We no longer share exclusively with family and friends. We post our every waking movement on social media; photographs of intimate moments once saved for family albums are now available for a much wider audience of those familiar to us, as well as strangers. Post 19th century photography broke through the private sphere by offering people the chance to purchase cameras themselves and set out onto the streets photographing pretty much anything they felt aesthetically pleasing. Fast forward to today where recording technology is embedded into most smart phones, digital cameras are smaller and cheaper than ever and sharing online is the norm, creating an undistinguishable blend between reality and the reality that the media portrays. Pre internet, people were more concerned with intimacy sociologist Richard Sennett found, whereas in contemporary society the concern has shifted to self exposure and the need for fame or success in any amount online. With the rise of supper clubs, home swaps and private rental schemes such as airbnb inviting people to share your home instead of a plush hotel, the privacy behind closed doors that once existed has various holes now punched into it, thus creating a post-private age.
There are a considerable (growing) number of artists and photographers who have used this platform for their work. Mark Wallinger captured photographs on his camera phone of people who had been overcome by sleep whilst travelling on public transport for his work Unconscious. Combining them together into a tableau with images taken straight from the internet, the viewer is drawn into a place where control is completely void and the subjects (strangers unaware of Wallinger’s presence, photo taking and perhaps even his artistic intention) are enlarged and sensationalized in a gallery context. You could argue these works are not in any way different to the work of say, Walker Evans’ subway portraits taken with a hidden camera in his overcoat, but the context in which the work is placed is worlds apart. Wallinger’s nod to Internet crazes such as women eating on the tube, or more closely matched with ‘people sleeping on the tube’ comes at a time where voyeurism is almost impossible in a public sphere, a time where almost everyone is capable of recording other people’s intimate moments or becoming a subject themselves.
Are we now so used to interacting with strangers’ images/online presence so much that it is deemed acceptable to use any photographs/content for artistic value? Desensitised to it almost, by an overfamiliarity to sharing strangers’ lives?
Found imagery has always sparked debate on authorship and ownership as the majority of works are undertaken without the subject’s consent, or used without permission. When considering and producing the final outcomes for the independent project, this instant and non-considered sharing was at the forefront of my mind. The publication is made entirely from collaged elements; from the images and collages themselves, right down to the reader letters. Trawling through ‘Yahoo answers’ after a single search for ‘botany’ brought up some extraordinary questions and anecdotes that I almost couldn’t believe were asked or shared. After clicking onto a particular user’s profile, I found that this person was asking questions to an anonymous audience on a regular basis. Questions that didn’t seem abstract in the slightest, meaning a simple Google search or asking of a friend would have probably answered them straight away. For some users, it seemed like an addiction. They would spark debate, sometimes-explicit answers from other users of the site. I was intrigued and found myself looking through these questions and answers for a considerable length of time. When using and adapting this content, I did not feel there was an issue of authorship or ownership due to the original context in which the question was placed. The person asking had displayed it to an uncontrolled audience, and I was simply extending that audience further. It did make me begin to wonder about these people’s lives and personalities, and what caused them to resort to asking such things online. When creating the GBC newspaper, these people I had encountered online became the basis of my imagined ‘club audience’. I felt their needs and woes were better suited elsewhere, and they immediately became part of a big collage game, where I remove and alter content to suit artistic need. Newspapers are now a slow communication tool in comparison to their digital counterparts and the idea of a letters page is somewhat outdated. Moving the online questions back to this format seemed more fitting. For me, the collage of existing material from the Internet highlights the journeys that your personal details and uploads may take without you ever realising. Eva Stenram’s pornography/forest_pics sees a number of forest based pornographic images downloaded freely from the Internet, and edited to remove sign of any human presence. She comments on the series saying the removal of the ‘action’ makes the setting compliments the ambiguity, but also questions public and private space after the image has left its original context. Seeing this comment made me ask- just because it is removed from context, does it make the initial theft ok? Just because it is an artistic output, it is fine to use the images? Having my bank account frequently hacked online; with strange purchases appearing on my online banking account came to mind. One fundamental difference between the two situations is the original intention of the content. Stenram’s porno images and my collaged botany questions were both intended for an uncontrolled audience, whereas my bank details are supposed to be kept securely. The author of the Yahoo answers had never expressed an interest in copyright of the content and had also openly invited people to comment on and share through various different social media buttons. I feel the post-private age that we live in will throw up many new problems such as the sharing and exhibiting of images/content in art, but to me it is more exciting than anything. The work of Wallinger, Stenram, and Henner amongst others feels new and fresh at the moment, presenting a new way of artists viewing and responding to the wide range of content available on the Internet, taking ‘found imagery’ to a whole new level.
Winter, E., Sennett, R. (2012) Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Co-operation, Library Journals, LLC.
Stenram, E. (2004) pornography/forest_pics http://www.evastenram.co.uk/pages/mum-11.htm
Wallinger, M., (2010). Unconscious. http://www.frieze.com/shows/review/mark_wallinger/