Image and Consumption

This is Tim Westwood aka 'Big Dawg', Radio 1 DJ and son of the Anglican Bishop of Peterborough, deceased. He has just done his shopping at Tesco and in his twittered words was "just gettin my shop on - big ballin and shop callin!". Tim was brought up in Norfolk and attended the Norwich School, one of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the country. Arguably Tim's image, his appropriation of a culture which is not his own, including vernacular speech, clothing, the spinners on the wheels of his very pimped up ride is a construct.
We are here looking at an image of Tim Westwood, selected by him to go on his Twitter site - in itself this is interesting because it is possible to 'read' the picture - this is deliberate we are meant to be able to read it. Big Dawg is quite clearly telling us that he is part of Hip Hop culture and he needs a lot of Loo rolls.

This is Tim eating one of his favourite breakfasts, waffles. Note the products featured in the background, Aunt Jemma's buttermilk waffle mix and maple syrup. I am not sure if Tim set this photograph up deliberately or not - it is unlikely, but what is interesting are the objects and products that surround him, that he identifies with, that go some way towards describing him.
Tim Westwood is an extreme example but the question we are exploring is to what extent are we defined by the images that we consume - I have chosen to include objects and products because they could be constituent parts of a bigger picture/image. Tim Westwood clearlymakes very deliberate choices - his decisions are considered and very particular, he definitely surrounds himself with stuff that amplifies the image that he wants to project. Additionally we are thinking about the extent to which the cultural shift from words to pictures has enabled these readings and altered the way that we consume.
Platforms like Twitter and Facebook are examples of this shift perhaps, enabling anybody with a digital camera and home computer to quickly construct an open and globally available [visual] persona in minutes. Easy to maintain and update the online identity can be changed and evolved rapidly, adapting to trend changes describing recent experiences - projecting out to the world the individuals experiences/taste/preferences or favourite things. But perhaps more indicative of the desire to articulate a set of ideas visually, to project a visual identity, particularly for designers, is the blogosphere - this aspect of online culture has become one of the major ways that we can express ideas/opinions - show the world what we like/dislike - describe our unique visual perception - display our network of connections and monitor our/our ideas popularity in the process. It is an environment which encourages discussion and encouragement for the blogger and some more successful sites have become arbiters of taste providing the signpost to vistas of new visual experience for hungry followers.

And everything that we see is reproduced, our experience here is via the mediated image. All design practitioners, graphic designers, product and object makers and illustrators use the medium [and the subsequent mediated imagery] to talk about their ideas/interest/identity - the imagery that we select and 'publish' to promote these facets of our practice are, arguably, key - so, in the image saturated world, who regulates this process? I suspect that we are both passive consumer and image retailer in one and the proliferation of image in our culture is an inevitable consequence of the development of technology - will it shift our means of communication permanently and as designers and visual communicators what part do we/should we play in that process?

Image and Taste

So, Otto Neurath known primarily for the development of Isotype, a "method of showing social, technological, biological and historical connections in pictorial form" and the desire to create a system of Universal Silhouettes in an attempt to produce a Visual Language that communicated Universally - his claim that word separate and pictures unite is an interesting one if, as David Crow suggests, the system is fundamentally a linguistic one and relies on the viewers ability to create visual sentences from the 'grapheme' like icons. This may seem unrelated to the broader argument of image and taste. However Neurath's project was an attempt to bypass the 'problem' of Art, its readability and the necessity for prior knowledge and [cultural] education to understand what was being said. Bourdieu [cultural capital] claimed that our ability to understand the image was not innate but the result of upbringing, so [good]'taste', the sensibility/understanding and acquired cultural capital, is something that can be learned/owned by those priviledged with access to the 'right' kind of experiences. This suggests that taste generally is dependent on social class? This also suggests that how images are read is dependent on class related sensibilities.
So taste:

This is the front page of the clothing company Old Town's web site. It is interesting to look at, Old Town specialise in sourcing old clothing patterns and recreate them - the garments invariably are re-makes of workers clothing although some are more refined with names like Fitzrovia.

The 'Fitrovia'.
When Stephen Hayward spoke at the last key ideas symposium he mentioned the 'aesthetisization of labour' - Old Town arguably typifies a taste for clothing that signifies something - it is retrospective, indicative of a 'lost' quality, perhaps.

