Monday, 22 January 2018
Instagram is a strange and alien tool that panders to our need to click and seek digital approval for our images. It is absurdly addictive and turns many of the people who use it (myself included - let's not pretend here) into like-seeking refresh junkies. You're on Instagram, that's what you do.
It's a conformist application with a form of censorship tht is infuriating and seemingly random, while at its heart is part of a corporate cultural imperialism with a spectral Anglo-American perspective on the world with weird and diverse religious undertones that pander to double standards and hypocrisy on a global scale. It's a weird kind of bland fundamentalism. Or something. I really don't know what it is.
The book Pics of it Didn't Happen gives an overview of one side of the argument, showing pictures that have been censored by Instagram, with an emphasis on 'how taboo very ordinary elements of female bodies, such as hair, fat and blood, have become.'
So there's that. And when little patches of blood are taboo, or bodies that are large, there is definitely something odd at work.
You get famous photographs that include nipples including these by Imogen Cunningham censored. But you can post works of art featuring nipples. So that's OK then.
If they are male nipples, then you are allowed to post them, hence the site Genderless Nipples.
So you can have pictures of men and boys showing nipples, but not of women or even children. This picture from All Quiet on the Home Front was censored by Instagram when I did Instagram takeovers on both the BJP and Photographic Museum of Humanity, possibly for that reason. However, it wasn't censored from my personal site, so the suggestion is that it's not an algorithm doing the job on this one. But I would venture that the image below is far more obscene than the image up top, not because of anything it shows but because of the view of childhood and family that it pressupposes. Not to mention the blatant sexism of covering up a girl's torso while allowing a boy's torso to be shown. This is a kind of Instagram hijab for 6-year-old girls, and with it comes a misogyny that is being spread globally at a speed and with a spread and depth that surpasses almost anything.
The image up top, which shows an image from my German Family Album (which I'm sharing on my Instagram account as I try to get to grips with it) was also censored after being online for a few days. I'm putting it back on with a big censored sign across it.
The image is from 1929, and is titled, in translation, The Judgement of Paris - which is a great title. It's funny but a bit odd. But because there is a penis showing, a 1929 penis, it is banned.
Ins its 'community standards', Instagram states that childhood nudity is questionable because 'even when this content is shared with good intentions, it could be used by others in unanticipated ways.' There are plenty of places in the world where this kind of childhood nudity is not questioned, yet here is Instagram questioning it on our behalf.
But it's the doublespeak of the language that Instagram uses that confounds me. I know we should all pretend social media is a community and that we're sharing, but every now and then let's call bullshit on the language of sharing. So first of all, posting a picture is not sharing and Instagram is not a community. Second of all the idea embedded in this text that predatory paedophiles are trawling through Instagram for pictures of semi-naked children is absurd.
Rather Instagram is imposing a particular view of women, of childhood, of sexuality on the world. It's a form of cultural imperialism that comes directly out of Anglo-American fear of the body, in particular the female body and the child's body. It's a worldview that is completely at odds with large parts of the world, and is continuation of a war against the body, a shaming of the body (especially the female body), laced together with a commodification of the body and the family that has been going on in various forms for hundreds of years. Anne Higonnet's Pictures of Innocence and Philippe Aries' Centuries of Childhood are good starting points for this discussion, as are the religious right of all religions but I feel we are entering fresh territory now with the overlap of social media into these areas.
And it's massively important. How the body is represented affects how we see the world, how we behave, how our children behave. You can see in places how religious fanaticism (and it's not just one religion either) has entered the mainstream and transformed the way people dress, behave, and interact with each other.
You will get the same with Instagram and other social media. It communicates ideas of what is acceptable and what is not and people adhere to it very quickly. What appears on social media becomes part of a global way of thinking and seeing and doing. And it's not a community way of seeing, thinking and doing. It's a US corporate way of seeing, thinking and doing. It already affects what we post, for many it affects what they photograph, and that means it affects the way we behave, but on a huge, amplified scale.
And the best thing is I'm still on Instagram, because it's the ultimate tool of narcissism (or is that Facebook, or Blogger, or Snapchat...) and that's how they get you.
Friday, 19 January 2018
Mère et Fils (Mother and Son) by Anne de Gelas is the follow up to her wonderful, but tragic L'Amoureuse. It tells the story of how Anne reconfigured her relationship with her son, and with herself, her lovers and her own body, after the death of her husband (the immediate aftermath of her grief is the subject of L'Amoureuse which you can read about here).
The advantage of video reviews is they will be reasonably quick and I will learn some basic editing by doing it again and again.
The disadvantage is you can't say as much as you can when you write. At some point in this review I talk in brief about the authenticity of de Gelas's pictures, but also the flaws of her pictures. They are staged, they are a theatre, but somehow that makes them even the more real. The authenticity comes from the drive and intensity of the emotional narrative that she delivers through her pictures, her writing (half of which I don't understand - but it doesn't matter) and her drawings. The authenticity comes from the fact that she has a story to tell, a story she cares about, that is rooted in her mind, her soul, her body and her son. Too often, stories that are based upon staged images have no heart because they are coming from places where the story doesn't really matter, in narratives that don't really have a soul. They sometimes pretend to have a head, and move the focus to the cognitive but really they are empty vessels. . It's a complex story but she tells it beautifully. Mère et Fils isnt' like that. It's a story that matters!
