Photography: Obscura – IV – Exterior
by Beauchamp Art
Photos of micro-projections created using a secondary camera lens as an obscura, positioned in front of a computer screen projecting a distorted image of my peer in a club scene taken from Facebook, being projected onto the skin of my hand, making an apparent physical connection through electronic/digital means; false contact, broken discourse.
For this series I digitally, manually and photographically, distorted a found image of my peer, Henry; manipulating and recontextualising the image as means of distorting the human perception; changing the aesthetic to an unrecognisable point, abstracting the figure and breaking down the visual communication and social connotations of the image. Ruining the digital; the synthetic extension of the self; then taking this new-fangled image [Dissimulation] and projecting it on a small scale onto the body’s most dexterous manipulator of the physical; the hands. (Admittedly, the relevance of my own hands being the surface being projected onto is tenuous; though it was by my hand that the processing was undertaken, it was more important for it to fall onto a person’s skin rather than specifically mine.)
Every time this individual uploads an image of himself, tags himself/is tagged in a photo, or changes his profile picture, I then proceed to downloaded, edit it, and re-upload it – though this act is not exclusive to me, I have started to included it in some experimental photographic works that begin to redeem their seriousness by their repeated processing , in which I took and distorted an image of a peer in a club, abusing the ‘Content Aware Fill’ tool on Photoshop to various areas of the photograph, highlighting/saving key areas from the distortive effects, before laying the manipulations in order to create a hectic, almost psychedelic image [primarily faces, to enable the viewer to still make a human connection with the otherwise abstract image] – a reference/parody of the individuals artistic style/aesthetic stereotyping of his work; involving glitched images, distortion, manipulations and so forth.
I then passed the image through a loose camera lens, turning it into a micro camera obscura; which I then used to project the image onto my skin, and re-photographed. Through this strange process, the deliberately ridiculous, basically edited picture may take on a greater sense of maturity, though I still hope to maintain some sense of humour within the series, as this offsets the visual darkness and sinister appearance of the other images it may be seen in the context of online.
Projecting onto the skin, reconnecting to the digital image to the human is curiously intimate, and also could signify the value one places on the sense; how the visual is often held above the other senses in society, but one may question the authenticity of this predicament, this society of the spectacle, as Ashley Montagu highlights:
“A human being can spend his life blind and deaf and completely lacking the senses of smell and taste, but he cannot survive at all without the functions performed by the skin.” [Montagu, 1817]
Furthermore, as I did not have the explicit consent of all of the people involved in the original picture; the individuals featured within the frame, nor the club who the picture was taken for, nor the photographer, and defiantly did not have permission to edit the pictures, one could argue that I have crossed a socially acceptable boundary – however, as the edits were for humour sake, and then for art sake, and as Facebook’s overarching ownership of the images featured on its website render most other levels of copyright and intellectual property rights redundant, I went ahead with this series anyway. This may be considered socially abnormal, but I would question those who might suggest this; do they not think it odd to allow pictures of one’s intoxicated antics to be shown to the general populous without a thought of the potential consequences or any protest? Does this not just leave a clearer trail for the stalker to follow?
“And what if reality dissolved before our very eyes? Not into nothingness, but into the more real than real (the triumph of simulacra)? What if the modern universe of […] hyper-communication has plunged us, not into the senseless, but into a tremendous saturation of meaning entirely consumed by its success [?] […] If history were only an accumulative, instantaneous memory without a past?” [Baudrillard, 1987: 103]
Though somewhat hyperbolically dystopian and pessimistic, this line of questioning and reason that Jean Baudrillard puts forward is not ungrounded, but one must always be aware of the potential paranoia and fear that surrounds change; even in an age of the most rapid and constant change that has ever been (‘now’ is always the closet to the future, and to the end, that one will always be). “Memory without a past,” does also carry a sense that “He who controls the past, controls the future”, [Orwell, 1949]. Curiously one ponder that the user base of such social networks as Facebook are controlling their own past, much as the collective Encyclopaedia is theoretically more ‘democratic’, though the popular truth and the fact of being are frequently different – just because a wide-held belief goes unquestioned does not mean that it is right; though often in such circumstances attempting to prove otherwise can be problematic; democracy and popularity utilitarianism ignores the minority, irregardless of the authenticity of what they are saying.
Unlike the Orwellian antagonist of Big Brother, I have no sinister intent for these images; no desire for total control [though appropriation always involves some aspect of taking control], but do wish to highlight the potential consequences of the modern fad for mass online photographic exchange; whether that be the social consequences and the affects on privacy (echoing the voices who heckled the telephone as a violation, demanding attention at one’s whim, even before it became mobile, and integrated with countless other network technologies), or how the online presentation of the self may become unexpectedly distorted through technological mediation (the digital self is not subjectively artificial; synthetic or fake, but rather it functions as an extension of oneself) – in other words, one must consider one’s control over “informational privacy: the right to selective disclosure. […] The grip the individual has and keeps over his of her personal data and over the information or decisions based on this data.” [Dijk, 1991: 100]
To a certain extent in this series I am defeating the [popular] purpose of photography; the object of images; which is to convey visual meaning, in order to find new purpose and new meaning in the ambivalent discourse. Not to show something explicitly, to imply a greater depth, through repeat processing then further manipulation. The loose camera lens being used as a form of camera obscura [also know as a pin-hole camera, in this circumstance operating as a micro projector] demonstrates a deliberate undermining of the functional developments in photographic technologies – working the camera backwards – subjects representing the observer; looking at the noise, with “attention itself [as] a magnifying glass.” [Bachelard, 1958: 158]
The process is best explained as a series of simple key points:
- Original Scene
- Photograph taken
- Edited by original photographer (on commission through by the club)
- Image uploaded to Facebook
- Henry tagged in photograph
- Appears on his Timeline
- Downloaded by me
- Content aware distortion applied
- Image re-uploaded and shared on Facebook on his Timeline
- Image projected through loose camera lens onto skin
- Projected image is then Re-Photographed
This amount of repeat-processing which is intended to engage with the chance elements that occur as well as more measured means of changing an image in order to create something new that goes beyond the original appropriated image, removing some of the existing connotations and giving it new ones, a greater sense of meaning that is intentionally ambiguous to infer the characteristic banality of online images en masse, how they blur together in their quantity and their regularity of upload; irregardless of the privacy or intimacy within them, they are made public, but in this total transparency the wall of images becomes glass, seemingly formless and easily dismissible. Ambiguity is curious as it is an “inability either to define a situation oor to choose between compete definitions of a situation. Under such conditions, knowledge is problematic.” [Defleur, 1989: 316]. Ambiguity, and especially uncanny ambivalence that may cross the boundaries of the comprehensible and the abstract, never wholly one thing or another but always between, in the ‘non-place’ of understanding, transiting but not existing between two definitions – in this case, the image of group of individuals and bizarre unfocused obscurity.
