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.