Excercise 3.3: The act we act

Create a series of photographs or short filmed piece where you become someone else. This can follow Rosy Martin’s example and be someone who has shaped your sense of self, or it can be an invention. What is important is the transformation

Using my phone and an app I became a teenage girl with the click of a few buttons – I show the transformation by posting me – nearly 47 – and then a series of selfies taken in Snapchat. I have only used Snapchat filters  – nothing else beyond that.  The text I’ve used is lifted from the images I looked in my ‘research’ (Thanks to my son for his brilliant help with this, although he did also say “You’re actually spying on my friends, Mum!”)

Although there are signs of my age in them, mostly those signs have been bleached and filtered out by technology. If I were playing a teen on stage or in a film my age would show through makeup too as it has done in these pictures around my neck, and by my lips in the penultimate one. But perhaps the Snapchat filters has succeeded far beyond anything makeup alone could do – my boys were certainly quite taken aback by the impression. A middle-aged actor played a young Karen Blixen in a stage performance I went to see recently, and in fact, the youth was in her acting rather than any mask she put on – which wouldn’t have worked anyway for her as she had to switch to the older version constantly.

These apps make it very easy for anyone who wants to, to put on a digital mask. When you work with actual masks, one way of doing it is to put the mask on and then look in the mirror and allow what you see to transform your physicality. It’s very powerful and effective. Thinking about that and how people look at their digital masks makes me think about how we adjust our behaviour according to the proprietary masks we look at in our selfies online.

The code behind the app, driven by the motivation of the commercial network, is what shapes and dictates the ‘ideal’ for many young people nowadays.  I was worried that these pictures might have seemed judgemental but the truth is the culture we live in shapes all of us, which means although I am unlikely to post these images as renditions of self or signs of my own identity, the fact I am able to make them at all suggests the culture is in me and I am of it.

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A3: Screens and filters – digital

I have been swirling around for a while with various ideas about how to make 6 images that show different selves, thinking about voice, death, age, family/friends/various people in one’s life – relationships which make us who we are, the interconnectedness of a self, the illusion of self, ergo the illusion of other, reality, networks etc. All very big topics and I need to find a simple and direct way to move forward, and which can act as a containing idea.

‘What makes me Me, what makes you You?’ is the ongoing inquiry I’ve been exploring since I started reading about cross-cultural child rearing practice when my eldest son was about 8 months old. He’s now nearly 14. Since doing so I have learned a lot about culture and how it acts as a reality filter.

Looking at what I’ve been playing with recently:

  • I felt the proprietary filter in iMovie was probably a bit crass
  • It may be, but it also may be exactly what I am exploring in this exercise. I’m going to learn Premier Pro later this week and that may afford more options but I quite like the simplicity of iMovie.
  • I’ve been looking at filters and screens for a while and perhaps began most notably with the image below

