Under this spell of desire for the social, led by the views and opinions of our immediate social circle, our daily routines are as follows: view recent stories first, fine- tune filter preferences, jump to first unread, update your life with events, clear and refresh all, not now, save links to read for later, see full conversation, mute your ex, set up a secret board, run a poll, comment through the social plug-in, add video to your profile, choose between love, haha, wow, sad, and angry, engage with those who mention you while tracking the changes in relationship status of others, follow a key opinion leader, receive notifications, create a photo spread that links to your avatar, repost a photo, get lost in the double-barrel river of your timeline, prevent friends from seeing updates, check out something based on a recommendation, customize cover images, create “must-click” headlines, chat with a friend while noticing that “1,326,595 people like this topic.”
- Geert Lovink
Photography, good or bad, iPhone or expensive DSLR, allows people to create a variety of diverse personas of one self depending how they decide to represent themselves in photographs. The notion of people using social media as an escape, creating their own world rather then living in the present is not hot news. In the past few years, social media and photography have created an army of online performers, who are often performing unconsciously for thousands of strangers. We programmed ourselves into thinking that convincing a bunch of strangers online into thinking we are living a life full of organic brunches, gym selfies and aesthetic apartments is enough for us to believe that this is what we are. We do not take photos of our diner take-out leftovers or our bedrooms when they resemble Tracey Emin’s Bed.
It is easy to be discouraged as a photographer, when you see iPhone snapshots getting more respect than the images that took you hours to take, develop and scan. With photography being as popular as it is, it is influencing our daily lives. Especially with being able to fit thousands of images on your phone, people document every little thing. Photography as medium is always documenting something, in this case, a performance. Consciously or not, we are capturing our alter egos and presenting them as the real thing on the internet. No need to actually own any professional equipment or have any technical skill.
The discourse around whether photography mimics the truth or not has been on- going for some time now, if not since photography was invited. So is it possible for a medium that does not fail to truthfully capture what we see to be fake? The camera is always operated by humans, and each one of us sees things differently, therefore photography can never be hundred percent honest. “[...] if art cannot be a medium of truth then art is only a matter of taste. One has to accept the truth even if one does not like it. But if art is only a matter of taste, then the art spectator becomes more important than the art producer.” (Groys) If the people would not believe (almost) everything they see online, the internet would break. Do people believe everything they see on social media because they forget how easy it to put a filter over things to make everything seem ideal? Just think about how many applications there are to alter people’s faces and bodies into the mainstream idea of perfect. Photography, that kind we find on social media, is simply a matter of taste. Therefore that would explain why Kim Kardashian’s mirror selfies can get more likes that any photo uploaded on Magnum Phototgraphers’ Instagram. The vast majority of our society could care less about photo journalism or photography as an art form. Photography became a way to document the lives we do not have and a way to engage with the lives we wish we had
I have been researching social media in relation to photography, millennials, narcissism and mental health for some time now, while putting together self-portrait series to help (me) contextualize what I am currently look at. My most recent self- portrait series was photographed in my own apartment while considering what it means to take provoking, attention seeking selfies for Instagram in the same space where I am battling my mental health, experiencing anxiety attacks or looking at myself in the mirror and hating everything I see. Trying to make the title as relevant to youth culture as possible, I named the series i’m feeling so much better :) (i’m not). Millennials are shamed for everything - too self-obsessed, too empty, do not have enough skills, complain too much about the housing crisis. Myself, being a millennial, I am tired of baby-boomers explaining to me why, how and what me posting a picture of my face that makes me feel good about myself has to do with me never being able to own the place where I live. I am tired of being told that the because we photograph ourselves and everything around us, it proves that is indeed the reason why we can not afford to pay for our education. Because being a twenty-something years old with a social media presence means you are a self-absorbed egoist. This comparison is unfair, it is not like we have much of a choice
- the society set the standards high for itself. “Contemporary subjects cannot only rely on the looks they were born with: they must practice self-design, and produce their own
image with the goal of becoming liked by society”. (Groys) With my work, I am trying to achieve the opposite. I would not say this is a finished piece, that my research is done here
or that my opinion on this will not change - I am not sure when will able to say that this is done, maybe in a month, maybe in five years and maybe never. What lead me to this point is hours spent researching these topics, contemplating what would be a good way to approach this as a photographer.
