Author: Catherine

Project 2: Exercise 4.2 How is Foucault’s theory of Panopticism relevant to digital culture

Summary of Foucault’s theory

See below:

Summary of Foucault’s Theory of Panopticism_Project 2

Comments on its relevance to digital culture

Foucault is certainly very positive of Bentham’s theories and I am also reminded of Bentham’s other concept of ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ which permeates some of our political institutions. The emphasis upon information collection fits with our increasingly bureaucratic system of government and reliance on quantification and data collection as opposed to quality measures and person-centred evaluation.  The notion of psychological trickery is a good one; how many of us automatically slow down whilst driving when we see warnings of a speed camera, despite knowing that many of them do not operate due to financial constraints.

University College of London (UCL) ran a PanoptiCam Daily Time-lapse Project from Jeremy Bentham’s box there. The PanoptiCam was a tongue in cheek comment on Bentham’s “inspection house” but it also had a genuine research element ‘being used to test algorithms to count visitor numbers to museum exhibit cases using low cost webcam solutions”. See here

The concept can be applied to Facebook in terms of virtual surveillance – whilst each user becomes the centre of observation s/he can also control what is seen and not seen. Every action taken on Facebook is controlled and monitored by the site’s design and there is collection of data usage. Users have to be either male or female so fit into gender norms and the site’s rules and regulations help to control content.  Users self-regulate knowing that others are following them but they can also create ‘false’ profiles. We don’t know who is looking if posts are ‘public’ and I’ve been surprised by how many individual Users do maintain a public activity. The account doesn’t disappear when the User signs off so that also allows for constant surveillance. Here’s a peep into how the algorithms work

Currently, complaints about CCTV cameras and loss of privacy are also balanced by calls for more such surveillance of places such as hospital, nursing homes and schools to protect the vulnerable from harm. Drones can be used for humanitarian purposes as well as in remote surveillance or long-range missiles.

There are many opportunities for Artists/photographers take advantage of these types of surveillance/monitoring techniques. For example, I wrote about some of them here  in my review of the “A Handful of Dust” Exhibition. In his work A New American Picture .  Doug Rickard located American street scenes using Google Street View  and then re-photographed them on his computer screen  with a tripod-mounted camera, “freeing the image from its technological origins and re-presenting them on a new documentary plane”. Jon Rafman  is a Canadian artist whose work centres around the emotional, social and existential impact of technology on contemporary life (he also has a SecondLife persona).

Mishka Henner has sourced imagery through the internet, television and satellites to comment on activities which are usually ‘hidden’  – as here  . Broomberg & Chanarin  created their series Spirit is a Bone using a facial recognition system developed in Moscow for public security. The artists Leon Cmielewski and Josephine Starrs, amongst others, have created performance works  that draw attention to the potential for attacks by drones on civilians in combat zones.

Edmund Clark’s work  links together history, politics and representation, in recent years focussing on, “…… the hidden experiences and spaces of control and incarceration in the ‘Global War on Terror’. Such practices seem many steps beyond Foucault’s concept of mind over mind psychological trickery inculcating self-regulation to one of psychological torture/terror  (as in Guantanamo: If the light Goes out)   and remote control and surveillance (as in Control Order House. In many respects the idea of remotely tracking offenders’ movements can seem like a more humane method of curtailing sentenced offenders’ movements as an alternative to imprisonment but Clark offers a different viewpoint here in respect of returning detainees.   In Section 4 Part 20: One Day on a Saturday (2011) he also created an installation work putting together material emanating from the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay. An extract is below.

<p><a href=”″>Section 4 Part 20: One Day on a Saturday (2 min extract)</a> from <a href=”″>edmundclark</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>



Evans, J & Hall, S (1999 ) Visual Culture: The Reader, UK. SAGE Publications Ltd






Project 1 and Exercise 4.1 : Creation of false or alternative identities online

The Virtual World of Second Life

Second Life (SL) was originally conceived by Philip Rosedale who began working on the concept in 1991. At first it was more like a video game but then he and his team realised that users wished to create their own experiences. SL began beta testing in November 2002 and went live on 23rd June, 2003. It is an online virtual world created by Linden Lab where users create avatars (virtual representations of themselves) and have the ability to interact with other virtual avatars, places and objects. The objects are built by using 3D modelling tools based on simple geometric shapes and are able to interact through the use of Linden Scripting Language (a procedural scripting language) Sculpted prims, mesh, textures for clothing or other objects, animations, and gestures can be created using external software and imported and users retain copyright for any content they create.

