Courtstagram

Here is a photo of imprisoned Azerbaijani editor Avaz Zeynalli at his verdict hearing yesterday morning in Baku, Azerbaijan.The photo was taken by his wife, Melahet Qisuri Zeynallı (via Rebecca Vincent).Avaz Zeynall court hearing

Photo of imprisoned Azerbaijani editor Avaz Zeynalli at his verdict hearing this morning in Baku (Photo: Melahet Qisuri Zeynalli)

From the PEN International case list, (December 2012):

Zeynalli’s trial has been littered with controversies, including his defence attorney exiting the courtroom mid-trial over a row regarding the order of witnesses; a courtroom altercation with the prosecution’s chief witness, MP Gular Ahmadova; claims from Zeynalli that the evidence collected against him has been illegally obtained; and serious questions about his health while in prison.

I think this image is fasincating for two reasons.  First, a relative (not a journalist) was able to take the image of Zeynalli and broadcast it around the world.  This is a commonplace occurrence, of course, but we should never take it for granted.  In years gone by, Governments would have relied on the slow pace of cimmunication, and the distance between cities and countries, as cover for illiberal manoeverings.

Second, its noteworthy that the image has been ‘Instagrammed’ before upload!  The faded sheen to the image conveys an iconic status.  In the future, I wonder if people will use some kind of filter to make court-room photographs look like court-room sketches.

The Return of the Square

Two is a trend.  Vine, the new social media app that allows you to post 6 sec video clips, has a square format.  The videos are in a 1:1 aspect ratio.  This follows Instagram, the popular photo sharing app that gives the user focus and colour filters to improve their images.

This trend arrives just at the time when wide-screen has become the standard, default aspect-ratio of choice for both video and TV.  The footage generated by Apple iPhones, other cutting edge phone technologies, and the latest video cameras, all seem to be on the 2:1 ratio.  Before the move to High Definition, TV and camcorder footage was all 4:3.

Why the change to 1:1 for Instagram and Vine?  Perhaps because the ratio evokes Large Format photography.  This conveys a seriousness, a permenance, and a respect for the art of photography… a useful quality to communicate in the ephermeral, digital world of online image sharing.

Grand Central Station and Hotel Manhattan, New York, 1900 (Library of Congress)
Grand Central Station and Hotel Manhattan, New York, 1900 (Library of Congress)

Image from the Library of Congress, found via the NYC Past Tumblr and Kottke.org.

The diversity of the hijab

20130307-090747.jpg

When I was at University and introducing myself to ideas of multiculturalism, orientalism and Samuel Huntington’s (at that time, relatively new) Clash of Civilisations thesis, I distinctly remember being surprised by the attire of a fellow student in the canteen. She wore a black hijab with a huge sequined YSL logo down the back. I remember being surprised that someone who wore such a conservative piece of clothing should also be concerned with such Western concepts as fashion labels.

Of course, that was me just being casually prejudiced on a number of different levels, and I learnt a lot from that short encounter with the back of that woman’s head. No culture or sub-culture has the monopoly on the chic, the fashionable, the well made, the comfortable; Fashion concerns are not the preserve of urban, anti-religious, counter-cultural types. And most importantly, it is possible that the hijab is more than a conservative, patriarchal garb. It can be a means for self-expression just like any other type of clothing.

Artist Sara Shamsavari’s photographs explore this last lesson. Her street photography, exhibited from tomorrow at the Royal Festival Hall, explores the myriad fashion decisions that follow a woman’s choice to wear a hijab or headscarf.

Looking at the photos, I am reminded of an article entitled ‘The Muslim Sartorialist‘ on the MENA focused blog, Aqoul:

Ever heard of the Sartorialist? It’s basically a photo blog done by a guy with a keen eye for fashion. He photographs people in trendy European and North American cities and adds little blurbs about why he thinks the outfits are interesting.