I realize it is important to talk about why self-portraits, why medium format. This is where the Cindy Sherman effect comes in for me - I like working alone, especially with such personal material. My aim with these images, and fortunately enough the results I have been getting, is to make this relatable to others. These pictures are, of course, very intimate, but they are not just about me. Working with my own experiences however, I can not imagine not using myself as the subject of these images. It is a way for me to realize that I too, am in this void of constantly feeling bad about myself and being too present online to earn the validation from strangers. I do not want my audience to think I am any different or better. The feedback I have been getting, after confessing that I also do need those shallow likes to feel better about myself, has been nothing but people coming forward with similar if not the same experiences. I used a medium format camera because it mimics the Instagram square as well as when I end up with only 12 images, I cannot be too picky about what I look like - I consider them more candid. It would not be the same or make sense to use photographs where I actually like what I look
like because that is not the point of why I am making these. Using a digital camera and having the option of taking hundreds of images and picking one would mean I get the ideal image, I however am not interested in the perfect.
I do acknowledge that working with self-portraiture is over and over tied to narcissism. The notion of narcissism is an interesting one, the internet can not decide whether such folks are full of them selves or empty. Kristin Dombek, who published a book on The Fear Of Narcissism, in one of her essays writes,
“The Narcissist is, according to the internet, empty. Normal, healthy people are full of self, a kind of substance like a soul or personhood that, if you have it, emanates warmly from inside of you toward the outside of you. No one knows what it is, but everyone agrees that narcissists do not have it. Disturbingly, however, they are often better than anyone else at seeming to have it. Because what they have inside is empty space, they have had to make a study of the selves of others in order to invent something that looks and sounds like one. Narcissists are imitators par excellence”. (Dombek)
I personally do not believe in narcissism, not in this context. There is nothing wrong with liking images of yourself that make you feel good. There is nothing wrong with wanting attention, it is a human need. All this narcissism-shaming has lead the society into thinking they are not allowed to feel beautiful. “When you tell someone that they have sent too many images of themselves into their feeds, when you shame them with cries of narcissism and self-indulgence, when you tell them that they are taking up too much virtual space (space that is at present, basically limitless, save for the invented boundaries of taste): you need to question your motives. Are you afraid of a person’s ambition to be seen?” (Syme)
I have been using photo-sharing applications (Instagram) since about 2011 and in the six years I have build an audience that now is essentially forced into seeing my photos. It almost is a virtual gallery, where the audience never leaves, they are present all day, every day of the year. Uploading these photos I knew they would be not only seen by my parents, younger siblings, friends but also way too many strangers. I have curated my social media presence to make myself look more confident, happier among other things, however this series shows the opposite. I am not entirely sure what responsibilities do I, as a content creator have, if any. I am unsure whether the content consumers have any expectations for me, or if they care whether I really am I content with how things are going for me right now. That being said I am not sure if it is my responsibility to let my audience know that what they usually see is not real, but I was interested in seeing what the reaction would be like.
The feedback came in forms of comments, texts, and real life conversations. Again, turns out being completely honest online is rare. And even then, I am still not fully honest, or at least the images are not. It still is a performance. I have tried different ways of making my photographs more candid, the opposite of what we share on the internet but as long as the camera is present it, I worry, will never be that. I will more than likely revisit this piece, acknowledging the performative aspect of it I will probably push that further and perhaps move away from the medium format and use a more contemporary form of photo-documentation.
Bibliography and works cited:
Syme, Rachel. "SELFIE." Medium. N.p., 19 Nov. 2015. Web
Groys, Boris. "Self-Design, or Productive Narcissism." E-flux Journal, Sept. 2016. Web.
Lovink, Geert. "On the Social Media Ideology." On the Social Media Ideology. E-flux Journal, Sept. 2016. Web.
Dombek, Kristin. "Emptiness." N+1 Magazine, 20 Aug. 2016. Web.
Groys, Boris. "The Truth of Art." The Truth of Art. E-flux Journal, Mar. 2016. Web.
Assange, Julian, Hito Steyerl, Geert Lovink, Jon Rich, Keller Easterling, Bruno Latour, Ursula Heise, Gean Moreno, Franco Berardi, Diedrich Diederichsen, Rasmus Fleischer, Brian Kuan Wood, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Metahaven, Benjamin Bratton, and Patricia MacCormack. The Internet Does Not Exist. Berlin: Sternberg, 2015. Print.
Dombek, Kristin. The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016. Print.
Joselit, David. After Art. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2013. Print.
Witt, Emily. Future Sex. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016. Print. Hoban, Phoebe. "The Cindy Sherman Effect." ARTnews. N.p., n.d. Web. 2014.
Tracey Emin's My Bed | TateShots. Perf. Tracey Emin. Tate, Apr. 2015. Web.