General Election 2019

The 2019 General Election appeared to offer timely material for assignment 2. From the beginning there was much discussion about how the use of social media would be critical to the success, or otherwise, of the political parties so I decided to follow this closely. I set up specific accounts for Instagram and Twitter and followed all of the political agencies and candidates and news outlets I could find and saved any relevant posts. Keeping up with the posts was quite labour intensive and I am sure I missed a great deal as well as coming across the same information being presented over and over which was a wearying experience in itself. Despite this, by the end of the campaign I had amassed 1870 screenshots which varied wildly in their content and presentation. Here they are in thumbnail form:

Straight after the election I struggled to see what, if anything, I could make of these images and suspected that I may have wasted my time with the whole exercise. My preconception was that some sort of narrative would emerge but all I could see was a variety of propaganda from all sides the only difference being how openly it displayed itself as such. It also struck me how quickly all of these had become out of date – for example – the spectacularly brutal political exit of Jo Swinson. I considered juxtaposing opposing viewpoints or making a collection of memes but neither of these ideas particularly appealed. The more I thought about the various campaigns and how the Conservative’s successfully managed to return a large majority, the more I began to realise this success was not the result of winning any sort of argument but due to putting Boris Johnson front and centre – despite being in government for 10 years the campaign managed to change the narrative in a way that Boris represented something different to what had gone before. (There is huge resonance here with the success of Trump in the U.S. of course.) It seemed clear to me however that the persona Boris cultivates is a careful construct and apparent that this was the real story of the election. As I began filtering the screenshots by those that featured Johnson, my daughters mirror happened to be near by and I instinctively used it to take a photograph of Johnson reflected in the mirror with my smartphone:

The light around the mirror created an interesting halo effect, the contrast also pushed the digital noise which combined with the distortion caused by the angle I took the image. The thought of appropriating the imagery without any sort of intervention did not appeal to me and this seemed like a way I could add my own twist. I set about experimenting taking more images and removing the background of these in Photoshop:

There seems to be something here worth pursuing and experimenting with further both visually and conceptually. I showed these early experiments to fellow students at a recent DI&C hangout and they agreed which was encouraging. Considerations I need to make:

  • Uniformity of the images – initially I liked the varying angles of the images but this could be distracting when presented together. Perhaps I should try to find a way of photographing in a more uniform way? I took these by displaying the images at full screen size and then moving the mirror and smart phone around until I managed to capture an image that isolated Boris as much as possible. One possibility could be to keep the mirror stationary and move/enlarge the image on screen to be displayed to achieve the result I am looking for.
  • Presentation – if I continue with this idea for assignment 2 the course notes ask for the work to be presented as a book. I am not enthused with the idea of producing a traditional book but at the same time do not want to make something different for the sake of it. I have been interested in making a handmade concertina book as I have seen this used to great effect in other projects and like the idea that the viewer can juxtapose images themselves. I have also been increasingly interested in the handmade after some experimentation through part one, although my ambitions are not necessarily matched by my skills. There is a risk that I could become completely side tracked here that I need to be aware, and keep check of.
  • Does it need to be a book? – I have noted that some DI&C students have completely disregarded the idea of producing a book and made something else. The idea of making a film appeals as this is something I want to explore more in the future, although I am not sure what this would look like. An extension of my early experiment for the preliminary exercise ‘Image Flood’ could be a possibility as having a large amount of subtly different images would work well together.
  • Text – my initial thoughts are to keep to text to a minimum or even to have none at all. One thought I have however if I choose to include text is to make a ‘found poem’ from words found in the social media posts. This is something comedian Dave Gorman does to great effect with comments from the internet and is influenced by the cut up technique famously used by William Burroughs and David Bowie to create unexpected relationships between words through the use of chance.
  • Sequencing – a comment made in response to my assignment 1 by tutor Andrew Conroy at an OCA North study day I attended was that I should experiment with allowing cut up sections of the images to fall in a random fashion and then photograph the results. This could be a potential technique to use when sequencing the images for this project.

#personsofinterest

Browsing Facebook I came across a post from my local police force asking the public for help in identifying a suspect. The details of what the individual was wanted in connection with were left tantalisingly ambiguous, with wrongdoing only being suggested as they were ‘a person of interest’ wanted in relation to an ‘incident’. The most immediately striking aspect of the post was that the image was of such a low resolution that I doubt even a close family member would be able to identify them which led me to consider what the intentions of the police were – was this a case of sloppy amateurism or something else?

