Author Archives: Emily Rothkopf

Photography-Based Advertising in the Digital Age: A New System of Meaning-Making

Emily Rothkopf

Abstract: This article explores the changing landscape of photography-based advertising in the digital age.  Marketers today are faced with a more competitive and visually over-saturated playing field and have developed new ways to stand out and register with consumers.  What are the new predominant themes, styles and semiotics of successful ad campaigns?  By understanding the history of photography-based advertising, reviewing industry-related research, and dissecting several present-day ad campaigns, a new formula for the marketing medium is revealed.


In a capitalistic sense, photography is a tool for artists, journalists, and marketers.  The use of the medium has evolved across all industries over the past century, particularly with the emergence of the digital age, and the lowered barrier to entry that has been created by the advent of digital cameras, smart phones, and social-media sharing platforms.  Artists now have a more crowded playing field and a greater need for distinguishing work.  Journalists have a more superfluous supply to publish from, yet a greater sense of urgency and ‘race-to-post’ mentality.  But it is marketers that perhaps have the greatest challenges; photographic advertisements now have to compete with the cluttered media, stand out in markets saturated with imagery, and appeal to new visual ideals.  Additionally, while art exhibit patrons and news readers still take about the same time to absorb a photographic image, consumers are clicking, scrolling, and fast-forwarding through advertisements quicker than ever.  When examining the photography-based advertising that exists in magazines, newspapers, billboards, and most importantly – online, there is a new set of rules for companies that seek to register with and appeal to the new digital age audience.  The glossy, glamorized approach to print advertising still exists, but it has been remixed with more organic, social-media and pop-culture inspired imagery.  What are the common themes in this new system of photography-based advertising?  And what are the visual codes or semiotics involved in this new, rapid meaning-making process?

Pre-Digital Age: A Brief History

“In modern capitalist societies the camera has proved to be an absolutely indispensable tool for the makers of consumer goods…camera images have been able to make invented ‘realities’ seem not at all fraudulent and have permitted viewers to suspend disbelief while remaining aware that the scene has been contrived” (Rosenblum 2007).

Lady Esther Face Powder 1934 (source:

Lady Esther Face Powder 1934 (

Photography in advertising can be traced back to the late 1800s when the halftone printing process was developed, where imagery could be produced in one color ink via various sized and spaced dots.  This process allowed magazine and newspaper publishers to print photographs alongside text.  However, it was not often used in advertising due to the high cost of studio photography; drawn illustrations remained the preferred method.  It was the industrial movement in the 1920s that led to the emphasis of advertising and exploration of new methods to make products stand out among the newly competitive consumer market.  Product marketers began to understand the psychology behind consumption and found photography a means to project the highly coveted messages of realism and truth.  The Photographers Association of America explained that people “believe what the camera tells them because they know that nothing tells the truth so well” (Marchand 1985).  Photographic imagery began to emerge as the most persuasive sales tool and thereby the preferred medium moving forward in the print advertising industry (Harvard Business 2010).

Chanel 1957 (source:

Chanel 1957 (

Initially, photography-based advertising relied on a very direct approach, clearly depicting and explaining the product and its benefits.  However, when consumer psychology and creative direction were applied, a new form of suggestive advertising arose.  This approach focused on the atmosphere, rather than the object, through pictorialist photography – soft focus, dramatic lighting, heavy retouching, stage sets, etc. (Brown 2000).  Clarence H. White, American photographer, teacher and pioneer in the ‘photography as an art form’ movement, educated budding photographers on a new ‘fusion of beauty and utility.’  He emphasized the need to employ design and fine-art principles – close-up views, spare geometric compositions, oblique vantage points, tonal contrast, and sharpened focus (Yochelson 1996).  Edward Steichen, another pioneer in advertising photography during the 1920s, developed a style whereby marketers could project ideals, aspirations and fantasies by depicting glamour, beauty and elegance, instead of just a straightforward shot of a product (Johnston 1997).

Marlboro 1978 (source:

Marlboro 1978 (

Post-war advertising shifted towards depicting middle-class family ideals, much of which was geared towards the female home-maker.  Ads often depicted women as subservient to a more dominant male figure.  The 1960s and 70s are marked with imagery reflecting social movements, ideas of ‘cool,’ and sexuality.  Marlboro ads famously conveyed a sense of the American ‘cool’ and masculinity.  Women had their own Virginia Slims campaign, which depicted the beginning of the gender equality movement; women in these ads were portrayed as confident, powerful players in society.  And the 1980s and 90s are marked by overt diversity, and sometimes rule-bending and controversial advertising.  Benetton’s signature multi-racial advertising became a “politically-correct cliché” and the new standard in photography-based advertising (Edwards 2013).  The waif-like, androgynous and somber models depicted in Calvin Klein’s campaigns resulted in initial backlash, yet represented a new norm in many ways.  What was consistent throughout the entire 20th century print advertising history was the focus on the brand; the logo or product was front and center, meant to be ingrained in the minds of consumers.

Benetton 1990s (

Calvin Klein 1990s (

Digital Age: What Has Changed?

In these point and click atmospheres, it takes an eye-catching image to “stand out and force its way into the consciousness of consumers…it takes a photograph that’s creative, memorable and unmissable” (Chapnick 2009).

Oreo 2013 (source: International Business Times)

Oreo 2013 (International Business Times)

The digital age or more specifically, the social-media age, brought about major shifts for photography.  First, photographers were given a sharing platform that enabled quicker and greater dissemination – versus the traditional art gallery or exhibit forum.  Content via the Internet can reach a larger audience, yet can be appropriated and copied for unintended purposes.  From a marketing standpoint, the sharing network offers great benefits.  While there can be costs involved in online advertising, the sharing and ‘viral’ potential can make it much more cost effective.  Some of the most successful advertising campaigns have cost very little, for example the Oreo ad posted on Facebook and Twitter during the 2013 Super Bowl blackout incident – it was regarded much higher than the commercials that aired for millions of dollars (Smith 2013).  The success of this ad was due to its timeliness afforded by social media channels and the flexibility and cleverness of ad executives.  What the digital age has produced is a sense of immediacy to the photographic image that did not previously exist (Heywood 2012).

Second, the barrier to entry to photography was lowered by the advent of digital cameras and smart phones.  Photography as an art form was discredited as “middle-brow” by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, following the commercial success of portable cameras in the 1950′s and 60′s and subsequent adoption by middle-class families as a means to document domestic events (Bourdieu 1990).  In today’s digital world, Bourdieu may have gone even further to classify photography as ‘low-brow.’  Smart phones have created a culture that is consumed with the ritualization of taking pictures and is thus over-saturated with ‘pics’ that are posted to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – a medium solely devoted to the photographic image.  The notion of distinguishing photography from ‘taking pictures’ has become ever so critical in the art world (Irvine 2012).  On the flip-side, the more standard or compatible photography becomes in the common person’s everyday life, the more appealing it becomes (Sarvas 2011).  The challenge marketers face is creating photographic imagery that is accessible, yet stands out for its higher artistic value.