Now, I’ve always taken note of fashionable Muslim girls around me. They are masters of layering, texture and coordination. Whether it’s at the mall, a pretentious cafe or even my gym (where one stylish muhajabat routinely schools me on the treadmill), these ladies are not held back by their headscarves. Unfortunately, most of the photos you find on news sites are of women wearing frumpy hijabs, dowdy overcoats and ominous-looking ninja getups (as Lounsbury likes to call them). Western media is inundated with photos of shapeless baby-blue Afghan burkas and Saudi niqabs, so it’s hardly surprising that most non-Muslims think this style of dress is ubiquitous.

Sara Shamsavari is Iranian, which reminds me of Andrew Sullivan’s ‘Outing Iran‘ series from around the time of the 2009 elections and protests. No, not an assertion that everyone in Iran is gay. Just a recognition of the diversity of opinion and the radical art that is produced inside societies a d cultures we lazily consider to be monolithic.

There has been a lot of this kind of art in the UK in recent years. The London Olympics was a catalyst for this Kind of commissioning. One might even say that in 2013, this exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall is not particularly radical! I wonder whether London is the most appropriate place for this kind of exhibition. Perhaps it should tour to, oh, I don’t know… Bradford? Or Hampshire?

The London Look

Last Sunday I visited the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, London Borough of Lewisham.  It is a fanastic place, with an eclectic mix of exhibits – a collection of musical instruments, an aquarium, some natural history rooms, &ct. It also has an impressive cafeteria!

In its Gallery Square exhibition space, the museum is showing a great little photography collection, The London Look.  The pictures are the winners and runners up of a competition run by the museum and The Londonist website.  The winning photos by Robbie Ewing and Pete Zelewski are brilliant, but my favourite is this image, ‘Tube’ by Ed Walker, who has written a post on street photography, and getting in close to take the shot.

Girl on the Tube
Tube, by Ed Walker

She could be the character in my short story, Northern Line Lovers.

Overthinking Facebook and Instagram

Instagram Photobomb
An Instagrammable photobomb, by theycallmemouse on Flickr.

I have become an avid listener of the Overthinking It podcast. It is a few guys, chatting via Skype from disparate locations in the USA, shooting the breeze about popular culture.

A recent episode (an atypical two-hander between Matthew Wrather and Peter Fenzel) is called ‘Schroedinger’s Instagram’, and discusses in depth the pop-cultural implications of the recent purchase of Instagram by Facebook. In doing so, they cruise by many of the obsessions and diversions of this blog.

Wrather and Fenzel talk a little about party photos and holiday snaps. The way in which people ‘pose’ for ostensibly candid photos has always fascinated me. I know people who make a peace ‘V’ with their fingers, or open their mouths as if the excitement of the moment has overcome them… but then they lapse into a rather glum repose once the flash has fired. They are consciously creating an inaccurate facade for Facebook.
Continue reading “Overthinking Facebook and Instagram”

South London Sunrise

In the hours leading up to the New Year, I scoffed at the news reports of celebrations around the globe. Essentially, the TV channels were reporting the fact that the world continues to turn on its axis and orbit the earth.

However, a day later I found myself tweeting precisely the same fact.

South London Sunrise
South London Sunrise

Many other people were similarly struck by the dawn. I have compiled a Storify of some of the other photos, using the Capsules tool from Teleportd to discover good ones.

Flashes, Camcorders, and Compulsive Documentation at the #Olympics

I think the strangest example of compulsive documentation is the bizarre need we feel to photograph events that are definitely going to be documented anyway. The athletes filming the Opening Ceremony from within the parade last week is a great example of this. I was very taken with this at the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Games and took a really bad photo of the athletes filming the crowd during that ceremony.