The Front page of Labour and Wait's web site - a similar visual flavour - utilitarian, austere and institutional. At Labour and Wait you can buy things like this:

A school writing tablet?
I generally find myself liking the things at Labour and Wait, but it is interesting to think about why, as a shop it is an astute exercise in the curation of nostalgia - although it is a kind of nostalgia that is not really true, there is a apparent authenticity and 'quality' to the products, Breton sweaters, workers smocks, enamelled Japanese coffee pots, Brady bags, brands that have been around for a long time, we are conscious of the lineage....somehow, without really having an actual recollection or direct experience of them. Perhaps I think that I am making an educated choice, perhaps I respond well to the almost niche nature of the shop; I subscribe to its ambience and image because I think that it reflects well on me?

This is a spread from a book produced by Sara Fanelli - a very talented Illustrator. She has produced numerous childrens books - it is difficult to ascertain exactly how commercially successful these books are - however they represent a type of work that is the acceptable face of a world that is driven by the commercial 'bottom line'.

A spread from a book by Michael Foreman, a very successful children's book Illustrator - for the sake of comparison.

Taste is a contentious topic, particularly for designers. We spend time cultivating a sensibility, seeking out imagery/objects/things that we find interesting and inspiring, things that become part of our identity, beacons of our taste. Often guarding these 'things' closely, synthesizing and processing them and releasing them in to the world piecemeal, tantalising visual sweetmeats that describe a sophistication in our thinking. So the question is about how and why we make taste decisions. Kant claimed that our taste in images and things was innate, we would say genetic, nature not nurture, Bourdieu that it is a symptom of our experiences and education, nurture not nature - the latter is probably the popular and most commonly accepted view. Stephen Bayley, in his book 'Taste. The Secret Meaning of Things', claims that taste is a bigger social taboo than sex or money and that "making statements about taste expose body and soul to terrible scrutiny". So Thinking about Neurath's notion of division and unification and the issue of image and taste - it is interesting to explore the rationale that we employ [or not] for what we decide to like/dislike, perhaps to think about what sits behind those choices and whether images will ever unite.

Key Ideas: Image

Key Ideas: Image discusses our understanding of the image in its many forms; from its role as signifier of status and thing to be consumed to barometer of good taste and vehicle for communication. It is trite to say that images are everywhere – that their effect is unfathomable and that our experience of them is virtually uninterrupted so; Key Ideas: Image will attempt to address the multiple readings of imagery in contemporary society, exploring the image via three themes:

Image and Taste/ The social and cultural associations & readings of imagery, Image and Consumption/How we curate our identities through the consumption and creation of images, Image and Aesthetics /The role of beauty in image-making...

Image and TasteThe social and cultural associations & readings of imagery.

“Whereas the idealogy of charisma regards taste in legitimate culture as a gift of nature, scientific observation shows that cultural needs are the product of upbringing and education”

Bourdieu, P. Distinction – a Social critique of the judgement of Taste, Routledge and Kegan, 1984, p.1]

We learnt in the ‘Object’ symposium that our terms of reference for the ‘readings’ of images and objects is borrowed from the study of language [linguistics] and signs [semiotics] and that images like objects are a ‘kind’ of speech. However Otto Neurath said that "Words separate" "Pictures unite". Neurath’s idealised/systematised modernism suggests a solution to the problem of qualitative readings of images, and an attempt to transcend the hierarchy of perception that is synonymous with Western Visual Culture. In a world where choice of image and matters of taste are part of complex social and cultural hierarchies do images really unite or do they atomize?

Image and ConsumptionHow we curate our identities through the consumption and creation of images.

“Images come to us more than we go to them” – [paraphrased from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing.]

“The trend of all mass media is toward the visual – from the fairly recent replacement of the cash register in fast food chains and cafeterias with computers with icons and keys, to the proliferation of computer games”

Seward Barry, A.M. Visual Intelligence – Perception, Image and manipulation in Visual Communication, New York: State University of New York Press, 1997

Arguably the proliferation of transmitted and broadcast imagery has shifted the emphasis in mass culture away from the word towards the image.

To what extent are we defined by the imagery that we consume and in an image-saturated world how much choice do we really have?

Image and Aesthetics - The role of beauty in image-making...

Aesthetics [its numerous readings and misappropriations] and the idea of the viewer’s sensibility, or gaze, has been the subject of Artistic and Philosophical debate since the 18th Century. Aesthetic, the word, can mean: "to perceive, to feel," and according to Immanuel Kant: "the science which treats of the conditions of sensuous perception."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper

Bourdieu claims that our ability to read/appreciate/quantify an image or object is the result of ‘upbringing and education’ but Kant argued that there were Universalities – things that everybody agreed were ‘beautiful’. As designers and image makers we all have very different sensibilities, very different ideas of what is and is not ‘beautiful’, in short a unique and particular aesthetic.

Where does communication/function end and seduction begin? Who decides on beauty and is the notion of direct communication in commercial image making redundant?