And yet the constant stream continues to be fed by its countless subsidiaries; its ethereal invisibility is only disrupted in the trail it leaves behind and the chaotic ripples therein. In these continual shifts in value and meaning images take on a presence; in their human viewing and impact, not as drops in the ocean. There must be a realisation that “too much space smothers us much more than if there were not enough.” [Bachelard, 1994: 221]. Too much information and too many pictures may amount to a sublime emptiness; drowning in a sea of images. However, one could argue that manipulating public images is comparable to defecating in the collective stream; initially contaminating (especially repulsive to any immediate bystanders), but ultimately breaking down into near-nothing, and is swiftly washed away, forgotten.
The use of repeat processing is notoriously demonstrated sonically in Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting In a Room; a pivotal example of how gradual increments of atmospheric change slowly infect the original source material, making it become something else; mutating it rather than simply killing it. Nevertheless, I find the term ‘disintegration loops’ are sometimes too final to describe this procedure; disintegration implies a loss of form resulting in nothing, or death, whereas in Lucier’s piece, and to a certain extent in my own, the means of progressing material into a new form through repeated action seems more creative than destructive. For Lucier, his piece could be seen as whittling away at a tree to reveal the elegant shaft of a staff within; whereas in my piece, I do not use the same tool to change the subject throughout the process; which would be more like etching at the tree for a short while, before sawing at it, and setting fire to parts, using that flame to illuminate the branches in their new mangled form.
Moreover, this almost unnecessarily over-strenuous means of treating and seemingly complicated means of manipulating an image is somewhat reminiscent of a scene in the cult British comedy program, ‘The Mighty Boosh’, in which one of the characters is struggling to find musical inspiration and ‘the new sound’, which leads this strangely telling exchange:
Howard Moon: I’ve had a breakthrough. I think I found a new note in between B and C. I always knew it was there. I’m going to call it Howard’s Note.
Vince Noir: Wow.
Howard Moon: I’ll tell you how it works, right? I took a note, saw-tooth wave, right off this pantomime four, ran it back here, re-jammed it through itself, looped it back, mixed it with the sound of this crab committing suicide, and let it stew in its own reverb for about three hours, right? And then I pump it all out through this shoe, to give it that oaky timbre.
Vince Noir: Cool! Let’s hear it, then.
[The Mighty Boosh, 2005]
At which point a shrieking electronic sound is blown forth, and the experiment is deemed a failure, deeming the whole process a waste of time. Though intended for comedic purposes, this scene does illustrate some of the potentially ridiculous lengths one may go to in order to attempt to create something new by unusual creative means, how sometimes, more often than not, these experiments may seem unsuccessful at first, but may not amount to nothing, as they may lead to other discovers, or enable one to learn what does not produce satisfying results.
In conclusion, I believe this series to be a sucessful example of the exploration of the subject of visual super-abundance and the banality of images through a process of repeatly processing and ultimatly projecting onto my body and re-photographing a found image on a human surface; abstracting and dehumanizing a figurative image.
From this, I have thus continued my investigation into the idea of passive mass consumption; how society may be shifting from engagment through seeing and the spectacle to engagment through networked minor interactions; direct feedback, comments; memes and appropriated imagry; expanding the language of communication within the 21st century as a product of the exponentially increasing speed of modern interchange and life as a result of the technological innovations towards the latter half of the previous century.
Other works that involve the same imagery include:
Dissimulation: The original photo manipulated.
Misrepresented Dissimulator: The images of this distortion as re-photographed on the computer screen:
Obscura – II: Or as seen through a home-made camera obscura:
- Bachelard, Gaston. (1958). The Poetics of Space. First Edition Beacon Press.
- Baudrillard, Jean (1988). The Ecstasy of Communication (Foreign Agents). Semiotext(e).
- King, Paul. (2005) The Mighty Boosh: The Priest and the Beast. BBC. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0647530/quotes
- Montagu, Ashley. (1817) Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. Second Edition. Harper & Row. NY. http://archive.org/stream/youchingthehuman000780mbp/youchingthehuman000780mbp_djvu.txt [Accessed 14.11.2013]
- Orwell, George. (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. 1999 Edition. Penguin Books.
- Van Dijk, Jan. (1991). Network Society, Social Aspects of the New Media. 1999 Edition. SAGE Publications Ltd.
- Supervielle. Gravitations. 19. In Bachelard, Gaston (1994). The Poetics of Space. First Edition Beacon Press.