W H E N L I F E G I V E S Y O U L E M O N S
A work project that hadn’t required them in the end, resulted in a bag of lemons sitting on our kitchen worktop without place or purpose, for a few days until I decided to make a lemon drizzle cake. I used this recipe. I swear by highly rated recipes on BBC Good Food. Although I did manage to muck it up a little, but I’m blaming our oven. (It’s a microwave oven). It left the middle a little raw, which admittedly Matt and I fought over because it seems we’re both the kind of weirdos who prefer cake batter to actual cake. Next time I think I just won’t bake it. Cake batter with spoons it’ll be.
Around this time last week, The Times posted an article about a blogger, YouTuber and all-round-content-creator, whose Instagram images it seems had been edited to the point of doctoring. Most notable were the images of the New York skyline (in which certain newer buildings, built since 2013, were missing) and the Taj Mahal (in which scaffolding and tourists were also missing). Other non-paywall outlets followed suit with similar articles. But so did the creator in question, posting on their blog a list they titled ‘My Image Principles’. This detailed the criteria they felt they met when creating visual content.
Whilst this isn’t a blogger I follow, the news story grabbed my imagination and stayed in my mind all week. To me, it feels symbolic and indicative of a wider conversation going on at the moment. A conversation I seem to be having again and again – both in my head and with other creators – about how we portray ourselves online. How we frame our lives. From what place content is created. Which truths we choose to tell. What we leave in and what we cut out. Where we each draw the line between what’s realistic and authentic and what’s creative and artistic.
In this particular instance, we can only speculate as to whether reality was misrepresented in order to sell a product or lifestyle, or whether the imagery was generated from a place of creativity and intended as art or inspiration. Realistically if you’re sharing (what you’re leading people to believe is) your life online for the sake of integrity, there needs to be an element of accuracy and honesty to it. Interestingly other Instagram accounts – notably @helloemilie, @allthatisshe, @georgiarosehardy – have openly admitted to using photoshop to edit their Instagram posts. Although I doubt many would think these images are supposed to be accurate representations of their lives.
Or would they? On Twitter, I saw people liken these events to the David Attenborough “scandal” in which a polar bear birth featured in one of his documentaries, was found out to have been filmed in a zoo. When this came out in the news I didn’t bat an eyelid. In fact I think I rolled my eyes instead. It was obvious more transparency would’ve been appreciated by the audience. Yet I was surprised by the public’s general lack of understanding as to what is required to create certain imagery. My experience in the world of photography and marketing is pretty brief, but still, I fully understand that billboards and adverts and TV and film and yes, even social media, is staged and selective and most probably really well-lit and edited to within an inch of its life. And to me that’s okay. Because it wasn’t about that anyway. It’s about the ideas behind the imagery. Not whether it’s real or not, but what it’s communicating whilst you’re looking at it.
Such thoughts perhaps also come from a background in Cultural Human Geography – which isn’t so much maps and colouring-in, as it is a mishmash of all the humanities and social sciences. Basically critiquing art and culture like you would over-analyse To Kill a Mockingbird in GCSE English. But what it taught me, was that all art (particularly everything visual) frames itself in a certain way. Whether it knows it or not. For example, in my own photography, I *try* to use certain colour palettes, certain similar angles and certain geometric shapes and compositions. And I often prefer to look away from the camera and not make eye contact. These elements and patterns (whether successful or not) are there to communicate ideas about who I am and what reality is like for me – even if that doesn’t look 100% like reality as we see it.
If I were to pick up a camera and simply shoot, without thought an image-an-hour for a day, chances are this isn’t what you’d see. However rather than just sharing random artefacts of my existence on the internet, I purposefully took these images with the intention of expression. Of communicating something visually, however subtly, that lets you in on at least part of my understanding of life.
For more on this topic, I’d recommend this video by John Green. He expresses it all so much more eloquently than me! Also I’d love to hear your two cents on all this in the comments below.