Artists: A selection of images with similarities I’ve noticed – notes

Over the last few months I have been storing images in the filing section of Instagram, all of which have a visual trope in common. Identity is obliterated or fragmented, and faces or bodies might be mixed with incongruous digital visual output. Putting aside the obvious influence of Surrealism/Dada and the long practised exploration in Postmodernism of fragmentation for now, these images seem more frequent of late and seem to be exploring how inner consciousness (might that be tautology?) is visible to outsiders. (My post about working with Lottie Ellis may be relevant. ) I have been thinking about consciousness and how it exists outside of us now that we have smart phones and other digital devices which store our inner thoughts, fantasies, fears and desires, effectively digitising who we are.  Simply Google ‘mind transfer to a computer’ and you will be presented with many results suggesting it might be possible to transfer the contents of your head to a laptop by 2050. Of course there is no guarantee any of these predictions are correct – nevertheless it is a collective fantasy which is perhaps being expressed in the images I’ve noticed, if not reality, for the time being.

Commodified Selves

Whether or not Facebook will be able to resurrect us after we die using data they have stored over a lifetime at some point in the not so distant future, it is undeniable that we have become commodities due the information-technology revolution. Unless we live in the woods, and in fact, even those who do if they have a smart phone, people are now networked. And it is viewed as a desirable state for people to be so.  “Today, the whole of society is a factory…[]…By creating millions of networked people, financially exploited, but with the whole of human intelligence one thumb-swipe away, info-capitalism has created a new agent of change in history; the educated and connected human being”. (Mason, 2015, p xvi)

The consequences of the digital revolution are still unfolding as is the revolution. However, of relevance to me at this time for my own work is considering how individuals in society have embraced their commodification, or perhaps been forced to in order to simply get by (see developing Preliminary work – The clandestine camera, Exercise 1 in Menu) . Mason quotes in his book PostCapitalism “A single mum on benefits, forced in to the world of pay loans and buying household goods on credit, can be generating a much higher profit rate for capital than an auto industry worker with a steady job” (p20) due to the way the markets slice up debt and package it into smaller and smaller ‘bets’ that get shunted about the financial sector.

The history of consciousness 

Commodification of people is just one aspect of digitisation which is creating huge changes to our existential being. Peter Singer in his book on Hegel writes, “Hegel accepted Schiller’s suggestion that the very foundations of the human condition could change from one historical era to another” (p 13) and the huge transformation occurring at the moment is also acknowledged by Mason. Without even taking into account the impact of any transhuman possibility. Singer goes on to describes Hegel’s view that history “presents its raw material as part of a rational process of development, thus revealing the meaning and significance of world history” – essentially as the human race gradually brings itself to consciousness. Hegel, he reports, says, “The history of the world is nothing more than the progress of the consciousness of freedom”. (2001, p 15) (So perhaps fragmentation is something to consider here.)

In a private conversation with an acquaintance, he suggests that the flaw in Hegel’s thesis is the supposed direction towards a singularity – total consciousness equals total freedom. “If he was right and thinking is a function of singularity then his realisation finishes the struggle (he being part of the whole)”.

It seems hard to agree that we have arrived at any sort of untethered freedom although human beings do seem to have become, or are becoming supremely conscious of themselves; the need for religion to explain who we are steadily diminishing, greater scientific knowledge about how we came to be bere in the first place, and exponential technological development helping us to do things we could only fantasise about not very long ago. What if we were to view the splitting of the atom as a possible point towards which we have been moving throughout history? Humanity reached a point where it was free to do whatever it chose to with the basic building blocks of life, and in fact chose to obliterate an entire group of people, dissolving something within us forever after. What if we view that as a pivotal point at which consciousness reaches a position from which it can no longer move forward and must do something else? Consciousness began to turn inside out on itself.

Sillicon Valley & LSD

At roughly the same time the Hiroshima bomb was being planned, a scientist accidentally invented LSD.  Although, it wasn’t until the 60s and 70s that it was used regularly for ‘fun’, and especially by the forerunners of Silicon Valley. According to Emma Hogan writing for the Economist Magazine, 1843, LSD “dissolve[s] a sense of self” (2017, p97). It also, as represented in so much visual and aural art from the 70s, seems to take your sense of consciousness outside your own head. It is interesting to note how people in Silicon Valley (according to the article, still using LSD regularly, albeit in micro-doses) spend so much of their time and resources enabling all of us to export and store our inner lives digitally and externally with such ease, making vast profit in the process.

