After several weeks of moving back and forth between various ideas, I finally came upon one that I’ll be exploring under the our final project for this Media & Performance class.
I was searching for an idea that incorporated an element of the camera (you can read my initial ideation here: http://oss2014.adm.ntu.edu.sg/weilong/project-hyperessay-work-in-progress/) functioning not just as an instrument of image capture, but also as a physical object that exerts a psychological and physiological change on us.
I decided to look at the much maligned form of photography known as “paparazzi photography”.
The direct flash, chaotic composition, celebrity subjects are all part of the visual language of paparazzi photography. Its intrusive, aggressive and voyeuristic nature are also hallmarks of such a mode of photography.
As a media product, these pictures feed into the larger media and pop culture machinery, stimulating the insatiable demand of the public or curious onlookers for a peek into the lives of the rich and famous.
Screenshots of paparazzi style photographs found on tabloid and celebrity gossip website, The Superficial.
Much like the above examples, these photographs often accompany written articles to produce a visual/text product that freely mixes between ridicule, the salacious and objectification. The subjects themselves often have little to no control to how they are portrayed, and are at best, flatten into simplistic, and easily understood caricatures.
But what happens when such a device is used to photograph the common man? Can such a mode of working reveal a truth or evoke situations for us to understand better how contemporary society relates to photography and the camera?
The work of Bruce Gilden (that’s him below) comes to mind when I began thinking upon these lines. His controversial style of street photography challenges (even till today) what we can accept as “proper” behaviour of a photographer, and what a good photograph is.
Gilden gets up close to his unsuspecting subjects and fires his flash into their path. This produces intriguing and unusual pictures with unique results.
But of course Gilden was probably not coming from/functioning in the capacity of a paparazzi photographer as he approached making his work. Though his lack of regard for social norms (e.g. not getting to someone’s face) recalls the aggressive practices of paparazzi photographers.
The work of Philip-Lorca DiCorcia also comes to mind. The photographer’s Heads series (some examples below) features photographs captured of unsuspecting passersby through the use of hidden strobes. Though, the aesthetic adopted here by DiCorcia is notably much more nuanced and poetic; much less aggressive than the work of Gilden.
So really, what I hope to investigate through this project is how paparazzi style photography when applied to shooting the layman in the context of contemporary Singapore can become a premise for which to access observations about the relationship between us, the camera, and images; negotiating between the private and public domain.