Exploring filters and screens (c)SJField 2017

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  • I then, influenced by Bryan Eccleshall’s Digital Rain series, started playing with slicing up filters as follows;
  • In an interview/video of Pipilotti Rist about her work, she discusses a generalised fear of colour in art and describes why she opts for quite a vivid colour palette which is in some way manipulated and enhanced. By doing this she rejects the perceived sophistication one finds in art. It used to be that mono or black and white signalled art and colour advertising – although certain photographers started breaking with that tradition as far back as the 50s and 60s, namely Saul Leiter and William Eggleston. (I got a lot from this interview in fact)
  • My friend, Jenny Baylis, in her Film Studies MA thesis (2001) which is titled Cinematic Chromophobia: The Case Against Colour, looks at David Batchelor’s Chromophobia, arguing this fear was at the time “manifest in both slow and troubled history of colour film processes, their adoption by the industry, as well as traditional film theory”. (Baylis; intro) Both Jenny and Rist link this fear in some way to racism and feminism, and ultimately to a fear of “the fall of culture”. (Baylis; 8)
  • However, as far as I can tell, digital photography has changed this to some degree although the majority of art photography has a certain ‘tasteful’ relationship with colour. Now colour is acceptable, even preferred by many photographers, and black and white might be ‘acceptable’ but only if shot ‘authentically’ on film. Maybe this is because black and white might be seen by some non-academic photographers as ‘artistic’ as well as by commercially minded clients and makers of photography; hence some photographers can revel in a sense of superiority when working in colour now. The culturally loaded, fetishised value judgments people (even clever ones) like to espouse have shifted somewhat. Nowadays black and white is a little bit gauche (unless shot on film – just about – by some). In photography, it would seem, colour film, and therefore not overly altered or manipulated digitally (or seemingly not) is cherished. Indeed, I once read someone refer to digital conversion to mono as ‘perverse’.
  • Film itself is, by some, considered the superior medium despite the fact – as discussed by former OCA student John Umney in a piece he was writing “…the vast majority of major project work at degree show is digital. Most work at exhibition by contemporary artists is digital. Artists, like Collins and Townsend (and there are many more besides), have found that the aesthetics around analogue serve their narrative demands not because it provides some loftier agency.” (Umney 2017; personal email)
  • Filters – oh, the culturally loaded value judgments here! (I criticise but I am part of the culture in which I exist and hold them too.) To use an Instagram filter is considered by some, or many, a faux pas or at any rate somewhat naive. To emulate film stock, a trick only for advertising and commercial work. And yet, all of culture is indeed a filter. We humans exist only through culture and the filters which shape our reality, and which often tell us what is ‘normal’ and ‘natural’. That isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of unpleasant images about with heavy filters on them (not least of which are some of mine). To rely on a proprietary PS filter is considered by some ‘unpleasant’  – and indeed they can be quite ugly, it’s true.
  • I played with some filters that create patterns and animated them together. I didn’t much like the end result after all, they seemed pretty ugly to me – and have ditched the idea of using them. But I may return if I think they can offer something in the direction I am heading.
  • I have been looking at the Snapchat filters for a while wondering what one might do with them – and how/if I might use them in this course, even as I was finishing off UVC. When I was taking these images earlier this year, I thought wow, this app is like the pool in the Narcissus story. It is designed to appeal to our most vulnerable inner vanity, fear, frailties, and it captivates us, traps us into to looking for the lost self, which moves further and further out of reach as we do – because a self is a process and perhaps the process benefits from direct contact with the other and not from contact via a cold, digital information system, one that only shows us our socially/commercially imposed ideals. (Mirror, mirror on the wall….)

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  • Last night I chatted with my nearly 14-year-old son about the sort of images he and friends post online and about some of the academic assumptions in the course folder. Does his generation feel these images are an authentic reality, an enshrined moment? Not according to him (perhaps this social habit serves to undermine anyone’s ability to trust and believe what they see rather than convincing us of truth….) This morning in an article in the Guardian, we are told that social media “is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other,’” and “ripping society apart” according to former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya (Wong 2017) This subject is BIG and extremely complex.
  • So – I think I’m going to focus on Filters and Screens as my main containing topic. The work will ultimately contain a great deal more besides but I am going to try and just stick with this container as much as possible.
  • I’m going to use whatever garish, tasteless, gauche and naive filter I think necessitates being used.
  • I’m not going to write much more now. I will work through the exercises, probably not in the right order as it’s easier/quicker to work alone than it is to find and spend time with others so I may simply get on with the self ones first.
  • Finally, before I go – there was an article shared in the FB OCA Photography group recently which pertained to be “A deep analysis of Melania Trump’s social media photos,” it really isn’t, and which “reveals a woman in hiding from the world” (Imbach, 2017). And I don’t like to give energy to the revolting shitshow by reposting or even discussing that family, but I was quite amazed by the assumption which underpinned Imbach’s argument, which is that it is healthy and normal to be on show. No, it isn’t! The images in the article were quite horrible as images go, and at first, I assumed that they were childlike in their rendering. However, looking through my son’s feed I see that while there are plenty of images with way too much structure, sharpening, vignetting, and saturation for my own tastes, in fact, a good deal of images made by 13/14-year-olds are far more sophisticated than the ones made by said wife locked up in those towers. Who knows I may emulate some of what they are doing for a few Section 3 exercises? What I did notice is that the girls, many ‘seemingly’ feigning horror at the idea of being on show whilst also inviting it and fishing for compliments as young girls do – is that they are hiding. Literally. They are feining their desire to hide as well as being compelled to do so. It’s such a lot of conflicting turmoil to live with. They make images with their faces covered by hands, fast food bags and digital drawing. The Snapchat filters hide them too. And no wonder! It is awful to be on show. And this generation is under pressure to be on show at all times. Of course, they want to hide. We use screens to protect ourselves. It’s about self-preservation in a world that pressurises you to be on show always.,
  • One last thing – Grotowski knew theatre could not compete with film and TV, so he eschewed all technicalities and any tricks of production. He sought to utilise the actor’s main tool – the body alone.  Being a digital photographer, I will embrace what digital can do in this assignment and not try to compete with film at all.

