Photography: ACI Pt 5

This section of the book looks at the society of the spectacle. Debord’s reading of the commodity society. A society that survives through illusion and false consciousness. A new opiate for the masses. This society creates a wall of spectacle, of images and moments that glitter and shine and grab our attention. A society focused on entertainment and glamour. A society that supplies easy answers with happy endings to conflict or pushes it far beyond us into the other. At this distance we cannot act. As we are not the entertainment we cannot act. We are passive. The spectators to a distant world.  Cameras are pincers for this society that provide the dazzle camouflage so we do not see and the watch us to make sure we have not seen. Caught between the advert and the FIT team. Change is replaced by images of change. Freedom to consume is freedom. We are free to choose this or that. Either/Or. What about the other? Portraits as spectacles. The glamour of the famous. Or the aspirations of the other. Keeping up appearances.

This way of thinking impacts on a great deal of photography. The things that can be sold. How to present the right product. In photojournalism the newspapers and magazines demand simple powerful images. Ones that grab the attention rather than images that tell the story or ask questions. Knowledge of this is used through out the process. Creat a simple striking image and get the front page. It is not the whole story it is a spectacle. Drama/Violence/Perfection/Beauty we sit back and watch. Spectacles grab attention but don’t reveal or ask questions.

Images banks supply the media with cheap generic images lacking context, shortcuts to be placed in any context. Bland photographic clip art. They are huge businesses supplying mostly technically brilliant images free of context which is then added by setting and text. Keyword searches of what we expect. The image bank are reductions. They are images that sell.

Advertising photography is used to create needs and desires that can be fulfilled by the attached product. They combine the ordinary, the everyman with images of glamour or sex or some excitement. It could be me. Creating associations with products giving the thing values. Transferring meaning from one thing to another. Offering happiness or escape from labour through a product. These images are a careful balance between the everyone and the unique, the special. Promoting the product to fill a gap or desire.

This society is very good at consuming revolt and rebellion and using it for purposes opposite to the original intentions. And to add an association of rebellion or freedom  or change to a product. The direct opposite of reality. Using words and further images the story of the original image can be morphed.

Workers as happy peasants, as craftsmen and women. People as objects as sexual cues. Reductions and objects. These images often seem as objectifying as pornographic images but they are not subject to the same criticism?

The spectacle asks that we don’t ask questions, it doesn’t do the reveal. It papers over the cracks.

It is an all-consuming vision of the world and it feels very difficult for people to act outside its constraints. Passive. Can we escape it? Do we want to?

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Filed under June 2011, Readings

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