Product Placement

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Around 1967 when text was first digitized, the pixel rendering of text allowed for the combination of images and texts to merge. Prior to this, images could only be applied to the edges of text pages. Since then, images and text have been inextricably woven together with the same rendering technology.

However, even with the consolidation of how images and text are displayed on a two-dimensional field, the semiotics of image worlds remains extremely diverse. In today’s re-mixed, post-modern world, the relationship between the signifier and the signified is becoming increasingly more multidimensional, encoded and elastic. With this image/text assignment, I wanted to create a series of images that would form a dialogic exploration of how viewers read and react to the remix of image worlds, the inherent language between historic event photography and contemporary advertising, and the relationship between these signifiers and me as an image-maker.

We are familiar with Andy Warhol’s work where he appropriated images of popular culture icons such as Marilyn Monroe, and through repetition and reproduction, upheld that images of popular culture celebrities were not really individual subjects that depict a singular person, but rather iconic objects of mass consumption. Warhol’s work raised many topics including identity, subjectivity, objectivity, mass media, and consumer behavior, and left a lasting impression on me as an artist and creative director. After reading Burnett’s discussion of how archival images of events become objects of interpretation, and considering the context of this assignment which asks to re-contextualize a contemporary or historic event with text, I became curious if I could present historic events as products within an advertisement, and what this juxtaposition might say about the original event, the original image and me as the author of the remix. How would these new “Event Product” images confuse, critique, support or transform the original image? How would this work be read as an extension of my subjectivity through the voice of advertising and through the curation of the original photograph/event?

As a side consideration, I was also intrigued by McCloud’s notion that the more abstract an image is, the more you work to perceive and the more you can project into the image. Perhaps McCloud wants us to consider this premise only the world of comic books, but in my “Event Product” examples, I would argue that the full frame images, especially those of the World Trade Center and the atomic bomb at Nagasaki, have a strong aura and trace to the original and allow the viewer to perceive what it may have been like to be there. There is also an emotional projection into these images as the viewer imagines what it may have been like to lose someone in the event, or what the reasons were for such horrid occurrences in our history. We transport ourselves into these images and there is less receiving than perceiving. The iconic shapes on the other hand, which are reduced and abstracted to the point of simple shapes, leave little room for perception or projection. They are simply, an “aerosol can,” a “spray bottle,” a “gallon of milk.” They talking to us in a very direct way, but they are not really transmitting any meaning nor are we transporting ourselves into these abstractions. If we are, we are not doing so nearly as much as the original images which are literal, realistic and figurative. This seems to be in direct opposition to McCloud’s claims, because the abstracted shapes only transmit meaning and begin communicating with the viewer when they are juxtaposed to the original photograph and the logos and advertising text is included.

These “Event Products” also attempt to raise the issue of the voice of the author and his/her subjectivity, and how an image-taker by contrast, isn’t considered to the same degree. The image-taker’s work, (e.g. event photographer, documentary filmmaker, photo-journalist) is often considered with an invisible hand, where as an image-maker’s work (e.g. designer, advertiser, filmmaker) is always informed by the viewer’s analysis of the image-maker’s subjectivity, voice and hand. When considering the “Event Product” re-mixes that I have created and presented for this assignment, one begins to question my intent and may even become offended that I have disrespected those who have suffered in these traumatic events. By utilizing the semiotics of advertising and product photography, this work may even seem irreverent because the act of “pushing a product” is intensely embedded with a code of ethics, subjectivity and intent.

As image-makers we must constantly be considering the choices we make when we manipulate images and carry the responsibility of remaining thoughtful in how the images will read when taken out of the context of artistic or scholarly discussions. Image-makers must consider the reception of the images and be cognizant of the perception viewers may formulate about their work since it is an extension of their hand and their voice. In my experience, rarely an image-maker who is speaking in the same language of the codes or systems that she aims to critique, will the common viewer be able to decipher the meaning or intent of the artists. More times than not, this form of critique will be seen as support of the systems, rather than opposition. Conversely, those who are simply recording images, although there are still highly subjective considerations such as frame, angle, when to open the shutter, what to aim the camera at, etc., are often not directly connected to the subject and are often afforded the luxury of subjectivity under the veil of truth and objectivity.

One final thought since I was curios in Barthes discussion about image codes and how the original photographs might denotate and connotate differently when viewed by themselves compared to when viewed as re-mixed product advertisements. By remixing these historic events as products within the context of an advertisement, I am investigating how we read historic photography and the shifts in meaning when a photography (whether it is an event, or in Warhol’s case, a person) is understood as an advertisement. I’m also wondering if there is a punctum in an advertisement or in an image made vs. a photograph or image captured.

Images Cited:

 

  1. “front.jpg (JPEG Image, 440×400 pixels)”, n.d., http://www.usamemorial.org/images/front.jpg.
  2. “Nagasakibomb.jpg (JPEG Image, 3245×3877 pixels)”, n.d.,http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/Nagasakibomb.jpg.
  3. “ts (JPEG Image, 800×571 pixels)”, n.d., http://rpmedia.ask.com/ts?u=/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/80/US_Navy_050102-N-9593M-040_A_village_near_the_coast_of_Sumatra_lays_in_ruin_after_the_Tsunami_that_struck_South_East_Asia.jpg/200px-US_Navy_050102-N-9593M-040_A_village_near_the_coast_of_Sumatra_lays_in_ruin_after_the_Tsunami_that_struck_South_East_Asia.jpg.
  4. “usair.jpg (JPEG Image, 450×273 pixels)”, n.d., http://blogs.reuters.com/reuters-dealzone/files/2009/01/usair.jpg.
  5. “2009-woodstock-4.jpg (JPEG Image, 870×580 pixels)”, n.d., http://navire.net/images/2009-woodstock-4.jpg.
  6. “oprahwinfrey.jpg (JPEG Image, 6502×8128 pixels) – Scaled (7%)”, n.d.,http://larryfire.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/oprahwinfrey.jpg.

 

Work Cited:

 

  1. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography ([[Hill and Wang]], 1980).
  2. Casey Reas and Chandler McWilliams, Form+Code in Design, Art, and Architecture, 1st ed. (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010).
  3. Ron Burnett, How Images Think (MIT Press, 2005).
  4. Joseph Childers and Gary Hentzi, The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism, 0th ed. (Columbia University Press, 1995).
  5. The Work of Writing in the Age of Digital Reproducability : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archiven.d.,http://www.archive.org/details/TheWorkOfWritingInTheAgeOfDigitalReproduc&reCache=1.
  6. Scott Mccloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (William Morrow Paperbacks, 1994).