SYMPOSIUM: Final Shebang

symposium presentation: PDF






  1. Josephine sutton
  2. We each have a personal identity, which is ‘the part of the self by which we are known to others’. Our personal identity is constructed through a combination of our unique personalities and the self-structuring alterations we make, in an attempt to create and portray an idea of our lifestyle 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 personal construction of memory through the use of photography is the reliability, which is something that needs to be considered and rarely is. It is not often that what is captured in personal photographs is a true depiction of the event or moment in question.


  1. The photographs taken on a day-to-day basis provide an understanding into the self-construction preferences of an individual. By acknowledging personally what is deemed important enough to record, leaves a question regarding the conscious and sub-conscious choices concerning the desired self-structure of an individual. Think back to the last photographs you have taken, what moments in your life do you consider worth remembering?


  1. Within our culture, most people will possess a photographic life; a story of their life that has been documented first by their parents and them by themselves. Looking back through these images help to reinforce our personal memories; to act as props or prompts in verbal performances of memory (Langford). The choices made in the creation of the photographs and albums will help to shape our perceptions of the self.


  1. As argued by Don Slater, ‘we construct ourselves for and through an image.’ With each choice to take a photograph a decision is being made regarding whether or not the moment worth remembering. Whether it is of our family or our surroundings, each photograph we take is a reflection on the way we see the World. By choosing to position the subjects; asking them to smile, or asking them to stand in front of a certain background we are constructing a moment, creating a scene, which ultimately embodies the way we want to remember that particular event.


  1. For example, the choice to smile in a photograph with a second person will result in an impression of a strong and happy relationship. We are each responsible for forming and shaping our memories how we choose. Even though a day may be spent arguing, it is most likely that we will smile together as a photograph is being taken. This photograph for example, was taken on such a day. Over time this slightly altered portrayal of events can alter our recollection of the day itself.


  1. The choices made, both by the individual being photographed and the photographer leave a trail of understanding regarding the perceived view of oneself. The ability to check the camera and retake a photograph that does not meet the expectations allows further shaping of the moment. This is a reinforcement of our personal construction, as this photograph will reflect a certain perception of an event that when revisited will help shape the memory. The construction of a photograph is a direct reinforcement of the constructed self-presentation to both others and ourselves.


  1. Do we remember the moment, or do we remember the photograph? As I look back over my own photographs of events, in most cases I can picture the photographs, but I also remember the time around the photograph being taken. This is not a replacement memory for the actual event instead it is a queue to recollection. However it is impossible to say what would be remembered of a particular event if no photographs were taken.


  1. 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 furthermore 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 representation as it only comments on the happy events taking place throughout our lives, and disregards the unsavoury or unflattering elements we may not wish to include and remember. The process of selection will create a storyline of the individual’s life when combined, which may differ greatly from the real-self, but match to the preferred-self.


  1. The wish to preserve and present a family portrait to others was intended long before the invention of photography. Families who could afford to could commission a painter to create a portrait and alter it to adhere to the image they wish others to see. Incorporating different props and backgrounds allowed creation of the impression of personality and class, which was then on show for visitors of the house. This presentation of identity is still true today.


  1. Once photography became a widely available medium, the concept of capturing life’s important moments as opposed to organized portraits, was pushed greatly through profiting companies advertising campaigns. The phrase ‘Kodak Moment’ has been a long standing ideal, which was sold to the public through a campaign showing that it was important to capture milestones in life such as birthdays and weddings. The message sent along was that if you did not start capturing your family history, you would regret losing it forever.
  1. 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 presented 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 in particular, which allows the user the capability of capturing every mundane moment, as the majority of people will have a camera on their persons the most of the time.


  1. It would be naive to claim that social pressures to adhere to a certain lifestyle do not alter our self-portrayal, 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. The judgements made over another’s photograph will also be applied to the self.


  1. In the last few years there has been a strong surge in the creation of profiles through online 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, leave comments and upload photographs. The effects of this site on real life have become drastic due to the opportunity to alter and amend ones portrayed personality into a more preferred form. This platform provides one with an area in which to construct an image of the self they present to others as their identity, one that may be different than comes across in real-life. This has increased the effect of photography on self-creation, as it is a readily available presentation to others, whereas physical photo albums are kept for the family and rarely shown.


  1. The aspect of the site of most interest is the ability to upload photographs. This allows the user to construct a certain lifestyle and personality. For example, only uploading photographs showing the user out with friends would suggest to their audience that the user has 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 personal portrayal may either by 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 described will be the users stage and the profile will be the vehicle of self-expression, self-conception, identity creation and interaction.


  1. A user is able to create online albums and upload photographs on the go, 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. As a user can control what is posted by others about them, it allows the formation of a more well-rounded positive representation of themselves, as it incorporates other users.


  1. Though the albums that are uploaded can be hidden from public view, the element of a profile picture provides a window into the user’s 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 of profile picture is an initial presentation of the desired personality. When a selection of profile pictures is compared, there is a clear correlation in the common traits portrayed. Many portray the popularity of a user amongst friends, dedication to a romantic partner, or photographs of the users children is often used as a representation of the user themselves.


  1. It is felt by users that the profile picture is a critical piece of the overall profile and took great care when choosing a picture to present, as over half of Britons admitted to shaping and choosing their image in order to provide the best impression of themselves. This is done by creating a positive representation through what would be deemed happy photographs.


  1. An example of a conscious reconstruction of self-presentation regarding a particular aspect of life relates greatly to the job market. A number of firms are requesting access to a prospective employee’s Facebook in order to gain an understanding of that individual outside of the interview scenario. Tony Lau, a teaching lecturer in the University of Hong Kong experienced this, and was advised to alter his profile before attending the interview. It was necessary to alter the portrayed identity he first created, as many of his photographs were initially uploaded to present a party-animal persona to his audience. However by simply removing a selection of these images, he contrasted a new persona that appeared more intellectual than his initial profile creation.


  1. It has been found that age and time creates a general understanding of what is expected of users when constructing the self. Younger users will present a popular and fun identity, whereas older users admitted to initially doing this when young, yet finding it necessary to create a more responsible and intellectual portrayal once in a full time job or with children.


  1. The alterations we make through the selective process of taking a photograph and presenting it, ultimately alters the way we will be viewed once the photograph has been presented.  The criteria for self-construction are different with each person, but in the end there is a strong correlation in the understanding of an appealing identity. The connections made with photography and memory relate to the ability of the image to reinforce an already occurring memory. Through my research I have gained further understanding in the intent behind the creation of a photograph, and an understanding into the choices behind self-representation. As argued by Susan Sontag, ‘Today, everything exists to end in a photograph.’



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