Anthony Espino / Kristiana Copp / Kayode Ojo / Jake McNulty / Bryan Krueger

Chasing The White Tiger

by Anthony Espino

20 Photographs Collected From Tumblr, 2010
Kayode Ojo
Jake McNulty
Bryan Krueger
Anthony Espino
Kristiana Copp

It has often been necessary for photographic artists to look to their predecessors for inspiration and a foundation for innovation. Due to the element of time, every photograph carries within it its own historical record, the record of its recording and its making. The notions of origin and genealogy are further inscribed in the photograph itself. This trait cannot be revoked unless the record is physically destroyed or deleted.

This inherent characteristic has provoked many artists involved with the idea of authenticity and the photo- graph. Strategies such as appropriation have allowed them to abstract the origins of the photograph—obscuring its original context and authorship making it’s orientation more flexible. Yet all photographs have a birth rite despite their careers post- creation. Each individual image is responsible for its temporal placement in time, no matter the intentionality of the practitioner. One might call this invisible trait the “soul” or “life” possessed by the image. Even more than an attribution of style or vision, this idea of the lives of photographs lends to the dignity of photographic tradition and valorizes artists who choose to honor this history. This model for photography stays relevant within many schools of photographic practitioners and justly so considering the art community’s demand for a product that displays skill or artisanship.

It has become inevitable to be aware of the term ‘Image’ as it expands upon the range of practices and development of photography; specifically photographs that go through a series or processes and results that expand upon the intentions of the artist. Some of these photographs may involve implementation of information and/or visual experimentation beyond the boundaries of the captured image. Not only have fine art photography’s processes changed, but also due to the introduction of the Internet as a promotional and creative platform, the transmission of images has changed. The Internet has challenged artists and all participants to reconsider their works within this shared digital space for their artistic and presentational value.

Not only does this new space create new opportunities for presentation and transmission but also an infinitely eclectic range of contexts formulated and administered by individuals or groups who maintain websites to showcase artists. This boom in communication has created countless network communities that surpass the limited memberships of the camera club of the pre-digital era. Artists have the ability to release their photographs into this infinite space to be viewed (and often redeployed) by a global audience. Communities such as Flickr, ModelMayhem, iStockPhoto, Tumblr, Getty Images, and ViewBook are joined by a constantly growing list of showcase blogs devoted to specific and often limited interests in photographic trends. These communities, which originally served as a sort of ad hoc promotional device, have become more self- conscious spaces for display and distribution similar to a gallery or local café. Depth is unfortunately limited due to the nature of the context and it is inevitable that these images are subject to rearrangement and potentially under-mined.

The social allure of gaining fame or international renown based on this free, open community has become irresistible for many younger artists. Also within these communities there has grown specific, shared desire for various forms of perfection, some of which lie outside traditional aesthetic categories. The competition for the Perfect Photograph but also for the ‘Weirdest Photograph,’ the ‘Most Upsetting Photograph,’ or ‘Most Unbelievable Photograph,’ has become fiercer with each freshly created portfolio site. A competitive attitude has established itself, with the possible payoff of notoriety or monetary gain. Open to all, these competitions for ‘Perfect Photographs’ nevertheless promote conservative, even retrograde formal standards long established and subverted by all of the existent photographic genres.

This recycling of content and lack of imagination has led many who seek recognition to imitate photographs by the artists they see in these online communities. In doing so, they are extending what we might call a visual homogeny, a large array of similar images whose form is more or less constant but whose details may change slightly. This type of homogenization provides a model of an organism that can only recycle itself. 

We might even consider Benoit Mandel-Brot for his continuation of the fractal theory of organisms that utilize their own patterns of substance to duplicate and multiply within a system of exact self-similarity. We see these patterns in nature and even forms of financial markets and geographical history where organisms and patterns imitate the supposed ‘original’ to create new organisms that are a composition of duplicates possessing absolutely no variance.