Buy Mère et Fils here.
Wednesday, 10 January 2018
Every year we do a jigsaw in our house so we get to see lots of pieces of jigsaw on the table for a few weeks. This year the jigsaw is of Knavesborough, a picturesque town with rows of houses (easy), a bridge (easy), sky (horrible but not too big), river (very difficult) and trees (impossible).
Scattered in the jigsaw we also get to see people. And it got me to wondering who these people are. They are incredibly anonymous people. It also got me thinking that maybe jigsaws are the retro equivalent of Google Street View/Satellite imaging. On a far more limited scale and with jigsaw shaped pieces and frames instead of pixels and stitching software.
On Google Street View, you get a few odds and ends of people scattered in the cracks of its imagery and people make images of them, make books of them, or at least they used to when that was a bit more of a thing and was interesting for a time. You even get people who say hey look, there's me on Google Street View. There's a visibility to it.
But jigsaws, not really. I have never met anybody who has said they have been in a jigsaw, not that I've asked anybody. It would be a bit odd reallly going up to somebody and randomly asking them, "hey, have you ever been in a jigsaw?" Just as it would be a bit odd to go up to somebody and randomly say, "You know the Lyme Regis 1,000 piecer by Steefenback Jigsaws. Well, I'm in that. I'm the woman standing by the fishing nets."
In fact, it would take a huge amount of coincidence to even recognise yourself in a jigsaw. You'd have to be making it, and then recognise yourself. And how do you recognise yourself in a jigsaw when the figures are generic and lacking in distinguishing features due to scale and distance. If you wanted to brag about being in a jigsaw, then you'd really need to be at somebody's house when they were making the one you were in and then you could say, "hey look at this piece. That's me." Then I wonder if you would memorise all the pieces around you and be able to get a jump on the puzzling.
So now that the GSV theme has run its course (for the time being), perhaps there should be a return to jigsaws, which are the analogue equivalent of the GSV/Satellite crossover. Perhaps there's a project in that, perhaps somebody is already working on it. Pictures of people in jigsaws, the idealised world of jigsaws. The trouble is GSV provides relatively high rewards for the relatively minimal time invested. Jigsaws are a fucking nightmare. They take an age and the rewards are minimal - you get a couple walking under a bridge and that's about it. And they take up so much space.
Which is why you'll never get jigsaw cafes, or jigsaw photobook projects. The visual rewards are pitiful and the time investment is simply too great. Because when I think about the length of time we have been working on our jigsaw of Knavesborough, I come to the shocking conclusion that this picture is the image that I have looked at most since the jigsaw we did last year. In fact the images I have studied most in my life are ones that appear on jigsaws. And I've looked at these pictures in fragmented but sophisticated ways that (as well as taking in things like edges and jigsaw shapes) includes content, tone, colour, pose, hue, shape, edges, feathering and much more besides.
Sometimes we talk about new kinds of seeing and the importance of getting people to look. Perhaps we should consider that there are all sorts of ways of seeing that are very mainstream and we use them all the time, or once a year for me in the case of jigsaws. I might not look at jigsaws in the same way as I look at a photobook for example, but I still look at it. And that goes for a hundred different ways of looking, seeing, spotting, observing and noticing, all of which have their own science and research base, a research base that in some ways is far more rigorous than what we have in our corner of photography. In other words this corner of photography is the way of seeing that is on the margins and we should learn from the real world.
But at the same time it's less rigorous in terms of poetry, or vision or heart and soul. And that ultimately is what matters. So even though I looked at that jigsaw puzzle for hours upon end, it was all a quite distant kind of looking and seeing. There was no soul in the picture the jigsaw was based upon, there was no soul in the jigsaw itself. There was no soul in the making of the jigsaw. And soul is the goal. It's what machines, data and algorithms don't have.
Monday, 8 January 2018
The latest book review to go up on my nascent youtube channel is Isabel reviewing All Quiet on the Home Front, or going through the pictures she likes - which is always interesting - as well as her interpretation of this fantastic father's day card.
Wednesday, 3 January 2018
I'm kicking off the year with my first book review, For Brigitte by Titus Simoens, published by APE.
This super-smart book is a reinvention of the family album, with Simoens taking on the role of editor and reinventor in making a kind of dedication to Brigitte through her mass of family pictures, though actually the sequencing and cropping of the pictures is kind of random, determined by Indesign and file names - which makes it not random at all in other ways.
It's a lovely book that I've warmed to and keep returning to. But in the spirit of time management and learning something new, I'm putting them on my Youtube, er, Channel? And there is very obviously more learning to be done!
Buy the book here.
Read more about For Brigitte in this lovely piece by Stefan Vanthuyne.