A quick look through the comments on the post amused me as most responders made fun of how bad the image was. Pressing the hashtag #personsofinterest brought up a whole series of further posts in a similar vein and my mood began to change from amused to troubled – how ethical was it for the police to attempt to identify people this way? It seemed that each of the people featured were at best suspects that had not been charged with anything, potentially ‘outing’ them in this way could damage anyone identified significantly. Even if they were guilty of something, how could it be right that they are portrayed as such without some sort of due process? The quality of the images was so poor that incorrect identification could be a strong possibility – indeed, many comments alluded to this as friends were tagged in jest.

I am unsure if there is any potential use for these except for making me think about the nature of surveillance, law enforcement and all of the connected issues and ethics involved. It also made me consider how much we are unknowingly filmed and photographed each day and how this could potentially be used to control – it is not so much of a stretch to think that we are at a point in everyday surveillance that makes the controlling principles of the Panopticon a reality. These images are so poor that the intentions of the police in showing them have to be questioned – is it such a leap to believe that the aim is not to catch the people in them at all but to make a wider suggestion to the population that any illegal activity could lead to their image being shared on social media? Is this crime prevention by stealth that makes everyone consider the consequences of any potential actions before engaging in them? Or, is this simply a way for the police to demonstrate to law abiding citizens that they are engaged in bringing wrong doers to justice? Perhaps there is a more pragmatic reality that due to funding cuts the police need are using every tool at their disposable to detect criminals and this is a particularly easy way of achieving this.

#personsofinterest

No Parking

I have had a few days off work and have spent them trying to get back in the zone with the course…something I am pleased to say has been both productive and successful. Yesterday, my head was full (in a good way) of Joachim Schmid and I decide to take go out for a walk with the camera to blow away the cobwebs. Increasingly I have been finding it difficult to get out on these walks – there always seems to be something else more pressing I should be doing. The fact is though I always feel better afterwards – reenergised, relaxed and more able to put things in context. It is great to just wander as a flâneur without any preconceptions, taking the time to look at the everyday with an inquisitive eye. Pushing myself to go out today has made me realise how important this is and that I need to make a conscious effort to do this more.

Clearly my research into Schmid must have made an impact as I soon began to notice recurring themes – specifically the varying ways people signpost that parking is not allowed. Is there anything to this? Not sure, but it started me thinking about ways of recording and classifying that could potentially form part of assignment 2. Later that evening, I attended (via a zoom call) a presentation by OCA tutor Ariadne Xenou which concerned “strategies to help identify the wider themes, contexts and issues your work might address.” The talk completely blew my mind (also in a good way) – it was aimed specifically at level three students enrolled on contextual studies/body of work so I was expecting the level to be high, however, I was not prepared for how far away I feel I am from this level. I need to digest what I thought about it but my strong initial feeling is that it has given me a shot in the arm about what I need to do to be ready for the next modules. Something that resonated immediately was a discussion about grand narratives and micro narratives. These are terms that I have come across but am not really familiar, however, my understanding is that a grand narrative is the overarching theme of a body of work while the micro narrative is the specific way this is communicated – i.e. the project itself. One of the students described this in terms of their current work – the micro narrative of which is architectural development of a rural area local to them with the grand narrative being change. Ariadne also discussed how work and research comes together in increments as smaller pieces and how sometimes undertaking the smaller parts will eventually lead to the whole becoming apparent. (As I am writing this I am realising exactly how much work I need to put into expressing ideas clearly)

Anyway – here are the images. They are all taken quickly, without any real consideration about being seen as a set. I don’t know if this is anything to pursue, but in the least, ‘collecting’ random items could be a diverting project in itself.

Archive Composite Experiments

The two essays we are asked to read for project 4, John Fontcuberta: ‘Why do we call it love when we mean sex?’, and, Nina Lager Vestberg: ‘The photographic image in digital archives’, both discuss ideas and concerns around the archive. Both of these papers started me thinking about my own archive and using this as a possible resource for future work. With working towards assignment 1 in mind, I began to consider if this was a possible route to take – the brief requires composites to be made based on our immediate surroundings and I have hundreds of images that could show how certain parts of my local area have changed over time.

The first images I thought about were those taken for my Documentary assignment 5. This series was concerned with living in a post industrial area that had been built on coal mining. I photographed areas where there had previously been pits, old images of these sites fired my imagination as in them I recognised my familiarity with the areas, and yet, the sight of the collieries was also completely alien. Using these images as source material, I experimented with compositing them together:

Morrison Colliery:

Out of all the vintage images I happened upon for this project, this was one that resonated the most as the road is pretty much the same 100 years later. First, I layered one image over the other before masking vertical slices to reveal parts of each image. This was similar to a technique I had tried in previous experiments.

