Week 1 - The Global Image

The course has started off with looking at the concept of the global image; what it is, and how our work relates to that concept.

A Worldwide Medium

Through this weeks suggested readings and course presentations, I learnt about photography as a global medium. It is a practice that in its current form originated in a geographically small area of Europe but very quickly spread throughout the world – in conjunction with the development of photographic technology. Over a relatively short number of years, technology developed from the early Daguerreotype to the DSLRs and smart phone cameras of today. Along with this came the spread of the practice from the few pioneers (Daguerre, Fox Talbot et al), to having a large variety of practitioners; professional photographers to amateur photographers, to anyone with a camera phone who, whether consciously or unconsciously, participates in the global medium that is photography.

The fast spread of photography and rise of affordable equipment is what, I believe, enabled photography to become something practiced across the world and by so many people – leading to it becoming the global medium we recognise today. These are the things that has allowed me to be able to practice, and enjoy, photography.

I wanted to look through my work to see if anything I had taken relates to this concept. And really the fact that I take photographs could be an example of photography as a global medium. However, I also came across this image I took in Honolulu, Hawaii, in March/April 2016. I was struck by the juxtaposition of the older buildings in the foreground against the more modern high-rise buildings in the background – all of which are not a strange sight to see today. However, when thinking about the history of Hawaii it was not that many generations ago that any Western-style buildings were completely alien to the islands. I feel these things show a quite literal parallel to the spread and development of photography; from an area in Europe to becoming a global practice. These buildings are of a Western style but I was seeing them on the other side of the world, and how quickly the architectural style changed in the same way photographic technology rapidly developed.

Honolulu, Hawaii USA, March/April 2016 - Sophie Bradley

Honolulu, Hawaii USA, March/April 2016 - Sophie Bradley

Windows on the World

The above photo leads me on to the next point we examined this week; regarding how photography can be seen as a window to the world.

Early photography became synonymous with distant places, providing a window and an insight to a world people may not otherwise know. In my opinion this is still true of photography today; people still take and share photos of their holidays, for example, to give their friends and family a perspective of where they’ve been and what they saw.

This allowed (and still allows) people to be able to see parts of the world they may not otherwise have a chance to experience first-hand – which possibly enables people to feel more connected to the world outside from their own, but may also provide only a narrow, one-sided, view of the world. If a person had no other way in which to see or know about a foreign country except for the photographs taken by one person, they would only have that photographers’ perspective on that country. That photographers’ experiences, world view, and any biases, would I think inform his or her photographic practice and any resulting pictures.

So the camera can be seen as a window as a way to see parts of the world, and also as a window between the photographer and the subject of their photo. The camera as a window separates us from the subject of the photo, it keeps us from being a part of the action, so we capture the image from a distance – removed from being a part of it. Perhaps our pictures should be viewed as a record of how we saw something, and not presumed to be how something actually was.

A global image may not be a true representation of the place because the camera separates the photographer from the action of their picture, and the image is taken under the influence of the experiences and perspectives of the photographer and therefore may be a narrow view of the world. But different images of a place taken by several different photographers could also change opinion of a place.

For example, in November 2016 I went to Morocco and some pictures I took changed the perceptions of my family of the country. They had a view in their minds of Morocco (from other pictures they’ve seen over the years), to be the “typical” Marrakesh scene of a busy market place; sunny, crowded, and bustling. My pictures, including this one below – show a different side to that perspective. This was a nomadic camp in the Sahara desert. It shows poverty, making do, and yet still trying to be a part of the modern world using solar electricity. This is not something that would ordinarily spring to mind when someone thinks of Morocco, so this global image – this window to the world – showed a new view and a different image of the world.

Sahara Desert, Morocco - November 2016 - Sophie Bradley

Sahara Desert, Morocco - November 2016 - Sophie Bradley

Unity and Change

The third aspect of the global image we looked at this week was in respect of whether images can bring about social unity and change.

Photos and their subject matters are often taken to be real and true, and to have a longer lasting effect on viewers than moving images and therefore thought to bring about social unity and change. This seems to me to be particularly true for social unity in the case of hard hitting, emotional, images. Whether this social unity has led, or will lead, to social change I am honestly not sure.

I do not think any image I have taken to date falls under this category, mostly because I have never set out to take a photo with that aim in mind. However, this is such an image I took in Morocco of a nomadic girl; financially poor, dirty. It ticks the boxes for the “type” of image that one would think of when discussing photos that could inspire global social unity and change. But whether an image on its own can do that I do not know. The course presentations this week noted some historical situations in which photos were credited in bringing about some social changes, but in reality there were pieces of writing that went alongside those images and so any resulting changes were not just because of photographs. This does lead me to wonder whether an image on its own would be enough – perhaps in order to effect change more than one discipline would be needed.

Sahara Desert, Morocco - November 2016 - Sophie Bradley

Sahara Desert, Morocco - November 2016 - Sophie Bradley