Self-reflection for Assignment 5 – Documentary

I felt I showed good technical skill in producing the diptychs because it required patience and practise to get enough tourists taking pictures/selfies in front of the camera at the hotspots. Likewise I felt I showed more patience and paid attention to detail in order to get the framing and poses right for the self-portrait part of each diptych. Lastly making the composites in Photoshop required further patience.

The quality of outcome was good in my opinion. At first the project started out with me just trying out the composite technique as can be seen in the post: Photographs Inspired by Chris Dorley-Brown and Peter Funch but with tourists taking pictures as integral parts to the composites. Then after some correspondence with my fellow student Bryn, it developed into the idea of myself interacting with the tourists retrospectively through pictures. This was then embellished when I realised that I could take similar photographs to that which they had taken from those same spots, further affirming my relationship through pictures. I put this last part together in a scrapbook style which for me resembled the of the kind of scrapbook a typical tourist coming home from holiday would make.

In my opinion the creative aspect of the project was good and I learnt how valuable conceptualisation through shooting photographs and experimenting can be. However, certain aspects of the creativity in terms of creating the composites did initially bother me. I did at times question the ethics of my project in terms of depicting a true-to-life rendition of reality. This was especially true while ‘cutting out’ the tourists from one image and layering them into the composites using layer masks. I used a tablet with virtual pen to make more precise selections while painting in the layer masks. On occasions I had to look closely at the computer screen during this process which made me aware just how much I was making the camera lie and deceiving what was once an indexical relationship. However, I kept coming back to Umberto Eco’s assertion that: ‘the photograph reproduces the conditions of optical perception, but only some of them.’ – (Eco In. Burgin, 1982). Here I was just reducing another of those conditions of optical perception; that of juxtapositions within the frame and it could be argued I was doing so to highlight the perceived uncertainty over the nature of photographic realism nowadays. As Peter Funch (whose technique is very similar, and was a big influence for Assignment 5) puts it in an interview with Gregory Jones while talking about Babel Tales (2006): ‘Everything depicted in Babel Tales is true to life, however, the elements that construct the photographs were taken at different times.’ – (Jones and Funch, 2013). He previously says in the interview: ‘I present them [the pictures in Babel Tales] as documents that aren’t necessarily true. It is for the viewer to decide was is real and what is unreal – it’s not my prerogative.’ – (Jones and Funch, 2013). These comments by Eco and Funch alleviated my preexisting notions that a photograph ‘has’ to appear real. I began to think instead the viewer’s gaze was not predetermined by the nature of the photograph and they could make up their own mind.

I thought it was a documentary project in the sense that it documented parts of life – even though the composites were not indexical to the life the photographs had been made up from. In this manner it was more a topical commentary on tourism and consumer culture where pictures are a commodity which are more and more disconnected from reality. It was less a traditional documentary project where the photographs are an authentic document but it could be argued it still conveyed a message as clearly as traditional photojournalism.

References:

Eco, U. In. Burgin, V. (1982) Thinking About Photography. London: MacMillan.

Jones, G. and Funch, P. (2013). Peter Funch and the Constructed Moment ⋆ In the In-Between. [online] In the In-Between. Available at: https://www.inthein-between.com/peter-funch-and-the-constructed-moment/ [Accessed 10 May 2018].

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Book Format – My Preferred Format for Assignment 5 – Documentary – Tourism in London, And Me

Here I have attached the PDF for my preferred format for Tourism in London, And Me, that of a book. Although this would be my preferred format, I wouldn’t say it translates well in PDF format onto my blog as it isn’t possible to look at the diptychs side by side as you would in a material book as you turn from double-page spread to double-page spread. The diptychs I would suggest are a big part of my projects efficacy which the PDF loses. However, I have attached the PDF anyway so it is possible to get a better idea of the general look of the book including the front and back covers.

I would say before the book is actually printed and material where the diptychs can really be appreciated, the format of Assignment 5 appearing on my blog at: is more appropriate as it is a place where the project can show off the diptychs side by side.