For the sake of analogy, consider the White Tiger. This beautiful beast is a highly popular animal that attracts tourists worldwide to affluent zoos. Unfortunately, White Tigers are an unnatural product of inbreeding. These tragic animals are categorized as “Perfect” once they possess the traits of blue eyes and a white coat. But that perfection is often flawed. Many of the inbred tigers possess physical and mental deformities. Roland Barthes, in The Pleasure of the Text noticed a similar type of repetition in the cultural realm: “The bastard form of mass culture is humiliated repetition... always new books, new programs, new films, news items, but always the same meaning” ‘White Tigers notwithstanding, the Internet has the potential to become a source for innovative display. Many organizations are engaged in the effort of supporting artists who are interested in these new developments (Rhizome, Turbulence, Adobe Museum, F.A.T. etc). There is tremendous opportunity in play, and a new responsibility to challenge the norms of photography is present. As they have been since the days of Daguerre, creatives involved with the discourse of photography are indebted to the advancement of technology for new ways to enrich the capacity for meaning of the still image. 

Kristiana Copp has joined
Kayode Ojo has joined
Jake McNulty has joined
Bryan Krueger has joined

KO: Hello thanks for coming on this chilly evening. First, I’d like to thank my corporate sponsors...My piece is pretty personal, and it comes from events that have occurred over a few years. It’s composed of an image of myself on the right and, the actor Djimon Hounsou on the left. I became interested in him when I was working on a project that came to involve conflict diamonds. Hounsou appeared in the film Blood Diamond and all I really want to say about that it’s a fascinating way to learn about people living in Sierra Leone and of course, Africa in general. Many of the works in this project were inspired by published media that awkwardly presented racial identity.

Anthony: Things like this?

KO: Djimon has had an interesting life: he was born in Benin, sent to Paris for school, became homeless, was
discovered by Thierry Mugler, worked as a fashion model, appeared in music videos, (Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul, Madonna), and then became a celebrated actor. In nearly all of his films he plays some sort of savage or slave. Recently he appeared in Calvin Klein underwear ads and in the piece I’ve used his words on that experience. I’m interested in the parallels, imagined or otherwise in his history, his roles, and his outlook on life (from this quote). It all collapses into kitsch. I’ve been thinking a lot about coincidence and cliche.

BK: Yeah, its really interesting to think about one leaving something and becoming famous by playing a stereotyped role of that something (referencing the movie roles you mentioned)
maybe not stereotyped, but Americanized.

JM: Fit for consumption rather then contemplation.

BK: Right, and that is not to downplay his role and outlook on his personal triumph - rather the system in which he struggles

AE: It makes me think about the sort of benchmark on the progression of black people in American media. The fact that it’s a triumph from his perspective to be selected for a Calvin Klein ad is ridiculous.

JM: Well I think the outlook says something that ties back to our previous discussion on social concerns, that acceptance means representing a brand.

BK: Playing oneself through another’s guise.

KO: So I’ve been photographed by many students at SVA and almost always topless and in contrast with someone really pale. I noticed that this particular photo bore a striking resemblance to the Calvin Klein ad. The text over my image is something I wrote as part of another project that uses the form of corporate advertising to describe a complex identity. There’s something here about destiny of representation, and in relation to the thesis of Anthony’s essay, an adherence to accepted models. When I made this I was thinking Djimon was misguided in feeling accepted, but now I’m not so sure. If the inverse was a world in which it was unthinkable to use this uber-African looking guy in high end advertising, then this must be a victory for someone.

BK: What I find most interesting is that yes, he may be misguided in feeling accepted given the environment he is being represented within. So that begs the question of asking if victory is representing or being represented.

KO: In a way, I’m guilty of this Hollywood Africa garbage by suggesting that his background has anything to do with that of the characters he plays. Shouldn’t he be able to play slaves on screen like any other actor. It’s kind of offensive to say it’s “too close to home”

AE: Sure, but if you were to harbor that guilt, you’d be allowing that excessive fairness to give into the momentum of those who overlook the ‘Hollywood Africa Garbage’ by playing it off like it doesn’t matter.

KO: In a way this work, this advertising form, becomes part of the problem. He looks delusional, and I seem like a victim. Somehow the subtleties of our lives gets lost.

JM: That loss of the persons life is where I see the issue. Acceptance is losing your identity for someone elses. Or at least thats the initial message I see from the quote.

BK: It plays into the problem because of the structure, yet detracts from it through the specifics, the quotes and achieves more - if a passive gaze looks over the specifics, the point is missed because it almost looks like a Calvin Klein ad. Such is the case with anything I guess.