Self & Other 

What has any of this to do with Self & Other? A new type of human being is forming, notwithstanding any number of techno-organic advances we already use, and will use in future. Technology masters are working on ways for our thoughts to be sent directly to our friends’ gadgets, which may in time be stored beneath our skin (Already here – I do hope they work out how to keep certain thoughts private!) Langauge as we know it is then changed fundamentally forever; I touched on this in A5 of UVC , “Lately, scholars, according to Amanda Bell of The Chicago School of Media have been looking ‘beyond binaried distinctions’ due to human integration with technology.” (Field, 2017; p6)

All of this impacts on the way we relate as individuals or collectively. Is the fully networked human, who is technologically augmented in order to exist in a digitally augmented reality likely to be different to the sort of human being we have been used to?

I have not touched on Hegel’s Master Slave dialectic here yet but will do in another post because there is quite a lot think about, linking to the passages we must look at in section 2 and I think this is incredibly important to the work I’m doing.

Below are a few of the images I have been saving, including one by my own tutor Wendy McMurdo. (And I wonder if John Umney and Stan Dickinson who have been working together in a similar vein should be here too?)

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Yesterday was the last day of the IX Biennale Giovani at the MAM (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of the High Mantua). This was part of a 15 meters installation called "memory is a memory, that is a memory, that is a memory, that is…(Persistence of Hope)" Found photo covered with scraped off photographic material from another picture. #art #contemporaryart #newcontemporaryart #artcollector #experimentalart #artscience #kunst #artwork #artshow #experimentalphotography #liquidphotographs #abstractart #abstractphotography #filmsnotdead #arte #artcollector #artfair #artist #artphoto #photographer #fineart #artoftheday #londonart #artcurator #londonartist #installationart #huffpostgram #artgallery #installation #sculpture

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Classroom experiments (ii) #digitalplay #classroom -#primaryschool

A post shared by Wendy McMurdo (@wendymcmurdo) on

References :

Hogan, E. (2017). Turn on, tune in, drop by the office. [online] 1843. Available at: [Accessed 2 Aug. 2017].

SINGER, P. (2001). A Very Short Introduction to Hegel. OXFORD: Oxford University Press.

Mason, P. (2015). Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. 1st ed. London: Random House, Penguin.

Field, S. (2017). What is reality, Assignment 5 UVC. [Blog] UVC Sarah-Jane Field. Available at: [Accessed 2 Aug. 2017].

Banerjee, A. (2017). A US company has microchipped its employees – we should welcome this as progress and get involved. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Aug. 2017].



Research: Working ethically

This module is concerned with the ethics of photographing others and asks us to examine the practise of making images of people who are often in less fortunate circumstances than ourselves.  As well, we look at our western-centric imperialist history which, it can be argued, has the role of photography at its core.

The following article may be useful to quote from as Nina Berman, photographer and teacher explores how ethical practise impacts on photographers today. She rightly points out; “More and more it seems to me, photographers are championed and given accolades for presenting themselves as advocates and do good-ers. It’s, “Oh look, they’re not just showing what is happening in the world, but they also care and are trying to do something about it,” beyond the publication.” (2017) The other thing we should be aware of is how photographers who are acutely aware of all the issues and understand them inside out are most likely to have been in the privileged position of having been educated in the fist place. And that sometimes, as in every field, spoken and unspoken rules can be dogmatic and even parochial.

In this module I am exploring an ethical practise across the board, from how I send emails from my OCA address to the way I plan assignments. I imagine at the end of it I will have some questions about how this impacts on the work I’m making and when, if ever, there should be a time to drop an ethical stance.

Artist: Julie Blackmon American Unease

I think there is much to learn from these images. They sort remind me of the people in the sun-loungers by Diane Arbus., Sunday in Westchester, NY 1969  Sontag talks about Arbus’ being reactive, “It was her way of saying fuck Vogue, fuck what is, approved fuck what is pretty” (1977:44) and that sun-lounger’s image seems to embody that sentiment. I found it difficult when I first came across it. It tricks you at first into thinking it is simply a snap of some strangers if you are completely new to photography. The Blackman images almost do that although perhaps the signals that you aren’t looking at any old snaps are much greater.

As well, you can See Sally Mann’s influence but there is much less romanticism here.

