Tutor Feedback on Assignment 3

 Feedback was given via Skype and then followed by a written report mainly based on my own notes.

Feedback on the Assignment was brief:-

You have produced a well-researched essay looking at the ways in which the introduction of citizen journalism has affected the role of the photojournalist.  No corrections advised.

 I particularly enjoyed your post on ethics and photojournalism (exercise 3.3) Your post is readable, very engaging and raises complex questions.

 

The largest part of the discussion was focussed on preparation for Assignment 4 so I will return to this in another post.

 

 

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Beginning – Thinking about the Digital Self

Thanks to my fellow student Julie  for introducing me to the phrase ‘digital native’ – used as early as 1996 and then popularized by Mark Prensky . Prensky’s view was that there is a distinction between the young ‘digital natives and older people, who he termed ‘Digital Immigrants’ .

“The importance of the distinction is this: As Digital Immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their “accent,” that is, their foot in the past. The “digital immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first, or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program itself will teach us to use it. Today’s older folk were “socialized” differently from their kids, and are now in the process of learning a new language. And a language learned later in life, scientists tell us, goes into a different part of the brain.”  (M. Prensky 2001).

According to this piece there are also ‘Digital Settlers’ – those there at the start and ‘Digital Immigrants’ who learned how to use e-mail and social networks late in life..

Prensky’s view was that young “digital natives’” brains have physically changed as a result of the digital revolution. I know much has been written about the negative effects of the digital revolution on young minds – unable to spell; short attention spans; needing information in short bites only;, unable to engage in a group because they are always checking their phones and shutting themselves off from ‘normal’ human intercourse; cyber-bullying etc. There are positives though, many children and adolescents learn to balance their use of digital media with both physical and interpersonal activities. One study, ”A Day in the Digital Life of Teenagers” spent a year of fieldwork  looking at the lives of 28 teenagers and the researcher was encouraged by how well they managed digital devices and content and concluded that these have become teenagers’ way of ‘asserting their agency’.

My eight year old grandson, a ‘digital native’ born into the age of digital – deep into the world of ‘Minecraft’. What I really noticed was, whereas I could only pretty much see large, blurry pixels, he was very engaged in building a world for himself; a non-competitive world at that, Whereas I would need an image, a sentence of description in a book – even a word, written or spoken, his brain has learned to build a world using a few pixels.  From there he will often move to his lego collections, building scenarios, creating animated videos. His use of the digital world is just one of his many other activities.

Photographer Wendy McMurdo’s project used photography, film and moving image to explore how the use of online building games impacted on identity formation in children and ‘to bring together the invisible world of data with the concrete world of ‘things’, through merging photography and 3D rendering techniques. I’ve kept thinking about ‘Minecraft’ and how, to me, those pixel blocks provide an external, visual representation of the networking of our brain cells as they manipulate data to form ideas and constructs. This reminds me of the theories of Marshall McCluhan in the 1960s and his writing on the effect of printing on the way people perceived their world.

A recent Aeon article refers to ’the extended mind’ whereby memories, thoughts, perceptions extend beyond the body to algorithmically mediated objects, databases and networks”. Our brains adapt just as they adapt to reading the symbols that comprise the alphabet, or music, or, in my case, learning shorthand. I don’t think of it as one thing or another but as an accretion of knowledge and skill.   Simon Jenkins wrote an article in The Guardian   (2 Feb 2017) noting that sales of old-fashioned vinyl records have soared to a 25 year peak (I should add that we have some and they are digitally re-mastered to provide enhanced sound), printed books are recovering ground from e-readers, plus there is more questioning of the negative effects of the internet. Jenkins suggests that we are now heading for ‘post-digital’, employing new technology as a servant and not as a master.

I was born into a world where few people had telephones and there was no television. News was from the radio, newspapers or Pathe News at cinema visits – obviously old. I consider myself to be a ‘digital settler’ being there at the start of the digital revolution and welcoming computers – maybe because I already knew how to type with all my fingers!  Also, to my mind, it maybe isn’t so much of an ‘age’ thing but the degree of  aptitude/orientation, i.e. some people are better at reading maps than others because their spatial skills are more developed. I’m writing this in hope because I still can’t follow those pixel blocks in ‘Minecraft’, let alone work my way building a website – yet!

