The Threat Faced by Lived Experience, in the Terrain of Our Culture has No Name
“One of the marks of our world is perhaps this reversal: we live according to a generalized image-repertoire. Consider the United States, where everything is transformed into images: only images exist and are produced and are consumes … Such a reversal necessarily raises the ethical question: not that the image is immoral, irreligious, or diabolic (as some have declared it, upon the advent of the Photograph), but because, when generalised, it completely de-realises the human world of conflicts and desires, under cover of illustrating it.”
Without remittance we are bombarded with images and texts which purport to be and are mistakenly taken by us as a reality.
There is an engine behind this, of free enterprise and of the market economy. There are forms of power based on representation which have become inseparable from our concepts of social norms. The mismatch between experience and how we are taught by the use and misuse of technical images (photographs, moving images, animations and texts) to feel about experience is an ever widening gulf. When we are removed from reality we are apt to fantasise and this prepares us to be part of a system of ideals and control.
“By virtue of its ability to reproduce the same image many times over, photography produced a picture of the world that insinuated itself between observers and objects observed and transformed both.” (2).
A simple example would be how the body is described in the media. The thesis, we need to be thin to be attractive, The anti-thesis, we don’t need to be thin to be attractive. Synthesis, we need to stop photography and the media lying about the body, and stop it projecting damaging stereotypes. The media is selling the wrong idea demanding through constant repetition we all conform to a concern for a controlled body image. The discussion does not touch on the basic knowledge that women and men do not need to be defined in visual terms. It is only as a result of the photographic image process, the editing down to the best photograph from a selected few that causes this phenomenon. This is the concentration of a complex story of an individual into the minimum information of a body shape accentuated by light, caught in a 1/250th of a second, so it may become associated with an idealised image.
This process has great political and commercial benefits. The beauty industry annual turnover was estimated in 2011 to be $426 billion, (3). Implicit in the photographic act is the desire to make beautiful, attractive, composed photographs. It leads to choosing photographically beautiful subjects illuminated by flattering light which causes a shift in our perception of how we find things attractive.
The world in general terms is less beautiful than it has ever been but its image is increasingly pristine. Concurrently many people have straighter white teeth, live in healthy environments and wash regularly but consider themselves as ugly and unlovable so deep is our desire to believe in the perfect image.
1. Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981) 118
2. Armstrong Nancy. Ed. Beaumont Matthew. Adventures in Realism. Blackwell Publishing 2007.
3. Euromonitor, “Latest: Research Beauty and Personal Care 2012 Now Live” Euromonitor.com 6/12/2012