Self Portrait

The Original

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The First Edit

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In my self-portrait, I took a straight-ahead shot of my face and used it for my edits. I used Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

The empirical representation of myself is shown in the detail of my face. Naturally, humans understand that eyes, a nose, and a mouth is the “base standard” of a face. Most good faces have these features, those that don’t tend to receive mixed reviews from critics and regular society.

But in all seriousness, there is little that is represented in my face from the unedited. All that is represented in the photo is all you can really know. An unemotive face leaves very little to be interpreted. The plain background subtracts from any context that you might have picked up on. For every intent and purpose, this photo is of a face and serves no other symbolic person aside from the innate human response to identify my features as a “face.”

On the other hand, my edit contains aggressive colors and embedded symbolism that impact the meaning of the photograph. What is represented here then?

The background is now a striking red plane with the “raised fist” emblem in yellow and brighter red. A large part of my personality is represented in this emblem. The raised fist is a historical gesture that shows solidarity. It has been used by all movements to signify strength in unison, or to show allegiance to groups. In my case, I chose to color the fist yellow and red to imply that I have allegiance to leftist socialist groups like labor unions and equal-rights activists.

My actual portrait is black and white, save for green stars emblazoned across the image. The stars didn’t come out fully, the larger image that I created depicted them strongly. Woven into the black and grey sections of the image are clips of sheet music from the Queen song, titled “Somebody to Love.”This represents my love of music.

The visible lyrics at the bottom of the page can be juuust made out to say “…can barely stand on my feet.” This was accidental, but depending on how you view the image, it could represent fatigue or weariness. I did not intend to give that impression, and the aggressive form of the photo doesn’t do much to imply it either. However, had the photo been darker and less vibrant, that could have been interpreted much differently.

Charles Pierce’s idea of a “symbolic signs” is that the object does not relate to its form. In this case, I agree with him. The symbol of the fist is detached from “solidarity”, the sheet music is detached from my personal love of music. In both cases, the form does not imply the meaning.

The Second Edit

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This edit was completed before my first example but I didn’t feel that it answered the design criteria. I didn’t feel that way until I looked over the text again and discovered the Pierce view of symbolic sign.

In this case, the form is even more detached from its meaning. In fact, this is dismantling form and meaning altogether. In a way, this photograph has more in common with my unedited photo than my “solidarity” edit. In the background are the musical staves. Looking back now, I wish I had taken them out because they undercut the surreal form of the photo.

This edit is composed of my original photo, and the eyes of celebrities and thinkers that I admire. Empirically, this photo represents a multitude of eyes and a lack of other facial features. Therefore, it does not represent a human in any meaningful way. This may be symbolic of an alienating gaze, perhaps you feel uncomfortable when you look at the photo. I fully intended to, I wanted to disgust people when I create this.

Pierce’s philosophy follows the form of the image. His philosophy dictates that “fingerprints are symbolic of a human.” There is an existential link between the form and the interpretation. None of these eyes are my own, they are alienated from the body they are on. They belong to other people, Freddy Mercury, David Bowie, Frederic Chopin, John Bonham, Keith Moon, Prince, Robin Williams, Leslie Nielson, Mark Linkous, and others.

Yet, they are facets of a human form, and they can represent the “gaze.” Therefore, this is a wildly alternative interpretation of several things, Pierce’s indexical link betwen symbol and symbolized, the gaze, and the human form. This all symbolizes confusion and alienation, do these represent me?

My take on it is this. My world view is influenced by more people than I could ever care to count, these views may contradict each other or alienate others, but they are the basis of my world view. However I choose to interpret something, these are the eyes by which I see. They are a poetic outlook on the world, and they form what I see, despite what others may find grotesque or alien.

Spectatorship and Power Relationships

ADVERT ONE

A Hennessy Ad, featuring Martin Scorsese

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Tonight, I will be dissecting the role of spectatorship that many pictures are occupied with addressing. When you stare into a photo or a painting, there is a bond that forms between you and the artwork itself. You are the spectator, and your “gaze” is what creates the link between the form and arrangement of the work altogether. We, as humans, look into these photos and paintings with the intent to gain something or interpret what lies beneath. We become one with the photograph as the spectator.

