Without Photoshop

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?

Cropped image of a Carrot Cake, which I’ve changed saturation and tint. I did this in a few minutes, so imagine what time is spent on an image used for advertising.
Wide shot of what is really happening in the kitchen, no cropping, tint or saturation change. (It did taste good, however!!)

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.

Global vs Local

More and more news articles are discussing environmental anxiety, and I know that I’m more distressed about people and the planet than ever before. Linked here is an article from The Independent, really worth a read, yet it’s first sentences “Plummeting insect numbers. A sixth mass extinction. Thinning of ice sheets. Sea level rise. Wildfires in California. Thawing Arctic permafrost,” really points to why this anxiety is growing. How could it not?

It feels like I’m in the opening sequences of Children of Men, where the population is facing extinction through infertility – different problem, same concern. It’s easy to see how people get into a type of frozen panic, where there is an absolute terror of what is happening, but an inability to act.

Britt Wray, in her Ted Talk, states:

“… the American Psychological Association says that our psychological responses to climate change, like conflict avoidance, helplessness and resignation, are growing.”

The issues are so vast, I guess we expect our leaders to do the work, but that isn’t always happening. I get angry with big business and so fed up with politicians that have their hands tied, seemingly doing nothing. These issues are huge, overwhelming and global. I’ve noticed that there are a lot more online petitions to sign and protests to join – especially on Facebook. However, I’m finding this evolving era difficult to know where to put my energy. It’s so crushing that it’s easy to put it nowhere because, well, it’s all a bit much, and there seems to be different scientific data pointing to different outcomes – how do we know what to believe?

Greta Thunberg’s speech was so powerful, so devastating and I was so appalled by the governmental backlash she received. Her emotions were real, her concerns were justified, whatever you think about global warming, she certainly made some pointed remarks.

Interesting enough, the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, stated that we should not be putting children through such anxiety, he states:

“I want children growing up in Australia to feel positive about their future, and I think it is important we give them that confidence that they will not only have a wonderful country and pristine environment to live in, that they will also have an economy to live in as well…I don’t want our children to have anxieties about these issues.”

I’m not sure where he gets the idea that his country has a pristine environment. We don’t have to look too far to see that most countries around the world DO NOT have pristine environments anymore. And this is not a comment on Scott Morrison, many governments around the globe had similar things to say.

Sad – that it is the youth who are accelerating the issues and not the older generations pushing for change. I agree with Greta, that the world is in a sorry state of affairs when children have to publicly demand for political action.

Luisa Neubauer, (youth activist) at  TedxYouth 2019 states:

I travelled to the Climate Conference and wanted to find out what this is really like, what this is about. For political realists, this might be no surprise, but I found it hard to bear: that fossil fuel industries and political leaders are doing everything, everything to prevent real change from happening. They are not keen to set targets that are ambitious enough to put us on a below-two-degree pathway. After all, these are the only ones who benefit from this climate crisis, right? The fossil fuel industry generates profits, and political leaders, well, they look at the next election, at what makes them popular, and I guess that’s not asking the inconvenient questions. There is no intention for them to change the game. There is no country in the world where either companies or political powers are sanctioned for wrecking the climate.

The one aspect that struck me was a particular carbon emissions graph she used, not the 21 Century graph showing a slight increase of emissions over 20 years, but the terrifying graph showing emissions over 10,000 years. An extraordinary picture – a very clear indicator of the human factor.  (If you’re not sure – just google it)…

What Luisa asks us all to do is become activists, push for change, question politicians, to combat this growing anxiety of the global situation. I might not be able to change what is happening in other parts of the world, but surely I can make my voice heard locally. And that is where I think we can all make a start. In part, this is why I’ve started blogging. I just need to do something, say something, create something.

I also believe that living in New Zealand, a long way from some of the bigger global issues, it can be easy to put blinkers on and just live life ignoring what is going on. However, that position is also changing as in our local neighbourhood, especially, the Pacific Islands are under extreme pressure from rising sea levels. Some small, low lying Islands, have completely disappeared.

Photo from my visit to Tonga on the main Island, Tongatapu

Watch this ABC report on The Marshall Islands, or this powerful documentary on Kiribati, not so far away.

Also, New Zealand is an agricultural nation, the dairy industry is one of our biggest exports, and this industry isn’t exactly the cleanest… but that’s an entirely other blog post!!

So, what to do? Well one thing that can relieve some anxiety are the small things, privately – in your own home, for example, gardening, composting, recycling and consuming less. And I’m all for that – but sadly that’s not going to make enough changes, which is why we have to get public on these issues.

Start by reading more on the topics, talk about issues with family, friends, and colleagues. Also get involved in the community, understand what effects the changing environment has around you, vote for local Politians that have environmental plans in place, question big brands on their climate actions. I know it all sounds a bit much, and I’m freaking out as much as anyone, but I’m willing to start. We have to get creative and get active. Start small, just do one thing and see where it leads.

I’m no activist, this is all new to me, but I can’t just watch those images of people losing their home Islands to rising sea levels, or watch on as ever increasing storms hit areas around our globe and do nothing. We all have a stake in this. This is so not going away. I wish it wasn’t like this, but the reality is what it is. No fairy tale endings here.

Walking on Cornwallis Beach, Manukau Harbour, Auckland

My personal challenge, over the next 12 months, is to join local groups, get involved in the community more, help assist my local area, and to put energy into my corner of the world. I can’t do everything, but to feel more confident in myself, to feel that I’m at least doing the best, I need to do something!