Assignment 2: Development

During the General Election campaign of 2019 I collected political posts and memes from the various political parties with the intention of using these in assignment 2. Following the landslide victory of the Conservative Party I was struck by how quickly these previously important pieces of campaigning became dated and obsolete and was left wondering if there was a project to be made from them. The way the political landscape changed, literally overnight, was both staggering and bewildering to me – the deadlock of Brexit which had consumed the news and political debate since the referendum result was now over and the bill that had previously brought parliament to a standstill was quickly passed without incident. Reflecting on how politics had changed so quickly I was struck that the election had been fought, lost and won in a presidential manner with the the leaders of both main political parties being put front and centre. Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson were now yesterdays news and Boris Johnson was praised for his daring calculation and leadership through the campaign.

By accident I came across a way I could explore ideas of image and politics that had been the catalyst for collecting these posts – looking at them on my computer I found them reflected in my daughter’s illuminated mirror that happened to be beside the screen. I experimented taking images with my iPhone and instantly felt this approach could have some potential.

I then experimented removing the background in photoshop:

The development of the idea up until this point is detailed in my earlier post here:

Development and experimentation:

Although I liked the way of working with my iPhone, and the thought of using this as a tool to make images for the assignment was appealing, it soon became apparent to me that I needed to create a uniform style for the images in order for them to make a coherent set. To achieve this, I set up my camera on a tripod focused on the illuminated mirror which was angled in such a way to display an image from my computer screen. I then went through each of the images from the social media posts I had saved that featured Boris Johnson. I found that I could use my wireless mouse remotely as a way of moving and enlarging the images so they could be shown in the mirror and I could also check the composition. At the end of this process, which took a great deal more time than I expected and involved a couple of false starts where I had to begin the process from scratch, I was left with 223 images. Using Photoshop I then selected the central part of the images and removed the background, here are contact sheets of these:

Selection, editing and sequencing:

My main concern when selecting the images was to minimise any sign of context – my aim was to focus solely on Johnson. A number of motifs recurred that tied into the myth Johnson had made about him being a different kind of politician – the unkempt hair, the personable gestures, the friendly, everyman persona and the clown, unafraid to make himself look foolish. The images came from official Conservative Party sources, news websites and posts that were in opposition to both Johnson and the Tories – I was struck how having removed the context for the images it was now difficult to place the sources of many of them. Something I had noticed at the time was how some images were even used both by the Conservatives and their opposition to illustrate conflicting viewpoints about Johnson. Similarly to Donald Trump, Johnson had a way of polarising the electorate with many either vehemently for or against – the campaign seemed unconcerned with trying to convince those in the opposing camp and aimed to amplify all of the things that attracted people to Johnson while emphasising how he represented a difference to the status quo that had brought British politics to a standstill.

Ultimately, my selection was based on instinct and personal preference. A number of images showed pixillation due to either the low resolution of the source image or due to the enlarging process. This was something I found visually interesting as there was a direct link in the image to the digital nature of the source, although I was concerned this could prove distracting when the images were presented together.

The question of editing was something I considered a great deal and ultimately struggled to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion about. The brief for the assignment suggests a minimum of 12 double pages, so 24 images potentially. Clearly my shortlist was much larger than this so I was faced with the decision about how many images to include. As the output that we are asked for is an electronic (PDF) book, there was the possibility that I could include a large amount of images. This approach could potentially fit with my idea about being bombarded with images, but could also be criticised for being undisciplined and indecisive. A potential solution could be to select the number of images that could be shown in a physical book, should I choose to pursue this route. (See below)

Equally difficult was the choice of sequencing – potential solutions were to form a developing narrative leading with images of Boris the statesmen to Boris the clown, that is, positive to negative (or vice versa). Or perhaps juxtaposing images from these extremes next to each other. Another idea could be to create a random sequence selected using chance or some other method that would prevent me imposing my personal views. This was something suggested by OCA tutor Andrew Conroy when he looked at my images for assignment 1 at an OCA North study day and would also fit with my interest in Dada. Of course, if I choose to make a physical book that allows images to put placed next to other by the viewer then this would mean I was no longer the author of the sequence.