Refs:

Baylis, J. 2001 Cinematic Chromophobia: The Case Against Colour, University of Westminster 2001 Thesis for Film & Television Studies

Umney, J. 2017 Personal email addressed to me

Rist, P. 2016 Colour is Dangerous YouTube [Accessed 11 December 2017] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdLuwX2uRTM

A deep analysis of Melania Trump’s social media photos reveals a woman in hiding from the world

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/dec/11/facebook-former-executive-ripping-society-apart

Exercise 3.1: Reflection

We are asked in the notes if we used a filter, and if so how we felt about, if not, to do so and again say how we feel about it.

Jill Walker Rattberg, author of Seeing Ourselves Through Technology, is quoted (2014:27) – “seeing ourselves through a  filter allows us to see ourselves anew. Selfies can be raw and revealing. They can feel too authentic, too honest. Perhaps running them through a filter to boost the colours, overexpose the skin to hide imperfections or give them a retro tinge is sometimes the only way we can bear to share these images of ourselves”.

How refreshing to read an empathetic view of how people present themselves online. I’m so sick of reading harsh moral judgment projected onto something as inane as a filter from those that are just too cool for school. Yes, perhaps Instagram or other app filters risk rendering pictures a little ersatz; they may be crass, and gauche; they may be a blunt instrument but not everyone wants to put all their flaws online for everyone to see – in fact very few people do, aside from artists who are doing so for a myriad of reasons which they may or may not understand. And some people will be glad of the shorthand afforded by a filter. That isn’t to say one might not be critical of a society which drives individuals to cope with becoming more and more narcissistic. But that is another thing altogether. And one might criticise a society without picking on individuals.

Besides, a filter is merely doing the same thing certain films were chosen to do, or lighting can do, or make-up. We all see the world through filters, be they literal or more figurative. We simply don’t look at life without imaginary and symbolic filters. Nor do we walk around baring our souls to all and sundry in real life at all times, and if and when we see people doing so, it might very well be down to the fact they are having a nervous breakdown at the time. An Instagram filter does not contain a moral imperative. It is nothing more than digital make-up. Granted some people choose to wear rather a lot of the stuff and we might want to question why, we might not like it personally; and we might simply get on with our own lives and stop worrying about how others find ways to cope with being human. (My eldest son, incidentally, is very anti filter. I think he’s chosen to be on the side of the ‘arch, sophisticated, look down on everyone else’ team in life for now. It’s a nihilistic generation that must deal with some incredibly intrusive ways of being, due to smartphones and 24-hour access to the outside world. But I wonder if his demeanour is as much as filter as anything we might use on Instagram to achieve a certain look.) And the whole fetishisation of film is just as ludicrous as the anti-filter rhetoric, but perhaps that’s another post. The other thing is, we can see all action as filtering – once again, another post to explain this further might be necessary, but a decision to only post selfies that block one’s face is a way of constructing and stage-managing an image of self, and hence sending out a message about who one is, just like using a filter.

