Tag Archives: Visual

Reviews, comments and thoughts on visual arts and graphic design

selfies-4up

The Darker Side of ‘Selfies’

A little while back, the Independent ran a feature on ‘the selfie’, that genre of modern self-portrait taken with a smart phone.  Hilary and Chelsea Clinton had published a selfie, which signalled the form’s crossover from youth culture to the mainstream.

When we discuss social media, the usual insight is that it allows people (whether they are public figures like Hilary Clinton or Rhianna, or just ordinary members of the public) to communicate without having to go through the established media corporations.  But I think the great significance of social media is that the traditional media outlets have completely co-opted it into their coverage.  The mainstream media’s tracking of Edward Snowden’s escape from Hong Kong to Russia was powered by Twitter.  Sports reporters quote Tweets from players and managers to gain insights into their state of mind or the state of their transfer deal.

And selfies are now routinely used by the newspapers to illustrate tragic young deaths.  Whether it is a car accident, a drug overdose, a gang murder, or a bullying related suicide, the photo editors turn to the victim’s Facebook page or Twitter stream to harvest images.  The latest example of this is Hannah Smith, who committed suicide last week.  I noted a couple of years ago how they were used to report the overdose of Issy Jones-RiellyAnd the reporting on the joint-suicide of Charleigh Disbrey and Mert Karaoglan in June was heavy with ‘selfies’. Continue reading

Cinefilm Footage of the 2003 anti-war protests

I have just uploaded some digitised super 8mm cinefilm footage I took in 2003, of the anti-war demonstrations in London.

I sent the original reels to the producers of the We Are Many documentary. They have crowd-sourced footage of the biggest mobilisation of people in history. Sadly, my footage did not make it into the final cut (too much panning, maybe!?) but they provided me with the digitised footage anyway. I am making it available online under a Creative Commons Licence.

Watching the footage a decade after I took it, I am amused by how the vintage cinefilm adds an extra sheen of history to the images. Its also serendipitous that I received this footage back just as Instagram launched its video service. The quick cuts and grainy film in my clips are mirrored in the new content being produced today by social media enthusiasts. I was using Instagram Video before it was cool!

I am also reminded of these wonderful lines from Karo Kilfeather in her essay ‘The Art of Narcissism‘:

The impulse to create art is as powerful as any other thing that drives us because art connects us to experiences and to one another. Good is besides the point when the need behind it is to create something honest and true to the way we see the world. It’s not about realism. The vintage-tinted Instagram filters are derided for adding a nostalgic cast to the mundane, but what they do is allow users to share their world in the same emotional shades they see. The photo becomes not just a document of a moment, but a story told from a point of view.

This speaks to why I chose to document the protest with Super 8mm cine-film in the first place. The political mobilisation of early 2003 felt historic, and I wanted to convey that in my personal record of the day.

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.

Synecdoche, New York and Directing our own lives

http://twitter.com/parisreview/status/198515743946571776

I watched Charlie Kaufmann’s Synecdoche, New York the other day. It is at times compelling, hilarious, and mysterious.

The story follows a theatre director, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Awarded a grant to produce a expansive artwork, he recreates scenes from his own life inside a huge warehouse. But of course, after a while, his own life revolves around producing the theatre piece… So that gets recreated inside the warehouse too. He has to recruit an actor to play himself, and eventually an actor to play the actor that plays himself! Likewise with the other important people in his life and the production. The play becomes more and more recursive, in the manner of Borges’ The Circular Ruins (a dream within a dream).

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The diversity of the hijab

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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?

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.
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clickanddrag

xkcd: Native Internet Art

xkcd is an online comic strip that has gained a cult following. Penned by Randall Munroe, it presents naif, stick-like figures doing strange, wonderful and weird things. There is a strong geek element to the cartoons, with physics jokes, science fiction references, and spin-off comic What If? which seeks to answer absurd questions with mathematical precision.

I love the sentiment which imbues the comics. Its wistful, and has an appropriate sense of awe at humanity, the world, and the universe.  However, I can see how others might find it whimsical, precious or twee.

xkcd: Click and drag - opening panels

The latest cartoon in the series, Click and Drag, is really something.  A man clutching a balloon drifts over the landscape.  “From the stories, I expected the world to be sad, and it was. And I expected it to be wonderful.  And it was. I just didn’t expect it to be so big.”

Underneath this is a large panel with a cartoon landscape.  The reader can click and drag to reveal more of the image, and see little vignettes featuring other stick figures, pop-culture references, and rendering of architectural structures and geological features.  Its a huge image in total, approximately 160,000 pixels wide, and so clicking and dragging takes a long time!

Why is this so good?  Commenter Pochacco has a good, simple analysis on the NeoGAF meesage boards:

I have a feeling the author is trying to troll us.
It’s so “big” that you can’t see it all. You will miss some parts and it will haunt you. Just like life.

I suspect this is right.

But there’s more: This is art that is native to the internet, and therefore still relatively rare.  While most art we see online (photography, film, creative writing) can actually be viewed in other media (on a wall, in a book, on TV), this piece of art only works online.  The clicking-and-dragging is inherent to experiencing of the art.  Users on the NeoGAF board are busy trying to download the entire panorama in its entirety, but doing that is a mistake that spoils enjoyment of the cartoon – that you can only see a small part of the image at any one time, and that you may miss something, is precsiely the point.

Flashes, Camcorders, and Compulsive Documentation at the #Olympics

https://twitter.com/robertsharp59/status/228974552644988929

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

Baby Jake

The Colour Palette of Children's Programmes

The colour palette for children’s TV is very green, isn’t it?

There are two reasons for this.  One, many of the shows are set outside, which encourages kids to play outside too.  It is a shame that this is not a given, but there we go.

Second, many of the programmes mix live action with animation.  The easiest way to insert a person into a make-believe world, or bring an imaginary character into the real-world, is to use green-screen technology.  If there is lots of grass in the set (imaginary or otherwise) it makes the job of the CGI teams easier, and it makes the resulting product better.  It’s interesting that this technical requirement should mean that more programmes for kids are set outside.

In The Night Garden
In The Night Garden

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