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 It also struck me how quickly all of these had become out of date – for example – the spectacularly brutal political exit of Jo Swinson.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.