Lastly, attention spans have been reduced due to the new digital mediums and technological viewing capabilities.  Today, audiences can skip through commercials using services like onDemand and TiVo.  They are also viewing more than one medium at once, flipping between television and smart phone.  For example, over half of the 2013 Superbowl viewing audience intended to use social media while watching the game per a pre-game market research survey.  “This widespread divided attention…makes you wonder which screen is the first and which is the second” (Bough 2013).  Additionally, magazine and newspaper sales have drastically declined.  The content is now more often viewed online, thus decreasing the reach of the print ad format, and transferring importance to ad banners, pop-ups, hover ads, etc.  In these point and click atmospheres, it takes an eye-catching image to “stand out and force its way into the consciousness of consumers…it takes a photograph that’s creative, memorable and unmissable” (Chapnick 2009).  And while marketers will carefully craft the written content of their ads, it is the image that creates the first and long-lasting impression.

Case Study: Social Media & Instagram-Inspired

“The point is to manufacture glamour that doesn’t seem manufactured” (Rosman 2012).

Hudson Jeans 2013 (

Hudson Jeans 2013 (

Social media has changed the entire landscape of advertising, but particularly in regard to photography-based ads, where a new aesthetic has emerged.  People are spending less time viewing the traditional, highly-produced media forms – television, magazines, etc., and spend more time on smart phones and social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.  Advertising has shifted to reflect what consumers are used to seeing, ‘liking’ and sharing.  “User-generated content – the feel and the actual images – is very intimate, and that visual language is very familiar to people…consumers ‘like’ your ad, share it with friends, and soon it has a life of its own, bouncing around social-media sites at no extra cost” (Rosman 2012).  It is almost a visual trick that advertisers play to blend in their ads with viewers social media streams, making them pay attention and not realize they are looking at an ad.  These ads appear more organic, authentic, and less sales or spam-like.  Just like the original intention of photography-based advertising, people are moved by the ‘real’ thing – they do not want to be overtly sold (Rosman 2012).  But concurrently, the successful ads stand out in a creative ways.

Facebook 2014 (source:

Facebook 2014 (

Facebook’s 2014 ad campaign is, appropriately, almost entirely founded on social media photographic principles, but with added creativity and artistry.  These ads are geared towards existing users, displayed on their feeds, with the assumed intention of enhancing Facebook’s reputation and/or getting users to more frequently and passionately use Facebook.  In the “reunion tour” ad shown here, the creators have leveraged symbols of the concert or festival culture.  The campaign was timely coinciding with the 2014 Coachella Festival.  Ads historically draw heavily on cultural symbols or events, especially those whose meanings are shared among mainstream society (O’Barr 2006).  The image is greatly inspired by the common festival-goers Instagram photos – the haze, the sunlight, the youthful crowd – are all symbolic of a concert.  Comments on the ad posting even claim that the photo was taken at Coachella.  This ad blends right into a person’s Facebook feed which makes him/her pay attention, as if it is a friend’s post.  When an ad overtly looks and feels like an ad, viewers may avoid the image or create a negative connotation that the company is spamming them.  With witty, meaningful written content, the ad ‘closes the deal’ as creative and the user generates a positive impression of the company.  That impression is often intended to have a sense of ‘cool’ particularly among the millennial demographic, but also aims to cross generational gaps to appeal to the mainstream.

Taco Bell 2013 (

Taco Bell 2013 (

Many ads have not only appropriated the look and feel of Instagram filters, but also mirror the user-generated content that is captured beneath those filters.  Taco Bell has had much success with its social media campaigns, generating buzz and ‘hipster’ appeal among the millennial demographic.  In the example shown here which was supporting a new product launch, the ad incorporates several classic Instagram photo features: food, fashionably painted nails, and an enticing caption.  It is also captured in a close-up shot, which the Instagram platform is intended for; it is not meant for panoramic views or large group photos – it is meant to capture the little details and highlights of a users everyday life.  In the digital age the camera now acts as a “witness to the mundane” but also as a tool for social interaction and bonding (Heywood 2012).  A photo of one eating a taco, with freshly painted nails, is presented as a means of attainable relation – i.e. look what I’m doing – who else is doing this?  In the Hudson Jeans 2013 ad campaign shown above, the creators specifically wanted the ads to look like a series of Instagram shots; the above image is a combined summary of the entire campaign that Hudson ran as a separate ad.  The photos have the tones, bordering, backdrops/settings, and artistic quality that are common of Instagram shots.

Case Study: Intimacy & Voyeurism

“The American Apparel advertising campaign has become…synonymous with our brand name…our un-airbrushed aesthetic [was introduced] more than a decade ago” (American Apparel 2014).

Pedigree 2013 (

Pedigree 2013 (

As an extension of the quest for the ‘real’, another current theme in photography-based advertising is a heightened sense of intimacy and voyeurism.  This culture has existed throughout time, but has become more prevalent in the digital age with the advent of social media that allows people to expose themselves via profiles, status updates, photos, videos, etc.  Additionally, pop culture heavily subsists on the reality television and tabloid culture that is propagated by the various online social media channels.  This development has greatly fed into an innate guilty pleasure of voyeurism that exists in almost every human.  What the digital age has produced is a culture that is eager for more realness, more intimacy, and more exposure into the daily lives of friends, acquaintances or even strangers.

American Apparel 2013 (

American Apparel 2013 (

American Apparel ads are famously, and to some infamously, known for their raw, un-airbrushed aesthetic.  Models are relatively ‘average’ as compared to the typical look, size and style of ones seen in traditional fashion ads.  One photographer known as a pioneer in ‘street-style’ photography says this method reflects a “heightened version of real life,” and the typical portrayal of a glamorized, waif-like teenage model “is not reality, [which] creates a barrier between the consumer and the brand” (Rosman 2012).  The models seemingly wear little to no make-up, and are casually, yet provocatively dressed.  They are situated in low-key, no-frills environments that make the viewers feel as though they getting a glimpse of the model in his/her natural habitat.  Sex appeal is a primary intention for the American Apparel brand, as established with the rawness of the photos, models in minimal clothing and suggestive poses, and an overall voyeuristic vibe.  Additionally, the ads have appropriated a vintage 1970s aura via muted, matte and sepia tones, which suits the throw-back styled clothing.

McDonalds 2010 (

McDonalds 2010 (

Ads can portray a sense of intimacy without being overly raw or exploiting sexuality.  The McDonalds and Pedigree ads exemplified here bring the viewer into a space that is intimate through varying visual cues.  McDonalds is playing off of a common cultural practice of utilizing or relying on public wifi, often while alone, in a business establishment.  The viewer of the ad can relate to the image with just a glimpse of the models hands and forearms.  A feeling of isolation, yet satisfaction is portrayed; the viewer has been in this situation and can feel what is being expressed.  Pedigree pulls on the viewers’ heart strings a bit by making a relatable, intimate scenario.  The viewer is looking in, voyeuristically, on a situation where he/she may have been before – at the beach with a dog – and may have even documented it via a smart phone.  The image is highly realistic and the sentiment is highly emotional.  The tone and split screen aesthetic are also replicable via smart phone applications and present an additional layer of realism.  With this realism, the objective of the ad is more easily accomplished – viewers can quickly transfer meaning from the ad onto the product (Williamson 1978).

Case Study: Fantasy & Romance

“Our customer is downtown and uptown…she is into reality, but romance too,” designer Rebecca Minkoff (Rosman 2012).

