Project Hyperessay – Conclusion

One of the key ideas that was discussed as part of the Media and Performance class is the private vs. the public. 1/200th Of A Second draws from that discussion because of its transgressive methodology that recalls that of the paparazzi photographer.

This is further implicated by the fact that the Net has greatly reduced the time between an image is made and that when it is seen by others, whilst simultaneously increasing the potential number of viewers who will encounter the image.

While the project does not directly deal with the distribution aspect of the digitalised photographic image, it nevertheless has an implication in the proceedings of the project. This is evident in instances when the subject seeks clarification over why and how the images will be used. Clearly, how they their image may be distributed over the web and its resulting implications, become part of our contemporary assessment of taken of images ourselves.

Interestingly, the number who choose to clarify the motivations of the project are in the minority. The vast majority of subjects photographed behave either indifferently, or look on but nevertheless continue what they were originally doing. It may be difficult to truly account for this behaviour through this project alone despite two separate rounds of shooting. As mentioned in an earlier post (http://oss2014.adm.ntu.edu.sg/weilong/paparazzi-test-shoot/), the proliferation of cameras and general comfort of having others take pictures of us in our contemporary culture are likely factors.

While the development of the project has been relatively constant, reading more about works that deal with the private and public domain has certain helped shaped how I may extend this project further as it manifests into a second iteration or subsequent projects. For example, looking at the GRAM paparazzi catalogue has raised possibilities of using a book presentation format to recontextualise the images.

Overall, completing the project been a fruitful exploratory experience and this project will certainly be a good stepping stone as I explore more about the relationships we have with the camera and the photographic image in our contemporary culture today.

Reading – G.R.A.M. Paparazzi

GRAM Paparazzi Cover

 

G.R.A.M. Paparazzi is a catalogue book containing paparazzi style images of celebrities and non-celebrities alike.

Picking up the book and flipping through the pages is an interesting experience, not least because it’s unusual to encounter these paparazzi style images in such a format. The intimacy and formality of the book lends a different dimension to these images, which are more typically  encountered in the pages of the tabloid press in magazines, newspapers or trashy websites.

It is never clear in the book if the creators actually shot these images, or they were taken from other sources. This in combination of displaying images of the famous and non-famous alike in a non-hierarchal manner creates a flat and democratic pictorial landscape that doesn’t differentiate between the subjects.

The book is also interspersed with short essays about celebrity culture and the distribution of popular images.

Overall, I think G.R.A.M. Paparazzi serves as an interesting reference in how the presentation medium can recontextualise images we encounter. Moving forward, it maybe be useful to consider extending the project by presenting the images in different mediums.

Reading – Class Struggle: The Invention of Paparazzi Photography and the Death of Diana, Princess of Wales

HWL_MP002_Lo-Res-Web
Scan of the first page to the essay “Class Struggle: The Invention of Paparazzi Photography and the Death of Diana, Princess of Wales”

I was trying to research more into paparazzi photography when I came across “Overexposed”, a collection of essays edited by Carol Squiers. In it, was one of particular interest, an essay that discusses how paparazzi photography (and the larger media machine) played a role in creation and ultimately destruction of Princess Diana – both the princess and the Princess.

The essay starts off by discussing the origins of paparazzi photography. How it has its roots in post-war Italy, which became a melting pot of traditional Italian values and liberal American ideology. While some were desperately tried to fend off American hegemony, there was really little there could be done to prevent the liberal (relatively) lifestyles of the Hollywood jetset like Elizabeth Taylor from being splashed all over the papers. This was not something happening from afar across the Atlantic Ocean, this was happening in their very own backyard, and this posed a direct alternative to the traditional Italian idea of femininity.

The writing also discusses briefly the differences between photojournalism, documentary photography, celebrity editorial and promotional photography, surveillance photography, and paparazzi photography. Noting that paparazzi photography differ from the other forms of photographic documentation in its subject matter, approach and technical standards.

“…be watchful so as to catch the spilling cleavage, the ungainly yawn, the drunken pratfall or ill-advised strut. But the paparazzi’s provocations, which made celebrities lash out, get angry, flee from or chase the photographers, produced exaggerated reactions that created celebrities as comic visions…” (pg 288)

The essay then goes on to consider the politics and agenda setting mechanisms of the media. It proposes a direct conflict between media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the British monarchy, with the former using his media outlets such as The Sun, to deconstruct and destabilise the royal family. Subsequently, the piece goes on to discuss how the media formed the public’s idea of the Princess; how each stakeholder (the Queen, the public, media outlets, the Princess herself) in the building up the idea of the Princess had their own agenda, using the media as a means to manipulate and craft that image.

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Having completed the reading, I find the essay pertinent in providing insight on the early roots of paparazzi photography, while weaving in the socio-political landscape that it was borne in on. The proposed distinctions of paparazzi photography that differentiates it from other forms of “more esteemed” modes of documentation photography is also one that I’ll consider while solidifying the project’s framework.