I find myself in a difficult place because I am constantly trying to navigate my way through this photography journey with two quite different and separate motivations. I am a commercial photographer who must sell my ability to take beautiful images of people who will be happy looking at my pictures of themselves; they want to see the ideal (which for family shots is often ‘lovely natural outdoor shots of the children’, taken with wide apertures and adjusted in Lightroom and perhaps Photoshop to construct an idea of a ‘natural’ look). But I am also trying to find what is termed ‘an artistic voice’, which in some artistic circles might eschew all that stuff (although not always – sometimes the mere presence of film allows something to be ‘acceptable’ and highly revered). I know Wendy has asked me to use video to try to disrupt my habitual way of working. She suggested I move away from studio lighting although I should add I don’t use studio setups very often, and not if I can help it. Instead, I have learned to make the most of natural light, and very much enjoy exploiting it to create emotive images. I have looked a lot at other photographers who make use of light such as Jennifer McClure whose beautiful work I fell in love with when I first came across it – from what I understand she does use lights very effectively though. Perhaps I’m quite wrong, but I sense that Wendy is asking me to stand back from aiming to make work that is ‘beautiful’ for a moment, to worry less about its aesthetics, certainly she has said I need to worry less about creating a finished product. I envisage something quite anti-commoditised perhaps although I might be misreading, but that will be hard for me. I think she is right to push me that way, however. Trying to balance this aim with an internal need to be seen as a commercial photographer by potential clients feels tricky through and there is quite a lot of opposing tension going on within me. Answering client’s needs to make them look as close to their ideal as I can is probably quite important if I’m to continue studying as it pays for the ability to do so.

Some old selfies where I’ve used filters of one form or another, including actions – not the Photoshop kind (but interesting they should be called as such) but the real-life sequence of choices I make consciously and unconsciously.

(c)SJField 2015-2016

Project & Excercise 3.1: Self or Selves

Create a selfie that you would be happy to share with the wider world. Note how many shots you take and what your editing choices are based on.

Good grief! My big thing at the moment is that the concept of self is not, as we might imagine, a fixed definable thing. We are not the same bunch of atoms at the end of an 80-year life as the ones we were made of at birth. And getting to grips with that is what I want to make work about – but it’s a BIG idea rather than a small manageable one which relates to what I and Wendy discussed this morning. I need to learn to pinpoint a manageable idea and make work about that. (well, I’ll try but I wouldn’t hold your breath).

In an effort to start playing and stop worrying about creating highly polished finished work here are two experiments that answer this exercise which took me hardly any time although I did begin playing yesterday. What prevented me from posting yesterday’s efforts? I found them boring and uninteresting. I am not hugely into selfies although I can quite see why they are compelling and have spent some time playing with Snapchat filters with my kids and others’.

Experiment 1

I saw these mirrors in a shopfront and asked them if I could pinch them when they were finished using them. Yes, they said. I want to make some work with them at some point and think they are good props. I’ve been playing with them yesterday and today. This sort of selfie is doing exactly the same sort of thing a more typical selfie might, for instance with enhanced boobs (as I’ve seen on young girls social media), pouty lips, filters to clear skin or adding the illusion of professional lighting. By choosing to use this as my selfie I am promoting an idea of who I want others to imagine ME is.  I suspect it is as manipulative, constructed, vain, etc … all the things we like to say about selfies. I could write rather a lot about this, the narcissistic era we’re reported to be living in. But I won’t just at the moment as it takes me in a different direction to the one I’m aiming for.

Another slightly different experiment #igvideo #oca #selfie

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Experiment 2

After reading Holly’s blog I thought I’d have a play with the app she was enjoying, using a still image from the same ‘set up’ (some pieces of mirror piled together in my front room)  and presenting those as a set of images. Actually, perhaps these tie in rather well by representing some of the ideas I’ve absorbed reading about quanta (A super BIG idea). However, I am also weary they might be a little too literal. But what I do quite like is the photographs I’ve taken, or are of me on the mantlepiece especially as a child, in the background which gives me an idea!

