The last 4 weeks I have regularly uploaded my newly formed blog. All excitement! But then week 5 hit, and lacking in energy, stressed by work, time-poor, (all the things) – I thought possibly I wouldn’t get there. Nothing on my list of possible subjects jumped out at me. My week ahead was already full. I just sat at my desk immobilised at thought of making a decision. And, I guess it was this situation that gave me the idea for this post.
Life is a strange thing, and we seem to live in very strange times. I, like most people who own a smart phone, get caught up in all the pretty images of everyone on Instagram, Facebook and other feeds I scroll through. When I do take an image of myself and post it to one of these platforms, I deliberately go through a selection process, cropping and adding a filter – but we can’t do that to life can we? We can’t select what we have to do or go through, we can’t crop the bad bits out, and there is no filter that adds a ‘glow’ to the daily grind. Although we absorb a photoshop experience in our feeds, we don’t in life, so there is a constant discontinuity that we experience.
This is not a new discussion, this has been going on for years – but I thought, because of my week, I’d add my own thoughts into the mix.
A little about me, at the moment I’m teaching filmmaking in Auckland, New Zealand, full-time and also trying to make my own work. Plus I have family responsibilities, life is full, and I’m not complaining. Not at all – I’m so fortunate. However, in this western lifestyle pressures seem to be ever increasing and the negatives are real. Anxiety and mental health concerns are growing in most western populations and the reasons for the incline are varied. Loads of articles point to constant media flows, political turmoil, eco-anxiety, smart phone use, work environments, constant online availability and more. Many of these are aspects in life past generations never faced, so we really have no idea where this is all heading and what it means for our lived experience.
However, it’s not like past generations didn’t have there concerns, didn’t have global turmoil at different times, but there seems to be another layer of tension, and certainly another layer of pressure. I also think being female has its added obstacles when discussing images. In New Zealand there are laws in place restricting gender inequality, however, visually we are still bombarded with images of young, slim, attractive, smiling, women in provocative placements or compositions. Social platforms, of course, augment the ‘perfect’ image of women and drive comparisons ever higher. It’s no wonder the beauty industry is so large, we are all so insecure we rush to the latest product that promises miracle results. But what is it that we are after – because the fact is – we don’t live a photoshopped life, we never have.
Again – this is not new, this discussion about the ‘perfect image’ and women’s bodies being used and fragmented for advertising purposes is… an old story. Everyone knows images are photoshopped, everyone knows how to crop and add filters – but the insecurity stays the same, actually it’s grown. So what is up?
The power of the image
Stanley Cavell states:
One can feel that there is always a camera left out of the picture: the one working now. When my limitation to myself feels like a limitation of myself, it seems that I am always leaving something unsaid; as it were, the saying is left out. My problem seems to be that human existence is metaphysically dishonest.
We are aware that there is a camera behind every photo, if we stop to think about it. Actually, if we stop to think about it, we would see all the elements of setting-up, which has been done ‘behind the scenes’. For example, the model may have been getting their make-up and hair done for two hours before they’re sitting in front of the camera. The lighting specialist may have taken an hour to light the room specifically to the tone and mood needed for the photoshoot. But we don’t stop to think. In this way we are dishonest to ourselves. On my commute to work I must see hundreds of images, and even though I teach filmmaking, which is very similar to photography, I very rarely break an image down into its working parts. Firstly, there is just too many, and secondly I have bought into the image industry like most other people. However, the implications that we are not honest with how these images are made and the enormity of images we are seeing has an effect on us.
Because a photograph captures what we call reality, we believe the image is showing a truthful representation of life. Even though we know most images, especially for advertising, are constructed in some way, we still have to work at figuring out what ‘behind-the-scenes’ setting-up took place. Yet, most of us, most of the time, do not do this work – so we get caught up in believing an image as truthful. And, this leads to comparison. Our reality, not being similar to the reality we think we see in the image. This of course is augmented for teenagers as they have a heightened awareness of their peers, and a deep desire to fit in.
Maybe seeing less images would be a good thing. Staying off our phones a little more each day, only scrolling through Facebook a couple of times a week. Stopping and being critical of images we see on billboards and posters. But I’m preaching stuff we already know. The task is actually doing it. And, this is partly why I’ve started this blog in the first place. I really do believe creativity can fill the void to help reduce our need for screens, and our stress levels. If we are engaging in creativity on a daily basis we will be fully present in that moment and not need to disengage from life, because through creativity; life will give us what we need.
Sounds all shinny and roses – and it wont be! Creativity, making time for creativity, deciding what to do, all these things and more will take time and could be stressful. I still think if we stick at it we will be better off.
So – to test is out, next week, everyday I’m going to do something creative with my time, small bite size tasks to get me started. I will blog about it, and show you what I have done, and if I spent less time on screens or not. Hopefully it will be positive, but either way it will be learning experience that I’m willing to take a chance on.
Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed. Harvard University Press:Cambridge, 1971.