This presentation is about introducing a different/personal perspective on the application of Glitch as a deliberate process of handling photographic imagery with portrait, fashion and advertising themes. Glitch can take on a feminist directive when it is used to corrupt biased and sexist portrayals of women in mass media.
As an an artist/photographer/graphic designer and glitcher, I consider my relationship with images and technology to be a love-hate kind of thing. My traditional artistic training in drawing and painting, and my engagement in fashion, portraiture and celebrity photography are violently crashing against my urge to glitch, corrupt and destroy the very imagery that I have been producing. It is like raising monuments to mainstream culture by day and vandalizing them by night.
I try to put myself on both sides of the equation – the mainstream and the avant garde – to get varying perspectives on the topic of visuality. Often times meaning arises when two opposing forces collide, and that is how I am hoping to learn from my explorations.
Around the time of its origin, some thought that the subjectivity of the creator, so permeating the art world, could be erased from the process of photography, but it was soon discovered that this medium – which is always handled by human hands – can be bent just like any other.
Photo manipulation – especially the severe kind that is possible with Photoshop – enables the medium of film and digital photography to turn from objective and authentic method of recording the world, into a subjective tool of persuasion. Photo manipulation has always been a dangerous practice because , in advertising for example, it fools the average viewer into believing a message that is constructed on falsified evidence.
But before this happened, the invention of photography in early 19th century created hope for employing this seemingly objective method of representation for documenting the world faithfully and authentically.
Quote from Mary Warner Marien ‘Photography and its Critics: A Cultural History’
Since seeing was equated with knowledge, and photography with seeing, from the beginning photography became the primary tool for knowledge distribution. Because this capacity of knowledge transmission in photography is still strongly apparent and in widespread use in this digitized information age, there is an impulsive, naïve, and automatic trust towards images in ‘inexperienced viewers’, who believe that what the image shows is true just because it is a photograph.
But as mentioned, the knowledge or visual information transmitted by the digital photograph is potentially tainted with false information that has been fabricated in a computer program. Digital forensics is a field that emerged as a response to that. Even though photo manipulation has been around since the very beginnings of the film photography (www.fourandsix.com), the malleable characteristics of the medium grew exponentially with the development of digital technologies.
Quote from Jacques Derrida
In this day and age when most people are unaware that space images are composited and aesthetically manipulated to look ‘normal’, or that once in a while a photojournalist is accused of digitally manipulating his images, or even that images entered into nature photo contests have been discovered to be deceitfully edited by the author, how do you trust images? The photograph has become nothing more than an image that simulates the appearance of our physical world, but contains little truth about it.
The digital medium is prone to easy manipulations yielding results that deceive the human eye with the highest degree of mimesis. People look prettier, cleaner, more symmetrical, painted with the saturated colors of youth. Products are flawless, presented in the best light, juicy, fresh, visually appealing and charged with symbols of power, sex and health in order to be desired by the consumer.
Quote from Marshal McLuhan ‘The Medium is the Massage’
Media do affect us, regardless of how in control we may feel. Both the medium and the message have an impact on our relationship with our environment and other people, although it is still up for debate which one, the medium or the message has the higher power in this. The medium definitely has a strong impact, because through digital technologies, we try to live faster, more efficiently and productively, and we isolate ourselves from others, living in the web of connections, as a single node with input and output capabilities.
The deceptive nature of the photographic medium and its extensive use in communication is largely responsible for our attitudes, biases and prejudices. Because it is capable of the most fantastic illusion, it is that much more believable.
But there is also the message, or the content, which has measurable impact on our perceptions of ourselves, the environment and other people. Perhaps we don’t want to believe that the message may affect us, even when we oppose it.
Check out the Miss Representation documentary
If you were truly in control and were capable of selecting consciously what you are and are not influenced by, then propaganda and advertising would not work, and certainly large corporations would not be spending millions of dollars on advertising campaigns.
Quote from Guy Debord ‘Society of the Spectacle’
Photographs, or images in general, serve to uphold the reigning system and secure the status quo by feeding the public manipulative messages using a manipulable medium.