 

https://aeon.co/essays/how-algorithms-are-transforming-artistic-creativity
http://jolt.merlot.org/vol7no4/koutropoulos_1211.htm
https://theconversation.com/a-day-in-the-digital-life-of-teenagers-58553
http://www.borndigitalbook.com/excerpt.php
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/02/digital-revolution-age-of-experience-books-vinyl
http://wendymcmurdo.com/photography/classrooms/

 

Reflection on Assignment 3: Critical Essay

Reflection on Assignment  3: Critical Essay 

Preamble

Before reflecting on the Assignment I need to acknowledge what has been happening for me since I started this Module. Basically I’ve had health problems – not serious ones but ones  that affected my ability to concentrate.  Firstly I waited months to have a cataract in my left eye dealt with and then more months to have my gall bladder removed after been taken to hospital A&E with biliary colic.  I did my best to carry on regardless, and it isn’t that I didn’t produce anything at all, as can be seen from my blog posts. However, made very slow progress and several times wondered whether I should stop my studies because, maybe, I was always going to feel like this. Thankfully I’ve felt much better this last couple of months physically and mentally and feel more energised.

At first I intended to focus the Critical Essay on ‘The Female Gaze’ and submitted a proposal to my tutor who, quite rightly, replied ‘As you yourself note, this is a huge subject (and your working bibliography is longer than most PhD docs) so you will have to narrow it down’. She suggested I narrow it down on one or more artists who specifically use the internet as a way of expressing their themes and ideas.  I thought long and hard on this and, indeed, made some notes on artists who make much use of Instagram. In the end though, and in view of not feeling that great anyway, I decided to ponder on the Critical Essay a little longer.

With renewed health and enthusiasm I re-thought and decided to be sensible.  I had written twice previously about Martha Rosler and her views on social documentary and what was missing see here https://catherinebanks.wordpress.com/category/workshops-attended/4-oca-thames-valley-group-meetings/iii-fourth-meeting-18th-august-2013/b-martha-roslers-work/   and here  https://catherinebankscn.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/2-projects-1-and-2/  and decided that it would be good to continue along this theme to see how much the digital revolution had changed the way photojournalists and documentary photographers were working and whether the rise of citizen journalism had helped or hindered this.

The way I chose to cover the topic was to read around events first, draw up a force-field analysis and work from there.  Stuart Allan’s chapter ‘Blurring boundaries: professional and citizen photojournalism in a digital age’ in The Photographic Image in Digital Culture (2013) was very useful in laying out the scene so I used it as a lynchpin for research, having already read and viewed much of Fred Ritchin’s thoughts and suggestions on how photojournalists could make use of digital technology. With Allan and Ritchin as signposts I read further, including reminding myself of the views of Marshall McLuhan way back in the 1960s. I’ll be writing further on McLuhan because, although I grasped his meaning when introduced to his work in the 1970s, I couldn’t really find the words to summarise them whereas now I can, I think, including why Jean Baudrillard turned to McLuhan’s ideas to look at the links between social relations and the communications used by a society. I think that McLuhan and Baudrillard will be very useful in looking at digital identities in Part Four.

Assessment Criteria

I think that ‘Quality of Outcomes’ and ‘Context’ will be the most relevant for the Critical Essay. I find academic writing frustrating because of its style; not being supposed to use  “I”, and its structure. However, I think I have been able to demonstrate sufficient grasp of the context and ideas for the reader to follow my lines of thinking and also that I have managed to maintain a focus on the main thrust of the essay without going off too much at a tangent. I think I have also demonstrated a relevant and appropriate range of research as well through references cited.

 

 

 

Digital Image and Culture Assignment 3 : Critical Essay

The brief of the essay was to respond to one of four questions.  I chose to answer

Has the ‘digitial revolution’ created more problems than opportunities for today’s professional photographers? Discuss this question using relevant case studies and/or specific aspects of modern professional photography.

by asking the question

How has the digital revolution affected the role of photojournalists?

