The Need to Write (or a Reflection on the Past) Part 3

In September 2012 I started what was my second year of my Photographic Art degree, and my 3rd year in Uni (having previously completed a Foundation Degree in Art, Media and Design (which has been written about here) and my First Year as a Photographic Art Student (read about the first year here)).

I was really looking forward to this year as it was to be the first year that our grades counted towards our degree, though I’ve never really understood why our first year didn’t count towards our grade.  We had been set work to complete over the summer term, anything of our choice, so long as we had research and a completed piece of work to show for it.  I used the topic of insomnia for my body of work and chose long shutter speeds to capture the restlessness felt by the sufferer.  (That work is documented in these posts found here ) .  We all got set the task of visiting an exhibition in the holidays and writing about the visit as well as completing a full project.  I chose to go to the Tate Modern and see Damien Hirst’s exhibition and write about that.  We were to exhibit our summer projects and hand in the writing about the exhibition in the weeks after we started back for marking.  When it came to it though, we got to exhibit our work but not one of the lecturers seemed to care about the written work at all which was really disappointing on my part, not because I hadn’t enjoyed the exhibition but because I had tried really hard to produce some really good writing about the exhibition and it felt like the lecturers didn’t care and were not really interested.  This didn’t really set off the year in the most positive way for me.

One of the first projects we were set was the task of producing some kind of work in a “Make” project to ease us into the new study year.  We got to choose our own theme so long as we produced something that was made by us which was nice.  I chose to create work inspired by the colour spectrum, focusing on how the colour spectrum we were taught in school, made up of primary colours – red, blue and yellow, secondary colours – purple, green, orange, differed from the “light colour spectrum” or “Additive Light Spectrum” where white light is made up of different colours of light.  I produced a set of 3 canvases based on this theory, sets of overlapping and linking circles all painted with varying degrees of tone (this can be seen here).  I also made a hanging model of how the colours interact with each other – another balls on sticks piece!  We had to talk about our work in front of the class, which was quite nerve-wracking and I’m still not sure, to this day, whether anyone understood my work or even liked it.

The second project we did focused on the town I am from, we were to produce work about the town which could have the opportunity to be displayed in the town, which was undergoing renovation works, to hide the ongoing building work.  The whole of the class had to produce work about the town I’m from (Pontypool) and upon completion of our projects were to exhibit our work in the town for all to see.  I can’t say that working on a project that is based in your own town is easy, for me this was really hard as I have done so many projects about the town, through school and college respectively and for this project I wanted to come up with something original and different to other projects I had done on the town.  In the end I chose to create maps of the town, taking all information out of them and leaving bare roads, no distinguishable features in sight. This can be seen here.

It was through this project that I met and started working alongside artist Alexia Mellor with my friend Meg.  Alexia had been bought in to Pontypool to work on art projects for the town and was the Resident Artist.  We assisted her with art activities and were encouraged to create our own projects on the town, rather than write about these projects here you can view them individually here.  This was probably the best outcome of the work and was the most fun.  From this has stemmed a new project that I am currently part of, based in Pontypool which I will be writing about soon!

