Alice in Hyperreality
Color Plate by Harry G Theaker (1911), Photoshop by Annotated Darkroom
Mapping the Territory
A meta-archival reflection by Sasha Patkin
“A photograph is true not because the world shows up in it,
but because it invites us into the world.”
– Jennifer Tucker, Nature Exposed: Photography as Eyewitness in Victorian Science, xxii
Mein Herr with Sylvie and Bruno
In one of Lewis Carroll's lesser-known works, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, the young Sylvie and Bruno listen to the curious stories of little Mein Herr, and tales from his strange country:
“That’s another thing we’ve learned from your Nation,” said Mein Herr, “map-making. But we’ve carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be really useful?”
“About six inches to the mile.”
“Only six inches!” exclaimed Mein Herr. “We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!”
“Have you used it much?” I enquired.
“It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr: “the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.” (Carroll 1991, 265)
As whimsical as it is intriguing, this idea of a 1:1 map has captivated the imagination of many writers and thinkers since Carroll, caught by the implicit tension between exactitude and suppressive sprawl. In 1946, Jorge Luis Borges wrote a one-paragraph short story which posed as a fictional quotation from "Suárez Miranda, Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV, Cap. XLV, Lérida, 1658” which tells of a map that was drawn up to coincide point for point with an empire now long-gone:
“. . . In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.” (Borges 2009, 325)
Borges’s vision is one of poetic patheticness – one in which the map is declared to be useless and left to rot in the dessert, providing shelter and use only for animals and beggars. Media critic Jean Baudrillard, however, dreamed up an alternative, more chilling ending to what happened to the map in the “Deserts of the West” – specifically, America in the modern day. Rather than the map rotting and crumbling away under the inclemencies of sun and winters, Baudrillard details a modern world so obsessed with images and representations that it is not the map that eventually crumbles away, but the empire itself. As he writes in his 1981 book Simulacra and Simulacrum, “The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory—precession of simulacra—that engenders the territory.” (Baudrillard 2010, 1) In Baudrillard’s view, the map stands in for the hubris of an empire, representing “a pride equal to the Empire and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of soil.” (Baudrillard 2010, 1)
Baudrillard imagines a world that would tickle Lewis Carroll. For Baudrillard, our modern world does not resemble the world in Mein Herr’s anecdote, which dreamed of the map but never spread it out, or even in Borges’ tale, which realized the oppressive and redundant nature of the map, but a world which has actually spread out the map, blocked the sunlight and their feet from the solid ground of reality, and now delights in walking on the fake territory, which so exactly represents a world which doesn’t actually exist. According to Baudrillard, the modern era has drawn up and inhabits an entirely imaginary world spurred by mass media; one which has gone from mapping or representing reality, to masking it, to having lost its relationship with reality entirely. This world of imitation has forgotten what it was supposed to represent and now no longer refers to anything but itself, creating a reality which seems more real than reality itself.
Image courtesy Tomás Del Coro
Baudrillard points to Disneyland to explain this sense of hyperreality, explaining how it creates and reinforces its own fantastical mythology, but one could just as easily point to Photoshopped images of celebrities, reality TV, our virtual lives on social media, pumpkin spice lattes, or any number of unavoidable examples of hyperreality to demonstrate our modern confusion between the real and the imaginary.
Like Alice passing through a mirror of reality even further into an entirely new world, the hyperreal world of simulacra stands in place of the real but constitutes its own reality and plays by the rules of its own, dreamed-up logic. This hyperreality has been driven by a preference for the image over the nuance and messiness of reality and perpetuated by media. Ratings and a race for viewership and ad money have cultivated what writer Kevin Young has termed the current “narrative crisis” of media outlets seeking good stories over factual information, leaving viewers feeling bereft of a clear relationship with trustworthy information and media. (Young 2018) Invisible algorithms curate our worlds for us, saving us from the massive amount of information that we are bombarded with and have no real way to parse and understand, and yet inherently limiting our media intake.
Stirred up by the belief that reality is no longer accessible – that we are trapped in a Wonderland of nonsense mediated and perverted by technology and the reproductions and simulations of media – a distrust in the stability of reality has bubbled to the surface. Terms such as “fake news” and “alternative facts” have worked to foster a sense of mistrust in the media in common rhetoric, and bias, media illiteracy, and cynicism about the trustworthiness of information on the internet have allowed us to easily dismiss information we would prefer not to deal with, and perpetuated news we would like to see with little more than a glance at the headline.