In my first advert, this role is somewhat flipped on us. I was somewhat amused by the fact that the “Spectator” role is being reflected at us with a head-on, black and white shot of famed director, Martin Scorsese. We connect our gaze to his, as he is the direct center of focus and bears down at us with perhaps a larger presence. The video camera he is hunched behind adds another level of immediacy to his presence.

Were he a living being and not a photograph, he would be more than well aware that we are looking at him. Your eye naturally meets his until it breaks to scan the rest of the advertisement. Only then do you realize that this is an advert for Hennessy’s cognac. Even though the bottle in the lower right is the only colored object in the frame, it is secondary to Scorsese.

Speaking hypothetically, I would claim that Scorsese knows that he is in a photograph. He is focusing squarely at the viewer and even his camera is pointed straight at us. Foucault’s studies in the world of the gaze might lends to us the impression that he is watching over us.

Of course, it wouldn’t be real philosophy if there weren’t yet another step backwards to take. Lacan’s thought on the gaze was heavily influenced by psychoanalysis and Freudian thought. His heavily abstracted version of the “gaze” takes us a step further metaphysically. Lacan would say that, were Scorsese looking even slightly in another direction, he would not be “perceiving” our presence. There is, in his words, a “split” between the gaze and the human eye. Thus the paradigm shifts, Scorsese was already staring at us before we looked him in the eye, in the most strange fashion, we were the ones who did not notice his gaze at first.

ADVERT TWO

A Stouffer’s ad, featuring a family

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In our photograph here, we are offered the question of who is in power?

While there are many valid answers that could be offered in return, I believe there is a more sophisticated and less concrete answer that is perhaps not as immediate, but will service in almost any case.

Philosophy along the lines of Lacan or Christian Merz determines that the viewer determines the power of a photograph based on a number of elements, the most notable in this case (in my opinion at least) is the idea that whomever the viewer feels the strongest relation to will likely be the most “powerful” image asset.

In group shots and paintings of crowds, any good painter will construct each face and each pose uniquely if they seek to naturally present them as people. In Velasquez’s “Las Meninas” or Goya’s “Peasant Before Firing Squad” each show unique characters and locales of power. People will look to identify attitudes and behaviors that signify power.

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The most immediate figure in the photograph above is the peasant with his arms stretched above his head. Yet he is powerless in the photo. The monolithic presence in the right side of the canvas is that of the firing squad. None of their faces are visible, and in their namelessness and facelessness we derive a sinister power. This shows us that, despite what we immediately notice, “power” extends beyond focus and immediacy.

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So when we look at this Stouffer’s advertisement, who do we see as the empowered figure? It’s possible that the little girl the fairy outfit is the most prominent figure, dressed in wild colors and taking up most of the right side of the frame. But in my opinion, the mother is the the figure that displays the most power in the photo.

She stands above the table, depositing a plate in front of her husband, while at the same time pouring a glass of milk on the opposite end of the table. She’s also making eye contact with her daughter, who has stood herself on the chair. All eyes are on the daughter, but the presence of the mother overbears her somewhat when you see how much of the area she occupies.

We may not see ourselves represented in this photograph, and we may not see immediately empowering actions represented either. Both are empowering as viewers to self-identify with a photograph’s contents. In cases where we do not see ourselves in what is shown, we turn to other criteria to find the focal point of power in a photograph.

In my opinion, the figure that is demonstrating the most action and the most occupying figure in the photograph is the most powerful. This figure is the mother, she is supplying food and drink, standing above all others (even those perched on chairs). In this photograph, the mother stands as the typical “Matriarch” figure.

If I were a mother or a matriarch figure, I would no doubt find some type of kinship represented in this image. As it is not the case for me, I do not view myself anywhere in the photograph. Yet I find it self-evident that the mother is the source of power in this photograph.

Appropriation

 

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APPROPRIATED

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When you “appropriate” something, it means you have taken something and placed it into a different context and have thusly changed its meaning.