Other projects that I worked on in this time were based upon social media, the umbrella title we were given for this work was “Voyeurism, Surveillance and Control”.  My idea was based around how social media can encourage voyeurism and surveillance and control us in ways that we are not conscious of – Facebook, one of the biggest social media sites, apart from twitter (and now Instagram – which this month (December) became bigger than twitter with a reported 300 Million active users (as reported in The Guardian here ) allows users to add friends and interact with others as and when we choose, and depending on the security set by the user, can allow you to peruse other users pages and see what they are up to without even being their friend on the site.  In order to set up a page on Facebook (and by page, I mean a new person profile page, the kind that people have in order for you to “add them as a friend”), from new, the site asks for lots of information from you, some of it relevant to the site, and some not really necessary, it was this gathering of data and how the site may use it that interested me the most.  I decided to set up a new user page to see what was asked and see how much information I really needed to share.  When you start a Facebook page there is information needed, you start with your name, email, date of birth, then further boxes come up as you complete each step – hobbies, interests, schools, education, work and so many other information gathering boxes.  These boxes come up and it makes you feel that you have to give the information asked, its like you are mis-lead into giving the information out, you can skip much of the information but upon the set up of the page being complete there are prompts that come up on top of your news feed from time to time asking for further information about yourself.  I decided to take screenshots of these information boxes and reproduce them, getting them printed into a book, the idea being that most people are happy to fill in all this information which can then be shared with “friends” and can be viewable by a larger audience than you are aware of if you are not careful but would those people be happy in writing down all this information into a book which can then be picked up by anyone and read.  I then went on to produce the final piece of work for the year, which went into our end of year exhibition, which I called “Screen” – a backlit frame that contained all of the data boxes that Facebook bombard you with when signing up for a profile with them.  The work addressed the vast amount of data that we give away to these companies without really realising and just how much information we share to others without even noticing.  My interest in this field led me to write an essay on the subject (here) and I went on to cover the subject in my dissertation also.

In all I enjoyed my second year, the projects we were set were very broad-based and we were able to run with our own ideas and work production methods, I was happy that I got to produce some large-scale maps as I had been wanting to use maps in art for such a long time but never really knew what I wanted to do with them and I really enjoyed producing a book as well.  I got to learn more about what Photoshop was capable of in terms of using it for production of my work and it boosted my editing skills.  I bought the book “Photoshop CS 3 for Dummies” which helped me learn how to use different parts of Photoshop to produce my work and I still refer to it now if I need to learn something in that software.  There were some points that were not so good, the length of time we had on projects seemed, sometimes too long and I felt, at several points like I had run out of steam and inspiration for the work I was undertaking, at times I felt that there wasn’t enough support available from the tutors and that sometimes they didn’t quite understand or like the ideas that were being discussed with them and there seemed to be a lack of enthusiasm from other students when we put on our exhibition in Pontypool.

Several times I thought about quitting the course and went through so many mixed emotions during that year but I stayed and returned in September 2013 to complete my final year of the course – stay tuned, (or even subscribe!) to read the reflection of my Final Year coming soon!!!!

Is the #Selfie Epidemic Slowing?

I haven’t taken, or uploaded a #selfie in ages…a trawl through my Instagram feed (@siouxsietench) shows that the last one was uploaded 7 weeks ago.  The #selfie I am referring to is an image of me in my favorite pink VW hoodie, glasses on with my back to a view of the sea and sand dunes, attempting to capture the sunset on holiday (which was amazing and my #Selfie does not do justice to).  Prior to that was one taken a week previous where I was showing off my new glasses and looking particularly smug.

After working on my final degree project (formerly Insta-Rips then re-named “Reaching Out”) and writing my dissertation on Selfies and social media I thought this may be a trend that would continue for ever and ever.  Now though, I’m not so sure… you see, from realising that I have slowed with the #selfie taking I have become aware of the amount of #selfies appearing in my news feeds (on several social media sites) has depleted.  No longer, it seems are my friends and people I follow, taking these images of themselves and posting them up on social media for others to scrutinise daily.

Looking at Google’s Trends page, it seems that the trend for taking #selfies, has indeed dropped.  The trend is shown to have peaked around March – April 2014 and has steadily dropped off as the months have progressed.  The peak between March and April for this kind of photo could be explained by the presence of a campaign to raise awareness and funds for cancer (run by Cancer Research) which saw millions of people take part in a No – Makeup Selfie, the basics being simple to understand – don’t wear makeup, snap a #selfie of self with no make up on, donate money to charity and nominate a friend.  This trend saw countless celebrities backing the cause which in turn encouraged the general public to take part too.  This was a really clever strategy to raise money for the cause but could have manipulated the #Selfie data which means that the figures rose sharply and then fell away.