Mulberry 2011 (source:

Mulberry 2011 (

One theme of digital age advertising is the remixing of real with the surreal – which is appropriated from pre-digital age themes.  The appeal of the glossy, glamorized fantasy is consistent throughout all generations: “advertising…is the ideology and mythology of consumption.  The myth of advertising tells heroic commodities and fabulous lives enhanced and fulfilled through purchase and consumption” (O’Barr 2006).  Ideas of fantasy, romance and whimsy are typically geared towards the female consumer who have been indoctrinated with a fairy tale princess mentality through all art and media forms.  However, one difference in the post-digital age is the advancement of photoshop technologies that enable photography to be blended seamlessly or more creatively with fabricated imagery.  Another difference is that advertisements are reflective of contemporary cultures obsession with fantasy, mirroring popular television and film – Twilight and Game of Thrones as current examples.  These ads are telling a story and seamlessly incorporate the product or service to where the advertised good “drops into the background while highly abstract connections are made between the models, a lifestyle and the brand” (Williamson 1978).

Mulberry 2012 (source:

Mulberry 2012 (

The fashion company Mulberry and its ad campaigns over the past five years best exemplify and execute the fantasy theme with digital age enhancements.  The ads exude a high-class, yet modern appeal with the younger models in traditional, yet fresh and brightly colored ensembles.  The ads would be elitist, yet are ironically whimsical with the photo-shopped imagery fitted in not-to-scale.  There is a soft, romanticized re-touching – almost an aura exuding from the images.  And the models expressions connote a naivety and rawness – a childlike glow looking to explore their surroundings.  There are often two models in the ads – both female – portraying a playful, companionship.  Many of the themes are indirectly appropriated from Alice in Wonderland with dream-like, surreal playgrounds of fashion, animals, and wilderness.  The 2012 campaign directly appropriates Where the Wild Things Are, leveraging nostalgia in the target female millennial demographic.

Disney 2014 (

Disney 2014 (

Annie Leibovitz’s ad campaign for Disney is another clear-cut example of advertising appealing to society’s obsession with fantasy, as well as celebrity culture – which can also be related back to fantasy.  In this campaign Leibovitz appropriates various Disney films and supplants popular celebrities as the main characters; actress Jessica Chastain is portrayed as a character from the Disney film Brave in the example shown here.  Through photography and photoshop, Leibovitz creates imagery that is both real and surreal.  The viewer sees the celebrity as a real person, yet understands the background imagery is fabricated with a painting-like scenery.  This juxtaposition presents an unattainable, yet somewhat attainable feeling that Disney wants to convey via its entertainment products and services.


“An ad must always be understood to tell a positive, beneficial story about the advertised product…Within these bounds, images are manipulated for maximum positivity” (O’Barr 2006).

Advertising adapts to the given time period and cultural values, while holding true to the underlying consumer psychology principles and intended positive effects.  As technology advances, so do cultural values and consumer behavior.  Photography in today’s advertising reflects a digital age that has created a visual culture, craving immediacy, authenticity, and allure.  Glamour and beauty are still put on a pedestal, but advertisers are increasingly remixing styles and themes to create a more organic vibe.  So while “strawberries are made to look fresher and sweeter, models younger and more attractive, water bluer, and clouds whiter” (O’Barr 2006), photographic situations, settings, and styles are often portrayed to be more relatable and attainable.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, advertising may appeal to a culture wanting fantasy and romance – themes that have been enhanced in the digital age with photoshop and creative artistry.  Where advertisers do not want to fall is in the middle – an unrelatable or uninspiring state – particularly in today’s over-saturated digital space.  The goal is to be attainable and recognizable, or so highly creative and imaginative that there is no way the audience can scroll by without a second glance.


“American Apparel – Our Ads.” American Apparel. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2014.

Bough, B. Bonin. “Rethinking Super Bowl Advertising: It’s About Not Just the Creative but How Creatively You Use It.” Forbes. 02 Feb. 2013. Web. 01 May 2014.

Bourdieu, Pierre. “Photography: A Middle-brow Art.” Polity Press, 1990. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Brown, Elspeth H. “Rationalizing Consumption: Lejaren à Hiller and the Origins of American Advertising Photography.” Enterprise and Society, 2000. Web 2014.

Chapnick, Ben. “The Art of Advertising Photography.” Black Star Rising. N.p., 26 Mar. 2009. Web. 02 May 2014.

Dyer, Gillian. “Advertising as Communication.” Routledge. London,1982.

Edwards, Jim. “20 Ads That Changed How We Think About Race In America.” Business Insider Australia. N.p., 12 Feb. 2013. Web. 02 May 2014.

Heywood, Ian and Barry Sandwell. “The Handbook of Visual Culture.” Berg. London, 2012.

Irvine, Martin. “Key Issues in Modern Photography.” Georgetown University, 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Johnston, Patricia. “Advertising Photography.” Answers. Web. 02 May 2014.

Johnston, Patricia. “Real Fantasies: Edward Steichen’s Advertising Photography.” University of California Press, 1997.

Marchand, Roland. “Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920–1940.” University of California-Berkeley Press, 1985.

O’Barr, William M. “The Interpretation of Advertisements.” The Johns Hopkins University Press – Advertising & Society Review. Advertising Educational Foundation, 2006. Web 2014.

“Photography and Print Advertising.” Harvard Business School Library. N.p., 2010. Web. 01 May 2014.

Rosenblum, Naomi. “A World History of Photography.” Abbeville Press. 2007.

Rosman, Katherine. “Why Ads Are Imitating the Photos in Your Smartphones.” The Wall Street Journal. N.p., 1 Oct. 2012. Web. 02 May 2014.

Sarvas, Risto and David M. Frohlich. “From Snapshops to Social Media – The Changing Picture of Domestic Photography.” Springer-Verlag. London, 2011.

Smith, Dave. “Why The Best Super Bowl Ad In 2013 Was Free.” International Business Times. 4 Feb. 2013. Web. 01 May 2014.

Williamson, Judith. “Decoding Advertisements.” Marion Boyers. New York, 1978.

Yochelson, Bonnie. “Pictorialism into Modernism: The Clarence H. White School of Photography.” Rizzoli International. 1996.

The Cyborg Dystopia

Emily Rothkopf

The representation of cyborgs in pop culture can be explained as an extension of Sigmund Freud’s theories on human pleasure, as articulated in his 1930 book Civilization and its Discontents.  Freud theorizes that in the absence of understanding one’s purpose in life, option B is simply to live a life in search of happiness.  And that quest for happiness is satisfied by fulfilling man’s basic pleasures, which Freud explains as fulfilling sexual desires and predisposed aggression.  He continues to theorize that one means to pleasure is to remove the limits of man’s motor and sensory functioning.  So for example, “thanks to ships and aircraft, neither water nor air can hinder [man’s] movements; by means of spectacles he corrects defects in the lens of his own eye…” (Freud 1930).  Thus, we see that the pattern and development of technology is part of man’s means to pleasure and happiness.  The cyborg is the highest form of technology enhancing man’s motor and sensory functioning.  However, when the aggressivity factor of Freud’s theory is added to the mix, trouble ensues.  Classic films like Frankenstein and The Terminator expound upon this notion, in dramatic, dystopian fashion.

“Man has … become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times” (Freud 1930).



