My photographic investigation draws broadly on multiple discourses. Firstly, examining how individuals interact with the commodity form. I wanted to create a photographic series that worked to critique commodity fetishism within capitalist societies. Going against the grain, taking an object that is typically portrayed as perfect, glossy and often surrealist…and representing it in its mundane and palpable nature; drawing on representative actuality.
My image series embodies the taboo, damaged and imperfect. My investigative series fetishizes such taboos through the use of close-ups, shallow depth of field and post-production adjustments. Enhancements to colour, clarity and contrast make my images appear vibrant and eye-catching, I was inspired by influential works of artists such as Cindy Sherman and Stephen Wilkes. I chose to focus on cars as my subject due to them being emblematic of wealth, freedom and liberation within Western Cultures.
The image sets I have chosen examine the dichotomous tensions that exist within the commodity form. Such forces are exerted internally (through human interactions/use) and externally (through exposure to environmental elements). Throughout my project, I photographed my subject in a way that fetishized the vehicle. Techniques such as a shallow depth of field, intense close-ups and compositional structure have acted to fetishize my subject, simultaneously creating intimacy between commodity form and consumer. This also distances the consumer from production and labour processes. My images depict and reinforce discourses that include…vehicles exhibiting mystical qualities and being an object of desire.
Set 1 – Natural & Human Tensions:
Set 1: This first collection of images embodies dichotomous tensions that are exerted upon my subject. These photographs display only a small surface area of the vehicle, although the shooting angle and composition act to conceal and obscure the objects actual identity upon first glance. The top image reveals the forces/tensions that result from human interaction. Using shallow depth of field, natural sunlight (‘The Golden Hour’) and selective angles effectively, reveal in detail the delicate finger smudges that remain from use.
I captured the top image using an aperture value of ‘f/25.0’ meaning only a small amount of light is entering the sensor through the lens. This aperture value was the most appropriate setting as I was shooting in the direct line of natural sunlight which created lens flare and light concentrations. The value of ‘f/25.0’ allowed me to achieve optimum manual exposure whilst also creating some depth of field. I also set the ISO value to ‘400’, light sensitivity was mid-ranged. This manual exposure setting was a direct result of abundant natural sunlight. Subsequently, my image exhibits a good level of exposure, the image appears truthful and undistorted by loss or grain. When shooting this image, the camera’s focal length was mid-ranged… set at the value of ‘35.0mm’. This length combined with the proximity between my camera and subject allowed me to achieve a slightly shallow depth of field although it does appear to have compressed my image to some extent. Despite this, I feel that my manual settings balanced well between aperture, ISO and focal length. Working well to capture my subject in a way that appeared visually aesthetic, drawing immediate attention to the subtle details that are present within my images. Furthering my critique of fetishism within contemporary media.
It is interesting to mention that although the top image displays a small surface area of the vehicle’s paintwork, the surrounding area is reflected in the metallic paintwork. Power cables, pylons and buildings are just about visible in the distant but reflected background. I would argue that this adds a further dimension to this image as it reveals some contextual and locational information that surrounds the photograph. For instance, from the reflection, we can determine that this vehicle is parked/used within a suburban area. I would argue that this derives connotations of speed, wealth and modernity and thus intensifies the pressures and damage to which is present on my subject.
The second image may appear slightly flatter and compressed in dimension due to the lack of reflection. Again, depicting the exterior paintwork of the vehicle. Although this time, revealing a single dried leaf protruding from a crevice. Similarly, within the top image, the use of natural sunlight and close-up angle works to display in detail the tiny scratches and abrasions. I captured this image using a small aperture value of ‘f/25.0’, again due to my shooting conditions. Being in the direct path of bright sunlight but also shooting in a shaded area; a delicate balance had to be achieved between aperture and ISO. This value allowed me to achieve decent exposure and some depth of field and perspective. My ISO value had medium/high sensitivity levels, set to ‘800’. This again was a result to combat the effects of my shooting conditions being very sunny but also shooting in a shaded area. My focal length was larger than usual, set at ‘55.0m’. This allowed me to achieve a depth of field that was slightly more shallow than the top image, giving my subject a stylised aesthetic.
The sunlight present within this image accentuates the tonal contrast that is visible on the crisp brown leaf. The dark metallic black paintwork is starkly contrasted by the lighter coloured leaf that features differing tones of amber, brown and chestnut shades. I feel that this image, appears to exhibit detailed and pleasant aesthetics due to the tone, contrasting colours and clarity, as well as the seemingly perfect yet delicate appearance of the leaf as it curls and spirals inward partially utilising ‘the Golden Ratio’ or ‘Fibonacci Spiral’.
