Category: Notes

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.

 

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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).

When these photographs were brought to the attention of the general public, 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.

 

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. At this moment 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:

th9R16CIED                    th7054OHCN

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.

th[6]                                            thWSSVYAHZ

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

the_getty_center-7_11

“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”.

new-york-subway

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.

ki-suk-han-wife

 

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.

naeem-davies

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.

References

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

http://nypost.com/2012/12/04/suspect-confesses-in-pushing-death-of-queens-dad-in-times-square-subway-station/

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/12/who-let-man-die-subway/320843/

http://nypost.com/2016/03/03/plea-deal-will-let-homeless-subway-pusher-dodge-life-in-jail/

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/subway-pusher-mad-timberlands-article-1.1240693

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

Introduction

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.:

7266006_1_l1

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”.

s73096011

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:”

773729fb7f6cff6adfcb60f8fdcc39511

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.

Atrocities

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.

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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.

Exercise 3.1 – Visual examples of Cubistically Unmasking Photo Opportunities

Part 3: We are all Photographers Now 

It is probably truer to say that “We are all broadcasters now”.

Project 1 – The Dynamic Image – notes

The practical difference between the analogue and the digital image carries far reaching implications for the nature of the medium. The ontology (philosophical study) of the photograph – how it is unique in its nature and compares, philosophically, to other forms of representation – has always been debated.

The digital image tends only to have a temporary presence on a screen or archived on a hard drive. The analogue image has a permanent physical presence.

The digital image is made up of defined pixels rather than continuous tones. The digital formation of 1s and 0s can be likened to DNA (the picture’s genetic code). Within the picture’s genetic code can be hidden metadata either large or small.  It is the potential for this storage of metadata which is so powerful and this leads to hyperphotography.

Exercise 3.1 – Notes on Fred Ritchin’s essay “Toward a Hyperphotography” (Ritchin F. (2009) After Photography)

The distinction between analogue and digital is crucial (WJ Mitchell. (1992) The Reconfigured Eye). The digital photograph is based on creating discrete and malleable records of the visible that can be linked, transmitted, re -contextualised and fabricated.

The digital photograph can be conceived of as a meta-image (a map of squares) each capable of being individually modified and able to serve as a pathway elsewhere. It is perfect for hyperlinking data. It can explicitly acknowledge time as integer (not as flow). A digital camera can be part of a larger personal communicator that will keep appointments, make calls, take visual notes, check calendars, order from restaurants, check blood pressure, tune into tv, radio and personal playlists.

The communication potential starts to become more important than the singularity of the photographic vision. ~The “photographer” becomes a communicator.

There are those who have photographed the stone hitting the water and rejoiced in the camera’s ability to freeze the pivotal event in a fraction of a second. These have been conventional photojournalists.

Then there are those who focused on the ripples that the force of the stone hitting the water produces, distrusting the event itself but seeing its significance in its impact on people and place. These are more likely to have been the photo essayists, or more broadly stated, the documentary photographers. When Henri Cartier-Bresson was offered an exclusive ticket to attend the coronation of King George VI in 1936, for example, he would have had a scoop. But by turning it down to focus on the reactions of poor people lining the streets outside, he made some of his most memorable photographs – and did so for “Ce Soir”, a communist daily. He chose the ripples not the stone.

There are others who profoundly mistrust the depiction of either stone or ripples being no more than the camouflaging conventions of photography that conceal the medium’s transformative effect. Such photographers may prefer to stage the scene while shouting “mediation” as loudly as possible. Like scientists that know that the presence of the observer may alter the results of the experiment, and like McLuhanites we believe that “the medium is the message”. Post modernists and other interlocutors want to make sure that viewers don’t fall into an easy complicity with the process. They may include within the image their cameras, microphones, even themselves, as ways of heightening our unease about our assumptions.

Now there will undoubtedly be a variety of new strategies as more practitioners, artists, documentarians – professionals and amateurs – choose to expand and harness an evolving medium that can respond to some of photography’s frailties, its lies and limitations, with new methodologies.

