Author: Catherine

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 the word, 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.


Exercise 3.1 – Fred Ritchin Towards a Hyperphotography (2008)

I found this essay very interesting – in fact it led me on to research other articles, videos etc. There’s a strong message coming through all of them in relation to photo-journalism and its need to use interactive digital methods to engage, weave together multiple narratives, and allow all points of view to emerge.  All this achieved through hypertext and hyperlinks which can be contained within an image (hyperphotography)  so that further information can be accessed.  His example of Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother is a very clear one to begin to understand his concept and here is a helpful Wikipedia article that gives contextual background and presents other photographs taken at the same time. Imagine though a web image of the actual photograph with links embedded that travel to comments and memories from Florence Thompson and her family. In the essay Ritchin writes ‘reality has no single truth’ (2008:147). He posits the idea of a contradictory ‘double’ image which is cubist, staged events  or simulations which could be exposed by a second photograph.

The Exercise asks if we can find any visual examples of ‘cubistically unmasking photo opportunities’ and to look for multiple points of view around a single news event or story. In his essay Ritchin refers to the  website akaKURDISTAN here  – “a place for collective memory and cultural exchange”.  There is a story map and the introductory panel quickly changes to a map which has highlighted yellow spots

Every spot takes the viewer to a different story. One took me to images and story from a teacher of what happened at midnight on June 19th 1963 to the people of Sulaimania. Many were captured and four teachers were executed and placed in a mass grave.  No one knew about this until November 1963 and when the bodies were exhumed a friend of theirs (the narrator) took photographs of the exhumation. The father of one of the executed men said, “I have no photo of me with my son so please take our picture together”.

The website was one of the outcomes from work by the photographer Susan Meiselas  who used MacArthur Foundation funding (beginning in 1992) to curate a photographic history of Kurdistan which resulted in a book as well as the website.

I will be writing more about Fred Ritchin’s views on photojournalism in a digital age in Assignment 3.

Interrupted Landscape: Weftwood

I had this idea of creating another installation in the Copse.  Away from the main path there’s a small ‘clearing’ atop a low hillock. Someone created a swing there sometime in the past – a hunk of rope from a tree branch tied around a large piece of wood and, during last year (2016), a tepee ‘structure’ appeared off to one side, sometimes partially covered by some old faded green cloth/tarpaulin. Towards the end of that year, a somewhat dilapidated garden seat appeared in front of the tepee. Quite often I’d see the remains of a fire, empty drink cans, bits of paper and such scattered around. I never saw any people, though I’m guessing it’s some youngsters who occasionally gather together there.

The garden seat was slowly breaking down so, in July, I decided the seat needed to be rejuvenated in some way and decided to do this with wool – weaving different colours on its back. My usual question – “Am I creating litter?” – well there was litter there already (which I’ve occasionally cleared away) and whatever I created would be temporary and removed at an appropriate point.


Friday 14th – red and green wool bought from Sue Ryder Charity shop.

Saturday 15th – announced my intention at TV group

Sunday 16th – off to the Copse with wool, camera, and scissors. Made my first ‘mark’. Posted on Instagram.

Tuesday 18th – Copse – The second stage needs wool strands not from the skein because the skein won’t fit through the slats. I cut a long piece and placed scissors and skein back in my backpack. Just as I was making my first new knot I turned round – there was Digby chasing off with the skein – wool streaming behind it. I got it back, a bit bedraggled, unravelled and with bits of leaves sticking into it. Put it back ‘safely’ I thought. Next thing I know is that both dogs have the unravelled skein on the ground and are playing with it. Rescued – back in bag, do I leave the leaves in the wool now? New weaving done so 2 strands now. Created a beginnings video as well.

<p><a href=”″>In the Beginning</a> from <a href=””>Catherine Banks</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

It then rained seemingly endlessly for days and there was too much mud to go on the Copse.


Friday 11th and Sunday 13th – six sets of strands now but knew I wouldn’t be able to do more for a while due to a forthcoming operation then having an extra dog to care for.


Monday 4th – Feeling stronger although not quite so sure about the amount of bending needed to weave the wool.  Wondering what had happened on the Copse though so picked a brighter spell of weather to have a look.  All seemed fine.

Saturday 9th – Oh No!  I couldn’t believe what had happened.  The ‘swing’ had been dismantled with a rope swung up to another tree, with the block of wood dangling, plus a pallet contraption.  Seemed like another version of Stig of the Dump . Found the bench, even more decrepit, at the top of an incline overlooking the clearing with just a few strands of red wool hanging from it.


<p><a href=”″>Weftwood 9th September 2017</a> from <a href=””>Catherine Banks</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Sunday 17th – all change again – just bits of wood left now and sad, red wool strands.

Reflecting further on this experience I think that I was seeking a response –  from these unknown strangers and maybe from other people who walk the Copse with their dogs.  I have occasionally seen people with young children there and the children utilising the ‘swing’ – even my own grandchildren have had a go. It was mainly the ones I was imagining as youngsters hanging out I was interested in though. Would they notice?  Well, did they notice or was there some kind of unconscious transference that led them to create their own strange installation.  I’m writing ‘strange’ but why should their actions be more strange than my own efforts and why would I think of my own project as more creative? Maybe it was that my intention was to interact with the landscape in a different less destructive way and leave a transient ‘mark’ rather than upend everything.

Part way through the project I had thought of ‘Interrupted Landscape” and decided that this would be a good name for an overall theme I could follow in different ways.  The work I’ve been doing with the poppy field will also fit this theme as there have been changes there too this year (another post to follow).

I intend to continue with my theme and see where it takes me. There’s some wool left …..