Rationale for Assignment 2 – Documentary – Ephemerality of the Image

I had become interested in the idea that photographs could be a mirror of visual culture after reading ‘Mirror of Visual Culture’ by Maartje van den Heuvel (2005). I asserted from van den Heuvel’s essay that it is possible for a photograph to contain properties that mirror photographs in general. One of the properties of photographs, more pertinent nowadays, is ephemerality. Since the advent of digital photography the number of photographs being taken and shared has spiralled upwards dramatically and coincidentally the effective duration of many photographs once shared has decreased. They become forgotten after a few days of being popular on the sharing platforms (even though they are still accessible). A way I foresaw of challenging this notion of ‘ephemerality of the image’ directly was to allow a photographic image to appear in another photograph. The rhetoric behind this was that the photograph represented something of the place it reappeared in and so was indexical to the photograph being taken. As well as this the photograph being taken was indexical to the place. The photograph appearing inside another photograph in the same place the original photograph was taken has been done many times before. However, what set my photographs apart, I believed, were that whatever had taken place in the photographs within photographs had since changed dramatically. In this way the place had been recorded by the photograph as a simulacrum – a copy without an original.

 

Trying Out the Instax Picture-in-Picture Idea 1
Trying Out the Instax Picture-in-Picture Idea 2

Initially I was going to get people like tourists to hold their own picture I’d taken with a ‘Fujifilm Instax Mini 8’ camera in the same place it was taken, from which I would take another picture with my DSLR of them holding the instant photo. The idea behind these images was that the person via the instant photo they were holding proved their presence in that place. I tested this idea out on family members and it worked quite well but when I tried to actually carry out the idea in public spaces with tourists I found it didn’t work so well. It didn’t work well because I wasn’t confident enough to ask the tourists whether they would wait for two minutes for the photo to develop for them to then hold it and pose again. Also I realised that of course not a lot had changed in the time it had taken for the instant photo to develop which meant there wasn’t much point to taking the photographs.

 

Trying Out the Instax Picture-in-Picture Idea with Instax Mini 8 Film

I decided to look closely at what I could change in my project and found that getting the people to hold the instant photograph and posing again wasn’t necessary. Instead I myself could hold the instant photograph and simultaneously photograph a changed scene which assumed a sense of absence in the resultant photograph. Soon after I grasped that the subject of the photograph didn’t have to be a person to reveal change in the city. I was much more comfortable photographing non-human subjects which although not pushing me particularly out of my comfort zone was more practical. I discovered to my tastes the absence of something because it has since changed in this developed idea (with myself holding the instant photos) was more powerful than reconfirming the presence of something (like in the original idea). Furthermore I felt this approach reflected the ephemerality of the image more in line with my assignment brief I’d set myself.

I also decided to use the ‘Fujifilm Instax Mini 8′ camera to give the photographs that appeared within the overall photograph some kind of instant feel to them. As my idea developed I realised that the instantaneity of the film which developed in about two minutes was not strictly necessary anymore. I could have used a much larger, non-instant film or digital camera to document the changes occurring in the city. However I decided to keep using the instant film camera because of the form factor of the images produced by the instant camera. The things I liked about the form factor of the images produced were the size and quality of image. The size was inherent in this kind of instant film camera and I felt added a kind of nostalgic character to the eventual images when the (small) instant photos appeared inside them. The nostalgic character came from the fact that they were so small with distinctive white borders which was indicative of instant photographs. Therefore they didn’t line up very well with the location that were shot in in the eventual photographs but did fit in well with the idea of the tourist culture in London. The quality of the image was quite low but I felt this added further nostalgic character to the images. If I would have taken the photographs appearing in the eventual photographs with a much better quality film and camera, the changing places would have seemed less ephemeral. This further raised questions for the viewer of how the place could be so ephemeral and what implications this might have for the photograph appearing in the place.

The location for each photograph was in the centre of London. I chose this location because with all the tourists and activity in London, the place changes very quickly and so seemed a good location to carry out the project. Also tourists I felt would be the ones using such cameras to document their time in London or another popular tourist destination so my target audience would be able to better relate to the photographs. My target audience was anyone who could relate to the ephemerality of images on social media. Furthermore my target audience was especially people who live in the same city and could associate change in the city occurring quickly too. From my perspective, taking the photographs, I felt like an insider tourist – one who had observed the often obscure ephemeral changes in the city and who wanted to document them in a similar manner.

References:

Van Den Heuvel (2005). Mirror of Visual Culture. Documentary Now! [online] Available at: https://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/heuvel_discussingdocumentary.pdf [Accessed 3/3/2017].

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