Critical Review: 11 March 2014: Tracy

Feedback: The idea of moving away from the sequential was positively received. Kartini expressed her view that this was a good change in direction.

Tracy wanted more cropping and more detail. Some particular ones will need to be cropped to maintain the impact.

The size of the final display was discussed. In general term big is good, but number to be displayed will be proportionately reduced.

I mentioned the idea of 5 final images… Kartini thought 6…  but size and cost are the key factors at play here.

Seeing the image of Jaime on the wall … it is a little dark, and the background pink milk needs to be lightened. Image lacks punch. In general the milk backgrounds need real thinking about and work in Photoshop to get the balance correct.


Sociologist Erving Goffman developed the concept of dramaturgy, the idea that life is like a never-ending play in which people are actors. Goffman believed that when we are born, we are thrust onto a stage called everyday life, and that our socialization consists of learning how to play our assigned roles from other people. We enact our roles in the company of others, who are in turn enacting their roles in interaction with us. He believed that whatever we do, we are playing out some role on the stage of life.

Goffman distinguished between front stages and back stages. During our everyday life, we spend most of our lives on the front stage, where we get to deliver our lines and perform. A wedding is a front stage. A classroom lectern is a front stage. A dinner table can be a front stage. Almost any place where we act in front of others is a front stage. Sometimes we are allowed to retreat to the back stages of life. In these private areas, we don’t have to act. We can be our real selves. We can also practice and prepare for our return to the front stage.

As a photographer in trying to capture the “unguarded moment” it is that back stage I seek to catch. I like this concept and theory… it has an essence and resonance that applies to this project.

Impression Management

Goffman coined the term impression management to refer to our desire to manipulate others’ impressions of us on the front stage. According to Goffman, we use various mechanisms, called sign vehicles, to present ourselves to others. The most commonly employed sign vehicles are the following:

The photographer by “taking control” can manipulate the sitter by interrupting this mechanism.

  • Social setting
  • Appearance
  • Manner of interacting
Social Setting

The social setting is the physical place where interaction occurs. It could be a doctor’s examination room, a hallway, someone’s home, or a professor’s office. How we arrange our spaces, and what we put in them, conveys a lot of information about us. A person who lives in a huge home with security guards, attack dogs, and motion detectors conveys the message that he or she is very important, wealthy, and powerful, and probably that uninvited visitors should stay away. On the other hand, the owner of a house with no fence, lots of lights, and a welcome mat would seem much more inviting but perhaps not as rich or powerful.

How we decorate our settings, or what props we use, also gives clues to how we want people to think of us. A businesswoman with a photo of her family on her desk communicates that things outside of work are important in her life. When a professor displays her degrees and certificates on the wall of her office, she communicates that she wants to be viewed as a credible authority in her chosen field. When people decorate offices, hang pictures in clinics, or display artwork in their homes, they are using props to convey information about how they want others to see them.


Our appearance also speaks volumes about us. People’s first impressions are based almost exclusively on appearance.

  • Clothing: The clothing we wear tells others whether we are rich or poor, whether we take care of ourselves, whether we have a job, and whether we take it seriously. Props such as a wedding band, a doctor’s stethoscope, or a briefcase tell others even more about us.
  • Physical stature: American society is obsessed with thinness, especially for women, and people often equate thinness with attractiveness. People commonly make assumptions about a person’s personality and character based solely on his or her weight. The tendency to assume that a physically attractive person also possesses other good qualities is called the halo effect. For example, thin and attractive people are assumed to be smarter, funnier, and more self-controlled, honest, and efficient than their less thin and attractive peers. Conversely, we tend to think that heavier people lack self-discipline and are more disorganized than their thinner counterparts.
  • Race: Anthropologically speaking, there are only three races: white, black, and Asian. Humans feel the need to assign every individual to one of the three races and then draw conclusions about their musical preferences, tastes in food, and home life based on that classification.
  • Stereotypes: Many of the assumptions we make about people based on physical characteristics are actually stereotypes. A stereotype is an assumption we make about a person or group that is usually based on incomplete or inaccurate information. An individual or two may indeed fit a stereotype, but the danger is assuming that all people who share a particular characteristic are inherently the same.
Manner of Interacting

According to Goffman, our manner of interacting is also a sign vehicle. Our manner of interacting consists of the attitudes we convey in an attempt to get others to form certain impressions about us. One of the most common ways to convey attitudes is through nonverbal communication, the ways we have of communicating that do not use spoken words. These consist of gestures, facial expressions, and body language.