Creatively appropriating art can be humorous and subversive, but it isn’t always the case that appropriative art is created tastefully. In my chosen picture above, World War II cultural icon “Rosie the Riveter’s” image has been co-opted to serve as an advertisement for Clorox.

I am not sure if this is actually an advertisement run by Clorox, but the fact remains that the appropriation of Rosie the Riveter, a feminist icon, to sell cleaning goods and undercut the original image’s equal rights stance is a tone-deaf attempt at cheeky humor in advertising.

Appropriating the original image in this way is a total subversion and it may be argued that it is a misogynistic spin on the classic image. Rosie was an icon used to boost morale among the young working women during the tumult of World War II. It became an iconic image in spite of the inequity among men and women at the time. The classic tagline read “We can do it!” The slogan was bold and did not compromise its own integrity.

Cut to our Clorox “ad” and we see an equally bold slogan. “Get the Power.”

Except, on this image, the slogan is clarified with its advertising copy “…The Power to Clean Anything.” No longer is the image representing a strong female icon in the labor force, now it has boiled itself down to a tacky advertisement for cleaning supplies. Whether or not you view this choice as misogynistic is beside the point. Doing anything to take away from the original image’s intent is appropriating that original essence to serve a purpose that it was never intended to serve.

There’s no ire in its visual either. In fact, Rosie’s been edited to “smile” more. The image is basically lifted from the original, with only minor alterations. Her fingernails are painted, she’s smiling, her hair is longer, she’s portrayed in a bright light, and wears a wedding ring on her finger. Unless you were comparing the two side-by-side, you would never assume that the visuals were at all different.

This can either be viewed as a joke fallen slightly flat or an openly antagonistic advertisement that co-opts a feminist icon to sell cleaning materials, as if that’s all that women really do or care about. With the alterations to the picture undercutting Rosie’s intense stare with makeup and flattering light, the image reads less as tongue-in-cheek and more as a mockery of the original image. It might not have been intended to serve as that kind of a display, but the fact of the matter is that it’s open to interpretation as a result of poorly thought out appropriative imagery.

Rosie’s image is iconic enough to have spawned its own following. Among classic American pop culture and pop art, “Rosie the Riveter” is one of the most popularly twisted icons.

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d8efb948c2ced47d939c1d6c31fc4b73This is the problem with iconic images. You can make an advert out of anything with strong visual imagery. In the case of Rosie, the subject (Rosie herself) can very easily be separated from her intended narrative. You wouldn’t see a picture of the troops raising the American flat at Iwo Jima co-opted by McDonald’s. If you did, it would be an embarassingly poor attempt at subverting an original image.

Like with my previous post on Fender’s advert, we can delve deeper into the result of the juxtaposition of Clorox’s cleaning products and Rosie the Riveter. According to theorists like Antonio Gramsci, there are conflicts that crop up between dominant and non-dominant ideologies. While typically occupied with political and cultural ideological, I find that the same can be said of this small-scale examination of Rosie the Riveter’s image being placed against cleaning supplies.

There exists a hegemonic nature between the two ideologies. In Rosie’s characteristic pro-women’s-rights image, her defiance is a direct address to the age-old notion that women were not meant to work manual labor. This hegemony between pro and anti women’s labor rights dissolves when looking at the Clorox ad.

Why? Because the dominant ideology, that women can’t or shouldn’t work physical labor, is reinforced by the advertisements choice to place the Rosie image on an advertisement for cleaning supplies, a “womanly” activity.

Theorists like Stuart Hall would believe that this image has a number of different impacts, depending on the viewer’s reaction. But the intended impact of the image is hard to decode. I have no idea if this was an actual advertisement run by Clorox or if it’s an ironic art project, generated by an independent party. For example, if the image chose to deliberately turn Rosie against her original image’s meaning, I would be adopting the dominant reading. The whole point of the image was to be contentious, and I would believe that the image is deliberate in that action.