The protagonist in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is “consumed by the desire to discover the secret of life and, after several years of research, becomes convinced that he has found it”; he embarks on his journey to create “Frankenstein” (SparkNotes 2014).  His creation is deemed a monster and is instantly regretted; Frankenstein acts out in fits of rages and then, as an outcast, needs his sexual desires fulfilled through the creation of a mate, or second “monster.”  As Freud discusses in his pleasure principles theory, civilization imposes great sacrifices on man’s aggressivity; in other words, there are societal norms and accepted rules that govern man’s behavior and limit the output of aggression.  These norms are ingrained in man subconciously over time.  But when a cyborg is created without that social development, a la Frankenstein, the cyborg often acts out its aggressive instincts just as a child throws a tantrum in public.  A cyborg is part man, combined with more powerful technology that enhances its movement or capabilities.  The resulting effect is a powerful creature with unsuppressed aggression.  The cyborg will act out on the uninhibited aggressivity, and in the case of Frankenstein, can unintentionally cause devastation. 

The Terminator II

James Cameron’s The Terminator series represents a more intentional fulfillment of aggressivity, which in essence portrays a revenge of the aggressivity suppression.  In the series, cyborg assassins that outwardly appear as humans are commissioned by the antagonist, Skynet, to exterminate the human race (Wikipedia 2014).  The film pits artificial intelligence against the human race, a clash against good and evil.  AI represents an unsuppressed civilization and the human race represents a civilized population that has adopted societal norms to suppress the aggression.  The film portrays a classic theme of the threat of a more advanced race, both technologically and physically, overtaking the human race.  In the end, the human race is able to outsmart the cyborgs and their uncontrolled agression.

The portrayal of cyborgs in pop culture examines the differences between man and machine.  This is crucial to the study of the posthuman in today’s technologically advanced age.  How do/will technological prostheses change human behavior and culture?  WIll new societal norms be created and/or set aside?  While film often portrays the cyborg in a dramatic dystopian future, real world scenarios and applications may play out resulting in a more subtle dystopia.


Works Cited

“Frankenstein.” SparkNotes. SparkNotes, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents, 1930.

“Terminator (franchise).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Apr. 2014. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.


Matisyahu’s Signature Blend

Emily Rothkopf

Matisyahu Live at Stubb’s album cover, 2005. source:

When studying cultural hybridity and genre remix in music, there may not be a better or more diversified case study than Matisyahu.  Dubbed the “Hasidic Reggae Superstar,” Matisyahu was initially discredited as a novelty act – especially among those who don’t particularly care for the reggae/hip-hop sound.  “Something about a Hasidic Jew spitting meditative verses over reggae-rock beats seemed more SNL than MTV” is how one journalist described the sentiment (Cole 2009).  But for those that get and appreciate his style and sounds, Matisyahu is seen as an innovative and inspirational artist, both musically and for what he represents – a barrier-breaking, globalized phenomenon, who has promoted peace through his music, akin to the anti-war sentiments in 1960s and 70s rock.  And his lyrical abilities just scratch the surface of what he offers musically.  Musical tastes aside, Matisyahu is undeniably a perfect example of the remixing of a century’s worth of genres (and centuries worth of cultural influences).  For almost 15 years now, he has been prolific with his original blend of reggae, hip-hop, rap, rock, pop and his signature hazzan (songful prayer) vocals (Wikipedia 2014).

“In the broader view of pop music, reggae has always been an important influence. Maybe it comes and goes, but if you look back to the ’80s with the Police and even the Clash, to the ’90s with Sublime and No Doubt, there is always some big, popular act that works within that style” – Matisyahu (Cole 2009).

One of the overarching genres in Matisyahu’s music is reggae, which is always credited back to Bob Marley.  Matisyahu, like so many others, connected with Marley’s powerful, yet melodic and soothing music.  Marley was a pioneer in blending popular Jamaican music genres – ska and rocksteady – to develop reggae in the 1960s (Wikipedia 2014).  The slow tempo of reggae is typically what stands out – as exemplified in Marley’s classic “Sun is Shining.”  Matisyahu takes this vibe and spikes it with faster-paced hip-hop/rap inspired vocals.  Repetition is also a major feature in reggae music which, as in all genres, helps elevate it to a pop music level (Irvine 2014).  And lyrically, reggae messages range from feel-good to socially empowering.  Similarly, Matisyahu with Isreali ties, sends hopeful and socially-driven messages through his songs.  He effectively carries over the reggae themes and sounds into his music, but with his own twists – the faster paced vocals and beats, rock instrumentals and the hazzan-style chanting.

“Youth” – Matisyahu 2006

Matisyahu also credits Phish, and the jam-band subgenre of rock, as one of his major influences.  This style can be heard best in his tracks that incorporate live guitar and drumming.  He recorded a live album in Austin, Texas – “Live at Stubbs,” which best exemplifies the rock element in his music.  In “Time of Our Song” from this album, the wide range of genres is shown seamlessly remixed within one five minute song.  It begins with the rock instrumental set-up (guitar and drums) and flows into Matisyahu’s classic reggae and hip-hop vocals.  The tone and accent in his voice signify the reggae style as opposed to a strictly hip-hop based vocal.  The interludes are jam-band inspired but during the longest one (at 2:25), Matisyahu demonstrates his vocal range with a higher pitched, hazzan-influenced chant.

“Time of Our Song” – Matisyahu 2005

“I’ve grown up some, and … I have broadened my musical tastes quite a lot. Reggae is not so dominant in my tastes; I also listen to a lot more rock, hip-hop, and electronic music. But I do think that reggae will always have something important to bring to pop music. And reggae will always be important to me” – Matisyahu (Cole 2009).


Matisyahu at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, Washington DC, 2012. source:

Over the years, Matisyahu has shed his beard and some of his Hasidic persona, and has expanded more into pop/hip-hop with electronic sounds.  However, the cultural and musical roots remain and when you hear a Matisyahu song, you know it immediately; his sound is not easily replicated.  His new album is set to release in June 2014, which he has said will have a slightly grittier and darker vibe (Wete 2014).  Whatever the new sound is, it will undoubtedly be a remix of his varied influences, captured in his signature blend.



Works Cited

Cole, Matthew. “Interview: Matisyahu.” Slant Magazine. N.p., 29 Oct. 2009. Web. 07 Apr. 2014.

Irvine, Martin. “Music Analysis Worksheet.” Music Analysis Worksheet – Google Drive. Georgetown University, n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2014.

“Matisyahu.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 June 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2014.

“Reggae.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 June 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2014.

Wete, Brad. “Sundance 2014: Watch Matisyahu Perform at Park City Live. Discuss ‘Akeda’ Album.” Billboard. N.p., 18 Jan. 2014. Web. 08 Apr. 2014.

Seamless Remix – The ArchAndroid

Emily Rothkopf

Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid reads like a perfectly-produced film – perhaps like a Quentin Tarantino film, remixing every genre at-hand, yet in one meticulously crafted and cohesive work of art.  Many artists today, particularly in the hip-hop genre, employ remixing/sampling for shock value – it produces a juxtaposition of sounds that perks the listeners’ ears up.  The ArchAndroid however manages to remix genres so seamlessly that the listener flows from one song to the next, or one scene to the next, without even realizing the change of scenery.  Monae clearly doesn’t want to fit in as another modern day, mainstream and cliched artists.  Like other innovative artists, she positions her music against what she doesn’t want to sound like or be, and affirms the styles or traditions that she wants to expand (Irvine 2013).  In this case, perhaps Monae is rejecting the idea of the formulaic pop artist and expanding upon the idea of the composer – an artist working with samples and directly with sound, “thus becoming more like [her] counterparts in the visual and plastic arts” (Katz 2010).  In The ArchAndroid, Monae samples sounds from R&B to folk to cinematic scores, in shifts that “seem intuitive rather than jarring” (Perpetua 2010).  The result is somewhat oscar-worthy.