The lighting within both images is crucial here, acting to reveal and construct the photograph in intriguing and aesthetic ways. Both images focus on the exterior surface of the vehicle. The metallic black paintwork combined with natural lighting and camera angle, work to reveal microscopic details such as scratches and surface marks; working to represent the commodity form and thus critique the presence of commodity fetishism. The natural lighting that is positioned from the upper-left area of the image has created lens flare that passes across the image, this is an emblematic characteristic that epitomises capitalist advertising and commodity fetishism. Post-production process allowed me to make adjustments to tone, colour, clarity and contrast. Manipulating these levels gave my images a highly aesthetic and finished appearance that is stimulating and eye-catching. My images embody and epitomise a delicate juxtaposition whereby the grim, damaged and taboo are displayed and represented in a glossy, finished and pleasant appearance that invites critical reflection and analysis of commodification.
Set 2 – Interior Pressures
Set 2: This set focuses precisely on the internal forces that are exerted from human use/interaction. I have chosen to photograph a worn and well-used area of the car; the steering wheel. These images fully utilise techniques such as shallow depth of field and close-up shooting. This works to reveal subtle details hidden within the typically mundane areas of the domestic vehicle. The top image depicts a small area of the steering wheel, the volume control placed toward the right-hand side of the wheel. I chose to photograph this area because it is the embodiment of controlled convergence, where a delicate synergy is achieved between man and machine. This is one of the main areas of human interaction and control, thus appearing most used/worn. The damage and degradation that is depicted within these images connote temporality and ageing.
The top image appears highly aesthetic through the use of natural lighting and tonal contrast, making the image appear lustrous and mystical and pleasant to visually consume. However, the use of shallow depth of field guides the viewer’s eyes directly to the site of damage. Shooting in the manual setting provided me with a vast amount of control over how my images appear. I chose a medium aperture value of ‘f/9.0’, allowing a good amount of lighting ensured that the finish of this image was of high-quality and detail. The shallow depth of field within this image was a direct result of the proximity and focal length when shooting. My ISO was very high in this image, at the value to ‘3200’. High light sensitivity meant that the image sensor reacted adversely to the available light sources, this value was needed because this image was captured inside the vehicle, facing way from the path of natural light meaning that my image would otherwise fail to access decent exposure. As a result of this high value, some image loss/grain occurred. However, I would argue that this somewhat grainy appearance accentuated the depth of field and damage captured within the photograph which overall had a very positive effect on the appearance of this image. This photograph was captured with a large focal length of ‘55.0mm’ combined with a small proximity between the camera and my subject allowed me to achieve a very shallow depth of field. This worked well within my image again because this allowed my to accentuate the degraded nature of my subject whilst representing it in an unusually aesthetic manner.
The lower image depicts a wider viewer of the steering wheel, the identity of the subject is not obscured in any way. The aperture value of this photograph was set at ‘f.9.0’, this medium lens diameter allowed more light to enter the lens ensuring that high-quality and detail was obtained. Similar to the image above, shallow depth of field was achieved by small proximity and large focal length. As a result of shooting conditions and location, the ISO value had to be high again at ‘12800’. I made the conscious decision to shoot using a very high light sensitivity so that the image sensor would react adversely in order to create image loss and grain in an attempt to further accentuate the erosion and degradation of the leather surface. High ISO also allowed me to capture lens flare within this image. I wanted to include this because lens flare is a commonly regarded characteristic/element that is featured within commercial advertising. I would argue that the presence of lens flare within this image fetishized my subject further by directing communication discourses around magic, power and mysticism; giving my chosen commodity a mystical and desirable appearance. The focal length of my lens when shooting this image was a medium to high diameter, set to the value of ‘34.0m’. This allowed me to simultaneously achieve just the right depth of field whilst also exhibit strong detail and clarity.
Within the bottom image, the lower left of the wheel is immediately visible. However, in the blurry distance, the dashboard air-con and stereo are in view. Wear and pressure related damage and tearing is visible on the leather surface of the steering wheel, fully embodying the interior and human-based pressures that are exerted on the object. Again, here lighting is fundamental within these images, creating vast tone and contrast. Both images again were shot using natural sunlight that beams from the upper left of the photographs, allowing me to achieve and reveal immense detail, tone and contrast. The lighting within these images acts to accentuate the damage that is being portrayed, inviting critical reflection on our relations with the commodity form and the presence of fetishism capitalist culture.