With the Web being accessible in almost every household in North America, the destructive and intrusive images are available at the click of a mouse. They can have something to do with politics, consumer products, economy, entertainment, services, warnings, and other. Commercials are usually louder, and faster than the actual programming. Ads are polished, stereotypical and biased.
Quote from Jean Baudrillard ‘America’
In his apocalyptic, impressionistic writing, Baudrillard tells us that we have become zombies that soak up the visual abuse from the media. But he also says that we can’t go back, and that we should embrace the hyperreal.
Quote from Roland Barthes “The Image”, ‘The Rustle of Language’
Many 20th century French thinkers saw our visual dependency and infatuation as potentially harmful. Barthes recognizes that our reliance on vision makes deception and fixation by visual cues destructive or ‘bad’.
The hyperreal is better than the real or the ‘authentic’ of the original, untouched photograph. However, we also want the physical we live in to resemble the fantasy/illusion we have created.
Digital surgery in an advertising photograph, leads to physical cosmetic surgery and eating disorders in many young women that are being affected by the glossy images of idealized, flawless and stereotypical female. We are creating a map (a model) on which we build a territory (the thing itself).
Quote from Jean Baudrillard ‘Simulacra and Simulation’
We think that the ideals we create digitally is what our perceived real is/should be. Some say the real is still recoverable, and some that we are past the point of no return. Our models of existence and the system have become a firm structure on which we rely. Is it possible to overturn the regime? Is it time for a Glitch Spring?
The sexualization of children, which is a theme that sometimes occurs in fashion imagery, portrayed by these French ads, and in real life, exemplified by the child beauty pageants, is a testament to the extent of our stereotypical views on how females should be, how early girls and even parents are being conditioned with this ideology, and how perverse our western culture is in danger of becoming.
Subjecting a photo of a child to digital manipulation to make her look more ‘attractive’ and ‘doll like’ is a form of visual abuse that signals the stereotypical views of the parent that the child’s worth depends on her looks.
The sincerity in some advertising photography/campaigns is only an illusion that serves to tap into a particular consumer group more effectively. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty is supposed to state that the brand caters to ‘real women’, giving as evidence an image of seemingly average sized females from multiple ethnic backgrounds.
The AXE campaigns in turn are saturated with sexist imagery that promise the male consumer the acquisition of an attractive stereotypical, model female, with the purchase of the product, as if the woman was an object that could be possessed.
But the DOVE and AXE brands are both owned by UNILEVER and both have also been airbrushed.
In this situation it doesn’t seem to matter what product I purchase – one that has been advertised in a sexist way, or one that has been falsely advertised as sensitive to the ‘real woman’. Both are deceptive.
As shown in the previous slide, the ultimate goal of advertising imagery – which creates pseudo needs – is to uphold the reign of the autonomous economy (capitalism). They don’t care, they just want your attention, and then your money.
DOVE and AXE.
The media presents us females with a road to power that is based on looks, and regulated by patriarchal views of beauty.
Is the media giving us what we desire, or are we being repeatedly and aggressively told what to desire? Regardless of the origin, the media’s role is in maintaining the established structures of capitalist society, where the female gender group is forced to fit into the invented male standard, and where the female face and body is used to sell products ranging from chapstic to men’s underwear. The males buy to get the portrayed female, and the females buy to become the portrayed female.
How the advertising and fashion images are made (retouched photograph) and what they contain as content (females engaging in stereotypical activities, dressed in stereotypical clothes, or flaunting stereotypical looks), serves to control the society and its expectations.
It is a method to facilitate cognitive dissonance with the ideals presented by the media, and induce spending in order to patch the gap between perceived inadequacy and the portrayed standard. Advertising is an effective, powerful way of bathing society in destructive popular ideals that drive this consumer economy.
So where does GLITCH as a deliberate process of digital destruction fit into that? Let’s start with what we know.
The Glitch described here refers to the deliberate process of introducing errors into a body of digital data that makes up an image.
The term Digital Vandalism that I am using in this situation stems from the vandalism that occurs during riots and protests. Vandalism happens as a response to the feeling that we have been cheated out of something, denied a right, or that we have been misinformed and manipulated for someone else’s gain. In the case of sexist advertising and fashion imagery, both the male and female population has been manipulated to succumb to a certain standard of appearances and attitudes that we are either encouraged to obtain or judge others by. This leads to low self esteem, and attempts at body modification and behavioral changes in order to fit in. This kind of ideological conditioning in young adults leads to misinformed personal decisions and a denial of a healthy body awareness.