Perhaps symptomatic of this distrust of the reliability of media and the trustworthiness of facts, the Oxford Dictionary named “post-truth” 2016’s word of the year. Defining the term as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” its spotlight suggests that this general mistrust in the ability of media to present reality has resulted in media audiences finding their internal baramater of truth to be more stable and reliable than any provided by the outside world.
The effects of this inability to interact meaningfully with a sense of truth, to parse sense and nonsense, has obvious and potentially catastrophic consequences. In 2016, then-president Barack Obama called the fake news wonderland of the internet creating a “dust cloud of nonsense.” Like Alice after falling down a rabbit hole, we look up with a shock and find that we have entered a mirror-image of reality populated with language that twists and turns, meaningless buzzwords, conversations hinged on negation, nonsensical morals, and tales of jabberwocky monsters that seem to become more familiar and understandable with every looping repetition.
But how did we get to this perceived state of post-truth, and is there really no way to peel back the modern illusions we have fallen under? Is there no way to learn to see the world with new and critical eyes? At the very least, the suggestion of a collapse into hyperreality requires questioning of what we perceive to be the real and how we understand it, and an attempt to investigate and peel away the levels of nonsense that lie on top of and obscure a foundation of sense.
WHAT PHOTOGRAPHY’S GOT TO DO WITH IT
Color Plate by Harry G Theaker (1911), Photoshop by AD
While fingers point in many directions for why this map has come to dominate the territory, photography – perhaps due to the visual’s prominence in our senses – has taken a fair share of the blame. As Baudrillard writes, the collapse of reality into hyperreality is brought about by “the meticulous reduplication of the real, preferably through another reproductive medium such as advertising or photography.” (quoted in Kroiz 2002)
Umberto Eco, also pondering the idea of the map in Travels in Hyperreality, discusses America’s theme parks and wax museums as indicators of how authenticity in modern times “is not historical, but visual. Everything looks real, and therefore it is real; in any case, the fact that it seems real is real, and the thing is real even if, like Alice in Wonderland, it never existed.” (quoted in Brooker 2005, 281)
If authority of authenticity is visual in modern society, as Eco suggests – if the images constitute a significant intake of our media consumption, if social relations are maintained and mediated through images, if spectacles are organized around the demand of the image – then photography deserves to be indicted for what has been argued as its particularly potent role in aiding and perpetuating a cult of superficial understandings and purposeful misreadings.
For example, sometimes held up as an example of the “post-truth” state of current media, the Trump presidency was ushered in with a controversy of facts and images. The photographs of his inauguration, he claimed, had been unfairly framed and selected to underplay the crowd at the ceremony. When images of the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations were shown side by side, the Washington Post found that Trump supporters tended to state that they believed that images of Trump’s inauguration showed larger crowds, while Hillary supporters identified Obama’s inaugurations as having more people in attendance, and even went so far as to make clearly false statements when looking at the images to confirm their beliefs.
But is photography really to blame? Photography, of course, can mislead, and captions associated with photographs can be altered or re-written to create narratives that misrepresent the scene that occurred. Furthermore, photographs have been to be able to alter our memories and plant fake memories in our minds. As scholar Hany Farid has noted, our processing of photographs is often more emotional than rational, and, even when a photograph has been disproved or revealed as faked, our tendency as viewers is to remember to photograph much more easily than its associated tagline of “fake,” only remembering the image itself. Our brain has difficulty hierarchizing experience into categories of reliability, or by which were experienced first-hand, and which through images alone. (Morris 2008)
Although there are therefore a number of ways that an image’s meaning or truth can be compromised, the fundamental concerns about the truth of the image became even more pronounced and complex since the turn of the 21st century, when digital cameras became prevalent. With the introduction of Adobe Photoshop in the 1990s and the popularization and increasing ease of use of other image editing software, the public’s mistrust in photography grew as the ability of both human and machine to distinguish pure verses unmanipulated images shrank.
Despite many of these technologies and software being nearly 30 years old, universal standards and understanding of their workings and acceptable usage not widespread. In 2015, for example, the World Press Photo competition had to disqualify 20% of submitted images due to inappropriate manipulation or post-processing.
