been written before them because they were impossible to cover up. Words can be hidden. Photographs can not. The government tried to justify the humiliation saying that it would only happen to the criminals, the murderers of American soldiers but in fact a lot of these victims had committed no crime. they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Governments are still trying to suppress these photographs and there are many more photographs and videos which, as yet, have not been published.

However painful these pictures are to succeeding governments of all countries they will be unstoppable and a contributor to the shape of world politics going forward.

 

Exercise 4.3 Creating a Meme

Taking inspiration from an image or idea you’ve researched, create your own interpretation of an internet meme. This may be something original , or your own interpretation of an existing meme. It might be funny or profound, but it should make people want to look at it and share it.

My idea for this exercise is to look back on the work I completed relating to exercise  1.3,  News Event.

 

 

At the time of completing this work, I had not considered the idea of memes but having read the reference link no. 4 from the journal of visual culture “The cultural logic of photo – based meme genres” by Limor Shifman it occurred to me that one of my favourite memes from this article (Asian Father) could set the pattern for a development of my Donald Trump series.

 

The first question was whether to use one of my original photos, say the lightbulb photo or whether to use a straight portrait, instantly recognisable by the general public.

The second question was what part of Donald Trump’s life / career as president could be used as the basis for the comments.

The meme relating to the Asian father was described as a Stock Character Macro and I wanted to follow almost exactly in this style so the comments need to be slightly sarcastic about a driven but slightly flawed character.

The problem arose when I googled Donald Trump Meme and discovered that this had been done many times before:

However most of the jokes appeared to be about his hair and his personality (derogatory).

So I have created a series of memes which include well known quotations that describe his arrogance and stupidity:

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The Cultural Logic of Photo Based Meme Genres

 

This is a rep[ort on an article by Limor Shifman taken from the Journal of Visual Culture:

The article looks at the cultural meaning of contemporary meme genres in terms of :

  • Reaction Photoshops
  • Stock Character Macros
  • Photo Fads

Photo based memes function as:

  • Modes of hypersignification – The code becomes the focus of attention
  • Prospective photography – Photographs are the raw materials for future photographs
  • Operative signs – Invitations for creative action

Meme genres may serve as valuable keys for understanding broader dimensions of visual culture.

An internet meme is a group of digital items that (a) share common characteristics (b) are created with an awareness of each other and (c) are circulated , imitated and transformed via the internet via multiple users.

Shifman deviates from Dawkins belief that a meme is a single cultural unit. He believes that memes are groups of content units because in the digital age it is possible to access many versions of the same thing. In the past a single version would be more likely, ref. birdsong, a joke or whatever.

Memes are therefore enormous groups of texts and images. If memes are collections of texts, meme genres are collections of collections.

Photos:  Playing with photos has been an important part of digital culture since the early 2000s.

Reaction Photoshops Collections of edited images created in response to a small set of prominent photographs (memetic photos). eg the situation room.

Stock Character Macros are image macros (images superimposed with text) that refer to a set of stock characters representing stereotypical behaviours. eg sheltering suburban mom.

Photo Fads are staged photos of people who imitate specific positions in various settings. eg planking, heads in freezers.

The genres range from political and social issues to whimsical themes associated with self performance.

Their form can be photoshopped juxtapositions, photos with captions or unedited photos.

These genres invite a number of user behaviours:

  • edit and combine existing images
  • adding text (captions)
  • performance in the theatre of digital culture

Beyond this divergence these genres share three basic qualities, hypersignification, prospective orientation and operability.

Hypresignification

“The code itself is no longer concealed but turned into a sign.” Hypersignification can be found in the three genres as follows:

Reaction Photoshops

The tourist guy is an example of a reaction photoshop demonstrating hypersignification. The photo was framed at first as a rare capture of a tragic moment 9/11, circulated over the internet and then suddenly discovered to be a hoax. It was not until this moment that many people copied the idea and put him into similar death threatening situations. It is a good example of understanding the differences between memetic photographs and truthfulness:

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Other examples are disaster girl and cigar guy (can be visited via google).

Photos that invite memetic responses are often political, eg the situation room which was set up to advertise the fact that Bin Laden is dead without showing a picture of his body. one interpretation of this was the transformation of the figures into fictional characters or including fictional characters in the group.

Iconic photos are similar to memes in some ways but instead of being manipulated they freeze concrete historical moments and it is unlikely that they would be used for satire. They are too powerful.

Stock Character macros

In stock character macros, hypersignification is located in the construction of stereotypes. It often associates a certain (negative) feature with a specific social category, eg “annoying facebook girl”.

Another good example is the high expectation Asian father.

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Stock Photography is all about the mystification of stereotypes. Basic information which can be used in many contexts. In the case of memes, the meme always has a theme.

Photo Fads

In Photo Fads hypersignification may be associated with the pose. Posing in an exaggerated way is quite common especially with the growth of social media.

Repetitive exaggeration leads to photofads. eg Head in the freezer. http://www.knowyourmeme.com. This argument builds on Olga Goriunova’s conceptualisation of idiocy as a core characteristic of contemporary participatory culture.

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Prospective Orientation

These three meme genres have been described in the present but they are also oriented towards the future (not the past) as they are designed to elicit further versions.

Photo based meme genres deepen these temporal transitions from the past to the present.

Operability

Hypersignification and prospective orientation have been defined so far as distinct. However there is a link between them  They perform an autonomous function related to techniques of symbolic manipulation, dissemination and storage.

Meme genres work in a similar way. Just like a pointing hand icon waiting to be clicked they are operative signs, designed as invitations for creatve action.

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 (17 century), 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.

Research

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 to me 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 (or in business terms, linkedin) – 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, my ideas are 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 be of interest. 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.

 

 

 

 

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?

Introduction

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.”

Conclusion

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.

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“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.