SYMPOSIUM: First Draft.

We each have a personal identity which is ‘the part of the self by which we are known to others’ (Altheide, 2000). Our personal identity is constructed through a combination of our individual personalities and the self-constructed alterations we attempt to portray as our lifestyle to create what we personally deem a more acceptable form. The use of photography provides a trustworthy reinforcement of this constructed identity. However, the core issue behind the construction of memory through the use of photography is the reliability of the photograph itself that was once never questioned. Despite the reality portrayed in a photograph, it is not often that what is captured is a true depiction of the event or moment in question.

The photographs we take on a day to day basis provide an understanding into the self-construction preferences of an individual. By consciously deciding what is deemed important enough to record, leaves a question regarding the sub-conscious self-structure of an individual. As argued by Don Slater, ‘we construct ourselves for and through an image’. With each single photograph taken, a decision is being made regarding the moment being worth remembering. A second decision is also made regarding how we wish to remember it. The decision about the way the photograph is captured begins to shape the way a memory is formed relating to that particular moment. For example choosing to stop, smile and pose at the camera with a second person will result in the photograph appearing happy and fun. Choosing to photograph a person doing a certain activity without telling them the photograph is being taken will result in the memory forming around the action as opposed to the feelings. We are each responsible for forming and shaping our memories how we choose. Even though a day may be spend arguing with someone, it is most likely that we will each smile together as a photograph is being taken. Over time this slightly altered portrayal of events will alter our recollection of the day itself. The choices made, both by the individual and others who are in possession and control of photographs leave a tail of understanding regarding the perceived view of oneself.

Aside from the decisions involved in the creation of the photograph with regards to pose and expression, there is a second strand of conscious decisions with a more influential effect on the personal presentation and further more memory. The creation of an album either physical or online involves a method of selection; disregarding the photographs that do not adhere to our set persona. Though it may be likely that the photograph is an accurate portrayal of that event or moment, the album as a whole is an inaccurate portrayal as it only ‘comments’ on the happy events taking place throughout our lives and disregards the unsavoury elements we may not wish to remember. The process of selection of these true moments will create a storyline of the individual’s life when combined which may differ greatly from reality.

The initial concept behind capturing the moments in our life originated from a profiting companies advertising campaign. The phrase ‘Kodak moment’ has been a long-standing idea, which was sold to the public through a campaign showing that it was important to capture milestones in life such as a birthday or wedding. The initial advertising campaigns produced for Kodak, in the majority depicted mothers photographing their children in everyday settings, which bred the idea this personal use was the most important use for the camera. As I look through my family albums kept by my parents, it is more than apparent that this was deemed the case with regards to recording our lives. The photographs taken depict birthdays and holidays with very few showing any indication of the everyday life. This has changed very recently however with the introduction of the digital camera and the camera phone, which allows the user the capability to capture every mundane moment, something made possible through the ability to take a thousand photographs at no cost, whereas it was expensive to develop each film taken before the advancement of the digital camera which brought affordability to the masses.

It would be naïve to claim that our self-portrayal is not altered by social pressures to adhere to a certain lifestyle, and that these are not present throughout our constructed photographic lives. Through the lead of social expectations we are challenged by what we see before us within ourselves and also within an image we have taken, to subconsciously carve a constructed version of oneself that better conforms to the understanding of a certain lifestyle we believe we lead. Within our culture, most people will possess a photographic life; a story of their life that has been documented by first their parents and then themselves. Looking back through these images help to reinforce our personal memories; to act as ‘props or prompts in verbal performances of memory’ ‘shot through with lines of both epic and anecdotal dimension’ (Langford, 2001).

In the last few years there has been a strong surge in the interest and creation of profiles through online social networking sites; a platform designed for communication. The most popular site to date is Facebook, an online portal through which an individual can create a profile, upload photographs, leave statuses and befriend others. The effect of this site on real life has become drastic due to the opportunity to alter and amend ones portrayed personality into a more preferred term. This platform provides one with an area in which to construct the image they present to others as their identity, providing the chance to give others a different opinion than they may get in real life. The ability to upload a choice of photographs allows the user to construct a certain lifestyle and personality, such as only uploading photograph showing the user out with friends would suggest to the audience that the user as a party-animal persona. The purpose is to convince the viewer that this user encapsulates certain personality traits or lifestyle choices. The choices by which we each partake in this form of portrayal may be either sub-conscious or conscious, yet they still reveal much about the user, highlighting the aspects of life deemed to be most appealing and important to the individual. Facebook, as a described will be the users stage and the profile will be the vehicle of self-expression, self-conception, identity creation and interaction.

The aspect of this site of most interest is the ability to create an online photo album, o multiple, which can be made accessible to whoever is selected as a friend. The introduction of the ‘untagging’ option has provided users with a new method of shaping their profile, as  it adds the element of control over the images other users upload, providing an ability to show and hide any aspects of their lives deemed uninteresting or unattractive in order to form a more positive representation of themselves.

Though the albums that are uploaded can be hidden from public view and made available to only the people are accepted as friends, the element of a profile picture provides a window into the users’ identity that is readily available to the public. This, therefore, is the first impression given to the audience of the user’s persona. For this reason, the choice for profile picture is an initial presentation of the desired personality. It is felt by users’ that the profile picture is a critical piece of the overall profile and took great care when choosing which picture to present, as over half of Britons admitted to shaping and choosing their image in order to provide the best impression of themselves.

A new development in the job market that is currently causing many users of Facebook to tailor their personal profiles is the use of this site by companies looking to hire prospective employees. The choice to leave your profile closed to the public does limit this, however a number of firms now require access to a prospective employees Facebook page in order to gain an understanding of that person outside of the interview scenario. Tony Lau, a teaching lecturer in the University of Hong Kong was advised to severely alter his online profile before attending his interview due to their strong interest. He drastically tailored his profile to a professional audience by removing many of his photographs dating back to his first joining the site in order to present a much more intellectual individual with a strong work ethic. Many of his photographs were initially uploaded to present a party-animal persona to his audience; however by simply replacing them with a more controlled selection of images he contrasted a new persona suitable for employers.




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