But, back to the main point of this writing, “I’m not seeing #Selfies PEOPLE!!!!!”  Where have they all gone?  Apart from the odd one uploaded as a friend wants a new “profile pic” and has decided to shoot one themselves (Facebook mainly) or someone is showing off their make-up or hair style (Instagram), I am seeing less and less #selfies taken just because…

I need to examine why I haven’t taken or uploaded any of my own #selfies for a while (7 weeks!!!! I still can’t believe this mostly because at one point in time this was pretty much a daily occurrence!) , I can come up with loads of excuses – I’m busy, I don’t think I look that good, I’ve got no new clothes/shoes/outfits to show off, I’ve been tired, I’ve not done much that is so exciting that I have to take a selfie to share…so many excuses!!!  But are any of them a real reason?  Nope.  The real reason is that I’m not seeing many #selfies from friends anymore, and therefore I am not being influenced by them to create my own, so not snapping myself or uploading as regularly anymore.

Peer pressure, whether we are aware of it or not, really does influence us.  We are visual creatures, and creatures that want to be accepted into the groups that surround us, we want to fit in and be seen to be “cool”.  When our friends stop doing something, something that we used to partake in, it affects us, whether consciously or subconsciously and we alter our behaviour accordingly.  This is the real reason behind my lack of #selfies.  Whether I like it or not, I have been influenced by what I am seeing or not seeing on my news feed.  I want to fit in, be cool and be accepted, no matter that I tell myself that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter…the reality is that it does.  And it is this reason that the No Make Up selfie cancer campaign worked so well too, we are not just influenced by our friends but by the media and celebrities too, it only takes one celebrity to get noticed for doing something and it to be reported for a trend to start…remember velour tracksuits…I blame Coleen Rooney for that one.  We see celebrities doing, saying or wearing something and we want to emulate them, its our chance of aligning ourselves to them, a case of “if they can do it then I can too”, we idolize celebrities for their wealth, their “famousness”, their coolness and in some ways want a share of that.  Remember the cool kid in school that you wanted to be like so much that you would study their every move, their clothes, how they spoke, what they ate etc, and you would try to copy them?…Its the same thing, we envy what others have and how they are and want to copy them…its natural, its human.  And this is where I find myself now, I started with the #selfie trend as everyone else was doing it and now, Ive slowed with the images as I’m not seeing them so much anymore…

So, in the future, unless the #selfie culture booms again, you can expect the odd #selfie on my feed but probably more images of what really matters to me (my vintage car, my nails, my artwork and other things that make me happy), ultimately moments I want to preserve and share.

But for now… Let me take a selfie…. (The Chainsmokers – Selfie)

Insta-Rips and Anti-Social Media (Part 2)

I started to look at the “social media” aspect of #selfie images and how a lot of the images are taken in bedrooms or other places in the house, often away from any “friends” and then uploaded onto the internet for “friends” to look at, like and comment on which seemed to me a bit anti-social.  I then started looking at how we use social media and found a lot of people update their statuses and interact with people on-line when they are alone, either at home or travelling, either way, not really interacting with any human beings in the real world.  This struck me as such an odd thing to do, speak to people on-line via texting or typing messages back and fore, rather than communicating in a more natural way, like speaking face to face.  Conversing over the internet leaves out a whole lot of other communication skills that we have developed over-time and have began to use without even thinking about it, for example, reading body language.  We can tell when someone is approachable, happy, angry, sad, friendly within seconds, just by our ability to analyse how that person stands, how their arms are positioned, how they lean against something which we loose when using social media.  We also can not establish that persons voice tone, typing makes it harder to convey a sense of feeling and with that, meaning, its harder to decipher a text written in a certain way than someones tone of voice.  We also loose other expressions like those minuscule movements of a persons face which give away boredom or hope.  And then the hands, we use our hands to communicate so much, whether its waving to say “hi” or hold someones hand in a show of sympathy or care, or even when waving them around, gesticulating when we speak, that is lost too.  But then we are still using our hands to communicate to a degree, we are using them to hold our phones, grasp them tightly, hold them high to take #selfies, and to type messages out to our “friends” which then becomes a gesture, we use them more as tools to convey the idea that we are being “social” by using these sites.