Attached is a PDF of the essay

Assignment 3- Digital Image and Culture

 

Exercise 3.4: Post-photojournalism

Project 4. Re-thinking photojournalism 2: ‘post-photojournalism’

 Exercise 3.4 – Look at the work of one of the practitioners discussed in the project. Write a short analysis of one of their projects or the practitioner’s overall approach. Comment on how appropriate you think their creative responses are. What is your impression of the evolving nature of photo journalism?

 Looking at new strategies used by photojournalists to maintain viewers’ attention in the light of ‘compassion fatigue’. I’ve written previously (on other Modules) about Jeff Wall and LucDelahaye. Looking at Benjamin Lowy’s work on his website, what struck me the most was that I found it difficult to tell whether the images were produced from an iPhone or a DSLR. Comment is made in the DiAC Handbook (p.77) that perhaps it is the familiarity of the smartphone image ‘that gives it a fighting chance of catching the attention of apathetic audiences’.  That seems counter-intuitive somehow because I would imagine that because it was so familiar it would just become one of many to be scanned-over quickly and the the eyes move on.

I’ve looked at the work of Patrick Chauvel and his series Guerre Ici [War Here] (2009) . bringing the conflict home with his digital composites combining images of war zones with views of Paris.  I would imagine it did get people to look then but now, given what has happened in Paris in more recent years, such images might seem in bad taste – similarly in London and Manchester.  In fact, thinking about it, these recent dreadful incidents could really have brought home the consequences of war and how far their web stretches.

Thomas Dworzak

A Magnum photographer, Dworzak was working in Afghanistan when he found some portraits in a photographer’s studio in Kandahar. These were illicit images requested by Taliban sitters (all photography banned except for ID purposes).

 

Do portraits like this ‘subvert the regime by exposing the contradictory behaviour of its adherents’ (Handbook p.77).  In a Vice Interview  Dworzak acknowledges that he received a lot of criticism in Europe for being disrespectful – as if he had taken the photographs himself.  He bought and published them because he was wanting to point out the inconsistencies. I agree there are and they do intrigue me and make me look because they make me think of more than the inconsistencies.  The backdrops they were taken against don’t look like Afghanistan (although maybe I’m stereotyping here) they look like some idyll of a different life.  The flowers add femininity beauty somehow, softness.  The portraits make me wonder what thoughts and feelings these Taliban fighters have about their lives and the constraints around them and what choices they had. I feel sad even whilst knowing of the Taliban’s brutality.

Compare with two other photographs taken by Thomas Dworzak

What do I think about the evolving nature of photojournalism. Well, it’s like a chameleon, changing according to prevailing circumstances to survive and I think that’s a positive strength.  Viewers suffer compassion fatigue and I would imagine that photojournalists do become burnt-out; inured to what they see.  I’m not surprised that some of them feel the need to venture into other modes of being to reclaim themselves.

Exercise 3.3: Breaking the news?

This exercise  follows from Project 3 on Re-thinking photojournalism 1: the citizen journalist. The exercise asks us to read the blog about the New York Post’s image of a man about to be killed by a subway train; analyse the event and then comment on the ethical decision of the commuter who took the picture.

 I don’t know where the ‘commuter’, R. Umar Abbasi, was standing when he saw what was happening. Was it a camera phone or another more powerful phone? Presumably he knew about the power of the flash given that he is said to be a New York Post freelance photographer. I would have thought that a man running and waving his arms might have caught more of the train driver’s attention than the light of a flash in a lit station platform but then the article refers to other people there doing exactly that.  However, Abbasi apparently said that the train driver saw his camera flashing but told him he couldn’t stop the train fast enough. He obviously questioned the man – was this on the basis that he was a ‘reporter’? I also read that the train operator was treated for shock and brought out of the stain in a wheelchair wearing an oxygen mask. Did Abbasi speak to him whilst he was in shock or afterwards.

No other people appear in the photograph except the unfortunate man on the tracks, Ki Suk Han, who was pushed by the suspect after trying to calm him down when he was ‘harassing and cursing at straphangers. I could presume that Abbasi was in front of everyone else.  If he was repeatedly firing his flash then presumably he was repeatedly taking photographs as well. I might presume that, given that he is named as a freelance photographer, the adrenaline flowed and his photographer self immediately went into action ahead of his ‘rescuer’ self.

