Breaching the Image Filter

We see thousands of images every day. On websites, in magazines, on money, and selling us products and services from every conceivable surface… walls, buses, high-rises, billboards. There are marvelously beautiful, perfectly cast people smiling down at us. The images let us know that if we buy these products – if we use these services – if we take that trip – we will be better. Not quite as good as those incredible people in the advertisement, but better. They promise us that others will find us more attractive, or that we will be safer, or more respected by the community.

That wasn’t always the case. Until very recently, people only saw images occasionally. Go back four or five long generations, and people saw maybe one or two images a day… and before that, it would be a painting at a rich man’s house, or something dramatic in church. Those paintings served the same purpose… though they were selling a slightly different product. They would illustrate stories from the bible for the illiterate public, but the images also did something beyond being narrative. They let the beholder know that if they were pious, it would make them better. Not quite as good as the saints, but it would make them more attractive in the eyes of God, it would make them safer, it would make them respectable.

People have developed image filters. We had to. When dealing with so many images every day, we have learned to look and promptly dismiss what we’re being shown. We look, and instantly understand we’re supposed to use a certain body spray, buy a car, go on adventure, or simply smell like we might. We filter them out of our conscience.

But it is exactly at this point where I find creative opportunity. By using the language of commercial and fashion photography… Showing beautiful models, well-cast character actors, agile dancers, all placed inside narrative images, I breach the viewer’s image filter. The viewer recognizes the familiar language… but nothing is being sold; the filter breaks down. It is unclear what is being pitched, what the product is… and that is where I try to tell stories, to engage the mind that back-fills the missing narrative.

The people who run our cities don’t understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit… The people who truly deface our neighborhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff… Any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours, it belongs to you. It’s yours to take, rearrange and re use. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head. You owe those companies nothing. You especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.

Banksy wrote that. I’m not planning on stenciling my images on concrete walls, nor re-purposing corporate logos or placing my art on top of their images, but I do like appropriating parts of that language. We’ve all become so fluent in it, why not use it for some visual storytelling…

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4 comments

  1. David Desouza said:
    2013/07/28
    10:50

    completely agree, I think that AVedon, and Lachapelle have done this successfully. I use it too more or less for the same reasons that you do. I have became a devotee of Recuenco who is another in this tradition.

  2. xfrench said:
    2013/07/28
    22:00

    NIce. It’s a fair take, and you are becoming fluent. I’ve enjoyed seeing you work, and inspired to work harder myself. My only caveat is that the language itself can insert an agenda, and you will have to work hard to transcend the form into territory of (truly) your own creation and voice. it can be done, and I think you can do it.

    1. Yoram Roth Post author said:
      2013/07/28
      22:20

      You make a valid point. It has taken me a while to understand why I am so drawn to this particular approach, and when I look at my older work I wish I had pushed further. But I’m hardly the first artist to look back and see room for improvement. The new series I’ve been shooting for a year now explores this much more deliberately. Nonetheless the agenda is there. And pretty soon I will write a whinier post… in which I lament that no matter what I do, many people will continue to dismiss the work as insufficiently arty by its sheer use of “beautiful” people.

  3. […] But at one point, I got frustrated with the project. I knew where I wanted to go but I wasn’t satisfied with what I had. I wanted the grace, I continue to believe in the human ideal of beauty, but I found myself caring less about the story. Narrative serving as a vehicle to transport the viewer into visual ecstasy wasn’t necessary in modern times. The reference points were a distraction, not a departure point. As modern people we deal with imagery differently than post-Renaissance viewers. […]

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