Anyone can register, download, install and run SL but there is an optional monthly charge if one wishes to buy land, a house or purchase more complex avatars.  A monthly subscription includes a set amount of virtual Linden dollars to use for these purposes but more virtual dollars can also be obtained in exchange for additional ‘real’ currency. That’s the odd thing about it because people can actually make money by selling objects within SL.

The Terms of Service are quite comprehensive (see here)  and users have to agree to them before accessing/using SL and two Sections in particular are important to take into account. [i] [ii]  Although you can do ‘virtually’ anything you like, appear how you like, choose to be a different gender etc SL’s rules and Etiquette are listed on a notecard in every User’s Library, including six cardinal sins (“the Big Six” which are intolerance, harassment, assault, disclosure, indecency (unless on private land) and disturbing the peace. [iii]

I have only been able to find a 2008 version of the official guide to SL which does provide a comprehensive introduction to the way the site operates. Some real-life universities have set up a virtual branch there, as well as companies, well-known pop groups and a virtual art world.  In 2007 Richard Minsky, artist and entrepreneur, started a website and blog as a critical review and journal of art in SL, and there is information and a video here  where he gave a presentation at Location One.  This included him navigating SL in his avatar identity (blonde-haired woman) to show the variety of artists and art locations there which appear and disappear as time goes on. Having registered SLART as a trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office Minsky also threatened legal action against those who used the term to refer to art in SL, see here . In 2008 he filed a complaint against Linden Lab and an art gallery in SL operated by an avatar but litigation ended in January 2009 when a private settlement was reached. The SLART website no longer appears to exist but there is another site The ArtWorld Market Report which includes a blog – the last post being in June 2015.

I’ve noted the above information as it shows how we sometimes continue our propensity towards conflict into a virtual world despite the opportunities towards personal development. I want to return now, though, to  the emphasis on the opportunities for social interaction and self-development in SL.

“Your avatar choices say a lot about who you are; to the people you encounter in the SL world, your avatar is who you are. It’s true too – your avatar choices reflect your personality and mentality.” (M. Rymaszewski et al (2008), p.10).

Chapter 11 is titled “Considering your real-world self” and beings by asking readers to consider who they are offline.  Yes, it does seem odd to offer this virtual world where I can be anything and then to ask me, “Who are you?” That’s because,

“… rather than totally reinventing ourselves when we enter a world like Second Life , what we’re really doing is extending ourselves – our existing hopes, ambitions, and ideals – and adapting them within the newfound communities of people that the online space affords”. (ibid, p. 227).

“So before you discard yourself at the digital doors, remember that who you are inside of Second Life is part of who you want to become when you’re offline. Don’t reject it – embrace it! ” (ibid p. 228).

I’m sure many people desire to become a whole, new, different person in a virtual world so this struck me as quite a strong message that we can never entirely escape the effect of our culture, nature and upbringing, whilst acting as a reminder that change is possible. Examples are also provided by Robbie Cooper in his book Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators (2007).  Cooper, also known for his work looking at young video-game players  spent three years travelling the world and interviewing people who ‘played’ in the virtual world; placing their portraits next to their avatars whilst also looking at how we create our online personas in a way to transcend our physical existence. He looked at a number of players and game designers on a variety of sites, several of whom had SL presence as Users/Avatars; SL personnel; designers and/or research analysts. Of course there are some who have become so immersed in this virtual world that they spend inordinate amounts of time there but there are other hopeful stories about the way in which people who suffer from disabilities have been able to transcend them in SL, as can be seen in the video:-



Cooper, R et al, (2007) Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators
Rymaszewski et al (2008) second life: the official guide , Indiana. Wiley Publishing Inc



[i] Section 2.4 states “You grant certain Content licenses to other users by submitting your Content to publicly accessible areas of the Service”.