The end result is hard to describe. With its nebulous origin and intent, there is very little that can be done to interpret it. There is a notable lack of reaction to this advertisement, which led to my interest. Is this image polarizing or not? Am I believing that the image means the total opposite of what it means? Would that make my reading an oppositional take on the original intent? In all cases, it is possible. There’s no certainty to the image, but there is absolutely no denying its appropriative origin.

Icons in Society (Revised)

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This image comes to us from “Fender Magazine”, a magazine published by renowned music equipment builders, Fender Guitars. This image is part of a series run in the mid-sixties, titled “You won’t part with yours either.” The campaign was launched during the heyday of surf rock and garage rock, which inspired ad designers to create a series of adverts that prominently featured beach and surf culture.

Our image icon is the man holding the guitar. While not as common or as powerful as other image icons, the “Californian Surfer Dude” persona and character is still highly recognizable in American culture. Perhaps as an addition to the image, the guitar is the image icon. Truthfully, both the man and the guitar are the prime focus of the image. The advert is for the guitar, but it’s being marketed by the surfer holding it.They have a joint effect of creating a singular point of focus.

Rock music and electric instruments were polarizing elements of music at the time of their introduction. A lot of that sentiment has stayed present in our beliefs in music. We largely interpret “Rock Music” to be, in a general sense, a form of rebellion. Both the aspects of surf and rock cultures, present in the same advert, denote that this is a “youthful” activity, a product for the “new generation of musicians.”

After all, in the mid-sixties, the people who were most likely to buy these radical new instruments were innovators, rebels, and musicians who wanted better equipment. When placed alongside the prominent surfer culture, embodied by our good friend “Surfer Dude”, we begin to associate all of these behaviors with “youthfulness.”

This is more directly addressed in its marketing copy. While the surfer is rebelling against safety and common sense by playing an electric guitar while aboard a surfboard, the tagline reads “You won’t part with yours either.” The absurdity of playing a water-sensitive electric instrument while surfing highlights the tagline’s point. You’re going to be so attached to the instrument that you won’t want to part ways with it, even in the face of activities that might cause you to.

Roland Barthes, french semiotician and theorist, would have a slightly different interpretation of the advertisement. What is/are the signifier/s? What is signified by those elements? In all, what is the sign? In Barthe’s theory, the surfer with the Fender guitar is the signifier. The surfing guitarist signifies rebellion, loyalty to his crafts, and youthfulness. The two associate themselves as a sign that effectively means “if this cool surfer is using our equipment, even in as strange a situation as this, these instruments must be very gripping.”

Am I convinced? As a musician myself, I find myself biased when I question whether this advert persuades me to purchase a Fender instrument. I imagine that, had I not chosen to invest my life into music, I would still be wooed by this advertisement. Personally? I find it to be clever and engaging. Music is a long-con effort. There’s no way to instantly pick up an instrument and become a master of your craft unless you practice for hours upon hours. The best way to market a long-term investment is to create the immediate idea that the product you are being sold is something that you will form a bond with. There’s frankly no better way to market that kind of product.

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I’d go even further to say that Fender’s marketing team hasn’t come up with an ad campaign as good as this ever since its initial run. Now, Fender is an established name in the music community, to such a degree that they don’t need to market themselves anymore. But at its infancy, Fender was poised to either sink or swim, and this advertisement is proof enough that even before they were big, they were big.

Icons in Society

Disclaimer: I did not research advertising for this blog post for two reasons

  1. I am anti-consumerist and I have no “products” that I wished to analyze. If I had, I would likely have come away with an underwhelming analysis and response to the question.
  2. I already had a concept in mind that I felt best articulated my argument

 

The power of an icon or an iconic image is best viewed as a reaction to, not an action for, its presence in society. Legendary artists like Fairey, Rockwell, da Vinci, and Magritte (among others) are typically well known for their master-class works that have been regarded as pivotal for the movements in which they found their success.

But I believe that an iconic image has its strengths in its staying power, rather than its immediacy. In my opinion, the strongest pieces of artwork are not often the most well known. Everyone has seen Michelangelo’s “David” but fewer have seen Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son”, fewer still have read a story by Japanese author Edogawa Rampo, and ever fewer after that will recognize art by Rashmajian.