Assignment 5 – Documentary – Tourism in London, And Me – Book Cover

Assignment 5 – Documentary – Tourism in London, And Me – Book

Assignment 5 – Documentary – Tourism in London, And Me

I have been documenting the picture-taking, particularly selfie-happy tourists who frequent London. The way I have decided to do this isn’t an accurate rendition of the scene as the photographs are no longer indexical to what was in front of the camera. Instead, I have utilised digital technologies to merge parts of multiple images into single composites. One of the conditions of optical perception inherent in photography (Eco In. Burgin, 1982) is reduced (that of juxtapositions within the frame derived from the indexical relationship of the scene and the photograph in traditional photography). However, another is given for these particular scenes. Here at these tourist hotspots I’ve created a more accurate sense of what it is like to be in these magnets for tourists with selfies being taken left, right and centre. The clutter has been removed allowing the viewer to be more immersed in what has to me become more of a spectacle than the landmarks themselves. That is the spectacle of the spectacle – the unconscious performance by tourists of mass picture-taking from similar viewpoints with myself recording this spectacle in a cohesive manner. ‘The spectacle that falsifies reality is nevertheless a real product of that reality’ – (Debord, 1967). I would argue this quote could be applied to the composites I’ve created which have been drawn from reality.

I’ve taken the images from the perspective of an outsider looking in, even though I would call myself more of an insider as this is my home city. As such I have repeated the images produced for each hotspot with myself imitating the tourists’ poses in front of the landmarks. ‘real life is materially invaded by the contemplation of the spectacle, and ends up absorbing it and aligning itself with it.’ – (Debord, 1967). I wanted to establish my own relationship to the tourists. This was that materially there was no relationship but within the pseudo-world of images I could assert my presence. This represents myself interacting with the tourists retrospectively. I have previously noted that tourists tend to reassure themselves when in unfamiliar places by simply taking pictures. Susan Sontag writes on tourism: ‘As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, they also help people to take possession of a space in which they are insecure.’ – (Sontag, 1977). Using this line of thinking, just like the tourists picture-taking at the hotspots were doing as a kind of souvenir of their experience as outsiders looking in, I also used picture-taking as an outsider looking in, except the subject of my pictures were the tourists and their performance in front of the landmarks. My picture-taking too was a kind of reaction towards something I felt slightly unsure about.

Finally for this project, I took selfies and photos similar to what the tourists would have taken from the same position they (and I, retrospectively) had assumed in the composites I’d put together. For me this reaffirmed my experience in relation to the tourists; producing something tangible from a relationship I’d never been able to put my fingers on up until now.

Photograph 1 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 2 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 3 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 4 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 5 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 6 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 7 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 8 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 9 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 10 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 11 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 12 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 13 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

Photograph 14 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And MePhotograph 15 - Assignment 5 - Tourism in London, And Me

References:

Debord, G. (1967). Society of the Spectacle. 3rd ed. London: Rebel Press, pp. 7-8.

Eco, U. In. Burgin, V. (1982) Thinking About Photography. London: MacMillan.

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 12.

Research Into the Practice of Selfie-Taking in Preparation for Assignment 5 – Documentary

Since a large part of my work for Assignment 5 – Documentary revolves around myself documenting people in the act of taking photos but more specifically selfies, I have decided to conduct some research into the ultra-popular phenomenon of selfie-taking. Obviously there are a lot of selfies taken each day, although it was hard to find information quantifying just how many selfies are taken each day, perhaps because of the multitude that are taken. One source claimed 1 million selfies are taken each day: ‘the 1 million odd selfies taken every day across the world (the average millennial is expected to take 25,700 selfies in his or her lifetime)’ – (Walden, 2016). However, this was back in 2016 and is a rough estimate so numbers may have risen since then. In fact in 2014 another article came to the figure ‘Android users send … 93 million “selfies” every day.’ – (Brandt, 2014). These numbers vary wildly but I came to the conclusion that there are a lot of selfies being taken each day. I have also come to realise, while walking around my home city of London that there are a lot of selfies being taken, as well as the fact that London seemed to be a particularly popular place for selfies.

Upon closer inspection, I was able to find statistics that backed this up, showing that London is indeed the the selfie capital of the world. As of 2014, 14.05% of selfies were taken in London. ‘According to an analysis of millions of social media posts by personalized map maker Suggestme, London is the world’s selfie capital.’ – (Richter, 2014). I feel I have been very privileged to live in London and it has come in handy to take advantage of the city’s selfie capital status for the project I have been commencing for Assignment 5 – Documentary. Because so many people visit and take selfies in London it has allowed me to conceptualise through shooting photographs the project described in Final Development for Assignment 5 – Documentary. It will also have allowed me (with the help of some patience) to get shots of many tourists taking selfies in each hotspot, something that wouldn’t have been as possible in other cities.

