Truth, Reality, Photography & Social Media

This post is just some mental notes on photography, the internet and social media after reading a post about an artist Amalia Ulman who did a performance art piece creating a ‘reality’ on Instagram, recently. This post is not meant to answer your questions on reality and truth in social media photography, it is more a brain dump from me and for us to always question what we see.

“The photo is not what it seems.” Has it ever been? Has technology changed people’s minds?

“The photo is no longer truth.” Was it ever considered the truth?

Photography even at its inception was always considered subjective “Photojournalism, portraiture, landscape war photography any genre suffers subjectivity”.

Jacob Riis’ depiction of poverty, Dorothea Lange’s photography of migrant farm labour, Rosenthal’s Iwo Jiwa flag raising image ?? ..***

There has also been much debate in recent years about truth in photo-journalism and what is deemed too much manipulation to win World Press Awards. In photo-journalism there is a Code of Ethics about photo manipulation, that did not change with the implementation of digital photography. Social media photography, particular Instagram as far as I know has no code of ethics about projecting reality or truth. I am not saying it has to, and if you realise it is manipulated fantasy, then that is OK. The problems lies in young impressionable minds accepting a certain projected reality. Education of children to always question is a good thing!

“Photographs lie, photographers do not”****

~Does the photograph project reality?

Most images in digital photography do not project a true reality. As with any photography there is a inherent subjectivity from where the photographer places her feet to make an image to how he manipulates colour contrast and density in photoshop….. Also, what we see with our eyes is interpreted by our brains, experiences, culture and other bias… the list goes on. Recently James Turrell showed us at his retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia recently and how our brains can be manipulated, just by using light.

Some of the commercial photography I am commissioned to do only exists to create images. These images are important in that they are a record and they do get shared and seen more than the written word, on the internet. I am certainly not complaining but it is an interesting phenomena, creating a “reality” and being commissioned to do so.

~Is the photograph a means to deceive the viewer and to manipulate when used on the internet and or social media?

I feel most people delve into social media like Instagram honestly, but a few find success and a loyal following which then attracts companies to invest, to promote their products. The reality then becomes a combined voice of money and brand/s; a potentially deceptive reality, if not fully disclosed.

There are now ordinary people making a living out of social media, but is it what it seems?

Why should one young woman quitting instagram make news?

Why is there now a TV show about The Rich Kids of Instagram? What weird kind of reality is that?

According to this Wikipedia opinion Neil Postman states that the proliferation of photography led to the replacement of language with images as “our dominant means for constructing, understanding, and testing reality”*

~Do we just want to believe?

Sometimes its lovely looking at the perfect social media account, just absorbing and admiring someone else’s “reality” other than your own. For me however, much of the time it distracts me from doing what I should be doing, serves very little purpose most of the time and I often have a negative reaction, sometimes envy, but mostly a cynicism about the truth it claims to represent.

~Do I project my own photographic reality, honestly?

I think mostly my social media imagery is fairly literal, though on my commercial accounts I sometimes try to provoke a reaction or engagement to increase my following. Do I think increasing my following important….not really.

To see accounts like Amalia Ulman and Chompoo Baritone’s artistic take of social media photographic reality and I am sure there are others, heartens me. Art should always comment on culture (thx Paul Atkins!)

Thanks also to Amalia Ulman for really getting me thinking today!
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As a side; the accounts that Ulman comments on with her art always have young women (and men) telling their reality. The selfies are often posed semi-naked, with a similar stance, often into a mirror, arms high with a pout. There are teen mags telling kids how to take the perfect sexy selfie and hundreds of you tube clips too

I wonder if as a 52 year old woman with grey hair I could post selfies like the younger women and attract a following and get lots of likes and nice comments? Hmmmmm, I think that is probably a topic for another blog post!

* Neil Postman, Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage Books, 1993, c1992), p.68

** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth_claim_(photography)

*** http://web.mit.edu/drb/Public/PhotoThesis/

****http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/lens/2015/10/16/staging-manipulation-ethics-photos/?referer

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