  • Gestures: In our society, we often shake hands when we meet someone for the first time. The offer to shake hands signals that we want to meet the other individual, so when one person extends his or her right hand and the other person does not do likewise, the second person is insulting the first. Messages in gestures can be more subtle, as well. A person whose handshake is firm conveys confidence, but an individual with an intentionally crushing handshake is, in effect, claiming strength and domination over the other person.
  • Facial expressions: Facial expressions also convey information. Humans can convey a surprising amount of information in a look or an expression: a smile, frown, grimace, raised eyebrows, and narrowed eyes all convey distinctly different messages.
  • Body language: Our body language can also convey a wealth of meaning. Body language consists of the ways in which we use our bodies consciously and unconsciously to communicate. Most people are familiar with the body language that accompanies traditional mating rituals in our society. Sometimes body language gives clearer indications of a person’s thoughts or feelings than words do. For example, if a person claims not to be upset by a recent romantic breakup but his or her movements and facial expressions lack their usual animation and energy, the individual’s body language is contradicting his or her stated emotions.

Personal Space

The way we command space is also a function of how we choose to present ourselves. Personal space refers to the area immediately around the body that a person can claim as his or her own. Like so many aspects of culture, the amount of personal space an individual claims differs from culture to culture. In general, residents of the West stand at least three or four feet away from the people they are speaking to. In parts of the Middle East, people tend to stand only about two feet away when conversing.

The camera invades space, and intrudes… the camera attempts to find a balance between invasion and revelation. Dianne Arbus is a classic example of this tension.

In general, the more intimate we are with a person, the closer we allow him or her to stand to us.

  • 1–2 feet: Close friends, lovers, and family members
  • 2–4 feet: Acquaintances and coworkers
  • 4–12 feet: Formal acquaintances, such as a potential employer during a job interview

When someone stands closer than the culture deems appropriate, discomfort results because that person has invaded the accepted personal space. Powerful and prestigious people can command more personal space and in general are also more likely to invade others’ personal space.

Alex Seminar. 26th February 2014

Alex is a “new” lecturer that is in to replace Andy.

The process of introducing her to the project was very interesting, and (probably) proved to absolutely invaluable.

Fresh eyes on the project with none of the “process” of creating the project to cloud any observations.

Alex was very positive towards all the concepts and ideas that are mixed up in this Chimera of a project. A number of issues were raised, and people to consider and look at were suggested. Verushka wand the book were mentioned… the fact that the book was in my possession and shown to her was a good thing.

Closed eyes won the day again…  an absolutley consistent preference amongst all viewers of the images from the project.

Title for the project: We discussed Chimera, and my current thought and preference for Disintegration… Her feeling were that something to do with layers would work better. I will ponder on layers…

How to display and present the finished work. Her suggestion and one that on reflection I absolutely positively think is a good idea is….. 5 images (or so) with no unfolding shown of the face. No before and after… just 5 very big images that are disturbing with the layers being revealed…

So the key when it comes to the selection of the final images will be… the most disturbing ones the better.

Below are the notes I made at the time of the seminar.

Alex: Seminar. 26th February 2014.

Dramaturgical theory:

Ideas presented to a “new” lecturer who has not seen the project unfold… So fresh eyes on the project.

The overall ideas that emerged was that a sequential set of images would/ might de-mystify the images. To present them non sequentially, and only say 5 at A0 size would be more disturbing….

That is an excellent point, and one I can relate to.

I talked about Whitewall as a final medium.. and that seemed to get positive results… The order is in for Whitewall, and we shall see how they turn out.

Project Title?

I have the working title of “Chimera” for the project. However I do like the word.. “Disintegration”  as in in collapsing of a mask.. the disintegration of the mask. I think it is probably better or closer to the essence of the project…

Working on a summation: A working summation.

“Disintegration” is the exploration of the multiple masks and layers that cloak the portrait. The painted mask as an allegory of the self that is presented to the outside world, stripped away to reveal the more vulnerable self. The mask forms a bridge or a barrier between the real outer world, and the inner person. It has a dual purpose. It can hide, it can reflect back, or it can be a transparent or translucent filter to the soul.”


In researching Aziz + Cucher I discovered a body of their work that bizarrely (or not) is called.. as my own project is called, Chimera(s).

The body of work is powerful, disturbing, and in my opinion brilliantly creative. A failed genetic experiment cross bred with lumpen metallic objects wrapped in skin.

“Somewhere between Brancusi-esque bases without their better halves and supertechnological “appliances” for a race of freaks, these freckly figments seem neither purely aesthetic nor wholly functional: They linger somewhere uncomfortably in-between”. —Nico Israel, ARTFORUM, March 2001

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Notes From Dystopia: 1994

Notes From Dystopia

The link to the page is above, and the page is copied below… Much of this Dystopia project, and the concepts of reality and manipulation are valid for the Chimera project.

“Simulation is the only truth we can trust.”