I was relieved to read that the adrenaline flowed in a different way for another person – Dr Laura Kaplan, a second-year resident at Beth Israel Medical Centre who saw the man on the tracks and later rushed over to administer CPR.

There is information in the blog that the victim, Ki Suk Han, had quarrelled with his wife beforehand; had been drinking; one witness claimed he was the aggressor on the platform, and that the authorities found a bottle of vodka on him afterwards. Are we expected to feel less sympathy for him because of that? Does that minimize the actions of the man who pushed him?

If I hadn’t read the article and seen the photograph then I could well assume that this is a ‘case study’.  It raises many implications for the role of the ‘professional’ photographer, including are they just ‘witnessing’.  Personally I couldn’t stand by but then I wouldn’t want to be a photo journalist anyway.

The ethical decision of the Newspaper isn’t queried in the exercise. What purpose does the article have except to provide sensational news but then what about those photographs showing people jumping out of windows in an attempt to escape from the Twin Towers? Why were we shown those? What purpose did it achieve? Why do human beings have this need to gaze upon disaster, violence, tragedy?

PS : The New York Post was criticised for publishing the photograph. An article in the International Business Times   comments on this and considers the ethics involved. Kevin Z. Smith, Chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Committee (in the United States) gave his view in a phone interview with Christopher Zara, IBT. Smith cites the “Minimize Harm” section of the SPJ’s Code of Ethics (link given in the article). The website of the Press Association in the UK is here . I’ve looked but can’t find mention of a Code of Ethics so I’ve emailed them.

 

Exercise 3:2 from Project 2- Digitising atrocity

Quite a large part of me didn’t want to do this exercise because there are some images I’ve had such strong feelings about and think were wrong that I don’t want to publicise them by inserting images or providing links. I think part of it is the intent behind the photograph being taken or if I perceive that advantage is being taken of someone vulnerable, particularly a child.

I had very conflicting feelings about the images of the little three year old boy, Alan Kurdi who drowned, along with his mother and five year old brother, when his family, with others,  were attempting to reach the island of Kos after escaping from Syria. Twelve people died in total including five children. There were several photographs taken and what disturbed me was that in one of them a policeman was standing over the body of the little boy and it looked as though he was taking a photograph.  Obviously someone else was also photographing that scene.  I accept that this little boy was being used as a representative for all the suffering that has been caused by this conflict, lives lost, futures cut short but it seemed so disrespectful to me. The justification for publishing these photographs was that what happened should force authorities, countries to get together and form a plan to tackle the refugee crisis.  This child drowned in 2015 and still nothing has been done.

There was another photograph, again of a small Syrian boy, five years old this time, pulled from rubble in Aleppo after a regime airstrike in August 2016. Covered in dust from head to toe, injured and sitting alone in a chair, looking so dazed. I felt so angry that he was being photographed in such a state instead of being comforted. The photograph is a still from a video which shows him being rescued, carried into the ambulance, placed on the seat and then his rescuer walking away from him so that someone else could take the photograph. This photograph and video were in a Guardian newspaper online article which also contained another image from Twitter. A Telegraph reporter had photographed the little  boy after treatment – bruised and bloodied with a bandage round his head. The photographs went viral.  Again nothing has changed.

I’ve read quite a lot recently about digitising atrocity and the role of the photojournalist. Peggy Phelan’s essay ‘Atrocity and Action: the Performative Force of the Abu Ghraib Photographs”(2012) very much  drew me .  I won’t go into detail here because she takes a different, more philosophical approach concerning the way in which we, as viewers, of images such as the Abu Ghraib photographs respond; disavow, become defensive, angry. Her reasoning is complex, introducing the concept of the “….. given-to-be-seen and the blind spot that are central to seeing a photograph” and I want to return to the essay in future to re-read and digest more fully. Phelan begins with the questions posed by such photographs; the actions portrayed within them and also the viewer’s potential action – “What can I do to fix this? How can I limit this atrocity?”

 

PS Ariella Azoulay wrote about “The Civil Contract of Photography” (2007). Azoulay wants action not empathy and believes we don’t know how to look at such images. This is a note to access the book.