The year before, the World Press Photo had commissioned a report to evaluate and determine industry standards for the manipulation of images. As they stated in their conclusion:
"In the past, believing that photography involved the capture of an original image, the authenticity of which was determined by its relationship to the scene it depicted, we justified an image in terms of objectivity. That understanding has always been subject to criticism. However, once we appreciate that computational photography is based on the collection of data, and that there is no original image, we have moved beyond the idea of reference between image and reality to such an extent, that the idea of objectivity is no longer tenable."
This narrative of a lost connection to truth predominates discourse of digital photography. A particularly potent example of the fear and danger this uncertainty can inspire was visible when Iran launched a series of missile tests in 2008 and the Iranian media doctored the image to make their launch appear more successful than it actually was. (Shactman 2008) Recently, NPR ran a story about the emergent technology of creating fake video footage (such as footage of politicians) through AI. (Computer Scientists Demonstrate The Potential For Faking Video” July 17, 2017) In matters of national security, decisions often have to be made nearly instantaneously, and there is currently no technology that can definitely say whether an image has been doctored. Or, even more recently, “In An Era Of Fake News, Advancing Face-Swap Apps Blur More Lines” (February 3, 2018)
But on an even more basic level, photographs have been shown to legitimacy and emotion to news stories – what Stephen Colbert calls their “truthiness” – and can easily be misused to paint false narratives. In an article titled, “How Photos Fuel the Spread of Fake News,” published in WIRED, Laura Mallone describes how articles rely on images to spread fake stories by playing into emotion and pre-existing prejudices and lend a sense of legitimacy and evidence, detailing several examples of images purposefully mislabeled or miscaptioned to anger or incite viewers. Several other articles have emerged warning against the importance of educating oneself to be “visually literate” and learn how to read images correctly, including “Want to resist the post-truth age? Learn to analyze photos like an expert would”, published by Quartz, which emphasized the importance of how understanding ethical journalism and understanding how cropping, perspective, and misappropriation of imagery can aid in interpreting images accurately.
TOWARD A MORE VISUALLY LITERATE SOCIETY?
So how can this spread of misinformation be countered? Studies have shown that the basics of visual and media literacy and fact-checking should certainly be taught (especially to school-aged children), but proponents of promoting literacy alone often miss a crucial point: by and large, we live in a very visual world and function daily in a very visual society. We live in such an omniscient visual world that it is impossible to exist within it without being at least moderately visually literate. We rely daily on the visual meanings indicated by stop signs, we use emojis in text messages, we can tell at a glance if a still would feel more at home in a horror movie or a comedy – and, by and large, people are cynical of both images and the narratives that they are fed. Studies have shown that, among adults, the echo chamber is “deep but narrow” – a real problem but affecting a relatively small percentage of readers to a much greater extent. (Guess, Nyhan, Reifler, 2018) (Allcott, Gentzkow, 2017) The issue is therefore not one of ignorance, illiteracy, or outright manipulation, but of bias, partisanship, and habits of thought – of a desperate will to believe and a lack of desire to challenge our narratives.
The photograph, like the internet, is ostensibly a democratic site of representation, evidence, justice, and a great leveler of representation and information – recording all details equally. This potential for democracy, however, cannot be upheld or maintained without an understanding of the inherent politics present in everything that we see – the politics concerning who is represented, how they are represented, and by whom. The search for truth within an image cannot begin without an understanding of the politics and power relations internal to the image and the archives and methods of curation that have brought the image to our attention.
Color Plate by Harry G Theaker (1911), Photoshop by AD
Photography and its interpretation can therefore afford us a method for examining our own process of vision and thought. By examining the forces and politics that shape our thought, it is possible to sharpen our ability for curation, understand multiple valid approaches to an image, and exercise our ability to see the limitations to our assumptions. By noting the competing and conflicting viewpoints at every juncture, instead of just the larger narrative or summary statement, we can learn to challenge our own beliefs and realize our own methods of thought. By bringing to light our unconscious cognitive and interpretive biases, we can bring attention to a camera’s limitations and our own biases.
THE TRUE "ALTERNATIVE FACTS"
To begin with the breaking of narratives, two false beliefs pervade the way we think of photography today, and especially regarding its relation to fake news:
The first is that of nostalgia – the idea that we are indeed living in a ‘post’-age – that we have departed from a time when politicians were wholesome and truthful, media was unbiased, and photography could only convey a direct, indexical relation to truth. We tend to view modern life as a departure from a pure point of origin and as a continuing series of complications bringing us away from that artificial Eden, rather than examining more completely how our vision has always been biased, easily swayed, or incomplete.