  • Suite II Overture — Initial applause symbolizes a live performance, which is then followed by stringed instruments.  The combined sounds transport the listener to an opera house, experiencing an orchestral performace.  Like other tracks on the album, there is a cinematic vibe here.
  • Dance or Die — This is an example of Irvine’s “Sound Stack 1” with its electronica sounds and vocal repetition.  Mixed in are the hip-hop and funk genres as symbolized via fast, spoken word vocals.  A rock guitar riff is also added in as an interlude.
  • Faster — This is a fast-paced R&B track mixed with background female vocals and funk/hip-hop beats.  Also included is a “ladies and gentleman” introduction to another musician, reminiscent of the classic R&B genre.
  • Tightrope — This is an R&B and funk inspired track with a hip-hop/rap inspired male vocal interjected.  The song closes with big-band inspired instrumentals.
  • Oh, Maker — Monae sounds like a whole new vocalist on this folk-inspired track that seamlessly shifts into R&B.  The background vocals are notably beats, not lyrics.
  • Suite III Overture — This track is like a cinematic score and reminiscent of an old film from the 50’s/60s.  It’s opening is reminiscent of the classic song “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
  • Wonderland — This song seamlessly shifts in from the last track.  It has a 90s pop sound with a futuristic vibe, as relayed through the tech-modified vocal.  The track closes with a church choir–esque “hallelujah” vocal.
  • BaBopByeYa — This is a jazz influenced track where the listener can envision Monae as a cabaret singer in a black-and-white film, singing into a vintage 50s style microphone.
  • Locked Inside — There is a 70s dance music vibe to this track, which is mixed with R&B style background vocals.

Works Cited

Katz, Mark.  “Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music.” University of California Press, 2010. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.

Irvine, Martin. “Popular Music as a Meaning System.” Georgetown University, 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.

Perpetua, Matthew. “Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid.” Pitchfork. N.p., 20 May 2010. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.


The Value of a Collection in Photography

Emily Rothkopf

Photography as an art form was discredited as “middle-brow” by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, following the commercial success of portable cameras in the 1950’s and 60’s and subsequent adoption by middle-class families as a means to document domestic events (Bourdieu 1965).  In today’s digital world, perhaps Bourdieu would have gone even further to classify photography as “low-brow.”  With the advent of smart phones, society is consumed with the ritualization of ‘taking pictures’ and thus we have found ourselves in an over-saturation of “pics” and “selfies” that are posted to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (a medium solely devoted to the photographic image).  The notion of distinguishing photography from ‘taking pictures’ has become ever so critical in the art world (Irvine 2012).  Exploring works from famed photographers Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz, whose combined careers span almost a century, it is evident that the ability to produce a cohesive collection of photographs is what distinguishes its players, perhaps more so than any other art form.  A collection of photographs asserts a collective meaning and purpose, and can make the art form “high-brow” in the Bourdieu sense.

The National Parks by Ansel Adams (source for selected images below)

The idea and practice of ‘making a photograph’ comes from Ansel Adams, a pioneer in the ‘photography as an art form’ movement (Irvine 2012).  Adams combined his passions for taking pictures and conserving the wilderness, to develop a landscape photography collection of U.S. National Parks, which was completed over a ten-year span in the 1930’s – 40’s.  He aimed to capture the beauty of these national treasures that many may only get to see in pictures.  Adams’ opted to shoot in black-and-white, and also not to include people in these photographs, as to not distract from the natural aesthetic in nature (Wikipedia).  One photo alone does not serve his intended purpose; it is the collection as a whole that drives home his message and helps spread the idea that there is a vast world that needs to be preserved.  While an individual may be able to take a picture and replicate one of Adams’ photographs, it would take a more distinguished photographer to create a new collection, with new meaning.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Storm Troupers: Celebrating Hurricane Sandy’s First Responders by Annie Leibovitz (Vogue)

Annie Leibovitz is a well-known portrait photographer that has been commissioned to produce some of the most memorable photography collections.  Following the devastatingly destructive Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Leibovitz created a fashion pictorial for Vogue Magazine that honored the first responders in New York.  “We paid these stalwart souls a visit, dressed up in the best of the New York [fashion] collections. Call them New York’s other finest” (  What this collection shows us is the conceptualization that goes into photography.  It would be mundane to simply shoot another model, in another dress.  Leibovitz’s Hurricane Sandy collection creatively juxtaposes two genres within photography – the journalistic photography capturing the first responders in their environments, and the high-fashion magazine spread photography.  What results is something unexpected and grand, and reaffirming to the “high-brow” nature of photography at its best.

Hurricane Sandy Storm Troupers Annie Leibovitz

Coast Guard Station New York

The National Guard’s 69th Infantry

Con Ed’s East River Generating Station

Neonatal ICU at Bellevue

NYPD’s Special Operations Division

FDNY’s Far Rockaway House

At any given moment, someone is snapping and uploading a digital photo, displayed in isolation.  It is likely intended to document people together, in a place, or at an event.  It is created almost instantaneously without conceptual meaning and preparation behind it.  This is considered ‘taking a picture.’  Photographers on the other hand are conceptualizing and crafting a vision that can be captured best through the realism of photography.  Like other art forms, photography is created from an emotion, reaction, message, campaign, etc., and is best represented through multiple works, exhibited together.  And like a fashion collection shown on the runway, piece-by-piece, the whole is often greater than the parts and applause is held until the end, where all of the pieces are viewed cohesively.

Works Cited

“Ansel Adams.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Mar. 2014. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Bourdieu, Pierre. “Photography: A Middle-brow Art.” Polity Press, 1990. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Irvine, Martin. “Key Issues in Modern Photography.” Georgetown University, 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

“Storm Troupers: Celebrating Hurricane Sandy’s First Responders.” Vogue Magazine, 16 Jan. 2013. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Street Art’s Purposeful Canvas — JR’s “Women Are Heroes”

Emily Rothkopf

Street art is made to be seen.  It is inclusive and anti-elitist, in contrast to the sometimes exclusive and highbrow gallery art.  It does not require a membership to be viewed and is not served with cocktails.  It is not (originally) intended to be curated or sold at exorbitant prices.  It does not discriminate and in fact is typically located in the most diverse, urban areas of the world.  And though it is somewhat temporary in its original form, it is unrestricted in its distribution in the digital world.  It is made to be captured through photography and shared via traditional channels to reach even further depths.  Artist JR and his works exemplify all that is to be lauded about street art.  His works bring remote areas, people and stories, to the masses, through a seemingly selfless and visionary method.

In JR’s “Women Are Heroes” project, he brings light to embattled women in the slums of the world in his ongoing theme of peace and humanitarianism.  Using the street art form, he is able to pay tribute to the countless women who are dealing with the effects of war, poverty, violence, and oppression, on an appropriately avant-garde scale (Hypebeast 2010).  The collection employs black-and-white portrait photography that captures the spirit of his subjects, as expressed in pre-shoot interviews and research.  Instead of displaying his photographs in a traditional gallery or print media format, he places his work in his subjects surrounding environments to honor them in one of the most inspiring and heart-warming ways possible.  He also uniquely situates his work on large, complex surfaces that exemplify the challenges these women face and the grandness in which they should be recognized.

