Some of what we were introduced to this week went into greater depth of theory I had been aware of from previous study. In particular how an image can be read or mis-read through cultural or historical differences. How we read the world through cultural myths that we have been conditioned with via photography and film. Walter Benjamin’s idea that we desire to possess an object “by way of its likeness, its reproduction”. The possessiveness of a photographic representation. Also his idea that the meaning of a work of art is changed when it’s reproduced as it is no longer a unique piece of art; something the arts and crafts movement were creating as a backlash against the mass-production of industrialization. This is of course something that many art photographers utilize when they create limited edition prints etc. The double standards of the National Geographic magazine – which claims all it’s imagery to be the ultimate truth, but is it only a western empirical truth that it prefers to sell us. And lastly Sherry Turkle speaking of the multiple constructed selves that the world wide web has enabled us to create; whether completely anonymously through MMO games or just the idealized self we prefer to project through social media – this is not really new when you go back to the carte de visite of early studio photography, but the internet has made it a more insidious tool whereby we judge our own and other’s lives.
I found it interesting to consider how we photograph certain places or occasions based on similar images we have been exposed to…good example is that everyone has to pose with the leaning tower of Pisa as if they were propping it up. We can even find ourselves disappointed when visiting somewhere/thing famous when it does not live up to its photographic representation. There is also the unfortunate fashion these days for taking selfies with virtually no regard for the historical buildings etc. in the background – just to prove you were there and that something happened; while completely ignoring the beauty or history of the place. Snapchat and Instagram are encouraging a scarily illiterate and culturally ignorant generation. “You know the rules …. if it isn’t on Instagram it didn’t happen”. As Sontag states “converting experience into a souvenir”.
To be asked what kind of vernacular images I shoot caused me to question my relationship with photography. I do not take any pretty picture or ‘snaps’ – my husband or other family members take these while I prefer to enjoy the moment and rely upon my memory when recalling. I therefore look upon a camera in my hands as a tool – used for the specific purpose of creating a visual message or something to add to my personal practice.
“Integrity is everything” Kimberly Butler.
Due to the nature of my professional interest there has always got to be a negotiated contract between myself and my subject. There has to be an intimate friendship built up very quickly in order for them to feel comfortable, confident and safe in the knowledge they can trust me implicitly. My reputation is built on discretion so the model has to feel reassured they are in the position of power as I could expose their secrets and lies – yet that would in turn kill my professional standing as being a reputable photographer. As my work revolves around personal shoots for gay and bisexual men that they can use for various online profiles I also use this studio time to explore issues around Queer Identity. As we live in a time where people are still uncomfortable talking openly about their sexuality I am currently exploring what it means to be forced to hide (mask) your true self in the world outside, yet still be expected to create and display an alternate (truer?) self. Where we hide our faces yet are happy to display our most intimate vulnerability to the World Wide Web.
Within the projects we explore what it means to be part of the Patriarchy while also being threatened by that very same culture; how to combat the cult of youth and beauty; what it means to grow older in a culture that worships that same cult; how our sexual identity is intertwined with our physical sexuality and what this does to our sense of self and self-worth. I am looking to normalise and de-exoticise the queer ‘other’ in order to balance the control.
There is a strong, broad-scope community of artists across the world that explore Queer Identity within their work; be that with humour, eroticism, protest or melancholy and I brush shoulders with some and admire many others. The work we create is, hopefully, gently bringing about change and therefore enabling us to feel more comfortable with our part in it – also paving the way for the younger generation to take up the banner and proceed forwards. It would seem the models I work with also find it an empowering experience which helps them feel less vulnerable and more proud to be themselves.
Benjamin, Walter & Jennings, M. Doherty, B, & Levin, T. (eds) The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducability & Other Writings on New Media (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008)
Turkle, Sherry (1996) ‘Identity in the Age of the Internet’ in Mackay, H. & O’Sullivan, T. (eds) The Media Reader; Continuity and Transformation (London, Sage, 2003)
Sontag, S. On Photography (New York: Penguin Books, 1977)