Neither of these images really work as it is difficult to make out either of the scenes – not something that necessarily is a problem, but something that I instinctively feel does not work here.

Next, I tried aligning the old image over the contemporary picture and blend them together using a layer mask.

The paths match exactly here and the images fit together well. Getting the balance between the two images is difficult, I tried converting the contemporary picture to black and white but this just made them both too similar to be differentiated. I have tried to minimise the halo effect around the blending of the towers, I have perhaps gone too far with this however.

Morrison Busty:

I applied the same blending technique to these next two images. Although to my eye these are identifiably the same place, they are less aligned than the first image so do not work as well together.

I am not sure if this is a technique or direction I would like to pursue further. This sort of layering of old and new images is something I have seen regularly applied, predominately on local history Facebook pages, and it is potentially my snobbishness that is clouding my judgement here. I wonder if there is mileage in applying this to different images, I do not usually have a problem with abstraction and it is perhaps my attachment to these images, having spent an extended amount of time considering them, that leads me to reject the ‘slice’ technique. I wonder how I would feel about this with images that I am not so attached to?

Bibliography:

Fontcuberta, J. (2014) Why do we call it love when we mean sex? in pp. 183-188: Fontcuberta, J. (2014) Pandora’s camera: photogr@phy after photography. London: MACK

Vesteberg, N. The photographic image in the digital archives in Lister in pp.113-30: Lister, M. (ed.) (2013) The photographic image in digital culture. Abingdon: Routledge

Street Scene Composites – further experiments

Thinking about possible approaches for assignment 1 I decided to revisit the images I used for ‘Street scene composites’. My aim here was to bring work together in a way that would draw immediate attention to the fact they are individual images rather than as a convincing single montage as I had in the previous work.

This technique is a possibility for the physical part of assignment 1 – I decided to divide each image into equal sections, 10 in total, and ‘slice’ vertically before putting these together in photoshop. I went through each of the unedited pictures and chose sections that had elements that caught my eye – this was mainly where people were in the foreground. Once I had done this, I was able to switch between layers to create different final compositions – three of which are below:

Next, I brought together 10 images from one section into a single image:

The sections of the slice images are chosen randomly which is a deliberate strategy, however, I wonder if a more considered approach could work better, such as all women or men, everyone facing the same way…there is a kinetic sense of people going about their business anonymously in the city in these that I like – somehow by only showing fragments of the person, but still giving a sense of the whole scene, this ‘loneliness in the crowd’ feeling is somehow emphasised.

Finally, I noticed from the initial unedited pictures that a lady selling the Big Issue is a constant – some of the other images contain the same people but they are in the same area either sitting or talking. Using the image I had created with no one in the frame as a background, I made a new image with only the Big Issue seller in the frame. This could have potential for further exploration.

Politicians who look like… composite experiments

I came across this article via twitter – it is an irreverent, but amusing, piece that juxtaposes images of politicians alongside fictional characters or animals they resemble.

I have made some crude attempts at compositing these images in photoshop, none of which are as effective as simply showing the images next to each other. I have found it difficult to find images that are of high enough resolution and similar enough to be usable, however, the technique could have further applications with other images. For example, I may look through my archive and rephotograph scenes that I took in the past.

Nigel Farage/Parker:

Boris Johnson/Alpaca:

Theresa May/Twiki:

Street scene composites

One of my main aims with Digital Image and Culture is to experiment more – something I have been struggling to do so far but intend to begin to change. Recently, I hit on the idea of producing composites of multiple images taken in busy locations. If I found a place I could sit my camera and then set it to take pictures at intervals then I could use the resulting images to build images that show two manipulated states of the same scene – the first, completely empty of people, the second full of people. I am unsure if my initial experiments have any value in pursuing further, but my initial reaction is to try and produce a few more of these. If nothing else, it is good practice with Photoshop.

I made these by keeping my camera in a stationary position on a seat, setting the exposure and focus to manual and using the interval shooting option to take shots every 5 seconds. In Photoshop, I started with the first image and then added the next picture in the sequence as a layer. I found an area of the scene in the second shot that had become empty due to one of the people in it moving, made a loose selection and added a layer mask. I continued this until I managed to delete ‘erase’ everyone from the scene and was left with an empty street scene. For the second image I reversed the process and added people into the picture leaving me with a composite that was full of activity.