Thoughts and Analyses of Social Protest Texts

Power to the People: Images by the People

This text was the one that I found most difficult to parse, but it gave some important and useful background information to better understand and appreciate the other two texts. In this essay, Weibel examines the evolution from representative visual media, to a interactive and more participatory social media, that was initiated by the democratization of image creation, but was truly heralded by the rise of the information age, with the technologies that enabled the mass distribution and dissemination of ideas, media, and art. This rise in social media has significant implications and effects on how society progressed in the late 20th/early 21st centuries, with a particularly notable effect on politics and protests.

 

When seeing is belonging – the photography of tahir

I enjoyed this text, as it provided a fascinating look into the protests in Tahir Square, Egypt, during the Arab Spring. At the time, I was too young and disconnected to fully understand and appreciate the importance of what was going on in the Middle East, and as alluded to by the text, the media I was exposed to was often heavily biased or filtered by the mainstream media sources I was consuming at the time. This article brought up some interesting insights into how social media, and the internet as a whole, enabled the protests to be as organized and widely disseminated as they were, but also touched upon the effects of the spreading of “poor images,” and how it influenced how the unfolding of events was communicated to the world.

 

Occupying the Noosphere: The Evolution of Media Platforms and Webs of Community Protest

This article was centered mainly on describing and analyzing the “noosphere,” defined as the layer above the zoosphere in which information freely flowed between individuals and communities, for the purpose of knowledge dissemination and collective organization. I found McLuhan’s usage of “hot” and “cold” media to be quite interesting, and made me introspect on how I tended to be drawn towards “hot” media, preferring to consume information instead of actively participating in online communities. With the context of the noosphere in mind, it is easier to see how protests around the world, from Egypt to Wall Street, evolved from an idea into widely organized events attended by millions of people. However, the democratization of information exchange facilitated by the noosphere can be as detrimental as it is beneficial, as in my mind, it tends to result in more decentralized communities, that might have a harder time narrowing in a single, unified message. It appears that what is gained in the strength and mindshare of many, is (partially) lost to the general disorganization and incohesiveness that results.

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Iconic Images

Nguyen Van Lem; Bay Lop

Maybe one of the most iconic images to come out of the Vietnam War this photo depicts a uniformed South Vietnamese officer shooting a prisoner in the head. Looking at this image out of context, it appears as though an officer is killing an innocent prisoner, or even a civilian.

The photographer, Eddie Adams, had this to say of capturing the photo:

I just followed the three of them as they walked towards us, making an occasional picture. When they were close – maybe five feet away – the soldiers stopped and backed away. I saw a man walk into my camera viewfinder from the left. He took a pistol out of his holster and raised it. I had no idea he would shoot. It was common to hold a pistol to the head of prisoners during questioning. So I prepared to make that picture – the threat, the interrogation. But it didn’t happen. The man just pulled a pistol out of his holster, raised it to the VC’s head and shot him in the temple. I made a picture at the same time…

 

The image of Lem’s execution, and public reaction to it, played a small role in bringing the Vietnam War to an end. Although that is no bad thing, it also demonized General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. Eddie Adams was quoted as saying,

The General killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn’t say was, “What would you do if you were the General at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?”

Major General Loan later moved to the United States. When he arrived, the Immigration and Nationalization Services wanted to deport him partially because of the photo taken by Adams. When Loan died of cancer in 1998, Adams stated, “The guy was a hero. America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him.”

Chinese Pictorialism

Here’s a photographer that I found out about when researching pictorialism. I don’t normally find myself drawn to asian art, but scroll landscape paintings are an exception. Don Hong-Oai emulates these paintings with his photographs, resulting in a dreamy, almost surreal effect.