No, icons are powerful for different reasons. The reason why, out of those four, most people are more likely to identify Michelangelo’s “David” is because its form and image has been regaled since the moment it was unveiled. Even if you don’t know Michelangelo or his “David”, there is still a good chance that you recognize the image.

Nowhere is this point better proven than in the field of modern computation and user interfaces.

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If you are old enough, tech-savvy enough, or have studied computer technology enough, this icon represents a totally different concept to you as compared to the people who are not old enough, tech-savvy enough, so on and so forth.

In plain terms, this is an icon of a “floppy disk”, an archaic form of data storage, used in the early ages of personal computer development. Modern computers lack floppy disk drives, they haven’t been used for a very long time. In the scope of modern computing, floppy disks are about as relevant as VHS tapes, outdated, outmoded, and outperformed by CDs and DVDs respectively.

So why, in Microsoft Word and other modern software interfaces, is the “save” icon depicted as a floppy disk?

At the time of writing, It’s 2016, for nearly the past two decades, floppy disks have seen a marked dropoff in usage. Still, at the top left hand corner in many word processors and spreadsheet managers, we have an icon of a floppy disk that serves as our “save” function.

It’s genius actually how this image icon is so powerful that even children, born well after floppy disks were effectively wiped out of the visual lexicon of society, can still sort of understand what it means. The reason why the icon is so powerful is because, until it was outmoded, it was one of the only ways to save data to a portable disk. The association was strong because the image reflected the actual anatomy of a portable disk.

When the floppy disk began its decline, the image stayed the same because enough people recognized it to be a “save” icon. The concept of “saving data” was a unique enough concept that it warranted its own icon and its own indication of data-saving capability. There may be other reasons why this icon never phased out along with its visual “namesake.”

According to Roland Barthes, this image follows the three fundamental guidelines that all “signs” fall under. It has a signifier, it represents its literal, physical form. What is signified is its ability to save (though this is not as apparent if you are unfamiliar with the object itself.) As its own iconic sign, it has a connotative meaning that we ascribe to it. Those who understand it recognize it as a sign that is synonymous with the concept of “saving” or “storing.”

So, historically, this icon represents an obsolete appliance. If you are not involved with computer culture, this icon will likely mean nothing to you. But those who do have familiarity (not necessarily a complete knowledge) of the concepts behind this icon identify it right away. As an iconic image, it exhibits the same relatability as well-respected fine art or a striking photograph.

Content wise, all three of those ideas may not even be the least bit related. But the “floppy disk” icon is a perfect example of something that doesn’t need to be remarkable, or even extant in our modern world, to have an iconic meaning.

Art vs Design

Art vs Design

In my opinion, there is a difference between the concepts of “Art” and “Design.”

To begin, I don’t believe that “Design” and “Art” are linked in their concept. To me, “Design” is purpose-driven in its origin. While “Art” may be created purposefully, Art’s intent is often perceived as a secondary asset. I would wager that most people would think that Art’s meaning is subjective and mutable. By nature, Design is intended to control or adapt to specific needs or ideas.

In that sense, Art and Design are different because Art is less constrained by definition. When working artistically, meaning and intent may not be factors in the creative process. When designing, intent and purpose are critically important. Art can be tailored by design, and design can be executed artfully, but the two are related only tangentially in that sense. “Every square is a rectangle, not every rectangle is a square.”

Visual mediums are linked in this respect. You can often use the same descriptors to describe them, but the fact that they share descriptors is not proof that they are concretely linked.

Design is a process by which we may generate Art. In the most literal sense, you may perceive any and all things as “Designed.” With talent and sufficient time, anyone could replicate the Mona Lisa. However, behind all great Art is the creative intent and an unrepeatable vision. It is likely that you could design something in the same way that it was conceived originally. However, Art begets design and re-design while at the same time being created by the same processes by which it is replicated.

In the end, Design and Art are related in many ways but their differences (however minute you may perceive them) separate them greatly. Behind Art and Design are intent, but Art is distanced from Design by its perceived “originality.”