In all there images there is a lot of space, the landscape dominates and is as much a presence if not more so than the people in it. They have the strangeness of Crewsdon’s images and are constructed too, but I’d be interested to find out more about her working process and compare the two. (Incidentally, there is a Crewesdon interview that I believe will be online via TPG this Friday.) These images contain family and children but don’t have the same staged prettiness as Mann, or again the romanticism – perhaps a more commercial version, as in Cig Harvey’s very beautiful motifs, although they’re also beautiful, but much darker and have that oneiric quality I am trying to explore.

I think I will return to them quite a lot and will try to find out more about the photographer.

Sontag, S, 1977. On Photography, Penguin, London

Artist: Eikoh Hosoe

I am mainly interested in Eikoh Hosoe (b. 1933) for his collaborative performance work , namely with Tatsumi Hijikata in the 60s (who later committed suicide (wiki)). Hosoe is known for avant-garde photography and film, and working with other people and in groups. His images were included in last year’s Performing for the Camera exhibition at Tate Modern. The accompanying volume tells us the collaborative photo book , Kamaitachii (1969) is “unique in crediting both the photographer and performer as equal partners” (2016: 67) I am interested in this. I have not identified a longterm performance partner but the sort of work does appeal to me and I am currently in the process of trying to find people who I can work with at least for A1. This slows down the process and it may be that in time I will resort to using myself but not for this assignment. If I must wait a little longer to co-opt people, then so it. I see the work I am doing as an exploration into the possibilities, a sort of feasibility exercise into collaboration as well as attempting to create something conceptual. (Perhaps a disadvantage associated with long distance online study,  because if I were in a room with other students this sort of thing might evolve more naturally).

Whatever else is true I am interested in some of the work in the Tate book called A Private Landscape.  Here, we are taken on a journey via the photographed performance through the streets which is both acted, and due to the ability of a photograph to capture moments, lived. Which is perhaps the point. Where do we draw the line? How can we tell? Is there a line? Someone I know performs madness and  I often wonder if it is because they feel that is what is expected of them. Does that make them more or less unwell, unstable?

The other thing I like about some of Hosoe’s images is the apparently but misleading simple presentation in some work, (although, many images do make use of slow shutter speeds and different lenses) which produces images that contain within them highly complex ideas and narratives about the nature of being, of identity, of a multilayered existence. Other images are more complex looking, including some double exposures. I think there will be much for me to be gained from exploring Hosoe’s work more fully.

Further information and reference links

Artist: Susan Meiselas

Some critical work which is highly relevant to all the things I’m looking at. Susan Meiselas has published a book that looks at women’s refuge. An article about her book A Room of Their Own, produced in collaboration with Multistory and women living in refuge, in The Guardian has the following paragraph which is so key:

“Turning its pages, the first thing you notice is how startlingly few people appear in the pictures she took over several months in 2015 and 2016 (a period when, as their funds were cut, the refuges “had to downsize fairly dramatically”). On the rare occasions when a woman can be seen, her face may be obscured; the presence of any children is usually indicated only by the sight of scattered toys and tiny T-shirts drying on radiators. Was it challenging, finding a way to tell the women’s stories while also protecting their identities? “Yes, it was difficult,” she says. “It wasn’t only that I had to protect individuals. I had to protect the refuges collectively, too, because in order to reduce the potential for stalking, women are frequently moved from one part of the country to another, the better to break the link with family and friends.”” (Cooke, 2017)

The way this work has been approached is sensitive but still manages to tell the story. It avoids sensationalism in a subject that if often reported with particular bias. (See research re: tabloid reporting of abused partners and children which blames victims). My edit of the Calais work has only glimpses of people and I have discussed this in an earlier post. (Even so, I have been asked by people when I might reveal the portraits, along with suggestions of re-shooting in the Jungle).  I like the way Meiselas has blurred the young girl jumping onto her bed. It’s a terrific way of showing life and someone rather than only empty space with clues about human presence. Although I’m sure we can read any number of underlying psychology into the blurring of someone’s identity -it’s a useful compromise under these circumstances.

““I am trying to capture the dynamic without imposing myself on it. Rather than directing people to get what I want, it’s about waiting for a moment I recognise. There’s a photograph [in the book] of a girl in a kitchen. She’s turning away from me, but I didn’t say: ‘please, show me your back’. I want my subjects to be in their own space psychologically.”” (Cooke, 2017; quoting Meiselas, 2017)

The first sentence echoes how I aim to work. It’s quite a different way of working compared to many of the directors I worked with twenty years ago when I was an actor. I’m not quite there with yet but am learning all the time to wait. The other thing I’ve found is separating in my mind what is required for commercial and non-commercial work can be tricky and needs to be done clearly.

A useful and timely article.