“Women Are Heroes” in Kibera Slum – Kenya, 2009; source:

In his train passage piece in Kenya, he splits three portraits on vinyl (weather conditions were too harsh for standard paper) between a sheet of corrugated iron below train tracks and the side of a train that regularly passes directly above.  “For a few magical seconds each day” the images line up and the women who were once marginalized by society are seen as “large and mysterious stars” (Murphy 2012).  The perfectly aligned image then lives on via another layer of photography to be shared worldwide, in traditional formats.  In his piece in Brazil, JR displays a portrait evenly across the span of an entire staircase in the oldest favela, or slum, in Rio de Janeiro.  As locals tread up and down these stairs daily, they are reminded to honor these heroic women.  These pieces exemplify an essential element of street art – its cleverness (Semple 2004).  JR has the imaginative mind to see an untraditional, meaningful canvas and the technical ability to make it work.

While some street art is rooted in a graffiti-esque, anti-authoritarian mentality, JR’s latest works exemplify the purposefulness of the art.  True street artists are not using the medium simply because they can, but rather consider the city their necessary environment (Irvine 2011).  JR’s portraits of women would not be as impactful showcased in a pristine, high-class gallery, though subsequent iterations may be shared there.  His work is initally about his subjects and for their respective communities.  Hiding the art away in an exclusive gallery that cannot reach or serve this target audience, nor can be easily photographed and shared with the world at large, would defeat his purpose.  And in turn, he is a successful artist rewarded by the elite for this altruistic, perfectly executed approach.  “Could art change the world?” JR asks; his street art method attempts to do so starting at the root and “turning the world inside out” (TED 2011).


 “Women Are Heroes” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2008; source:

Works Cited

Irvine, Martin. “Street Art and the Digital City.” Theorizing the Web Conference. University of Maryland. 9 Apr. 2011. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.

JR. “My Wish: Use Art to Turn the World Inside Out.” TED, 2011. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.

“JR “Women Are Heroes” Exhibition.” Hypebeast. Hypebeast, 19 Apr. 2010. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.

Murphy, Heather. “An Artist Who Turns Marginalized Women Into the Stars of Their Communities.” Slate Magazine. Slate Magazine, June 2012. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.

Semple, Kirk. “Lawbreakers, Armed With Paint and Paste.” New York Times. New York Times, 9 July 2004. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.



Jeff Koons – Lady Gaga Sculpture

Emily Rothkopf

For decades, Jeff Koons has employed ordinary objects in extraordinary combinations to provide an ongoing commentary on “materiality and artificiality, eroticism and naivety, popular culture and rarefied elitism” (Zafar 2013).  His latest rendition of these themes takes form in a collaborative project with musician and pop culture icon, Lady Gaga.  Koons first created the album cover artwork for Gaga’s 2013 release Artpop.  His second, more ostentatious act was creating a 3D, larger-than-life sculpture, replicating the covers image of Gaga.

Jeff Koons’ Lady Gaga sculpture (2013), source:

The sculpture consists of two components – a stark white plaster cast of Gaga and one of Koons’ signature metallic blue Gazing Balls, which is constructed of glass and painted on the inside (McKeever 2013).  Gaga is nude with a minimalist, make-up free face, adorned solely with a long wig.  In contrast to her done-up, photographed appearance, many of Gaga’s fans would describe the Koons image of the singer as lifeless and pale.  In his Gazing Balls collection and again with the Gaga sculpture, Koons juxtaposes the traditional Greco-Roman inspired sculptures with the perfectly spherical, pop-art inspired balls (Petersen 2013).  The balls are reminiscent of popular garden ornaments that Koons remembers from his childhood in suburbia (Swanson 2013).  While the album cover art appropriates several classical works — Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Gian Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, the sculpture draws from his own collection (Gazing Balls) and perhaps from his piece Women in Tub.

Gaga is the second musician that Koons has portrayed in his works – the first being Michael Jackson in 1988.  Koons, like most Pop Artists, aims to communicate with as wide an audience as possible, which is why he would incorporate international, mega-celebrities like Jackson and Gaga into his work.  This is similar to Andy Warhol’s use of iconic, hyper-mediated women like Marilyn Monroe.  However, Koons was already one of the most successful living artists at the time of his collaboration with Gaga.  In this instance, it was more of a mutual appeal and partnership that helps blend the music and art worlds, and perhaps bridge a gap between the art world and younger generations (Brito 2013).  While the album cover was seen by millions, the Gaga sculpture and Gazing Balls collection were more limited in reach.  Koons’ Gazing Balls collection was housed at several art galleries in New York City during 2013 and the Gaga sculpture was unveiled as part of an album release party in late 2013.

Koons’ work is part of the Pop Art movement which was a more conceptual counter to the realist painting and photography genres that proceeded it, and also a more object and image driven art countering the abstract movement.  In his Gaga collaboration, Koons depicts some of the traditional Pop Art themes, like a culture of excess and obsession with image.  But Koons moves beyond these themes evoking concepts like reflection, transformation and transcendence.  Apollo (depicted on the album cover) is the god of music and known to transcend or change upon performing music.  This is a transcendence that one can experience through art, as Koons tries to facilitate with his Gazing Balls.  Like looking into a spherical, reflective ball, your physical being is affirmed, yet transformable.  Additionally, the reflective balls that people place in their gardens are symbols of “generosity to your neighbors” … people not only want transcendence for themselves, but they also want to engage in dialogue with others about transcendence (Ehrlich 2013).  Gaga’s Gazing Ball represents the birth of her new music and her own transformation.  But moreover, like her muse Venus, she is presenting herself as a “work of living, breathing art, as an inspirational guide” (Zafar 2013).

Lady Gaga’s Artpop album cover (2013), source:

Jeff Koons’ Gazing Ball – Ariadne (2013), source:

Jeff Koons’ Woman in Tub (1988), source:

Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (1485), source:


Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Apollo & Daphne (1625); source:

Works Cited

Brito, Maria Gabriela. “Lady Gaga and Jeff Koons’ ArtRave.” The Huffington Post., 13 Nov. 2013. Web. 03 Mar. 2014.

McKeever, Robert. “Jeff Koons, “Gazing Ball”” Time Out New York. Time Out, 29 June 2013. Web. 03 Mar. 2014.

Ehrlich, Brenna. “Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP Cover: Artist Jeff Koons Explains What It All Means.” MTV., 8 Nov. 2013. Web. 03 Mar. 2014.

Petersen, Victoria. “‘Jeff Koons: Gazing Ball’ at David Zwirner.” Out of Order Magazine. Out of Order Magazine, 1 June 2013. Web. 03 Mar. 2014.

Swanson, Carl. “Jeff Koons Is the Most Successful American Artist Since Warhol. So What’s the Art World Got Against Him?” Vulture. New York Media LLC, 5 May 2013. Web. 03 Mar. 2014.

Zafar, Aylin. “Lady Gaga’s Jeff Koons-Created New Album Cover is a Literal Work of Art.” BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed, 8 Oct. 2013. Web. 03 Mar. 2014.

Pop Art Meets the Rock Band

Emily Rothkopf

Pop Art, like a 1960’s rock band, was a rebel, breaking its industry’s established mold and using its platform as a means for commentary on popular culture.  “It was a ‘cool’ or emotionally distanced response to the world, an orientation towards youth and hedonism, and witty irreverence about everything ranging from religion to art,” (Shanes 2009).  It’s no wonder that the Pop Art movement and the Rock ‘n’ Roll era collided in the examples below.

