250mc – Critical Analysis

Orwellian Times

This body of work and the resulting images responded to the idea of voyeurism or more specifically the invasive level of surveillance into our lives that has materialised through the explosion of digital technology and the way we choose to interact with it. The projects aim was to express through image the constant prying from the various sectors by creating an entity to represent a physical manifestation and place it within scenes typical of our lives. This aim of this project was to raise awareness around the level of intrusion that currently exists. Each image has been carefully crafted to reflect this ubiquitous presence in our life and how we have arrived at the inescapable truth that big brother really is watching.

In the novel ‘nineteen eighty-four’ George Orwell described society as having a 3 tier structure with the top 2% ruling over the masses. (Orwell 1949) There currently exists a similar monopoly where the transnational capitalist class that encompasses the top 1% of society is also the group with the greatest levels of control and influence (Phillips and Soeiro 2012). It is this elite group that employs the use of invasive surveillance that the project refers too.

In addition to Orwell, Michel Foucault, the French Philosopher and Psychologists work called Discipline and Punishment around Jeremy Bantham’s Panopticism was instrumental in helping my understand the role of surveillance in modern society and how it can be used for control when applied through subtle means. (Wood 2014)

There are 3 main collectors of data (Cellan-Jones 2014), Government, Police/Security Services and Large corporations. Through research this project has discovered that the depth of the surveillance is far more prevalent than it had imagined. CCTV, RFID tracking (Smith 2010), RIPA (National Archives 2000) Image recognition, Biometric scanning (Cellan-Jones 2014), (Fitzpatrick 2009), Monitored video conversations and Social Media recording (Ackerman and Ball 2014) are just some of the techniques being used to track the everyday activities of the public. Whilst some organisations are dedicated to challenging this intrusion, it appears that the majority of people are either unaware or happy to accept it in return for the technology they enjoy.

 

The project needed to grab attention and involve something people could able to relate to, so it was shaped around certain concepts.

This body of work was influenced by various practitioners but notably the work of Jeff Wall’s method of beginning by not photographing, David LaChappelle’s visually stunning works, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia’s Heads project and the history of art, in particular Manet’s nudes. Investigations suggested the image needed to be visually appealing and Gregory Crewdson has a unique and instantly recognisable style. The images have a rich narrative although Crewdson leaves it for the viewer to decide what that narrative is. (Loh and Vescovi 2014). The images are head turners with dramatic use of light and composition yet is based around everyday homes and lives. The goal was not to recreate the style but allow the use lighting and mood to influence images. The intention of the work was for the subject to be interacting directly with a digital device or using one whilst engaged in another activity. This engagement with the device was important as it added to the narrative of the image and to the overall context of the scene.

The lighting was a critical part of the work, which is intentionally dark to evoke concern and fear within the viewer, and this emotional response was intended to match the overall disturbing nature of the topic. In addition the idea of the creature lurking in the shadows represented the way that the organisations work, watching secretly and never open or transparent about their methods, finally all work was created using digital technology in response to the digital nature that has been the conduit for the proliferation in invasive behavior.

 

The sinister character that appears in each of the images was created as a direct response to the digital nature of the current surveillance methods. Through research into online forums such as Creepy Pasta where people from around the world exchange their own culturally inspired paranormal stories and invent their own sinister anthropomorphic monstrosities to feature in them had a strong influence on its android like appearance. The entity displays no emotion and this reflects the fact that it has no ill intent, it is methodical and logical and its role is to observe and report. This directly reflects the actions and behaviors of the organisations responsible that feel that they can justify their actions both morally and ethically (Ackerman and Ball 2014).

 

We are becoming increasingly comfortable with the concept that our actions, conversations, thoughts and feelings are being constantly recorded. Unlike the people in George Orwell’s vision that are controlled by a totalitarian state the surveillance being inflicted upon us is not used to suppress our actions, at least in no obvious way. It is perhaps the subtlety in which it is conducted that represents the greatest danger, as we have become progressively dependant on our connected world to such an extent that we are naive, either through ignorance or choice to the level of control and manipulation that could be exerted if required.

 

This body of work would be suited to an exhibition with each image reinforcing the works response to the modern concept of voyeurism and provoking thought and conversation around the topic. Printed on Metallic paper and mounted onto aluminium maintains its links with the modern subject. The project could be developed further with a broader range of situations to which people can relate. I would also like to investigate the concept of removing the entity all together and making the intrusion concept more suggestive and implicit.

Ultimately the images will serve as a response to the intrusive behaviour rather than a rallying cry towards rebellion but it serves as a small and equally subtle reminder of the dangers that can and do exist in the digital age.

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