The other is that of technological determinism – the idea that technology, at any given point in time, determines how we interact with the universe, leading us to unavoidable outcomes and patterns of behavior and that new technology is constantly killed off and made obsolete by even newer technology that brings us further away from art, truth, and the condition of being human. While digital photography has sparked anxieties about the reliability of the image, for example, a crisis and reckoning of truth has occurred in every period of photography’s history.
To those disillusioned with the handshakes and niceties commissioned just for the political “optics,” “pseudo-events” performed for the media, or with all of the airbrushed, Photoshopped, superficial images that modern culture idealizes will argue that truth can no longer matter, that we are past a point of recovery, that information and truth decreases and tips toward an irrecoverable loss of signification, to be replaced with something fundamentally different. But while Twitter bots and Facebook-viral fake news stories may be a relatively recent phenomenon, photography has been fighting the label of “post-truth” even since before postmodernism, rearing its head in spirit photographs, manipulated images, and misleading imagery.
Color Plate by Harry G Theaker (1911), Photoshop by AD
WHY EXAMINE AN ARCHIVE?
By challenging set notions of the narratives of the history of photography and bringing intentionality to the way we interpret the world, I hope to heighten the viewer’s awareness of their own critical reasoning. By bringing an understanding of why we have chosen to adopt a particular paradigm of thought and putting pieces of information in conversation with one another, it is possible to interrogate the reality we have become accustomed to and challenging the linear narrative of photography as either progressing or decaying as a mode of representation.
In recognizing that there is no singular truth – that there have always been multiple competing and overlapping truths – we may be able to begin to deflect concerns over the change in technology have not emerged over the past six months or six years but have been ongoing since photography began 180 years ago.
Rather than a single truth claim, John Roberts argues that photographs constitute a “Truth-Event,” which is worth examining less to discover an “essence” of photographic truth, and more to examine the conjunction of social, cultural, and artistic discourses that constitute the truth found in the interpretation and use of photographs. (Roberts 2014, 33) Instead of limiting our understanding of the function of photography does and categorizing images as either a “truth” or a “lie,” but rather as a social text of assumptions, beliefs, and desires, we can instead examine what truths it speaks to, how it performs, and how it has been interpreted.
According to Jonathan Crary, every new mode of production leads to a new mode of perception and understanding and seeing, an understanding of discursive modes of power. (Crary 1990, 13) An examination of an archive is therefore an examination of the logic that orders it, as archives of photography are neither stable nor neutral but dependent upon the political assumptions and values of their curations. For Michel Foucault, “the archive is a site of knowledge production/ legitimization rather than of knowledge retrieval, in which photography serves a disciplinary function and photographic meanings are discursively constructed through their institutional circulation.” (Brown and Phu 2014, 21) The meaning of a photograph at any point in time is often symptomatic of its historical moment and the philosophical and theoretical thoughts that are in vogue.
By casting our eyes wider and lending a historical dimension – incorporating a diachronic instead of a synchronic view of an image – we can begin to understand the critical and artistic practices that have governed our relationship with images. As we gain a knowledge of the political modes of operation and governance in our thinking, we gain a vocabulary for better identifying describing what structures, philosophies, and technologies mediate our thoughts.
As the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s curator Mia Fineman wrote in the exhibition catalog to the 2013 exhibition “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop”: “Photography’s veracity has less to do with essential qualities of the medium than with what people think and say about it.” (Hoberman 2012)
If the truth of the image is more related to the assumptions of our interpretations that the technicalities of the medium itself, perhaps it is time to interrogate our assumptions. Perhaps if we turn the map of our understanding over and over in our hands, we will be able to find uncharted territories that still allow us an access point to truth. Seeing photographs as either true or false diminishes the many other meanings that a photograph may hold. A photograph’s value has not only been found in how closely it can resemble reality, but in what they can reveal about practices or assumption of reading have changed over time, about the photographer, the viewer, or how images themselves can influence reality – influencing our memories, our perceptions, our conception of what reality should look like. Photographs are less representations of authoritative truth than documents upon which viewers have projected their own emotions and into which scholars have read their own beliefs.
