If Facebook’s recent newsfeed changes are any sign, social media is in decay. It’s gone from connecting people to Buzzfeed’s linkbait to a nest of echo chambers where the likeminded and bots spread fake news.
The art done here by artist Andrei Lacatusu provides a metaphor for the chaotic and ruinous state of social media, which appears to be failing like today’s brick-and-mortar stores. While we can expect the social networks to stay in business, they need to spend 2018 rebuilding the public’s trust.
Photographer Fred Morley staged the famous photo of a milkman walking through the destruction of London after the German blitz during the Second World War.
That’s right – this photo was staged. Morley walked around the rubble of London until he found a group of firefighters trying to put out a fire amidst the fallen buildings, as he wanted that specific scene in the background. Here’s where the story has some variations. Apparently, Morley borrowed a milkman’s outfit and crate of bottles. He then either posed as the milkman or had his assistant pose as the milkman.
While the British government censored images of London’s destruction, it promoted this photo to show the world Britain’s resiliency and a sense of calm.
As writer and photographer Teju Cole once penned: “The facticity of a photograph can conceal the craftiness of its content and selection,” or Bertolt Brecht once wrote in his 1955 book War Primer, “The camera is just as capable of lying as the typewriter.”
World War II was a lesson in propaganda, in Morley’s case spreading awareness through the photographic medium to grab attention.
Marketers can be liars, which in this case proved indispensable to boosting morale and saving lives. Morley’s milkman image worked brilliantly.
We must look at our surroundings with a keen eye otherwise every day just becomes transactional in nature.
Writes Susan Sontag in On Photography: “Ultimately, having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it, and participating in public event comes more and more to be equivalent to looking at it in photographed form.”
At the same time, we must ration our shots. Infinite digital film can turn a photographer into a visual hoarder of half-truths.
Photographs also lie
Images are a kind of confidence trick lacking truth serum. “The camera is just as capable of lying as the typewriter,” wrote Bertolt Brecht in War Primer.
The paradox of photography is that copying reality excuses the inspection of its meaning. All context gets reserved in the process of life, unfrozen from the stillness of the lens.
The severity of an illusion lies within its shadow of a doubt. Objects as artifice are as credible as our eyes make them out to be.
The gut loves to sensationalize fear. The heart hates to cope with boredom. The mind interprets thoughts that drive reality.
What is the external world but just a bunch of code that exists in our heads, sorting out the facticity of objects. Our impulse intends to give experience the benefit of “truth, both in matter and in mode.”
From the masks of Mexico City’s cheeky lucha libra wrestlers to the walls of art in dive bars and parks, to the boyhood fervor of an old man in his special puppet, Mexico City is very much a lived experience. To quote Edward Burnett Tylor:
“Taking it as a whole, Mexico is a grand city, and, as Cortes truly said, its situation is marvellous.”
We can only construct with the tools at our disposal. Before cameras, artists painted pictures of the world. However, it wasn’t necessary to paint with exactitude; like writing, images were fabricated in the mind’s eye before putting color to the canvas, ink to the paper.
We never know what we’ll get until we put it down first: making precedes meaning. First, we do something and then we interpret its significance.
Conversely, the digital world is all about identifying objects for us. SnapChat, Google, and Apple use artificial intelligence to tell you what’s in our pictures, providing a shortcut to meaning. They are our third and fourth eye. Vision exceeds a one-way street.
But there are no absolutes. Consciousness manufactures data. It is our responsibility to convert the external world through our various lenses, reality and irreality. We make what you see. To quote Hemingway, “All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”
Transformation can be exciting, but it can also be retrograde.
Change doesn’t mean better. Boredom with the status quo can sometimes beget darkness.
The function of play, a style of art, a kind of government, are meant to be noisy but unrestricted.
The stimulation of calm and collected still leaves space for the unimaginable and disruptive. However, going back seems to be an evil obsession at the present and the unfortunate direction of the future.