Link to some more photos: Pictures

Reflections on Third Word Filmmakers meeting, Bazin and Gray

The reading on the Third World Filmmakers was interesting to me, as I never really considered the power cinema (and other art forms) have on the colonization of a nation and its culture. Growing up in the US, I’ve always taken for granted the films that were shown to me as standard. While some films might be more political or have more propaganda undertones, I never recognized the influence such media can have on what society considers to be normal and just, good, or evil. It seems obvious now that a colonizing force would be naive to ignore the culture of the nation they are imperializing, and I now appreciate the gravity of the influence art can, and will have on the trajectory of societies all around the world, and further recognize the importance of cultures having their own art that can be disseminated both internally, to keep their culture alive, and externally, to communicate to others aspects of their culture to educate, inform, and maybe even influence.

I also enjoyed reading The Ontology of the Photographic Image, as it also clarified the importance of photography in shifting western fine art attitudes away from photorealism, to what has become increasingly abstract and esthetic, as opposed to representational. As a fan of modern and contemporary paintings, I am grateful for the camera’s role in not only shifting the trend in art, but also its ability to make viewers feel differently about the works they view. As highlighted in the article, photos feel inherently more real, as it (ostensibly) removes the man from the scene in front of him, and only what is objectively there is captured. However, as photo-manipulation becomes increasingly accessible, questions arise as to whether the role of photography is shifting, from a representation of truth, to just another medium of art that can be manipulated at will to reflect the desires of the artist.

Questions:

  • Did The Battle of Algiers appear to reflect the wishes of the filmmakers at the meeting? (Note that the movie was shot before the meeting)
  • How did the film portray the colonizers? The colonized? We’re the portrayals fair, and how did they influence the way you saw each side?

ICA Reflection

The field trip to the ICA was a very enjoyable experience – it has been a while since I’ve had the time to enjoy contemporary museum exhibits at my own pace. I liked quite a few of the exhibits, with my favorites being Grosse Fatigue by Camille Henrot, View of Harbor by John Rafman, Safe Conduct by Ed Atkins, Nudes lox 22 by Thomas Ruff, and Still, Five Hooded Men with Seated Man by Seth Price.

Continuing the theme of the reading “In Defense of the Poor Image,” I dug a little into the last two pieces.

 

Nudes lox 22  – Thomas Ruff

This photo was part of Ruff’s Nudes series, which consisted of images taken from pornographic scenes, but blown up to obscure the details of the scene due to the low quality of the initial images. This style embraces the “poor” quality of scenes by making them a main feature of his work. Though the details are blurred, the contents of the scene are quite obvious to viewers, who subconsciously resolve the scene in their heads. In my opinion, the works would send a much different message if the details were able to be rendered clearly, relying less on the ability of the viewer to piece together the image based on past knowledge.

Parallels can also be drawn to his cassini series, where he took a similar approach to photographs of Saturn, enlarging images from the Cassini spaceflight, and abstracting them to make it less immediately obvious what is being presented to the viewer.

 

Five Hooded Men with Seated Man – Seth Price

Image result for Five Hooded Men with Seated Man

This work jumped out at me because of the three-dimensional nature of it. Price takes a flat scene of a poorly-shot image of an execution, and through screen-printing it on clear film, gives it added depth, making it jump out of the wall, towards the viewer. It is only upon further inspection that the viewer discovers that the scene is that of an execution – the abstraction of the image distracts the otherwise shocking subject. I liked how these abstractions are compared to the general desensitization of the public, as it resonated well with me. It made me think about how some of the first movies made viewers puke due to the perceived realism, whereas I can easily find videos of executions, rapes, tortures, and other horrific subjects, and view them without a physical response beyond shock, awe, and disgust.

Looking into some of Price’s other works, I was immediately drawn into his use of repetition and texture, in a way that is evocative of Japanese patterned textiles. Such themes are also present in his fashion line collaboration. Though less reminiscent of Japan, his work does evoke a certain sense of conformity and sterility that might also be found in Japanese work culture.