Set 3 – Exterior Forces
Set 3: This set of images illustrate discourses that examine traces of external pressures that result from human interaction and environmental exposures. Both images depict different areas of the vehicle’s wheels, although they both approach and represent the subject in alternative ways. Both images illustrate the resulting damage. I would argue that studying the vehicle’s wheels are crucial within my project for a number of reasons. Firstly, the wheels are always in physical contact with the environment and surrounding areas meaning that they often exhibit dirt, scuffs and imperfections. Secondly, the wheels act to guide and control the direction and velocity at which the vehicle is travelling. Also relating to discourses such as freedom, speed and liberation that are often featured in vehicle marketing. Wheels are often fetishized within contemporary vehicle adverts, I utilised a similar strategy but presenting my subject in an opposing way that aimed to challenge and critique commodity fetishism that exists today.
I chose to photograph the wheels adopting a shallow depth of field and close up angles this worked well. I believe that this approach simultaneously created intimacy by bringing the viewer much closer to the vehicle than is normal, inviting observable detail and intricacy. The distance was also achieved through the fetishisation of the wheels, representing my subject as mystical or desirable…worked to obscure and separate the consumer from production processes and manual labour involved in commodity construction.
The way in which the alloy wheels were photographed created interesting lines and patterns within the composition, making the images appear pleasant in viewing and consumption. The compositional structure and shooting style of both images work to focus in and draw dramatic attention to the damage, scuffs and scrapes that were sustained. Lighting, aperture and angle, cast dramatic shadows and tonal variation within my images.
The top image features a shallow depth of field, as a result, only the right-hand side of the image appears fully in focus. Camera settings such as aperture, ISO and focal length allowed me to achieve my desired appearance. The aperture value was set at ‘f/9.0’, a larger lens diameter allowed more light to pass through the lens. A shallow depth of field within this image was achieved through the small proximity between the camera and subject combined with my focal length. ISO was set to medium sensitivity at the value of ‘400’, as the shooting location had abundant natural lighting outside. However, my subject was positioned in a shaded area, my ISO value worked to counteract this. The focal length of my lens was again set within the middle ranges, at the value of ‘32.0mm’. This allowed me to achieve the perfect level of depth within my focal plane, making my images appear visually pleasant and aesthetic.
The exterior damage is immediately visible and depicted graphically in detail. Further, toward the far right of the image, the edge of the tyre itself is visible. Printed on the tyre, the words ‘Steel’ and ‘Polyester’ are in focus. The presence of information and materials such as ‘Polyester’ and ‘Steel’ allude to production processes which further challenges the presence of commodity fetishism within vehicle advertising. Acting to reconnect the consumer with the previously hidden and obscured processes involved, with some prior knowledge and understanding of material implications on the environment… one could argue that this aims to draw attention to the costly and often damaging implications that are consequential within the manufacturing industry.
The lower image exhibits dark and contrasting tonal variations. Unlike in the top image, the aperture value was slightly smaller set to ‘f/6.3’. More light was able to enter the lens meaning the exposure and image quality was optimum. Consequently, the lower image features sharp detail and clarity that was portrayed through a shallow depth of field. The depth of field within this image was achieved through a delicate balance between subject proximity and focal length. Light sensitivity was average, set at ‘400’. Although the natural light was present, shooting happened outside on an overcast/cloudy day which cast strong shadows that gave this photograph tone and depth. Focal length was fundamental here, featuring a medium/large value of ‘44.0mm’. This allowed me to create a very shallow depth of field within my image which acted to guide the viewer towards the site/area of damage.
The viewer is guided by the shallow depth of field, angles and tonal variations to the damage and abrasions as it is the only area of the surface that is in full and detailed focus. Dark shadows and high contrast create a mystical and ambiguous photographic atmosphere. From the composition and angle, it becomes problematic to determine upon the first inspections what the actual identity of the object. Tiny flecks of dirt, dust and mud are also visible, accentuating the illustration of environmental tensions that are exerted upon the vehicle itself. Images are shot in full colour, creating tone and depth. However, due to my subject being a car and the areas of shooting, my images typically appear black and white upon the first inspection. This is interesting as it alludes to the truth and authenticity as Black and white photography is generally regarded as more authentic and reliable. The black and white appearance thus acts to counteract the surrealist overtone associated with traditional vehicle photography.