Here is a rough PDF draft of all of the images together:

Presentation:

The brief for the assignment asks for the images to be presented as a pdf book. Having enjoyed working with physical images in assignment 1 and experimenting with collage I was also keen to transfer this into a physical object. I started thinking about innovative books I have come across and immediately remembered ‘Last Stop’ by George Georgiou, an exploration of London captured from the vantage point of a bus and presented as a concertina book. (See video about the book here.) Georgiou’s intention presenting the work in a book this way is that the viewer would be able put different images together to create juxtapositions and relationships between them that would echo the way taking the same journey each day can draw on similarities, differences and create surprising narratives. It struck me that my concerns about imposing my personal view of Johnson could be mitigated with a similar approach that would echo the random way I had come across these on the internet and allow them all to be viewed at once while retaining the form of a book. Another extension of this could be printing the multiple images onto a large piece of paper and folding it in a way that it became a book. I experimented with making a concertina book using card and this seemed like something that could work and would be worth pursuing.

Whether to include text or not in my finished presentation was something I considered throughout the experimentation process before I decided to feature the images without any words. I had considered the idea of sourcing pieces of text from the original social media posts I had collected but ultimately felt that this would go against my aim of forcing the viewer to interact with the series purely on the basis of image.

Context:

I have gained so much from the artists I have studied in this section of the course – perhaps to the point that I have taken a great deal of time conducting research. This is not something I would wish to change however as the inspiration that has followed has been something that has driven me on. The use of repetition and pushing a theme to extraordinary lengths is something that is of particular relevance and note for this assignment. (I am thinking particularly of Joachim Schmid, Erik Kessels, Hans Eijkelboom and Penelope Umbrico here.)

When researching Thomas Ruff, I came across this quote by Allan Sekula from his essay ‘Reading an Archive’. I am not sure if it has any place in this assignment, however, I have come back to it a number of times during the development of this series and it continues to resonate with me. I particularly like the sentence, “photographs in themselves, are fragmentary and incomplete utterances.” It is a quote that seems to fit my intentions for this series perfectly:

“Conventional wisdom would have it that photographs transmit immutable truths. But although the very notion of photographic reproduction would seem to suggest that very little is lost in translation, it is clear that photographic meaning depends largely on context. Despite the powerful impression of reality (imparted by the mechanical registration of a moment of reflected light according to the rules of normal perspective), photographs, in themselves, are fragmentary and incomplete utterances. Meaning is always directed by layout, captions, text, and site and mode of presentation.” (Sekula, 2003: 445)

Further developments and experiments:

A recurring theme from some of the artists I have studied during this part of the course is their ability to take an initial project and develop it further into multiple outputs – this is something I find inspiring. A number of developments for this project could be possible, although I do not want to become too hung up and distracted by these at the moment. One possibility is to put the images together as a video, which is something I will experiment with in the future (perhaps developing ideas I had with the introductory exercise – image flood.)

Joachim Schmid‘s series ‘Statics‘ is something that has particularly stayed with me since I looked at his work. My style of work has always been based on photography’s relationship with the real world, however, abstraction increasingly appeals to me and is something I am looking to experiment with. For ‘Statics’ I admire the way Schmid both transformed previous work into something else while making a new set of images that are completely abstract – the series is highly conceptually with multiple layers of meaning but the images themselves are aesthetically strong and can be enjoyed purely on those terms. I used the mobile app Adobe Capture to make some quick ‘sketches’ that could develop further:

The shapes feature quickly turns the images of Boris into line drawings which could potentially be further manipulated in Photoshop, for example, colouring and presenting in a style similar to Warhols screen prints.

The pattern feature has multiple options and creates a kaleidoscope from single images. This results here really appeal to me and they would work well as large, poster sized prints. I also wonder if there would be a way of capturing these and animating them?

The colors feature selects the key tones from an image – something that would push my ideas of abstraction to the limit!

Bibliography:

Sekula, A. (2003) ‘Reading and Archive’ In: Wells, L. (ed.) The Photography Reader. Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 443-452

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.