Comments on Hito Steyerl’s “In Defense of the Poor Image”

This reading really got me thinking about how much I disregarded “poor” images. I felt like in today’s day and age, when high quality cameras are so ubiquitous, “poor” images indicate a certain amateurism to them, that makes me question their legitimacy. I’m so used to my media being taken in situations where the photographer has access to the equipment and lighting need to take technically perfect photos, that it’s jarring to see images from a low resolution camera in situations of poor lighting.

 

However, it is exactly those images that are fascinating for the very reason of their low quality. Whether the image is low quality because of a poor camera, poor operator, poor conditions, poor transmission, or poor compression, or any combination of those, there’s a certain story that goes along with the image. Like a tag, the quality of an image gives some indication of the context around the circumstances in which the image is produced and transmitted.

 

Questions:

  • How do you feel when you see images of poor quality? Do you trust them more, less, or the same as high quality images?
  • Can good photography be of poor quality?
  • What messages do you think image quality conveys in today’s society?

Reflection on Hito Steyerl’s In Defense of the Poor Image

In China, piracy is very rampant due to the incomplete network supervision. Although the government has been hoping to control by regulatory, poor images are still out of control due to the needs of netizens. I was imagining that with the development of technology and information resources, the future network society will be highly refined and the resolution of video resources will be infinitely high. People can easily enjoy the same space experience and audiovisual enjoyment as the cinema, by AR or VR technology (In fact, the AR/VR technology at present has been very close to it)

This kind of flourishing age of internet not only fulfills the original ambitions of militant and (some) essayistic and experimental cinema – to create an alternative economy of images, but also satisfies people’s fetish of high resolution. At same time, it will also push the image art to a new peak – the communist network art age (I don’t know what it is, just saying)

Reflection on William Gibson and Andre Bazin’s Posts on Chris Marker

I found it difficult to truly envision what William Gibson and Andre Bazin were describing when they spoke of Chris Marker’s work. I wonder if I’ll decipher some of the meaning of their words when we watch La Jetee.

I looked up the writers of the posts to understand a little more about their perspectives on the pieces. William Gibson is a writer, well-known for his science fiction writing in the subgenre cyberpunk. I’m not sure how much writing he had done by the time he had seen La Jetee, but even he was in awe of the film. Do you think it was so impactful and defining because of that time period? He didn’t describe what exactly made him feel the way he did, so I’m interested in seeing how the film will impact me. Of course this will be very different than the HD, CGI movies we see today, but I wonder if it will be as thought-provoking since we live in a more high-tech society with a greater range of possibilities… or maybe they’re just different possibilities.

I read the Andre Bazin post after the Gibson one, so that helped give some insight into how Marker structures some of his films. Although he didn’t talk about La Jetee in particular, since he was no longer alive at the time, this was helpful context into understanding why Gibson may have felt the way he did. Marker’s films seem very thought provoking, especially when thinking about point of view and perspective. His style seems unique. Was his filmmaking style adopted more widely after his films came out? Why or why not? Or rather, why do you think it would or wouldn’t be more widely adopted as film style?

Reflection on Allan Sekula’s “On the Invention of Photographic Meaning

I think Allan Serula’s paper discusses similar ideas as to what I considered when reading “Performing Civic Identity”. The esthetic and metaphorical component of photography, as well as the real and transparent component of photography have to be considered. Are there ever situations where one side should be more heavily weighed than the other?

I wonder if photographers tend to struggle with the portrayal of their images. It’s difficult to expect a viewer or reader to know or look up the context of the image or what the author’s intent was. This reminds me a lot of going to museums, especially those with a lot of artifacts. The descriptions tend to be very limited and describe the object and not a story. This is a stark difference to if you were to go on a tour, and could understand the value behind different objects and why they were created, which makes for a much more engaging experience. Even when the photographer does leave a space for their commentary and descriptions, people may not even read it. Furthermore, how do photographers or artists navigate cultural influences and biases, especially when trying to create a truthful image?