“The Medium is not the only Message”
The Human Genome project is being touted as the greatest scientific achievement of mankind, surpassing in its significance the discoveries of Newton, Darwin, and Einstein. If biology is made to be but an exclusive function of the genetic code, then it becomes just another field in the study of communications.

The current excitement about the development of the technologies of communication seems to be coated in a  blind faith in progress that is just as naive as that which our predecessors put in nuclear power and the space age.

Flooded with  enthusiasm, some people believe that these technologies offer unlimited possibilities for the reconfiguration of the self, predicting even the possibility of an ontological shift in the reality of being.
They seem to forget that cyberspace deals only with representations, and as such they are bound –in an even greater extent than “real life”– by the limitations of language  and by the inadequacies of a technology that so far can only create either “word-pictures” or schematic cartoons.

With advances in digital technology and robotics, bioengineering is forging the link between the natural and the artificial.  Likewise, contemporary photographic practice has entered the realm of the imagination, celebrating the virtual and fictititious.

Furthermore,with the end of truth in photography has come a corresponding loss of trust; every image, every representation, is now a potential fraud. And as the eternal debate rages on about the appearance of truth and truth itself ,  simulation is the only truth we can trust.

The transpersonal universe of Cyberspace is nothing more than an expanded creative act, allowing every common person the kind of imaginative play that until recently was reserved only for artists and writers of fiction. This democratization of the artistic impulse has the potential of becoming a healing force in  society, but at the same time, by being so undiscriminating in its purpose and so self-centered, it can never become the kind of collective experience we seem to be most in need of.

The buzz and excitement generated by media technologies are but a logical reaction in a culture steeped in materialism: it creates the illusion that we can reduce every mental act into matter, with no regard to how poor or incomplete that alchemy might be. As the technology progresses and the possibility of manipulating and communicating exclusively with images grows, mental space will be eradicated, fixed into flattened expanses of unambiguous surfaces.

The disappearance of mental space is but a further step in the progressive disappearance of private space brought about by the media explosion and its morbid exploitation of confession, gossip, and every lurid detail of human baseness. Add to that also the progressive disappearance of public space as manifest in the sorry decay of cities and the trend towards sub-urbanization, and we are left with a strangely imploded void where our lives can barely take hold

This void is gradually filled with images and metaphors that try to make it a more agreeable habitat. Drawing romantically from the jargon of biogenetics, computer science, and a touch of popular psychology , they present a smooth universe of interfaces, amazing speed,  multilocality, and superconductivity, populated by friendly cyborgs, artificially intelligent machines and the shallow creations of our transpersonal selves. Nobody seems to care that this idealized world functions on the basis of extreme human isolation, mediated experience, and global consumerism.***

The hyper-human psyche of our age is molded by extreme idolatry.
Indeed, the idealization of the body  that has been at the heart of art making since classical Greece has crossed an aesthetic and technical threshold fueled by the needs of the Marketplace, resulting in the representation of human perfection:  Too perfect  even for the gods.

In an electronic, globlal culture dominated by the need for an efficient distribution of information, there is a gradual obsolesence of the body as the Natural  becomes subservient to the Technological .

Against such developments, we will face the crucial debate of what are the boundaries that determine the dichotomy human/not human. It would seem that the contribution of art to this discourse is to offer a repository for compassion. Sometimes the only way of being truly compassionate is to be ruthless about the precise description of our fears.
Compassion is not for the squeamish.

Through developments in digital technology, photography has been freed once and for all from the rigid conventions of Realism. Like life itself, it is now capable of representing not just what is real,  but what is possible.

Reflections, Thoughts and Next Steps

This week I have had a seminar with Kartini, and I presented my work to the “illuminare” group of fine art students st the University of Northampton.

What was very revealing in constructing the PowerPoint, and then making the half hour talk was that the whole process forced me to step back and look at the project with fresh eyes. In the doing so, and in the answering of the questions from non photographers, I more clearly see weaknesses and strengths and (hopefully) solutions going forward.

I am still very comfortable with the general concept and underpinning of the project. However when seen through other eyes, or my fresh eyes, there definitely exist weaknesses.

The major problem is that the people photographed are too homogeneous. I need more than three pretty girls. I absolutely have to get away from that stereotypical format. A format that I am easily drawn to as I like pretty things…

The next step has to be: Male and older, and or both.

The removal of the mask to reveal lined and damaged middle aged skin will add to contrasts. A positive plus to the project.

An additional plan generated by Jaime… The plan would be for her to paint me..! I have spoken to Laura and she has agreed to take the pictures. That should be a very interesting twist, and addition.






Early edits: My feeling is that I will need to stick to portrait crops for the portraits.

Overall very pleased with the outcome of the shoot. Jaime is easy to work with, interacts with the camera comfortable and is willing to give her own direction and input to the shoot.

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