Development of photo ideas: thinking “inside the box”

Structurally recyclable, basically disposable is a project which will try to give a representation of the feelings and frustrations most often felt by interns with the aid of pictures and other visual means. Photographs are powerful tools and because of their power, one needs to test and be extremely precise as to the way in which an idea will be put in from of the camera. This post tackles the first phases of the emergence of samples ideas.

With every creative and artistic project, the final result is the outcome of long a process determined by research, processing of the information, creative thinking, samples, discussions and maybe more samples. One would probably expect me to start by talking about the research phase – that is about the conditions of interns in different countries – , but I find it more interesting to discuss the creative phase first, because it allows me to cut across sections and come back to it in following posts.

Starting from scratch

When I first started thinking about the way I wanted the photographs to look like, I browsed the photography section in my home library. I found an old issue of Yvi magazine, dating back to 2008, dedicated to the topic of consumption. Two particular portfolios struck me: the series on advertisement by Swiss artist Daniel Pflumm, whose collage of stills taken from television adds and programs is very effective as he tries to criticize the way in which mass media have entered our lives, influencing our decision-making power. Even when the theme of consumption is not directly related to my topic, Pflumm’s work encompasses a symbolic and denouncing force which can speak to a large number of people. The other interesting series was the “Slave city” by the Atelier Van Lieshout. It is a series of drawings and photographs of an imaginary distopian city where humans are used as slaves, work in call centers and are not paid. Only university professors receive a salary. The description also mentions that the city is “entirely ecological and profitable”. The slaves themselves are recycled when they are not apt to their tasks anymore. The structure of the city itself looks very elaborate: it extends thanks to arms-looking pipelines to encompass the main areas of life (sales, leisure, management, art, etc) and each structure has its own particular shape. The call center unit looks like a giant box surrounded by a black grid.

I looked at this structure for a long time before putting down some notes and ideas. I am far from giving a critical account of the drawings themselves, but I appreciated the impact the shape of the call center had on me. The box-like shape and the grids served to reiterate a condition of slavery, though by looking at the pictures of the modeled plastic slaves we can’t be sure of their mental condition. We assume, or I assumed, that since the entire society is built based on such a system, everyone is making choices based on the structures that are offered. However, there can be no free choice. Even death is not left to nature, as the slaves are not allowed to die of natural death, which would result in a waste of resources, but are rather recycled into new productive subjects. This analysis alone can offer us some parallels to the condition of interns nowadays. From a macro point of view, internships – originally thought out to serve an educational purpose – are now used by companies and organizations to cut costs and increase their competitiveness. Interns, in a world where choices are ultimately made on whether the results will create profits, are a means to achieve such an end.

However, unlike the slaves in the above mentioned utopian city, interning is a free choice. We willingly put ourselves in this situation. But is it always like this?

The virtual absence of choices

In some fields, the fresh graduate has virtually no choice but to start with an internship.This is valid especially for the so-called humanistic subjects. My colleague who, like me, dreamed of a career in human rights, know very well what I am talking about.

And when the choice is between an internship or nothing, those who can afford it will rather settle for a unpaid job rather than having a blank space on their CV. Isn’t it what we are told by career services? “Blank spaces in you CV are a bad sign for employers”.

Of course, if more decided to simply say NO to an unpaid or poorly paid internship, would something change? Maybe..

Emergence of a first idea: the box

To go back to my original topic, the virtual absence of alternatives made me think that it could be a good idea to try to re-create this idea of “barriers” to fit into the pictures. Photography can also be an exploration of space, the way in which we occupy it and make it ours, the way in which we sometimes are unable to change it.

A confined space: a box was the very first idea that came to me.

A box can be used to tell different things: the box is the internship, a space we willingly put ourselves in.

An open box. Open, because, in principle, we still have a choice as to whether we want to step into it, into the internship, or not. However, internships have nowadays become the way into the labor market.

Also, a carton box is normally, even with no symbolism, associated to something that can be reused, an object that can be stored for future re-utilization. A recycling box. But also a container for things that are useless, to be disposed of. Due to its nature, a box can contain all and its contrary.

If the interns stood or sat in the box, the viewer would get the idea of the presence of a constraint, of a relatively small margin of maneuver.

And, if appropriately displayed, the idea of recyclability could also be given a representation. If the subjects and I could work on facial expressions, an array of different situations could be accounted for. Of course the box itself is not enough.

I started making some drawings to take the idea further.

The box was the starting point. One of the first ideas I decided to test during my first “samples shooting”, a full day of shooting which took place pretty much in my garden and in the neighborhood surrounding my apartment. The spots were selected beforehand to provide with an ample choice of textures and backgrounds. Because the project will basically happen in different cities according to where the subjects live, I need to have a sufficient amount of predictability as to how good similar locations might look like at that time of the day, given similar light conditions. But this is the subject of subsequent post dedicated to the samples shooting.
The picture you see below is one of the results of the samples with the box as prop. I wanted to test how much the straight forward symbolism works and, whereas the idea of a box seemed to have a lot of success, the symbol itself does not seem to be necessary.
So we keep the box and get rid of the symbol. And on we go..

In this picture: Anne Abendroth

In this picture: Anne Abendroth

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See the exhibition

Berlin: Go to exhibition’s archive

March 5th to 26th, ACUD Galerie, Veteranenstraße 21 (see ACUD press release). Tuesday to Sunday, 2 to 8 pm.
The exhibition in Berlin is over – thanks to everybody for coming!

Hamburg: Go to exhibition’s archive

April, University of Hamburg – April 16th to 30th, University of Hamburg, Foyer des Unigebäudes VMP8, Fakultät für Erziehungswissenschaft Von-Melle-Park 8. Mondays to Fridays from 7 am to 9.30 pm and on Saturdays from 7 am to 4 pm. The building is closed on Sundays. See the exhbition post and the CampusGrün announcement for more information. The exhibition in Hamburg is over – thanks to everybody for coming!

Naples: Go to exhibition’s archive

May 10th to 31st, Archeologiattiva, via Duomo 228, Napoli.
Mondays to Saturdays, from 10 am to 20 pm.
Vernissage on the 10th of May with readings on the topic of internships by Raffaella R. Ferré, author of “Santa Precaria”. More about the exhibition.
The exhibition in Naples is over – thanks to everybody for coming!

Geneva: Go to exhibition’s archive

June 12th to 18th, University of Geneva, Uni Mail Bd du Pont-d’Arve 40, 1205 Genève; Horaires: lundi au vendredi : 7h30 – 23h; samedi : 7h30 – 17h30; dimanche : fermé. The exhibition is over! Thank you all for coming.


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