Choosing a title for the exhibition has proved to be quite a challenge. The topic of the work is to consider our fractured identities and issues surrounding self and identity in an online image-conscious world.
Options and ideas for the title were:
The Instagram Face
Your Face or Mine?
After deliberation and discussion with various people, I have decided on ‘Fractured Identities’ as the title. This one, I feel, leves room for manoeuvre and scope within the image contexts and construction.
Since starting the MA course, I have been interested in the topic of self and identity, and how this affects our performance in front of the camera. I am a person who does not like their photograph taken, almost to the point of phobia. Others around me are transformed when a lens is pointed in their direction. It is this reason that drives my interest. I want to better understand the difference between these attitudes.
‘Fractured Identities’ will be a body of work that explores issues surrounding self and identity in an online image-conscious world.
In my experience, we increasingly compare ourselves automatically to unrealistic portraits of others that we experience through online social media sites. These images of others are selected and edited by them to portray themselves as attractive and having fun. They do not necessarily show reality. However, they are continued to be used as a basis upon which we judge ourselves. Focusing on the visual representation of ordinary life seen through anonymous faces in masks, I aim to understand these fractured identities better.
Questions that intrigue me and make we want to know more are:
If an image can reinforce or disrupt the idea of our identity, what is it that causes this?
What is the relationship between the view of our private self and our social self?
What influences our choices for self-presentation online?
Using masks to obscure the identity of my participants, I will produce a series of portraits of individuals and groups in mundane, everyday environments.
As part of my ongoing reflective practice, I will consider how the resultant images can help make sense of our personal and social identities.
I will reflect on my work (in my critical research journal) in terms of Gergen’s term “Social Saturation” which refers to ordinary people living with constant change. This change comes from the endless electronic messages and stimuli we receive. Under this sensory assault, our identity and the idea of self is broken down, and as a result, we change to meet the expectations of others. (Gergen 2010)
The project will culminate in an exhibition housed during the two weeks commencing 23rd July 2018 at the Lansdown Gallery in Stroud. I will give an artist’s talk during the exhibition which will be videoed.
Experimenting further with the black solid masks, the images below are a selection from the shoot with Gareth.
Again shot in monochrome, the images in the main have sinister overtones due to the choice of the mask. The direct stare of the subject is confrontational to the viewer. There is a challenge presented with this gaze. The viewer experiences a feeling of threat and uncomfortableness when looking at the image. They feel like they are being watched or surveilled.
The images are composed carefully to ensure the maximum impact of the narrative presented. The poses themselves are not threatening, this comes from the mask choice. In all the images, a direct flash was used to increase the hardness of the light and the subject.
Whilst the images are, in my opinion, successful in engaging the viewer in a dialogue about who is hidden behind the mask and why they need to wear it in the photographs, I am unconvinced that they express my FMP theme of a fractured identity. Instead, I feel that they are showing a hidden identity which is not what I intended the project to portray.
A selection of the most successful images from the shoot:-
To overcome the sinister feel of the black solid mask used in the first shoots, I used silk scarves to hide faces in a shoot at Falmouth during the symposium. I am very lucky to have tolerant friends on the course. 🙂
Hiding behind our computer screens can make it easier for us to express our feelings and emotions. We do not need to say the things out loud that we find difficult. We can confess to things without having to see the facial expressions and responses of others involved. In these online relationships, we avoid being accountable for our actions and expressions of opinion. We do not stand judged in the eyes of the other person. We do not come face-to-face with them. We retreat behind our screens, ignoring the need to acknowledge the other person’s point of view. We maintain control over the encounter.
But, we may also be hiding behind for more sinister reasons. Some people hide behind their screen to bully others, to make false profiles and identities, or for fraudulent reasons such as stealing identities, grooming young people etc.
The images are relatively successful in their portrayal of the above. The images have been shot in monochrome to remove the distraction of the colour of the scarves. The viewer is encouraged to consider the narrative of the image. The use of flash adds an oddness again, which helps the narrative.
The viewer is caused to wonder why the bearded figure is hiding; who are they hiding from? The interaction between two subjects creates an interesting dynamic in the image – the viewer is directed to consider why there are 2 people hiding. Is there a sinister meaning to the image? The smiles could be them having fun, or them making fun of someone else.
In these self portraits, the solid black mask does not appear as sinister as it did in the first shoot using it. The mask adds an element of loneliness to these images in my opinion. This is especially true for figure 3, where the lone figure in the lecture hall strikes a chord with me. As a distance learner, it oftens feels like I am alone in this journey, although I am not. These images reflect how I feel sometimes on the course. Figures 2 and 3 are more successful than figure 1, which doesn’t really work for me due to my poor positioning of myself (rather tricky in the solid mask).
Figure 2 is most intriguing. The angle of the shot, the direct stare at the lens, and my location in the shot add to the overall effect. The image represents the hard work and motivation needed to complete the MA remotely. Learning away from an academic centre requires resilience, commitment, and hard work. You need to be dedicated and will often work long hours to achieve your very best. You build online relationships with peers and support each other’s learning.
Figure 3 represents the isolation that distance learners can feel.