One thing that did intrigue me about this data which somewhat quantified the popularity of selfie-taking was what drove people to take them so frequently and with so much enthusiasm. Fellow student Bryn had referenced Grand Turismo to me as a suggestion for reading as he knew I was interested in documenting tourism and selfie-taking for Assignment 5. Photographer Stefano Galli was interested in documenting the same phenomenon but in a different style and in the American West instead of London. Galli used certain similar techniques: ‘To best capture the phenomenon of massive tourism, I chose popular destinations, the ones that would allow me to find the big crowds.’ – (Galli, 2018), however his style was more natural and uncontrived than mine. He documented the tourists using the selfie as a commodity rather than experiencing the spaces they visited. One quote I could really relate to since commencing Assignment 5 was: ‘Where the travel photograph was once a memento of a personal experience it has now become a commodity, replacing the experience itself.’ – (The Leica Camera Blog, 2018). This quote in turn made me think back to a remark by Susan Sontag in On Photography (1977) where she states: ‘by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.’ It would seem that the photographs are now more important than the actual visit to the place. The visit to the place takes more of a peripheral backseat to the tourists.

The act of selfie-taking isn’t without controversy. According to Christoforakos and Diefenbach (2017), they state: ‘The Selfie Paradox: Nobody Seems to Like Them Yet Everyone Has Reasons to Take Them’ as the title of their exploration into the psychological implications of selfie-taking. I already agreed with this statement but reading through the abstract of the article there were some interesting comments to back this statement up. ‘Taking, posting, and viewing selfies has become a daily habit for many. At the same time, research revealed that selfies often evoke criticism and disrespect, and are associated with non-authenticity and narcissism.’ – (Christoforakos and Diefenbach, 2017). This directly backs up the title of their article. The two parts to this statement were in turn backed up by ‘self-promotion (promoting one’s strength and abilities) and self-disclosure (revealing one’s feelings for earning sympathy) felt especially positive while takings selfies’ – (Christoforakos and Diefenbach, 2017) for the positive side of selfie-taking. Then for the negative side to taking/viewing selfies they found: ‘participants expressed a distanced attitude toward selfies, with stronger agreement for potential negative consequences (threats to self-esteem, illusionary world) than for positive consequences … and a clear preference (82%) for viewing more usual pictures instead of selfies in social media’ – (Christoforakos and Diefenbach, 2017). I thought this was very insightful research as most people would agree there are positive and negative sides to selfie-culture but probably wouldn’t be able to elucidate as clearly as this to why.

References:

Brandt, R. (2014). Google divulges numbers at I/O: 20 billion texts, 93 million selfies and more. [online] Bizjournals.com. Available at: https://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2014/06/25/google-divulges-numbers-at-i-o-20-billion-texts-93.html [Accessed 13 May 2018].

Christoforakos, L. and Diefenbach, S. (2017). The Selfie Paradox: Nobody Seems to Like Them Yet Everyone Has Reasons to Take Them. [online] Frontiers in Psychology. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00007/full#B8 [Accessed 13 May 2018].

Galli, S. (2018). Grand Turismo. [online] Stefanogalli.com. Available at: http://stefanogalli.com/albums/grand-turismo/ [Accessed 13 May 2018].

Richter, F. (2014). Infographic: London Is the World’s Selfie Capital. [online] Statista Infographics. Available at: https://www.statista.com/chart/2268/most-popular-cities-for-selfies/ [Accessed 13 May 2018].

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 13.

The Leica Camera Blog. (2018). Grand Turismo – The Leica Camera Blog. [online] Available at: http://blog.leica-camera.com/2018/05/04/grand-turismo/?utm_source=instagram&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=Leica_MD [Accessed 13 May 2018].

Walden, C. (2016). We take 1 million selfies every day – but what are they doing to our brains?. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/we-take-1-million-selfies-every-day—but-what-are-they-doing-to/ [Accessed 13 May 2018].

Final Development for Assignment 5 – Documentary

In the end I have decided against my idea as proposed in Further Development of Assignment 5 – Documentary where I interacted directly with the tourists as I was finding it very stressful asking tourists who were complete strangers whether I could take their picture. I did come up with a method for asking the tourists and introducing myself to them which helped. However, ultimately I felt I was forcing the issue and I envisaged I would be more comfortable with something less direct.

© Simon Roberts (2016) Sight Sacralization
© Simon Roberts (2016) Sight Sacralization

I had already shot one photograph using a less direct method of interaction with the tourists which helped me to make up my mind. Also after conducting more research/looking back on old research on photographers who tackle the subject of tourism I realised this method not only suited me better but also had a good rhetoric behind it. For example I looked back at some research I had conducted on the work of Simon Roberts. Although the main subject of the post was his project We English (2008), I extended this research in the latter part of the post to Sight Sacralization (2016). I was glad I had done this because it enabled me by looking back at this to renew my interest in the performance aspect that tourists (unconsciously or otherwise) undertake while taking pictures/selfies. Another, more recent post looking at the work of Peter Funch in particular was very inspiring retrospectively too.

