….and so I fashion myself in my image…
Studies have commenced with a bang! My first module is titled Positions and Practice, and this, my first blog post related to my studies at Falmouth University, will revolve around the theme set for the first week of this module, which was ‘The Global Image’.
Much has been said and written about the exponential rise in the proliferation of the photographic image in the last couple of years. It has been reported that in 2014, 1.8 billion digital photos were uploaded to the Internet every day (EVELETH 2015). It seems that the digital revolution has heightened our obsession with the generation and consumption of the photographic image.
But is this relationship we have with the photographic image, as saturated with obsessions as this relationship may be, one based primarily on trust? Do we trust the photographic image more readily than we are ready to trust other sources of information, in whatever guise these latter may present themselves?
The proliferation of the photographic image accompanied the medium ever since the photographic apparatus became more commercially viable and therefore accessible to more people. So why do some of us, all citizens of the post-digital age, still stagger at statistical figures like the one reported above that glaringly reveal our daily habits in the consumption of the photographic image in the digital domain?
Talking about our relationship with technology, Jonathan Franzen states: “since our technology is really just an extension of ourselves, we don’t have to have contempt for its manipulability in the way we might with actual people. It’s all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us.” (2011).
It seems that our obsession with the photographic image stems from a latent and recalcitrant distrust towards anything that is other. Joel Snyder points out that “by the mid-1850s photographs came to be thought of as being different in kind from pictures made by all other means, owing almost exclusively to a fascination with the peculiar ‘mechanical’ character of photographic genesis” (cited in MITCHELL 1994: 175). Photographs are described as “integumental likenesses” (Ibid., 176) and “passive recordings of preexisting sights” (Ibid., 176) that are “derived not from conventions of illustrations or from the photographer’s unfettered imagination but from physical facts about the world as it appeared before the camera at the time of exposure.” (Ibid., 181).
The photograph gives one a view of the world (and the self) that is seemingly unencumbered by capricious human intentionality.
I am of the opinion that it is this belief that photographic images are inherently transparent that is forcing us to return, over and over again, to our (digital) archives of photos, pushing us into the mindless labour of expanding and refining them – and leaving us, at the end of the day, hopelessly sifting through them, like sifting through the dregs brought in with the tide, in search for that ‘ideal’ view of the world and ourselves that is ‘free’ from any human interference. As obviously erroneous and contradictory as this Promethean venture may seem to the acculturated, it is one that has effectively turned us all into what Susan Sontag terms “image-junkies” (1971: 24).
Susan Sontag taps into this digital-age nostalgia in her writings and states: “Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality, understood as recalcitrant, inaccessible; of making it stand still. Or they enlarge a reality that is felt to be shrunk, hollowed out, perishable, remote. One can’t possess reality, one can possess (and be possessed by) images” (1971: 163 emphasis added). Reality alludes us, forever slipping through our fingers, and “we continually refer back to photographs, which function as prompts and talismans” (HEIFERMAN 2012: 19).
This incessant proliferation of the photographic image, exacerbated as it has been by the switch to digital and by the ever unsatisfiable hunger of the consumer (patricians and plebeians, generators and recipients alike), materializes as a flux of decontextualized graphic information flooding the receptacles of our perceptive system, leaving us unable to make any sense out of this barrage of information and pulling us further down into the pit of alienation and nostalgic malaise. The ‘end’ result of this process and the only ‘escape’ afforded to us consumers is further consumption of the (digital) photographic image.
This bleak perception of the current state-of-affairs will serve as the impetus to the work I plan to develop while studying at Falmouth. My love for the written word and the photographed image, will see me developing a project that marries the two in an informationally-laden context that nonetheless manages to eliminate the descriptive in the word and the illustrative in the image. But more on that later 🙂
EVELETH, Rose. 2015. ‘How Many Photographs of You Are Out There In the World?’ The Atlantic, 2 November [online]. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/11/how-many-photographs-of-you-are-out-there-in-the-world/413389/ [accessed 30 January 2019].
FRANZEN, Jonathan. 2011. ‘Liking Is for Cowards. Go for What Hurts.’ The New York Times, 28 May [online]. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/29/opinion/29franzen.html [accessed 30 January 2019].
HEIFERMAN, Marvin. 2012. Photography Changes Everything. Aperture.
SNYDER, Joel. 1994. ‘Territorial Photography’. In MITCHELL, W. J. Thomas (ed.). 1994. Landscape and Power. University of Chicago Press, 175-201.
SONTAG, Susan. 1971. On Photography. Penguin Books.
No Access. February 2019 at Marsaxlokk. Photo collage by Barry Fenech Gomes Bandeirinha using photographs taken by the author.