[ii] Section 2.5 states “You also grant Linden Lab and other users of the Service a license to use your Content in snapshots and machinima that is displayed in publicly accessible areas of the Service”

[iii] In fact from early 2007 to late 2008 there was a website/blog Virtually Blind  which covered legal issues that impacted virtual worlds.

6. Wim Wenders Exhibition 10th November 2017

 Wim Wenders” “Instant Stories” at The Photographers’ Gallery, London

 I have recently been experimenting with a Polaroid camera (re-furbished Polaroid Impulse 600, 1988-1992). There’s something fascinating for me about the instant film prints with their slight softness and more muted colours so there was no way I wanted to miss this Exhibition (on until 11th February 2018)

This is an Exhibition of over 200 old Polaroids taken between the early 1970s and the mid 1980s, mainly with Wenders’ SX-70 at a time when he was building his career as a film-maker.  He is exhibiting them now not so much through nostalgia but because he believes they have a relevance to lessons for the present, “Polaroids remind us of an innocence, of a different attitude toward the world and toward the act of taking pictures…..There was some sort of testimony in these Polaroids that I thought could be interesting to oppose to our present culture of instant picture-taking.”  (Eoin Murray, 2 November 2017, in BJP online). For him then it was concerned with some feeling of awe holding something one-of-a-kind and I agree with that because even though they can be scanned or re-photographed it still doesn’t take away the fact that the polaroid image itself is unique. So far I’ve found that despite the virtues of Photoshop it still hasn’t been possible to reproduce the particular feel and look of the instant prints.

Wenders differentiates between the spontaneity of creating the Polaroid print that he experienced in those early days and the more serious, concentrated act of creating a photograph – its ‘more painterly aspects’. Now that does sound nostalgic to me and a nostalgia for his more youthful past, especially as he doesn’t want to use a modern Polaroid-type camera, despite being given a new One Step 2 camera recently.

In the interview with Murray, Wenders refers to the efforts that photographers make nowadays to capture ‘truth’ – the picture they take being exactly as they saw the scene, because of the loss of belief in photography being a ‘truth-based medium’. I think that, somehow, he is conflating what he sees as the ‘honesty’ of the instant print because it’s a one-and-only, with a search for reproducing reality as we see it.  As much as I enjoy using my Polaroid camera I don’t really think that the prints carry a truth concerning what I saw through its lens. I need to hold that though because it fits with my preparation for Assignment 4.

 As I walked round the Exhibition I was struck by the presentation of the prints, in box frames as if precious. Mainly small of course so that I had to walk right up to have a look and then I wished I could hold the actual prints in my hands. I was struck by the way in which Wenders had used the polaroids as a visual diary, trying out ideas for films, capturing a moment, meeting, event – pretty much similar to the way I use my iPhone.

I resisted buying the book but succumbed after a few days.  It is beautifully presented – large, heavy blue linen cover with a ‘polaroid’ print on the cover which is slightly skew-whiff and adds to the evocation of the spontaneity of a polaroid print.  According to his text (p.12) the polaroids came to light during the archiving of all materials connected with his film work and photography and they were found in wooden boxes from his cigar smoking days.  There are many more polaroids within the book than in the Exhibition (403) and these are ordered not by theme but as ‘stories’ in the form of short stories and haikus which have been printed with an ‘old’ typewriter font to add to the aesthetic of nostalgia and memory. I was intrigued about the pages containing photographs because whereas the pages appear matte, the photographs themselves often have a very slight gloss on them as if they had been stuck on, yet they haven’t. I was disappointed that there’s no information at the end of the book, or in the publisher’s website, concerning the font or the paper. The title page also  mentions the inclusion of seven photographs created by Annie Leibovitz from Annie Leibovitz Archive Project #1: The Early Years   but page numbers are not noted and, so far, I haven’t found any captions naming them.

 Not mentioned in the Exhibition but a note for myself here that  Wim Wenders has also produced two 3D films  “Pina” 2012 is about the German choreographer Pina Bausch

and “Everything Will Be Fine”  exploring the effects of the death of a child in an accident. These films appear to be stereo 3D as opposed to anaglyph 3D.


Wenders, W (2017) Instant Stories, London, Thames & Hudson

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.



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!


Reflection on Assignment 3: Critical Essay

Reflection on Assignment  3: Critical Essay 


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   and here  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