Thanks to Holly for discussing her find.

Ref:

https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/2017/11/30/i-am-in-love-with-an-app/comment-page-1/#comment-642

Research: Some images on Instagram that stood out for me

Monster my new show @murraywhiteroom Aust Thank You @loveavaberlin ❤️

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New to the Life Framer Collection and perfect inspiration for our current theme ‘THE HUMAN BODY’: Marinka Masséus (@marinkamasseus) with her stunning series ‘My Stealthy Freedom – Iran’. • “This series reflects on forced hijab in Iran, a literal and metaphorical boundary imposed upon Iranian women. Many Iranian women hate compulsory hijab, they see it as a symbol of oppression, forced upon them not by choice or personal beliefs but by an oppressive regime. For them it has become to represent the inequality and discrimination Iranian women face because of their gender. • Every day, Iranians, especially the women, defy the regime courageously by small acts of defiance. By wearing the headscarf too low, the colors too bright, the pants too tight or the manteaux too short. Together these constant acts of bravery are affecting change, slowly but visibly evolving. The regime responds to this with regular crack-downs – when women are arrested and harassed – and by creating new laws, like the recent ban for women to ride a bicycle. • With the windows of my Tehran apartment covered with tinfoil, to ensure that the flash would not be visible from outside, we were safe to create and let creativity flow. The women threw their brightly colored headscarf in the air and while it inescapably floated back to them, I captured their brave challenge to repressive Iranian laws”. • Image by Marinka Masséus. Follow her on Instagram (linked above) and see more at www.life-framer.com/collection • #lifeframer #marinkamasseus #inspiration #iran #hijab #humanbody #portraitphotography #freedom #womensrights #feminism #body #selfexpression #conceptualphotography #fineart #visualsoflife #documentaryphotography #socialdocumentary

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Excercise 2.6 Reflection​ Who’s got the power?

Working with one (willing!) subject in a simple ‘studio’ set-up, give yourself five minutes ‘in-control’, take your portraits from any angle, lit in any way, without interference. After five minutes, reverse ‘control’ and allow the subject to dictate exactly how they wish their portrait to be taken – and what to delete. Compare the two resulting sets of images in a dialogue with your subject, be candid about what you were looking for and what they wanted from their half of the shoot.

I’m going to do something slightly different. Before discussing the work and sharing some images I’ll explain my reasons (and since this is an exercise rather than a formal essay, not in entirely academic language):

I felt here like I was being asked to do exactly what I aim to do in my work wherever possible (it isn’t always) anyway. There are exceptions and I will discuss these.  That said, I am also aware that at times in our lives we might welcome another person taking control. I suppose this is really about how one imagines power relations to operate. Let me go back to Patricia Evans’ descriptions of two realities which I have mentioned before, one where you can only conceive of power over the other – a master-slave dialectic in which someone is always going to be either or; and a more evolved paradigm where you exist with personal power which is, in her words, about ‘mutuality and co-creation’. (2012, p27) It is tempting to think of the second paradigm as a fairy tale, one which ignores human nature, and I wish I knew enough history, psychology, biology or philosophy to be able to really begin to argue and critique these ideas more robustly – but the second reality is, without doubt, the one I aim for, the one that makes sense to me. Evans’ also describes how some people can envisage such a reality but do not have the confidence to live it, and I am likely to have been someone who fits that description. In life, I have not always been able to access, feel or express much of a sense of controlled or functioning inner power. I am concerned about how this course seems designed to prevent me from aiming for the second paradigm because the emphasis is always on the first and that it is designed to make me apologise for who I am when I have really done quite enough of that in life already.