WHAT THIS PROJECT IS
A photograph is never just a photograph. It holds within it invisible references and hidden meanings. A photograph is at once a palimpsest and a forum, containing a chorus of social meanings, allusions, resonances, and discursive content. As Victor Burgin writes:
"The ‘photographic text,’ like any other, is the site of a complex ‘intertextuality,’ an overlapping series of previous texts, ‘taken for granted’ at a particular cultural and historical conjuncture. These prior texts, those presupposed by the photograph, are autonomous; they serve a role in the actual text but do not appear in it, they are latent to the manifest text and may only be read across it ‘symptomatically’… The question of meaning, therefore, is constantly to be referred to the social and psychic formations of the author/ reader.” (quoted in Batchen 2006, 10).
Car: Courtesy Adler 71, Baudrillard: ShareAlike 2.5, Eco BY-SA 3.0, Carroll: NPG UK, Photoshop by Sasha Patkin
This project attempts to uncover those “presupposed” texts that have influenced Lewis Carroll’s famous and controversial image of Alice Liddell as “The Beggar Maid.” I have chosen this particular image because I have discovered it to be one of those images that “blocks out the sunlight” – one that has created its own sense of hyperreality, obscuring a past which is no longer accessible to us, if it was ever there at all.
Because this image is 160 years old and has been subjected to a variety of readings, it is also possible to use Carroll as an index for understanding the history of photography, and all of the assumptions that have been naturalized and then deconstructed with each shifting critical and societal norm. By performing an archaeology of an archive, we can look at photography from a cultural-historical perspective and examine the critical conditions of an image’s makings. By mapping the disciplinary, critical, and historical locations as well as the ideological apparatuses of a single image, we may be able to understand where our interpretations lead us.
Complicating the notion of a traditional history, this timeline is both linear and non-linear. Although this image was taken in the 19th century, much of the criticism included on this map was written during the 20th century in response to changing cultural assumptions and trends of critical theory. Therefore, this timeline is less an expression of linear time and more an exploration of how a photograph can act as both a synchronic and a diachronic expression of time. Rather than approaching an image as an artifact, this project attempts to take advantage of the unique ability in the digital age to attempt an archive that is itself hypertextual, hyperlinked, and hypermediated. In creating a digital visualization of the implicit archive within an archive, this project attempts to look through time and understand how meaning is created, transformed, transferred, and preserved.
By using a single photograph to map the history of photo criticism – through the evolving, intertwining modes of analyzing a photograph as document, a work of art, a political act, an expression of the artist’s psyche, a method of self-inquiry, an exploration of social power structures, and, most recently, through the lens of anxiety concerning the perceived loss of indexicality that digital photography has been seen through – I aim to introduce the benefits and limitations of each of these modes of thought and the ways in which common concerns recur like repeating fractal structures: overlapping, interacting, competing, and agreeing with one another not only throughout the history of photography but at every moment of inquiry. Rather than a linear progression of thought, the archive, upon closer examination, slips through our hands as fluid. It reveals itself as full of small moments of forming and collapsing, progressing and regressing, exclusion and inclusion. But in each phrase – and at every point – there is a traceable attempt to balance the nonsense with a search for sense and an attempt to locate truth and order. By investigating these critical readings and how they overlap, we can not only examine how arguments can be made through different critical lenses, but the different ways that truth is pursued and power located. Like the pleasure traveling through the looking-glass and growing bigger, growing smaller, and talking to different creatures, we can challenge the assumptions of a backward dream world with the benefit of a conscious mind – even if, like Alice, to declare our findings nothing but a deck of cards and shake ourselves awake once more.
By placing photography in the context of its own history and the history of its surrounding cultural concerns, we can see what a larger, broader, historical perspective might have to offer us regarding reimagining our present and our future. Through this examination of the past, we may better able to understand and react to our present, to understand the approaches and limitations of any particular time or theory of interpretation, and to reach beyond the assumptions of our own age. Like the White Queen living backward, we can be full of anticipation for what has passed and remember the events that are yet to come – understanding the future as being a part of the past and carrying with it all of the issues we have already faced. We can discover history through dystopic futuristic fantasy and estrange the present through an examination of the past.
