by Lin Ding
“The story of popular photography is largely the story of one man, George Eastman, and the company he founded, Kodak. He not only produced the first reliable point-and-shoot cameras, he also devised a system that meant ordinary people no longer had to worry about developing and printing the film. When you finished your roll of film, you simply mailed your camera to Kodak. Back came your pictures, along with the camera reloaded with new film. Eastman’s marketing slogan was ‘You press the button, we do the rest’ (Buckingham, 18).”
When I was little, I remembered that my parents using point-and-shoot cameras (compact cameras) for snapshots of family events and vacations. This kind of camera is portable and easy to operate. For a long period of time, I thought the word “Kodak” meant “photos” because my father would bring me photos with the word “Kodak” on them. I like using cameras, for they help me record the moments I wish to last, the people I wish to remember, and the views I want to share with my families and friends. For me, photographs have become part of my life. The information carried through photographs has long influenced my tastes and my points of view. Photographs are in fact one of the most important media that help me to see the world, learn new knowledge, and explore other cultures. Just like the missions of Life magazine:
“To see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events; to watch the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud; to see strange things—machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the jungle and on the moon; to see man’s work—his paintings, towers and discoveries; to see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to; the women that men love and many children; to see and to take pleasure in seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed. (Peres, 193)”
Nowadays, the most common photographs I have seen are advertising photographs. This category of photography has its purpose of selling the products by creating desires for new potential customers towards their products, thus in these photographs, the message is clear and there is zero distance between the consumers and the products. Take one of the recent perfume advertising photographs I have seen as an example. In this series, photos were shot by So Me, a Parisian graphic designer using digital cameras. These photos were to be posted online and also printed in newspapers and magazines. The perfume in this photo is described as “in a zesty and sensual scent” and the story behind the photos is that “after a night out in New York, the It-girl meets up with her blouson-clad girl gang for a highly-charged dance-off with a group of boys”.
Photographed by So Me.
A young and beautiful model with cigarettes, neon lighting decorations, and “no bras” slogan at the background, these convey the attitude of the product and the campaign. These symbolic elements also make the photos cliché, in terms of perfume campaigns. I googled “perfume campaign” and all the advertising photos were all in a similar style, and the poses/makeups make the models look the same. There is a photograph look just like the photo shot by So Me.
Photo source: Better Franke in See by Chloe perfume campaign photographed by Fabien Baron
It looks like “sexy” is an important element or theme for perfume advertising photographs. Consumers are attracted by the information of sexy expressed through the photograph and the producer believes that this attraction can lead to desire, which eventually opens their purses or wallets. Sometimes, the theme of the perfume photograph does not have to be related to the fragrance itself, as long as the model is beautiful, sexy, and attractive, as well as the setting or her overall look (it-girl look) makes her confident/important, people would buy the product.
Another branch of photography is journalistic photography. Before the smartphones have emerged, I used to see journalistic photos every day through daily newspapers. These photographs are visual information, which completes the reports and serve as evidence of the reports. I would look through the newspapers and carefully read the part I am most interested in. What helps me to do the decision? The pictures on the paper!
There years, the air quality in China became a huge topic and a lot of reports concerned with this issue. This is an example of the photos that would be shown on related pages.
Photo source: A woman wears a mask during her morning exercises in Fuyang, Anhui Province, on January 15, 2013, from The Atlantic.
In the article “How Climate Change Covered China in Smog”, the author uses this photo to show the terrible air quality in China and how it affects people’s life. The digital camera features one woman playing Taiji in the morning. From the picture, I can roughly measure the distance between her and the friend behind her. It is not a long distance, but you can barely see the shadow of the friend behind the second woman. If they are learning Taiji with the first woman, they would not be able to see clearly about her movement. Most importantly, they are all wearing masks, which make you uncomfortable during the exercise. This is how this photograph expresses the information: the air quality in China is really terrible and it has affected people’s daily life. From my point of view, a good journalistic photograph should be accurate, direct and informative. People can trust the information from the photo, the information conveyed by the photo is clear and direct, and people can know more about the report through the detail in the photo.
Documentary photography is the one I enjoy the most. Peres defines it “directly related to popular social life”, and the documentary projects generally “focus on social reality and human life, informed by the strong feelings of the photographer” (195). What I love the most for this type of photograph is that I can hear different points of view from the picture, I can experience the feelings the photographer recorded in the picture, and the theme of the photo is closely related to people’s life and special events. Documentary photographs can be artistic and personal.
As part of contemporary art practice, photography has its artistic value. The act of artistic creation happens before the photographer making an observation – framing a moment through the lens – which shares “the corporeal nature of performance and body art” (Cotton, 21). The viewers cannot see the whole performance but the image as the final presentation. I find the series of “Bread Man” very interesting. In this performance, the Japanese artist Tatsumi Orimoto (born 1946) hides his face under a sculptural mass of bread and then performs normal everyday activities. Some passers-by ignored him and some were amused by his strange look. During the performance, he respects people’s willingness and resistance to breaking with their daily routines in order to interact with him and to be photographed. Here is a portrait photo of him and his mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
photo source: Bread Man Son and Alzheimer Mother, Tokyo, 1996.
The bread guise is a way of stepping out of daily routine yet the contents of the photographs are daily-routine-based. The interruption of daily life blurs the boundary between normal and strange. I guess this can be part of Orimoto’s point of view for this project.
I also want to share a photo recording and expressing personal feelings. Below is a photo shot last week in the exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors. I took this photo with my digital camera, trying to remember the feelings as I first came in the mirror room that I feel I was embraced by thousands of lights. As I turn around and look around, I feel dizzy and then my fear comes up for I kind of feel lost for where I am and I lose the sense of time and space. Although I was only allowed be in the room for 20 seconds, I feel that I have been in there for a long time. Before I go into the room, I do not know what I will do in the room (if I do not take pictures) when I am in the room, I feel that I have the ability to do everything in it. However, it is overwhelming and I can hardly think of one thing to do in the room. So I take this photo. It reminds me of a lot of things, like the dream I used to have, the night view of my city, and a broken computer screen.
Untitled, by Lin Ding.
Buckingham, Alan. Photography. New York: DK, 2004
Cotton, Charlotte. The Photograph As Contemporary Art. Thames & Hudson: London, 2014.
Meyer Robinson. “How Climate Change Covered China in Smog”. The Atlantic. Mar 21, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/03/how-climate-change-covered-china-in-smog/520197/.
Peres, Michael R.. Focal Encyclopedia of Photography. Elsvier, 2007.
“Poison Girl, 7 Results”. Dior Mag. Retrieved from http://www.dior.com/diormag/en_hk/suggest/poison-girl.
The Picture of Dior Perfume Campaign is retrieved from https://www.vikinora.ru/novosti/dior_poisin_girl_new/.