Recently we were given an assignment, to create a series of 10 photographic pieces that depict the topic of Encountering Culture and social conformity. The assignment brief is shown below:
One of the objectives of this module is for you to begin to locate your own work within the various and far
flung fields of photographic practice. This in itself is not a new idea; when the philosopher Plato (c.428-347
BC.) said “know thyself” he was in effect saying much the same; that we must locate ourselves within the
world in order to validate our viewpoint of it.
To put that another way; we all see the world from an entirely socio/sexual/culturally-unique perspective
which will in turn dictate what and how we communicate as photographic artists. This assignment
addresses the notion directly by asking;
“ Are you in harmony or in conflict within the social structure that you are a part of?”
Through a set of 10 photographic pieces you should examine the sources of pressures within society to
conform or adjust our behavior and appearance. You may examine stereotypes, racial, gender, religious,
class or age etc. You may use others to portray your views or you may explore the notion of the self-portrait.
Your images can depict both the mundane nature and the theatricality of the everyday life.
You are expected to experiment with different approaches and challenge the boundaries of your previous
modes of working.
To begin with I struggled to find a good place to start. I did some quick research and came up with a few ideas such as exploring stereotypes, the ways religion is perceived in society and student life. However these ideas didn’t really interest me enough or didn’t show an obvious route to take. After a few more thinking sessions and few scans of the brief, I found that the words “To conform or adjust our behaviour” stood out to me.
Mind map and basic plan:
The main ideas that came to me were to focus on security, authority and laws as these are the major things in society these days that control how people behave from day-to-day. A good example of this is if you compare the cultures in different countries. This quote is from an article about the recent appointment of China’s new leader Xi Jinping on The Telegraph website which can be found here.
The bureaucracy and powerful vested interests, especially in the huge state sector of the economy, oppose reform that could affect their privileged positions. Popular protests, running to some 150,000 a year, have been met by an expansion of spending on state security, now larger than the military budget. Media are tightly controlled and censors patrol the internet.
This is an example of how things such as the media and protests are heavily controlled in China, compared to other western powers, where the control on the media is largely relaxed, especially when the internet and social media is concerned.
Of course I’m not going to go as far as China to create my images, or risk imprisonment by intruding on the government but I can look at how different aspects of today’s society are controlled, manipulated or created by the restrictions that arise from laws and what people find ‘Acceptable behaviour’.
Some of the keys topics I’m going to explore are:
Security, public figures of authority (The police, security etc), warnings and public safety, daily routines (Working days, queues etc) and outcasts/lawbreakers/unique characters.