A3 Final Submission

INTRODUCTION

My digital images each aim to address two significant arguments in current media discourse regarding the relationship between reality and the digital, as well as the affective value of language across different platforms.

 The first image, inspired by Benjamin’s notion of ‘Aura’ and drawing on Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave for its imagery, explores the question of whether a digital experience of an event constitutes reality or vicarious experience. In other words, when we use our phones to record an event rather than watching it with our own eyes, it is debatable whether we are experiencing it first-hand, or we are removed from it via the intermediary mode of technology.

The second image wryly analyses the signs and symbols of the digital visual vernacular by parodying the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet for the digital age. Staging her famous ponderings on semiotics over text rather than in person, we can see how context affects the semantics and sincerity of a thought or sentiment.

THEORETICAL CONCEPTS

Image 1

A major aspect of early media studies discourse addresses how the exact documentation of our surroundings, world and lives facilitated by digital technologies (such as phone recorders) affects the uniqueness and realism of our experiences. Benjamin’s (1970) concept of ‘Aura’ is key to this. He maintains that distinctiveness of any particular object is intrinsically tied to its physical presence, and subsequently its ability to change over time (pp 212-214). Hence, the existence of an exact copy diminishes the original’s aura. Benjamin does take a rather generalised view of mechanical replication, borne of his conservative attitude towards contemporary advancements in the field. Nevertheless, his concept can be extrapolated to encompass abstract experience and memory, especially in the age of palm-sized camera-phones. This concept has correlations to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Here, Plato conjures the image of slaves eternally forced to face a wall upon which shadows dance. These shadows constitute the slaves’ way of viewing the movements of the real world behind them (Cohen 2006). From a postmodern standpoint, this demonstrates that the schism between reality and perception augments when we only see a representation of the true image.

This dialectic is particularly important when studying digital literacy, as our society increasingly relies on devices over our memories to record our special moments. Consequently, our experiences of them are lived through our phones as our senses are directed to the taking of the image rather than the taking in of an atmosphere. To explore this, my digital image updates the Allegory of the Cave for our modern context, thereby parodying our culture of hiding behind our phones. The cave wall is replaced with a recording phone; the slaves are swapped for a person filming himself in his environment, while that environment is smudged and blurred through the view of his phone. The image foreground presents important life events in lieu of the silhouettes made to play against the cave walls in the original story.

Image 2

The vernacular of social media contrasts to that of traditional communication platforms in many ways. Meese et al. (2015), in the context of funeral selfies, purport that the social media vernacular is often misunderstood when read outside of its framing platform: rather than being a space for narcissism (as in traditional culture it is vilified), it is ‘a hybrid formation of the institutional and the vernacular’ (Meese et al. 2015, p1820). Thus, they argue that the selfie, however it appears ostensibly, makes sense as a valid way of expressing earnest emotions within its platform vernacular. However, to argue this would be to ignore the strong roots social media interactions have in traditional communication practices. To test this, I positioned Juliet’s famous speech on the semiotic value of names, to humorously test whether a conversation by any other format would sound as sweet.

CREATIVE AND TECHNICAL EXPERIMENTATION

Image 1

To contextualise the message of this image in Plato’s Allegory, it was important that I used the incongruous and jarring setting of a cave wall as a backdrop for the subjects. This, I constructed myself on Photoshop with various filters and the Displace Tool, for a three-dimensional effect. Most visualisations of the Allegory are framed from a sidelong perspective, obfuscating one of the key elements of the story (the shadows, the slaves, or the silhouettes); to avoid this, I chose to work along a z-axis perspective, thereby placing the objects in background, midground and foreground respectively. I quoted a phrase from Plato’s Republic to further ground the image contextually, and on the advice of a peer reviewer, altered the plural ‘they’ to the singular ‘he’ to emphasise that I was referring to the man in the centre of the frame.

Texture, compositing and colour in this image work to thematise the notion of reality versus the imaginary. The silhouetted man is formed from blotchy watercolour brush-strokes; the cave wall is ethereal and opalescent. These ghostly effects perhaps intimate that the space between the reflector (the phone) and the reflected (foregrounded real-world events) is a ‘between’ space, blocking the connection between reality and its memory.