In some ways (but not all), I was bought up or am perhaps genetically predisposed (or a mixture of both) to toe the line as far as is possible (except where it would be really useful, like managing finances!). I don’t like being ‘in trouble’ – I feel the primary other is always there ready to tell me off and make me feel rubbish about myself. I suspect being that way hinders me and stops me from being a more impactful or ‘louder’ photographer. A mixture of fear of upsetting people and due respect for others certainly prevents me from sharing images or publicising my work as I might. That’s not to say I have not upset people in the past and presumably will do in the future too – but consequently, I know that posting an image of someone which makes them feel horrible makes me feel shit.  Once I shared images of my mother looking less than glamorous for TAOP A5 and she was very upset, understandably. I felt absolutely dreadful about it. Even back then though I would tend to check with paying clients before sharing any images on social media as I know people simply don’t feel comfortable or might not like the way they look at a certain angle. I rarely share work that I haven’t discussed with the subject, or at the very least with a representative, and when I post a blog with images from an event, I tend to tell the person who hired me to let everyone who features know they can get in touch if they would prefer me to remove something. One notable exception is the series of images I have made with Honor, a young dancer, for Oxford House, Nexus. I will discuss this more when I submit the work for A2.

What’s more, I would NEVER ever want to put someone in danger and that prevents me from sharing certain images, which I’ve taken in refugee camps, perhaps quite rightly. I am constantly questioning my role as a photographer for Just Shelter, the charitable organisation I accompany and document. And I have stopped one-time volunteers from using their phones to take photographs when there, potentially pissing off people who assume they ought to have more power than me. I am acutely aware of white privilege, western superiority complex and colonial violence as discussed previously in 2.5 and many other places online. I am also aware that the power structures we’re addressing here go far beyond the question of sharing images online and begin at the way subject and photographer relate.

But, I do really worry that all this stepping back from potential trouble, upset, or offense probably risks making me a bit of an ‘anaemic’ photographer.

Street Photography

I’m not the sort of person who would rush up to extremely wealthy people shopping in or near Harrods to photograph them, flash at the ready, wide angled to emphasise weirdness. (But then neither is Dougie Wallace anymore as he reportedly got fed up of being chased down the road and told to delete the images; hence the focus on dogs instead.)  Saying that I do use my phone to take street photography of people I have never met, and won’t ever meet to get permission from, although less and less nowadays. But that is not to say I wouldn’t in the future – my phone was cracked and struggling to work very well so street photography was becoming more and more of a challenge. In addition, I was bored senseless by my own photographs and felt they looked like so many others on Instagram so have backed away for that reason too. However, as discussed elsewhere I have been trying to work out how to negotiate the ethics of photographing strangers and briefly discussed this with Michael Millimore recently when he posted a blog that looked at some of these issues for his documentary module. Street photographers have always been intrusive and annoying – but sometimes we need to embrace this side of ourselves and in some circumstances, sneaky, dishonest and overtly questionable tactics might lead to interesting work as Sophie Calle and Natasha Caruana have demonstrated for instance. What’s more, it’s actually very interesting for future generations to see candid shots, and it not only tells a story about the subject but potentially also about the photographer or society where such photography is possible. Somebody will do it, perhaps somebody should be doing it too, whether or not it’s me who’s doing it is the question I should try to answer.

Returning to the original task, I chose to share some work that demonstrated my approach which where possible or necessary or appropriate is all about negotiation and shared responsibility. It’s all about shared power and mutuality which is what this exercise is aiming to make us consider – as well, of course, the history of violence and aggression white westerners have subjected the rest of the world to, in particular via the use of photography. I have linked to an excellent article that discusses this violence and I will talk about why I’m trying to separate it from general discussions of power itself in another post.

 

Evans, P. (1996). The verbally abusive relationship. 1st ed. Holbrook, Mass.: Adams Media Corporation, p.Amazon Kindle 9%.

 

Millimore, M. 2017 https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/62395190/posts/1653149198 (accessed 10/11/2017)

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/nov/10/how-colonial-violence-came-home-the-ugly-truth-of-the-first-world-war