While the latter parts are of much less direct relevance to my project, it is nonetheless interesting to note the power structures and struggle that existed in the tug of war over the image of Princess Diana. The agenda setting and status conferral powers of the media is also something of interest.

Local Context for Paparazzi style Photography

In the local context, there is no prominent paparazzi scene (and in fact some celebrities in the region for example, Hong Kong celebrities actually enjoy coming to Singapore for this reason). Hence it would be interesting to see how subjects would react when faced with a paparazzi swarm.

One of the closest example I can think of that can approximate the paparazzi encounter is the the mass of media representatives who swarm around prosecutors and defendants outside the compounds of a court during prominent court hearings.

For example, in the pictures of the ongoing City Harvest church trial (sample pictures below), we can see a group of photographers (and videographers) trying to surround the defendants to record stills, or moving image footage, of them. It is typically a quick and chaotic encounter as all involved joust for space, and with the defendants usually moving quickly into a nearby parked vehicle to be whisked away from the media.

CHC Swarm 01

(from http://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/what-is-buzzing/archive/19.html)

CHC Swarm 02

 

(from http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/trial-city-harvest-leaders-resumes)

The Offence Of Photography

This article made rounds amongst the local community on the Internet awhile back and I think it is a poignant reminder of the potent psychological and physiological impact the camera can have on us.

In this case, the sheer number of people doing the image capture, the underlying sexual undertones of the act of image capture, and the male gaze upon the female body as an object of desire, all come together to create a situation that led to the subjects feeling distressed.

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 16.22.20

In some ways, the swarm aspect of this incident relates to what I hope to create as well with my paparazzi swarm – the mass unibody group operating as a image making collective engaging upon an individual or a smaller group of people.

It is also interesting to note that in this particular incident the photographs were made on cellphone cameras – a device that is considerably much smaller than a full sized dedicated camera, and one that is typically associated with a more stealthy style of shooting. Yet in this case, the device is used in a very obvious manner. Perhaps the size of the camera may not matter as much in certain contexts? Or does the potential internet connectivity on these phones create a greater sense of discomfort since it is knowingly possible that the phone can capture, transmit, broadcast or transfer the digital image in a matter of seconds.

Lastly, it should also be observed that the subjects themselves eventually took to making images of these men as a way to cope with the situation. Perhaps as pictorial evidence of these aggressors and/or a way to simulate and reflect back the “pictorial assault” to them.

You can read more about the incident below:

http://therealsingapore.com/content/dear-trs-my-daughter-harassed-huge-mob-foreign-workers-siloso-beach

http://www.tnp.sg/content/men-refuse-stop-taking-pictures-girls-bikinis

Between you and I…It’s a PostSecret

PostSecretScreenshot of the PostSecret website landing page

PostSecret is a project created by Frank Warren. It has its beginning in 2005 and has since manifested across various forms including a website, books, films and museum exhibitions.

“PostSecrets is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.”

The main premise of the concept involves having anonymous individuals send in postcards written with secrets they would like to divulge. Frank and his team then makes a selection amongst them and has them published or displayed on its various platforms. The content is

While the idea itself is relatively simple, the project is nevertheless evocative, opening up questions about privacy, anonymity, our innate need for a sense of connectedness and community.

– – – – – – – – – –

Since its inception in 2005, countless other platforms and similar websites have sprung up allowing individuals to share their inner most thoughts and sentiments they would otherwise perhaps not openly share with others.

Locally, “Confessions” websites and pages have been a popular outlet. There is even one for the NTU community.

NTU Confessions

Personally, the fact that PostSecrets seeks for contributors to mail in actual postcards with their messages physically written on them is  rather interesting. The steady decline in sending snail mail has been in place since email communications took over as the primary means for allowing sending letters to others. Yet, many still take the effort to send in their postcards to PostSecret. Often these postcards become little pieces of artistic expression that feature various collaging, deconstructive, and text-visual juxtaposition techniques.

The physicality of these messages in the form of the hardcopy postcard is an interesting point because PostSecret had an iOS app revoked late 2011 because there was a far higher volume of malicious comments and entries posted through the app than what moderators could cope with.

This distinction in the medium resulting in two very different outcomes hints at what we know for some time now – the cloak of anonymity and instant connectivity provided by the web encourages a more superficial, trigger-happy engagement.

Another aspect that PostSecret deals with is the negotiation of space between what is considered private and public. The voluntarily decision to give up one’s date (or secret) here is an interesting juxtaposition to the myriad of spying and data collection techniques and technologies used by various government agencies and corporations. Many of which are compulsory (in exchange of the use of certain services) or are committed secretly without the knowledge of the target.

This all points to the value of data. What is the bytes upon bytes of our digital trail and physical whereabouts worth? To whom is it worthy? And what can we do with the data to render it useful for various purposes?