© Peter Funch (2008) Memory Lane
© Peter Funch (2008) Memory Lane

The method I would be working in for this new direction for Assignment 5 consisted of myself photographing the tourists photographing the landmarks/hotspots but in a manner that made the tourists become as much of a spectacle as the landmarks. To do this I would create composites of multiple images with the same framing, in the style of Peter Funch. The final composites would be composed in such a way that it was obvious picture/selfie taking was the main activity occurring at these hotspots.

The next part to my assignment, which would give the project a much more personal element, was brought about by a discussion with my fellow student Bryn in which I described my struggles conceptualising my fifth assignment to him. He had seen my post on Peter Funch and suggested: ‘I wondered if you had thought about being the performer in front of the camera. Maybe visiting these tourist hotspots at a quiet time. Set up the camera as an interval shot and perform all the selfie and tourist poses before compositing it into a single image.’ While I had already thought of compositing tourists into single images, I hadn’t thought of doing something similar with myself! I took this suggestion on board and came up with a hybrid plan. Firstly I would carry out the assignment as described in my method above and then I would plan to return to the hotspots, retracing the tourists’ footsteps by posing similarly to how they posed in the same scene except all the poses would be performed by me in the follow-up photographs. I would do this early in the morning (when there were no tourists around). Finally I would be looking to combine the two types of photographs for each scene into a diptych which I could see working well together.

References:

Funch, P. (2006) Babel Tales. [online] peterfunch.com. Available at: http://peterfunch.com/works/babeltales/ [Accessed 30/4/2018].

Roberts, S. (2007-2008). We English. [online] Simoncroberts.com. Available at: https://www.simoncroberts.com/work/we-english/ [Accessed 30/4/2018].

Roberts, S. (2016). Sight Sacralization. [online] Simoncroberts.com. Available at: https://www.simoncroberts.com/work/sight-sacralization/ [Accessed 30/4/2018].

Further Development of Assignment 5 – Documentary

I have since contacted my tutor regarding my ideas for Assignment 5 as outlined in the post: Development of Assignment 5 – Documentary

To recap my ideas were varied and strongly conceptualised without having much to back them up. They consisted of: a parody on tourists where I acted the role of a spoof tourist, first-person perspective through the viewfinder of a smartphone (captured with the outer framing of my DSLR), photographing my local area from the standpoint of a tourist and lastly highlighting the repetitive nature of tourist activity in the hotspots they frequent. I posed the following questions to my tutor:

Me: Could you offer an opinion on whether parodies are usually hard to pull off and if you think applying a crude strategy for photographing the tourists or in mimicry of tourists works?

My tutor responded quite succinctly with the following comments:

Tutor: I would say, don’t over conceptualise, start to shoot it because the process of working is the best place for new ideas to form. Don’t try to stick to the original plan, for me that’s not art, it’s conformity. Go for subtlety over crudity every time. Parody of course is great, and it often appears in the edit, Parr’s work can be very subtle in this respect, sometimes so subtle its not there at all! The first person can also be ‘authored’, it doesn’t have to be subjective.

I listened to my tutor’s advice and started shooting but also I responded back to let him know how it was developing. Since I had been to visit Simon Roberts’ exhibition Merrie Albion on 10/3/2018, I had become aware of the act of performance in the landscape. I had begun wondering whether it was possible to do this with the subject of tourism but with an aesthetic style distinct from Roberts’s work. I was also influenced by a fellow student’s post on Richard Long’s art A Line made by Walking (1964) which I mentioned also. I was interested in this post because of the performance aspect of Long’s work with the photograph being used as a way to record it ( and incidentally the only record left of it):

© Richard Long (1967) A Line Made by Walking
© Richard Long (1967) A Line Made by Walking

Me: Thanks that did help a lot and I have since started shooting photographs. One plan I’ve come up with after shooting and reading up about artists and photography as well is now my Plan A although I have another Plan B in case is as follows: My current plan is to be a more active kind of performer in the photo by interacting with the tourists at the hotspots. I’ve tried the idea out (once) and it works in my opinion. I firstly take a self-portrait, then wander around talking to different tourists with the camera set on an intervalometer (with the exact same framing as the self-portrait), asking them if I can photograph them. Finally if they say yes I take their portrait in the same position as where I took the initial self-portrait (and with the same framing). I’m then left with a triptych of photos for each of the five tourist hotspots I will visit. It was influenced by a fellow student’s post on Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking (1964), where Long’s trace of his performance is left on the photograph, whereas mine is ‘in’ the photograph(s). The problems I’m experiencing is a lot of the tourists or passers-by say no and it affects my confidence and the rainy weather a bit. However, I feel it is worth persisting and I have attached a series of photographs from one location so you can see how I’m getting on.