Unmasking Photo Opportunities, Cubistically

Cubism – The contradictory double image is cubist, reality has no single truth. Seeing things from all sides. A multi perspectival strategy would help devalue spin.

Look for contradictory images which make the viewer think – What is right?

Photos made to consciously echo other photos:

  • Raising of flag at world trade centre 2001 set against destruction of Chilean legislature.
  • Photo of devastated Kabul next to the World Trade Centre before 2001 before US started to bomb Afghanistan.

Link 1 – Fred Ritchin – Key aspects of the digitalisation of Photography

  • It is now easy to manipulate photographs.
  • We can prepare future news i.e. a picture which predicts what will happen tomorrow.
  • There is a picture of Freud on the cover of one of the issues of Time Magazine. It is not Freud but an actor dressed up. There are many examples of this kind of deceit.
  • Photography doesn’t trust itself any more.
  • Ritchin is doing a project on the photography of peace rather than war. (picture of a Syrian person at the dentist or the barbers). often these pictures are taken by the people rather than the press.
  • Murders on the subway gets a massive press and puts people off travelling on the New York subway. We never see the good things that go on. These would balance out the story.
  • Social media shows pictures of us photographing us. Professional documentary shows pictures of them photographing them.
  • Reference Susan Sontag “The pain of others”.
  • Jeff wall picture of dead bodies was a big seller. He used actors to produce a piece of art, the dead talking to each other. Susan Sontag saw it as the only war photo which influenced her.
  • One artist puts the pictures up at the point where they were taken (particularly effective if war photos).
  • JR (photographer) Project – Women are heroes. This artist makes the pictures large and waterproof and uses them as roof coverings.
  • Think of producing postcards from the future.
  • “marche sur mes yeux” reference.

 

Some great examples of Cubistically unmasking:

  • OJ Simpson photo in Time Magazine where he is shown blacker than he really is as opposed to the same picture in Newsweek where he is the right colour. Time Magazine were accused of racism. They defined it as art.
  • Two identical pictures of Lance Corporal Boudreeau holding text, the text being totally contradictory.
  • A picture of George Bush holding the Christmas turkey for the troops linked with a picture of the actual turkey which they ate.
  • A picture of 9/11 adjacent to a picture of America bombing Afghanistan.
  • 1994 image of US soldiers invading Haiti (heroic image). In actual fact the soldiers were pointing their guns at press photographers thereby fabricating the story.

Cubistic unmasking is all about attaching one image to the other.

By attaching information to an image we are not necessarily contradicting the first image but we are providing the viewer additional information to allow him / her to form a more valued judgement. The contradictory double image is cubist which is starting to suggest that reality has no single truth.

Website References – Cubistically Unmasking

http://www.cnet.com/uk/pictures/pictures-that-lie-photos

http://www.boredpanda.com/truth-behind-photography-tricks/

Examples I have found:

1       The Death of Bin Laden

It is well known that when Bin Laden was shot, the press did not publish pictures of his body. Partly this was in order not to upset religious and cultural orders but also because of the current ability to manipulate photographs, it would generate too much debate without resolution.

Therefore the following picture was issued in its place:

 

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A picture of the so called American team.

It is thought that a genuine photograph of the dead body was taken but so far the best we have has turned out to be a fake:

picture-of-dead-body-of-osama1

This was published on the CNET website referred to earlier.

More likely to be real are the following two photographs which only start to unfold the story.

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The viewer can start to formulate the true story but how can the viewer be sure that the above two pictures are real. Is the blood that of Bin Laden’s and this the (true?) picture of Bin Laden actually taken within his hide?  Has his body been superimposed onto the background. In a news story as sensitive as this, anything can happen.

2       Paired photographs from boredpanda.com

Wedding Photograph

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Fashion Shoot

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Girl in the Rain

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These six photographs taken from boredpanda website demonstrate the ease with which the viewer can be deceived and the simplicity of developing a cubistically unmasked photo opportunity. If a video or link to another website can then be added as metadata to the original photograph, each story can be developed even further.