I started to look at how we hold our phones and the similarities in hand gestures and realized that they were not so far apart.  I have begun to move away from the Insta-Rips and am now concentrating on taking photos of peoples hands, in the poses we see people holding them in when taking #selfies specially, but without the phone present to see what they would look like.

Below is the first edit I have done.  I have used my friend Alex as a model for me, and have been playing around with crops and whether to include a background or not, so far the white background is my favorite, the black being my second.  I like the uncluttered-ness of the background and the way the focus is all about the hand and nothing else, and I like that the hand is also seeming to “reach-out” from no-where to make contact, much like how social media enables us to reach out and grasp other’s friendship when we are alone.

Insta-Rips and Anti-Social Media (Part 1)

How many times have you skimmed through your social media newsfeed only to be confronted by yet another selfie of someone standing in their room, pouting into the mirror?  Or been out with friends and gone to speak only to be met with tops of heads, while they are engrossed in their phone?  It seems to happen to me, A LOT, so I’m guessing its happening to most people at some point or other.

This project originated from the #selfie culture that seems to be taking over the internet and newsfeeds on most, if not all, social media.  I began by taking my own selfies and originally wanted to use them to create something but I couldn’t fathom what.  I think part of idea formation for me, especially with this project, was that looking at images of myself was a bit too close to try and decipher what I wanted to do with them, for me they were just me and that was that.  I moved on to looking at items which define a selfie, from mirrors to mobiles and the apps with which we share these images on.  I started to look at other peoples images of #selfies and did a Google search using #selfie as the search term.  I came across a website that groups all images shared on Instagram by the words they are # categorized with and started to filter through them, looking for images where the phone was in the shot, and the image taken in a mirror and started to download them to my computer.  I then went back through them and started an editing process where I started to get rid of background in the images that didn’t really seem that interesting or relevant to what I was trying to focus on.  In the end that just left a lot of arms and hands and phones floating around inside frames….

Forced Hiatus from Blogging

I’ve really missed blogging here and writing about my projects and haven’t blogged since November 2013, nearly 4 months ago 😦  I’ve missed writing for fun but had to take a forced hiatus of sorts as I had to write my dissertation for uni.  This is now complete and over with now and I can begin to ease myself back into blogging about things I love!  😀

I suppose, as my dissertation took up so much of my time and became my life for such a long time I should let you all know what it was about…  The title for my dissertation was “The Self Portrait and The Selfie”  which sums it up in a manner.  I chose the subject of the Selfie as I have been interested in social media and the selfie for as long as I can remember, not because it fascinated me but because I just didn’t understand why people want to take selfies and post them all the time,  I got myself an iPhone and an Instagram account (@siouxsietench if you want to follow me!  I follow back in most cases…) and so began my own journey into the world of selfies.  My dissertation split down into  3 main chapters, Chapter 1 looked at Self Portraits and the history behind them, from paintings to photography and the shift in technology that helped push photographic images of the self into the mainstream arena.  Chapter 2 was about the Selfie today and how social media (focusing mainly on Instagram) and mobiles have become acceptable ways of taking and sharing the selfie image, how the way we label images changes our perception and interaction with the image and others and how it has become popular culture, Chapter 3 looked at the future of the selfie with regard to developing technologies and movements within the context of the selfie and how we label them (ie; using the # not just as a way to label images but to become a platform for communities to chat about shared ideas (see #felfie )  I quoted Kesha along the way and also linked to the Chainsmokers #Selfie song too….

And eventually I finished.  8989 words later it has been printed and bound and submitted for marking and I’m so relieved.  I can’t say that the process has been enjoyable, for me it has been a struggle to meet the word count as I really don’t like using too many words when a few will suffice so a lot of time was spent expanding on my sentence structures.  My lecturer said that I’d chosen a difficult subject to write about as it wasn’t “static”, which, at the time I didn’t understand.  I know what she meant by “static” now though, in that the #selfie is fairly new and there is so much being written about them in newspapers and magazines, blogs and books at the moment, there has been a bombardment of opinions about the topic and that has been a hard thing to negotiate.  But its finished now and I can get back to doing stuff I love, like blogging and art!  😀

 

#selfie