In the case of glitching advertising and fashion imagery, I am destroying images that are signs of commodification of the female body and evidence of sexist conditioning of western commercial culture.
I am also using the term Digital Iconoclasm to describe this attack on the integrity of the image. Iconoclasts of the Byzantine Empire in the 8th century opposed religious imagery because they believed that to ‘represent God is to limit the infinite,’ and to assign any limits to God was clearly blasphemous. They also wanted to prevent the religious imagery itself becoming the object of worship. The ‘lifeless’ mediums of wood and paint did not have the capacity to accurately or authentically represent the divine.
So just like Iconoclasm is about opposing false, incomplete, improper representation, a representation that was produced by a system where illusion is used to enslave the senses of the faithful followers, so do I oppose and attack the integrity of a digital photograph because of its deceptive potential, and its incapacity to represent authentic, universal and true beauty. No such concept can ever be embodied in an image. The modern consumer concept of beauty is misinformed, incomplete, subjective, sexist and superficial.
The glitch also brings out a kind of absurdity in the image, because what was once loaded with a clear commercial message and meaning, now becomes interrupted, distorted and abstracted – an absurd instead of a meaningful collection of visual elements. The communication of the harmful message becomes disrupted, the relationship to the image content changes.
The Glitch rejects the authority of the image as a source of visual propaganda who’s main goal is to sell a hyperrealistic version of the world to the consumer.
German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach said in “The Essence of Christianity”: “But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence… illusion only is sacred, truth profane.”
We worship the illusion of perfection instead of the authenticity of imperfection.
Few examples of ads with aggressive/sexist content.
Cubism already challenged the standardized beauty of a nude in this painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso.
By aggressing against the hyperreal fashion and advertising imagery, I perhaps also indirectly aggresses against the system that produced it – capitalism.
The fragmentation, discoloration, banding, shifting, pixellation, and displacement of the areas of a photograph engulfs the model and draws attention to itself as the subject of the new fetish/fixation.
In the traditional digital retouching techniques such as liquefying and airbrushing to produce the best aesthetic result, the interference into the image is barely noticeable if not completely undetectable. With unconventional handing of digital images such as databending and glitching, the manipulation of visual data is not bound by visual cues since the intervention is at the code level and in an application that is not meant for such an action. In this situation the interferences is amplified because it produces visible disturbances in the integrity of the image, sometimes grotesque discolorations and abstraction. This kind of editing action comes to the surface instead of trying to be invisible as in the traditional editing techniques. Glitch-compositing (merging multiple images together using their code), has no respect for the visual integrity of an image. What is desired is the unexpected, chance placement of fragments on the picture plane, that is now a surface instead of a window.
The rigid establishment of visual representation, that is governed by illusion, deception, and simulation in order to serve dominant ideological structures within society, is oppressive in nature. Glitch stands in opposition to the reign of mainstream representation and against this kind of oppression because it promotes the random, unexpected and chaotic creation of images in which the objective is to lose control that is so well exercised in mainstream commercial imagery. It rejects manufactured desires by signaling that we exist in a system that manipulates us. It is a manifestation of conscience because it points that there is a dichotomy in our world – what we label as the right and the wrong way of doing things. As I already mentioned in another blog post, Glitch is the Occupy Wallstreet of the computer system because it indicates there is something wrong in the system:
‘I have come to the conclusion, that ‘Occupy Wallstreet’ is a glitch because it is a visual manifestation – a reaction, a result – of a dysfunctional financial system.
A glitch can be a crippling breakdown of communication, preventing further function. It will not be business as usual until the computer is restarted, i.e. the economical system is redrawn. What provokes the glitch must be addressed. Until then it remains a sign of freedom, a demonstration of conscience.’
Still Glitch evades definition and categorization, and its definition remains fluid. Whatever dominant system of representation takes over in the future, it will have a Glitch that will surface and oppose, and show that to see the right, there has to be a wrong, and that the right and wrong are not always what they seem to be.