The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Album Cover

By the late 1960s, The Beatles began to shed their “Beatlemania” image – one that evoked a classic boy-band charm and mass appeal.  The psychedelic era had taken over with its vivid colors and textured fabrics, in sharp contrast to the traditional monochromatic, simplistic imagery of the previous regime.  The Beatles 1967 album cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band clearly depicts this shift.  The Beatles, in conjunction with artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, created the cover in a Pop Art format that simultaneously celebrated popular culture and parodied the “vacuity of mass-consumption, as typified by…objects of worship such as…the pop idol and the Hollywood superstar” (Shanes 2009).

Blake and Haworth’s creation was unlike anything the art world had ever seen and is oft imitated to this day.  In broad terms, it was a densely arranged collage that was constructed in a life-size set.  The overly colorful collage was a “who’s-who” in pop culture, consisting of cut-out, black-and-white celebrity photographs, and wax and stuffed cloth figures.  One of the notable cloth figures was of Shirley Temple, adorned in a “Welcome The Rolling Stones” sweater (Wikipedia 2014), which depicted the depth and reach of the mass-consumption culture.  The cut-outs were pasted onto hardboard, which Haworth hand-tinted, giving them a more eclectic vibe.  A variety of props were also added to the set, including: a flower bed, a drum, a hookah and a 9-inch Sony television set (Hutchinson 2013).  This wide range of items symbolizes the mass-consumption again, not only in a literal sense with items like a television set, but also in a metaphorical sense with the crowded, excess feel of the final image.

File:Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.jpg

The Beatles 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover; source:

The Rolling Stones Some Girls Album Cover

Almost a decade later, The Rolling Stones released Some Girls with a similarly Pop Art inspired album cover.  Artists Peter Corriston and Hubert Kretzschmar designed the cover that featured The Rolling Stones in garish drag alongside select female celebrities and magazine ads (Wikipedia 2014).  Kretzschmar used the collage technique, taking black-and-white celebrity photographs from entertainment tabloids, movie stills, and Hollywood press material.  Corriston employed dye cutting and borrowed wig ads from Jet magazine in his work.  The result was a bold, graphic look (Hood 2011).

One of the themes in Pop Art as depicted in the Some Girls album cover, is society’s obsession with beauty and the female icon.  Many works in this genre portray the perfectly coiffed female as if she has just left the salon.  Additionally, a female celebrity is often incorporated with colored lips or eye shadow by tinting an original black-and-white image.  The Some Girls cover takes this a step further directly transposing the celebrity images, with imperfectly tinted red lips, into wig ads.  The female images alone evoke a comedic vibe — a parody of the beauty salon culture.  The male band members in drag simply cement the comedic intent.

File:Some Girls.png

The Rolling Stones 1978 Some Girls original album cover; source:


The collage style found in these notable album covers is perhaps the precursor to today’s photoshopped and remixed culture.  Pop Art of the 1960s – 1980s had a more shocking, overtly cut-and-paste approach to the remix, whereas today’s works tend to be more blended, and easily understood and accepted.  Perhaps the concepts behind Pop Art have just become a norm for all art forms.  So while the traditional rock band as the baby-boomer generation knew it may have died, Pop Art is still alive and well in the music world…

File:Artpop cover.png

Lady Gaga’s 2013 Artpop album cover; source:

Works Cited

Hood, John. “Some Girls: The Facts About the Stones’ Most Notorious Record Cover.” The Huffington Post., 27 Dec. 2011. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Hutchinson, Lydia. “The Sgt. Pepper’s Album Cover: Faces in the Crowd.” Performing Songwriter. Performing Songwriter Ent. LLC, 30 Mar. 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2014

“Jann Haworth.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Feb. 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Kimmelman, Michael. “Art Out of Anything: Rauschenberg in Retrospect.” The New York Times, 23 Dec. 2005. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Shanes, Eric. Pop Art. N.p.: Parkstone International, 2009. Print.

“Some Girls.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.


Deriving Meaning from Photography: A Look at Cindy Sherman’s Portraits

Emily Rothkopf

Photography, particularly of people, is more prevalent than ever in today’s digital and social media driven age.  Society has a fascination and almost addiction to the “art form.”  At every opportune moment, one will pull out his/her smartphone and snap a photo to capture the moment — and that photo will most likely be shared with hundreds on one or more social media platforms.  In fact, there are some platforms where the sole function is to share photos, e.g. Instagram, capitalizing on what people enjoy most about the market leaders Facebook and Twitter.  There is also the infamous selfie, a self-portrait per say, which has so infiltrated society that the word is now in the dictionary.  In conjunction with this, we have a celebrity-obsessed culture where the photograph is our fodder.

Photographs in one sense are documentary, capturing time for future generations, fulfilling our need for memories and nostalgia.  As the early 20th century philosopher Walter Benjamin put it, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurrences (Benjamin 1936).  But that reason alone does not account for the prolific nature the art form has taken.  Perhaps one reason behind the appeal is that in today’s digital age where so much of what we see is fabricated, photoshopped, filtered, staged, etc., we still get a sense of realness in the photograph.  Voyeurs can more easily relate to and derive meaning from recognized symbols, or the semiotics, of a photograph versus say an abstract painting.  Viewers hone in on the facial expressions, the physical characteristics, the setting, the colors, etc. to derive meaning and make judgments.  These visual cues are so easily processed that most people will derive meaning without even recognizing it.  And before one knows it, he/she will have processed a photo album of 100 images.

Using Cindy Sherman’s portrait photography examples below, I explore how we derive meaning from visual cues, referring to pre-existing realities outside of the image (Irvine 2014).  I go beyond the basic symbolism that is commonly recognized and easily interpreted, and identify my own personal experiences and internal databases that exemplify a more abstract reading.


“…the image is not only a mirror for the artist’s experience but also for those of the viewer,” (Goldstein 2011).

Cindy Sherman is an American photographer known for her conceptual portraits employing herself as the model.  In her History Portraits collection, Sherman photographed herself in costumes, with props and prosthetics, to portray famous artistic figures of the past, like Caravaggio’s Sick Bacchus (Wikipedia 2014).  Sherman’s appropriation of this piece is shown below.  While there are many obvious visual cues tying the work to the Roman era (toga, headpiece, grapes, baroque style, etc.), my own encyclopedia of art brings me to the WWII era.  I am reminded of “Rosie the Riveter” with the female face attached to a flexed muscle.  There is a feminist vibe to Sherman’s photography and this piece is no exception.


 Left: “History Portrait #224” Cindy Sherman 1990, source:; Right: “Rosie the Riveter” J. Howard Miller 1943, source:

Sherman’s Centerfolds collection was inspired by the center spreads in fashion and pornographic magazines.  These portraits again involve Sherman as the model portraying young women in various roles, from a sultry seductress to a frightened, vulnerable victim (Wikipedia 2014).  Some may view the piece below and hone in on the school girl outfit and create a story around that.  However, with visual cues like the short haircut, frightened blue eyes, seclusion, etc., my mind recalls Mia Farrow in the film Rosemary’s Baby.  Farrow plays a pregnant woman who believes her husband may have, in essence, made a pact with the devil via their eccentric neighbors, promising them the child to be used as a human sacrifice in their occult rituals in exchange for success in his acting career.  Her character is riddled with fear, vulnerability and seclusion.