Overall, PostSecret’s success and relevance even in today’s fickle climate is testament to its lasting appeal as a platform for individuals to reach out to others in a cathartic and anonymous fashion.

The following are two videos that PostSecret has produced in recent years as part of its efforts to diversify its output.

Paparazzi Test Shoot

On 24 March 2014, a friend and I conducted some preliminary tests on the paparazzi idea. Though it is a much scaled down version than the actual idea, it gave some interesting results.

The following is a selection of some of the results:

Screen-Shot-2014-03-24-at-15.58.43_Lo-Res-Web

 

#1 – Unknown couple
Expectedly they grew wary of the presence of the cameras and flash and began speeding up their walk to get away from us

 

Screen-Shot-2014-03-24-at-15.59.26_Lo-Res-Web

#2 – Unknown lady
The lady seemed curious about what we were doing but ultimately did little than to look up from her phone to look at us

 

Screen-Shot-2014-03-24-at-16.01.52_Lo-Res-Web

#3 – Unknown male student
Again similar to #2, but this male student was evidently more apprehensive about what we were doing

 

Screen-Shot-2014-03-24-at-16.03.04_Lo-Res-Web

#4 – Two unknown male students

This two male students remained largely indifferent to the cameras and our picture making antics.

 

Screen-Shot-2014-03-24-at-16.07.14_Lo-Res-Web

#5 – Unknown male student

This male student was evidently curious and apprehensive about having this photo taken but ultimately did little to enquire or approach the photographers.

 

Screen-Shot-2014-03-24-at-16.04.27_Lo-Res-Web

#6 – Unknown female student

We decided to test a different approach, instead of trying to catch people in transit, we wanted to catch people while they were doing something. Here we photographed a female student working away in an open study area. She became aware of our presence and picture taking actions after a few shots. Interesting, she decided to shy away from the camera instead of confronting the photographers.

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Interestingly though my friend and I photographed dozen of people in an obvious manner, only 3 of our subjects sought clarification about what we were doing. This deviates from my initial expectation that people would be more shy or aggressive towards having their image taken.

An addition passerby (an unknown adult male) who saw what was happening did approach us to enquire what we were going to use the images for. Though he dispensed his recommendation that we should actively inform the subjects of our project, he too was surprised at the low number of people who actively objected or enquired about what we were doing.

There are various possible reasons why this dominant behaviour could have occurred. The safety of the school environment could possibly account for this. The subjects may have assumed we were part of the campus student reportage team.

It may also be possible that the younger generation is much more comfortable in the presence of the camera or having their images taken by others. Hence, they objected less actively to our actions.

On the end of the photographers, it was evident that both my friend and I were initially apprehensive about the possible reactions we might receive for attempting to directly photograph our subjects. In the end, we were both surprised that so few actively approached us after their photo was taken.

Overall, it was an interesting experiment. The results herein will serve as a useful point of reference for the actual shoot.

Project Hyperessay Technical Realisation

The following sets for the tentative plans for the technical realisation of the final project:

Pre-Production

  • Searching for participating photographers to form the “paparazzi swarm” (approximately 6-10 pax, excluding myself); with consideration of camera type, camera size, photographers’ availability, photographers’ gender (?), photographers’ physique (?)
  • Coordinating the dressing attire of participating photographers
  • The preparation of image usage and limited liability releases
  • Location scouting and selection of venue to shoot the project at
  • Working out a system to ensure proper project archival
  • Preparing official faculty backed letter to deal with public participants who might request to see the project’s accreditation (aka dealing with irate public participants)
  • Planning for backup cameras in case of equipment failure
  • Planning for contingency plans in case of poor weather on original shoot date
  • Planning for a system to coordinate the paparazzi swarm while in the field
  • Plan for high frame rate video capture of shooting process (tentative)

Production

  • Ensuring that the participating photographers have their cameras and flash working; doing an equipment check before shooting
  • Have subjects and participating photographers to endorse releases officially
  • Proper digital file archival and organisation system to deal with image output from participating photographers; on location backup to ensure data redundancy
  • Setting up positions and provision of instructions to participating photographers so to which angle to shoot from, what to capture, distance from subject to be in etc.
  • Actualise the coordination and control of the paparazzi swarm
  • Setup of high frame rate video capture; camera with tripod

Post-Production

  • Selection and post-production of images shot
  • Printing and mounting of images (tentative)
  • Editing of high frame rate video capture
  • Creation of online gallery/website for online display of images (tentative)

List of Equipment Required

  • Digital cameras with wide to medium telephoto focal length
  • Flash (either pop up flash or external flash)
  • Batteries for flash
  • Batteries for camera
  • Spare memory cards
  • Image usage and limited liability release forms
  • Pens to sign release forms with
  • Clipboard for release forms
  • Laptop with card reader to transfer images from cameras
  • Backup hard drive to ensure data redundancy
  • Letter of Accreditation

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