We live in an occularcentric paradigm where vision is the predominant form to perceive and receive information. Vision is central to our understanding, and since we increasingly interact with each other through visual platforms, the visual aspects of a person, their image, have become central to our understanding of that person.
Since its inception, photography has always been used to categorise and organise the other. However, today we might only be encountered and classified by the other through a visual network, and therefore, the desire to control and editorialise our narratives in these networks has exponentially increased. Selfies indicate the general desire to create and editorialise the visual narratives of the self.
The collodion process was enormously popular on the second half of the nineteenth century as it was faster and cheaper than any other photographic technique. It also allowed the first glass negatives, and therefore, the reproduction and spread of print images from one same negative. I see wet collodion as the smartphone technology of the nineteenth century, and the Carte de Visite albums as the equivalent of today’s Instagram feeds.
Are new photographic technologies transforming the notions of private and public, selfhood and identity, memory and documentation, humans and technology in a way that technological progress has not done before? Or is the purpose of technological improvement to challenge the concept of the individual?
Self-Constructed and Self-Expanded analyse these questions and relate the widespread practice of taking selfies with the nineteenth century photographic process of wet plate collodion.
Self-Constructed is a series of self-portraits in which the technology involved in making a photograph is at the centre of the image. These collodion tintypes depict mobile phones, a shutter release cable or an analogue camera on an Ipad screen. The process of producing the tintypes of this series involves digital projectors, screenshots, glitched images and flatbed scanner-cameras. The resulting images contain both digital and analogue artefacts such as chemistry residue, dust, and digital noise.
Self-Constructed focuses on the physicality of the photographic medium and the image making processes. It examines the distinction between the self and the technological as something circumscribed by social values. We use image making networks to maintain social relationships, construct identity and memory, and to create culture and new understandings of the self.
The work examines the contemporary belief that everything that oneself is, can be depicted and classified under a tag. One’s possessions, food preferences, reads, experiences, friends, and, in general, one’s reality, is depictable and classifiable. The work explores this reduction of the self to depictable subjects, and subsequent roles such as “the staged self”, “ the performative self” or “ the technologised self”.
Participation in the production and consumption of images has never been this intense. The hypergrowth of imaginary for screens and the presence of photographic technologies in our everyday life is something distinctive of contemporary life, making the boundary between the act of living and the act of photographing somehow blurry. We no longer have an intimate relationship with a single photograph; it is the repetition of staged image types that creates collective meaning, that builds our networked identity.
Self-Expanded is a series of unique archival records of this contemporary understanding of the self. It aims to inscribe into permanence, through the expensive and laborious process of wet collodion, images of the self that were created under the paradigm of cheap, ephemeral, redundant co-production and co-consumption of images.
Early photographic processes have the potential to write and produce new historical records of contemporary senses of identity. In Self-Expanded Instagram #selfies are digitally projected onto expanded metal meshes and printed with one of the most archival processes. The expanded metal meshes physically represent the online nets in which digital images are produced and consumed.
Self- Constructed and Self-Expanded have been display at Brighton Photo Biennale and Brighton Photo Fringe. They have also been displayed at TATE Exchange- TATE Modern with the Digital Makers Collective and at the MozEx Festival curated by the V&A and Tate Digital Learning teams, as well as at the Peckham Platform and the OXO Tower Wharf.