And I’ve noted this oddness before, when thousands took photos of the 2008 Presidential inauguration, Malia Obama among them. In these actions, (entirely superfluous in the age of the mass media), we see the audience authenticating their own experience. “I was there and I took my own pictures to prove it.”. It’s the digital equivalent of picking a pebble off a beach – banal in itself, but imbued with meaning and sentiment for the one who took it. Continue reading “Flashes, Camcorders, and Compulsive Documentation at the #Olympics”

Long Photos

Earlier this week I commented on that photo of Obama and his advisors in the Situation Room:

The image in question is particularly good because it seems to portray a very long moment. If Souza had been filming the scene we imagine that it would not have looked very different from the still photograph… apart from some blinking.

Via Matt Haughey, I’ve discovered From Me To You, the work of Jamie, a photographer who takes photos and adds a little bit of movement into them as animated GIFs.  Its not clear at first glance that you’re looking at a manipulated photograph and not an actual movie.

Caught in the Fashion Jungle
Caught in the Fashion Jungle – http://fromme-toyou.tumblr.com

It reminds me of some comments made by technology thinker Chris Heathcote, who has written on the development of outdoor electronic billboards.  Hilariously, neither Chris nor I can locate the link to the post where he specificially discussed the idea that the best and most sophisticated use of moving images in billboards might be the most subtle.  Barely perceptible movements, blinks or slight gestures, may actually grab the attention of the target audience in a way that horrible flashing banners may not.  We know that modern brains can learn to mentally censor banner adverts and other obnoxious and ostentatious marketing.  Chris points to this bus shelter advert as an example of best practice.

Self Portrait Death Photos

Our culture continues to be defined by the screen and the lens. The works of Marshall McLuhan and Andy Warhol remain disturbingly current. Politics continues to be defined by image, not ideas, to the extent that the Leader of the Labour Party feels the need to have work done on his sinuses (or something), the better to appeal to floating voters.

One area of interest for me is the collision of the media with ordinary people – and by that, I mean those who find themselves caught like rabbits in the spot-light, as opposed to those who seek it out. In particular, the sub-genre of media Death Coverage. The visual grammar of a press conference is fascinating. I have also written before on how the images of the recently dead are manipulated to fit an established template (even when the deceased was very different to how they are described).

Issy Jones-Reilly in The Times
Issy Jones-Reilly in The Times
Issy Jones-Reilly in The Evening Standard
Issy Jones-Reilly in The Evening Standard

The sad death of Issy Jones-Reilly who overdosed at a party last weekend, has sent me back to this subject once more. The pictures of this pretty girl have featured heavily in the papers for a couple of days. What I have found noteworthy is that in almost all cases, the picture illustrating the victim has been a self-portrait. In this era of cheap digital imaging, that means an arms length shot, with the camera (or smart-phone) pointed back down at the photographer. The arm must necessarily extend outside the shot, and the wide-angle distorts and swells the face a little. It’s the polar opposite of professional portraiture, where the subjects are lit from the sides and rear and a narrower angle lens is used to put the face in better proportions.

I find these images of Issy quite sad. First, of course, that she only found fame in death. When she took those photos of herself she was engaging in a form of sel-promotion (I don’t doubt they were used as Facebook profile pictures at some point). She would never know the context in which those photos would finally be used. It seems to me quite tragic that, for her allotted 15 minutes of fame, she had to take her own photos.

Meanwhile, an accomplished and quite brilliant photographer suffers the indignity of having his own death illustrated by someone else. The case of Tim Hetherington, killed in Libya last week, was not quite as bad as that of Meredith Kercher (whose death was illustrated by the prettier of her alleged killers). However, I still found it odd and a little disrespectful that Hetherington’s death was reported in The Evening Standard by a picture of his girlfriend. A perfectly serviceable image of the man who actually died was relegated to the inner pages. Of course we know that pretty girls are always the choice of photo editors. But in this case, when the subject was a fellow journalist, I thought the Standard editors’ cynical bid for eyeballs was particularly crass.

Tim Hetherington's girlfriend
Tim Hetherington’s girlfriend
Tim Hetherington in The Evening Standard
Tim Hetherington in The Evening Standard