Above: Cindy Sherman “Centerfolds” 1981, source:; Below: Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby” 1968, source:

Sherman’s collection Untitled Film Stills consists of black-and-white photographs evoking the American film noir vibe of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s (Wikipedia 2014).  I was immediately reminded of one of Britney Spears’ early Rolling Stone covers.  I don’t recall purchasing or reading the particular issue but somehow the image was stored in my memory bank.  Sherman depicts a teenage pop culture that transcends generations.  My mind processed the hairbrush, day-dreamy gaze, girly bedroom setting and the ensemble, to almost instantly draw the Spears cover from my encyclopedia of art.

  Britney Spears photographed in Kentwood, Louisiana in March of 1999.

Left: Cindy Sherman “Untitled Film Still #6” 1977, source:; Right: Britney Spears “Rolling Stone” 1999, source:


In a portrait photograph we read signs relating to the style of photography, body language, facial expressions, clothing, era, location, etc. (Goldstein 2011).  On a more individualized basis, we draw on our own experiences, opinions, likes and dislikes when viewing a photograph.  As viewers of this relatively “real” art form, we get to assess, judge, enjoy, and relate, using a process that is typically subconscious and effortless.  In today’s hurried and hyper-mediated culture, the photograph is highly “likeable.”

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Martin Irvine, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

“Cindy Sherman.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Feb. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

Goldstein, Mark. “How to Convey Meaning in Your Photos” Photography Blog. N.p., 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

Irvine, Martin. “Mediation & Representation: Plato to Braudrillard and Digital Media.” 17 Feb. 2014. Lecture.

Plagiarism & Ethical Standards in the Digital Age

Emily Rothkopf

In assessing the state of authorship and creative remix in the digital age, what has become apparent is the lack of a centuries old ethical standard around plagiarism.  Set aside the copyright issues and debate around fair use for a moment – laws will evolve over time and I have no doubt that stakeholders will find new ways to monetize their works.  What I would like to explore is the notion that society has lost a sense of what plagiarism is in this digital age where everything is not only extremely accessible, but extremely transferable.  Perhaps there needs to be a resurgence in education around plagiarism – but with a new spin for the digital age.  Can academia, and thereby society, develop new strategies and processes around citing digital content in remixed works?  And can we educate future generations with an ethical standard around remix, equivalent to that of traditional plagiarism, to ensure these new terms are indoctrinated into society?

Fairey v. The Associated Press

Take Shepard Fairey, an American contemporary artist, who took a published AP photo and appropriated it into the famous Obama “Hope” campaign poster.  After enduring several years of legal turmoil, Fairey ultimately was sentenced to 300 hours of community service and ordered to pay a $25,000 fine – not for infringing on copyright laws, but rather for contempt of court which occurred along the way in a long drawn out legal battle (Wikipedia 2014).  While I agree Fairey’s technique in this instance qualifies as fair use, I wonder if he had, at the least, considered crediting the original photographer.  This case exemplifies today’s cut-and-paste, remix culture and makes me question society’s current value and understanding of plagiarism across all art forms, not just written text.  How simple would it have been for Fairey to somehow cite his source?

Left: Manny Garcia’s 2006 photo for AP. Right: “Hope” by Shepard Fairey; Source:

Plagiarism: A Look Back

If you look at the history of plagiarism you will see that it developed over many centuries into being viewed as one of the worst “non-criminal” acts.  The word plagiarism can be traced back to the 1st century when Roman poet Martial complained that another poet had “kidnapped his verses” (plagiarius translated to kidnapper in Latin).  In the early 1600s the word was introduced into the English language and was applied to anyone guilty of “literary theft” (Wikipedia 2014).  But the idea of original works and recognition was being introduced into all art forms during this time, as exemplified by artists beginning to sign their paintings (McKay 2009).  By the 18th century, the concept of plagiarism had become indoctrinated into society as being immoral; originality was the ideal (Wikipedia 2014).  And from this point forward, being accused of stealing someone else’s words, ideas, works, etc. and passing them off as your own was one of the worst insults imaginable (McKay 2009).

By the late 1800s, we saw the development of a formalized way to cite published sources.  According to Harvard Medical School archives, the origin of the author-date parenthetical reference style is attributed to an 1881 paper by anatomy professor Edward Laurens Mark, which included an author-date citation in parentheses.  This is the first known instance of this style of reference and it is believed that Mark modeled the style on the cataloguing system used by one of Harvard’s libraries (Wikipedia 2014).  What is interesting here is the timeframe from when plagiarism became a notable offense to when the parenthetical citation method started – which is still the popular method of crediting ones sources today.  Hopefully it isn’t another century before we develop an effective citation system for remixed, digital content.

Teaching Ethical Standards

In academia, we are taught that plagiarism is a serious ethical offense – this ethos is ingrained in us from as far back as we can remember being tasked with writing our first paper.  As one advances through the education system, punishments get more severe – ranging from a failing grade to expulsion.  In industries that depend on original writing and public distribution – e.g. journalism – offenses can see even harsher scrutiny and can be career ending.  Regardless of ones field, most individuals would be ashamed to be accused of plagiarism and will take every step necessary to cite or rework an idea.

So what society has agreed on without question is that taking written text from another author and inserting it into your own without a citation, is wrong and shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Why does this harsh ethical standard stop at text?  Why doesn’t this indoctrination wholly transfer over to other art forms?  As the digital age expands and more and more works of all art forms are published online – via the Google Art Project for example, perhaps academia needs to establish a new precedent for citing sources in remixed work, that will then transcend into society as a whole.  And this new precedent needs to match the severity of society’s traditional standards around plagiarism.


Most stakeholders in the fair use debate agree that copyright laws are essential in some form and cultural goods cannot all be available for free (Healy 2002).  What is lacking in the debate is a question of how to uphold basic ethical standards in the digital age.  The offense of plagiarism, a “non-criminal” act, didn’t get so ingrained into our culture overnight.  Nor did the invention and practice of citing published text sources.  Part of the solution lies in our education system’s ability to establish and enforce new norms and procedures for remix the digital age.  And then, in conjunction with effective and efficient laws, perhaps individuals can avoid suffering the legal turmoil Shepard Fairey endured.

Today, Fairey is much more careful about attribution and appropriation: “He has begun a project on American pioneers in art, music, and culture, starting with Rauschenberg associate Jasper Johns — thus saluting some of the figures others have accused him of stealing from.  On his website, he carefully notes the Johns image is by photographer Michael Tighe,” (McDonnell 2010).

Works Cited

Healy, Kieran. “Digital Technology and Cultural Goods.” The Journal of Political Philosophy 10.4 (2002): 478-500. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

McDonnell, Evelyn, and Henry Jenkins. “Never Mind the Bollocks: Shepard Fairey’s Fight for Appropriation, Fair Use, and Free Cultre (Part Two).” Confessions of an AcaFan. N.p., 15 Jan. 2010. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

McKay, John J. “Archy: A Very Brief History of Plagiarism.” Archy: A Very Brief History of Plagiarism. N.p., 2 Mar. 2009. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

“Parenthetical Citation.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Feb. 2014. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

“Plagiarism.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Jan. 2014. Web. 06 Feb. 2014.

“Shepard Fairey.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Jan. 2014. Web. 07 Feb. 2014.