The alignment in position of myself in the self-portrait and the portrait of the tourist is not very good so I’ll make sure it is better in the future. For now I like this concept and I will try it out more while I would look forward to your response hearing whether you think this functions well as a documentary concept. The documentary aspect of it is that it is a series of documents of a scene with the same framing. However, because of my interventions within the scene, an effect (the portrait) is caused and this is also evident within the photographic triptych. For me this shows a kind of behind the scenes in front of the camera and intersects the viewer’s usual gaze. For the second part of the triptych (me interacting with the tourists section), I was thinking of either choosing the best photograph or scaling down the photographs for this section and putting them into a grid the same size as the other two photographs for the triptych. My Plan B is to take photographs of tourists and the way they behave but with a more snapshot aesthetic, mirroring their style of photography and gaze on the places they visit.

References:

Davies, B. (2018). Research: Forest, Field & Sky – Art out of Nature. [online] Available at: https://bryn515919.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/research-forest-field-sky-art-out-of-nature/ [Accessed 30/4/2018].

Simon Roberts – Merrie Albion – Landscape Studies of a Small Island [Exhibition] 19 Jan – 10 Mar 2018. Flowers Gallery, London Kingsland Road.

Development of Assignment 5 – Documentary

I have been preparing for Assignment 5 by reading the brief and making a mind map as suggested while reading Behind the Image – (Fox and Caruana, 2012). I found this experience extremely useful in formulating ideas and structuring which were the most important issues to consider surrounding the project.

Mind Map Created for Assignment 5
Mind Map Created for Assignment 5

My basic idea I arrived at was I would be taking a spoof tourist role, documenting my experience in the city from the perspective of a tourist in London, with myself falling for the usual tourist traps and hotspots/landmarks that a usual tourist would but with twists in the photos used to document this act. The twists would be present in order for the viewer to be able to discern it was a spoof tourist role I was taking. The problem I could foresee with this was getting the spoof aspect to be obvious enough that the viewer could discern this was a parody.

I have felt sometimes my work when it is formed from theoretical ideas to practical photographs lacks subtlety. I would like to veer away from this trend but I’ve found it really hard to do for the conceptualisation of this project, perhaps because tourism and photography are intrinsically linked and tourism has many crude traits. One solution to this problem would be to embrace the crudeness although photographers like Martin Parr with Small World (Parr, 1995) have already thought of this. My approaches include photographing with my main camera through the ‘viewfinder’ of my smartphone the shots a tourist might take. This introduces a (crude) first-person perspective to my photographs, is it subjective though? Also if I was in the first-person would I mimic being a tourist or a voyeur of tourists, i.e. am I looking through a viewfinder that is first or third person and simulating the experience or observing the experience?

© Martin Parr/Magnum Photos (1990) ITALY. Pisa. The Leaning Tower of Pisa. From 'Small World'
© Martin Parr/Magnum Photos (1990) ITALY. Pisa. The Leaning Tower of Pisa. From ‘Small World’

Another approach, in order to negate the difficulty of just imitating Martin Parr etc and photographing tourists in their natural habitat, would be to photograph my local area from the standpoint of a tourist, embracing the vernacular of the tourist aesthetic to make it obvious I’m a tourist. However, I could perhaps offer insight into some of the less obvious spaces of my local area. The difficulty with this is that most of the tourist photos I see are selfies and achieving a series of shots where the selfie doesn’t just look like someone taking a usual selfie is challenging.

I looked back at why it was I wanted to take the role of the spoof tourist and one reason was the repetitive nature of the tourist activity really interests me; the fact that there are loads of tourists but often they partake in the same or similar experiences. Therefore I considered doing the same-ish shot of a tourist taking a picture of a landmark but with a different tourist each time multiple times. Then do this with a set of the most famous landmarks which would explore the souvenir of the experience the average tourist often feels they want to take away with them also.

References:

Caruana, N. and Fox, A. (2012). Behind the Image. 1st ed. Lausanne: AVA Publishing, pp.28-29.

Parr, M. (1995). Small World – Magnum Photos. [online] Pro.magnumphotos.com. Available at: http://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ALID=29YL53G7RT3 [Accessed 29 Apr. 2018].