 Image 2

Using the screenshots from my own phone, I reconstructed an SMS conversation between Romeo and Juliet, maintaining the poetry and vernacular of the Shakespearian verse for the most part. However, I did update the now mostly obsolete ‘O!’ exclamation for its modern counterpart ‘OMG!’, as well as adding sporadic typographical errors to emulate a normal message conversation. This way, the sentiment of the original words is not altered in itself – only coloured by its new format.

Capturing modern media’s visual turn, I incorporated emoticons and a selfie of ‘Juliet’. Such devices are commonly used to focalise the emotional centre of a message, and they supersede the face-to-face contact made by Romeo and Juliet in the original scene. A peer review raised the question of which representation of Juliet I would use for the selfie. Ultimately, to maintain the theme of contrasting cultures, I chose what constituted a selfie in the Italian Renaissance: a portrait. As with the SMS’ themselves, I modernised portions of it to sharpen the satirical edge – namely, compositing a ‘duckface’ pout over the subject’s face.

ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF PRODUCTION

Most of the graphics in my designs I have made myself, save for a few. Of these few, most were licensed for copyright-free reuse, with or without requiring attribution (although I did attribute all of them). The graduate gown and the iPhone camera interface superimposed onto the phone in Image 1 were taken from commercial sites – an online clothing store and a news site, respectively. Boltraffio’s painting (a work out of copyright itself) was taken from the Google Cultural Institute database. I acknowledge that I may be liable for misuse of intellectual property, however I have taken pains to reference and acknowledge all third-party content in my work. However, the very substance of my work relies on its reference to pre-existing themes and easily recognisable cultural symbols; Image 2 especially, with its parody of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Thus, it can be considered fair use. That these images are being produced as part of a university assignment too certifies that I am using these in an educational context rather than commercial.

 

ACADEMIC REFERENCES

Benjamin, W. 1970, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in Arendt, H. & Benjamin, W., (eds) Illuminations, Cape. Pp. 219-226.

Cohen, M. S. 2006, The Allegory of the Cave, University of Washington, viewed 15 October 2016, <https://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/cave.htm&gt;.

Meese, J., Gibbs, M., Carter, M., Arnold, M., Nansen, B., Kohn, T. 2015, ‘Selfies at Funerals: Mourning and Presencing on Social Media Platforms’, International Journal of Communications, vol. 9, pp. 1818-1831.

IMAGE 1 REFERENCES

Ananian, 2014, Young Man Exhibiting a Serious Expression, Wikimedia Commons, viewed 22 October 2016, <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Young_man_exhibiting_a_serious_expression.jpg>.

Arnold, K. n.d., Business Man Black Silhouette, Public Domain Pictures.net, viewed 18 October 2016, <http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=57473&picture=business-man-black-silhouette>.

Cohen, M. S. 2006, The Allegory of the Cave, University of Washington, viewed 15 October 2016, <https://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/cave.htm&gt;.

Dorr, T. 2010, Bride and Groom, Flickr, viewed 15 October 2016, <https://www.flickr.com/photos/timdorr/4803363173>.

Bachelor Graduation Gown Set for UNSW – Arts and Social Science, Gown Town, viewed 22 October 2016, <http://www.gowntown.com.au/gowns/unsw/bachelor-arts-and-social-sciences>.

World Super Cars, iPhone 6S Rose Gold, Wikimedia Commons, viewed 18 October 2016, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPhone_6S >.

Video Recording Frame png, AnandTech, viewed 22 October 2016, <http://www.anandtech.com/show/7335/the-iphone-5s-review/11>.

IMAGE 2 REFERENCES

Boltraffio, G. A. c. 1490, Portrait of a Youth Crowned with Flowers, Google Cultural Institute, viewed October 22 2016, <https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/portrait-of-a-youth-crowned-with-flowers/tAHnLxFAAbJodg>.

Dantemann, 2009, Stone Masonry, viewed October 22 2016, <https://pixabay.com/en/wall-stone-masonry-castle-wall-578204/>.

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Image 1

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