Rather than an irrecoverably strange and new hyperreal modernity, this timeline attempts to argue for a reality which is hyperlinked – which holds within it multiple overlaying, valid, and dynamic realities not supplanting but elaborating on the real. Rather than Baudrillard’s landscape which has been entirely overlaid and forgotten, I explore Borges’ world, where parts of the world are covered but the map is not fully exhaustive – where tatters of the map lies in sheets and providing escape or shelter to those who want it but can also be peeled away, moved, or interacted and engaged with. I see the map as neither decomposing nor blocking us from reality, but as constantly transforming and shifting with the terrain, and recognized as separate. Or perhaps we exist in Carroll’s map, which overlays the landscapes in interrelated squares chessboard squares, each location holding a different political potential. His map is less a set linear progression than a series of choices, power plays, strategic thinking and outcomes, and combinations, with flowing rivers and thoughts cutting through the terrain, turning into a checkerboard of interacting networks without beginning or end.
Although our current moment might seem to be one of unprecedented doubt in the reliability of images, this concern has existed in every period of the changing technology and distribution of photography. By drawing connections between what might appear to be uniquely digital challenges to photography and illustrating the ways an analog image from 1858 can also be also unstable, networked, and mutable, this project hopes to break out of the dystopic and utopic discourses that photography and technology often fall into.
With this website, I aim to show that it is possible to traverse between the map and the terrain by practicing methods of critical thinking and disillusionment. In this website, the map has not replaced the terrain, but the terrain does not exist without the map. Neither does one precede or proceed the other. Rather, it is possible to travel between them and interact with the map as an object of thought through conscious engagement and the use of a critical eye.
As António Aragao has written: “Creative visual communication insists on the daily search for other realities” (Arago 1990, 81). By examining images we can search for other realities, and thus other tenable realities and approaches to understanding and interacting with our world. By moving toward a more nuanced conversation of how images function and recognizing patterns of thought, we can learn to take agency as viewers. Instead of viewing photography as necessarily in conflict with or supplanting reality, which limits our understanding of what reality can be, I wish to present photography as a method of engaging and exploring it.
WHAT THIS PROJECT IS NOT
Of course, this timeline and this history it presents have been simplified and distilled and so the use of it requires a number of additional considerations. Although this project offers overviews of different critical lenses, all these thoughts twist and tangle at every turn when called to action. Most scholars and thinkers employ multiple approaches in a single reading, and many of the modes of thinking rely on each other, emerge out of one another, and cannot fully be separated. Inherent within every period are layers of counterweight of contradiction, and no decade, period, or critical lens can accurately be flattened into a single mode of prominent thought. Readings and interpretations of images by individuals are also as individual as the interpreters themselves, and influenced by more than just critical approaches, and rather inspired as much by personal reflections and cultural, historical, or societal influences as scholarly theories.
This project aims to demonstrate trends of thought but also problematize how they are categorized by showing how a single image can be viewed through and within each of these categories. This project attempts to show not only how these methods of thought differ, but how they lead into and fold into one another, offering a viewing guide or a mode of thinking. If this map attempted to include every thought – to be a 1:1 map – it would indeed block out the sunlight.
WHY YOU, WHY NOW
Just as photography has never been one single technology (but embodied in the camera obscura and lucida, the daguerreotype, wet plate collodion processes, dry plate, tintype, calotype, film camera, Polaroid, and digital image), so it has never possessed a single ontology. As photography is now more often associated with networked hyperlinks, hypertexts, and hypermedia, understanding the many ways in which an image may be networked and possess a fluidity of meaning and shifting reinterpretations is an important step toward creating a map which evolves with us, rather than oppresses and obscures our understandings.
The digital age has made us all archivists and curators as we upload our images to social media, maintain hard drives full of files, sort through the abundance of information online, and select which articles to read or circulate, but without an understanding and recognition of the misinformation and misrepresentations in the visual, the world floats around like a Wonderland of nonsense with no order or reason. If we face with world with a curious and critical eye, we may be able to find the ways in which we currently have agency in a digital wonderland – the ways in which, through archiving, through remembering and presenting ourselves, and through acting with technology – we can become co-creators of meaning.
Although it may not be possible to slay the Jabberwock of misinformation and miscommunications that threatens our world, we can work not to feed the monster.
Illustration from The Nursery "Alice", Courtesy British Library
I hope that this website will help audiences learn how to interact and engage with a variety of different viewpoints and better understand the process of storytelling in order to become producers rather than consumers of knowledge. Just as Alice is defined by her agency, arguing with the characters of Wonderland before ultimately rejecting the entire trial which she has been forced to sit through, so I hope my viewers will begin to understand how images can be used to triangulate their own assumptions and the contradictions of logic which they have been asked to accept and bring down false arguments and images around them for the sake of returning to a more tenable reality.
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