KO: That issue is at the core of my process and presentation. What are you most against? What is the most effective context in which to rebel? What can be done about this great overriding inertia? 

AE: I have a note here that says: I think the unifying thread seems to be the influence of the recent development in public visual media (physical and virtual) and how that’s affecting our attitudes towards our own awareness of the still images that we encounter constantly. I feel like I threw this thing together pretty much based off a few principles and everyone sort of ran with their ideas in different ways. Despite that general direction, I think a lot of people’s finished products resemble things we see constantly but in intrusive ways. Like your ad for instance, Kayode. The way the logo resembles typical magazine advertisement logo designs and delivers content that challenges the viewer/consumer of information -if you will- to experience your intervention into the magazine format.

JM: Do you mean public visual media as in advertising similar things only, or all media that is out in the world for public consumption (including peoples flickr streams etc?)

AE: Yes. I think public visual media comes in all of the forms you mentioned.

BK: Yeah there is a certain familiarity that can be found in each of the works, to varying degrees, that temporarily places the viewer in a comfort zone, be it the logo and aesthetic of Kayode’s piece or the text in mine and Kristiana’s, yet when realizing that your looking at a work, it rips you from that comfort zone and makes you think about those familiar signifiers from another angle - thus shaping the way one individually ingests the image.

AE: And of course regarding images, I think citing flickr and other image streams is inevitable.

BK: I think grouping those flickr images in the text does the same thing too. Especially in the context of this project, those clustered flickr images really set the stage for the viewer to look at the works which follow as representations of the familiar.

AE: Jake, specifically regarding ‘Social Art’, how do you think your work falls into that category?

JM: Well thats the thing. I was mostly concerned in that work with the way information and forms of information exist and are spread through the world. I dont even know that it really had to be about photography as much that it was a largely relateable subject that was undergoing this change in how it works

AE: To me, the piece was completely about photography.The way that the images took different forms and the way the visitor is forced to experience these various process materials and what it means to deal with infinite prints versus the infinite reflections due to the pairing of the mirrors.

JM: Well on the surface it was because thats the area I was coming from discussing, but I dont know if for me it would have been that different conceptually if it had been an iPad issue of the times across from a rotting news paper. Maybe structurally it would have to be different. It was about photography, but it was also about the spread of information.

AE: Interesting, so you think works can take different forms and still maintain the same conceptual driving point?

JM: Well yea, thats how different work exists that discusses similar things, it would have just been a different work though, because that work was that form.

KO: So maybe we can discuss why hundreds of teens photographing the backs of their friends heads is a problem. It’s annoying, but does it have deeper connotations?

AE: I am not advising against photographing the back’s of girls’ heads, but I am saying that it’s a consistent subject that to me, represents the homogeny of straight photography that we’re experiencing right now.

BK: Well it is interesting that you chose the backs of heads as your example because the photographs themselves describe a certain anonymity

JM: Well I dont think they do anymore, or nothing beyond “you cant see who this is.”

KO: But I think the ‘Gay Photography’ we’re doing isn’t even related to lens based work, its in the realm of conceptual art AE: Gay Photography?

JM: A reaction to “Straight photography”

KO: Yeah, thats what im calling it now.

AE: Nice.

JM: Well, I don't think there is anything wrong with being a conceptual artist who works with photography. 

KO: But maybe the stuff we do isn’t even a reaction to Straight Photography. Is it necessary to compare them?

AE: Personally, I don’t think I’m comparing them, rather fusing them.

JM: Well I was about to say...

KO: Your essay basically says Straight Photography is stale, and that Net Art’s really cool, it’s kind of a non sequitur.

AE: Sure it does, but it simply addresses how Net Art among other practices provokes new modes of working/thinking. I think the limiting issue is that we’re drawing lines and categories between the two. Everything is blending and considering various categories without declaring any ‘Proper’ mode of working.

KO: Well do you guys think the Straight Photography you used to do relates to the work you do now?

JM: Where exactly is Straight Photography separate from Gay Photography?

AE: Well I feel like Straight Photography really requires the viewer to engage in a visual experience, one where you are thinking about the reality of the photography being produced in time as well as the intentionality of the photographer and the impact of the image’s figurative meaning..

BK: I consider Gay Pictures and I make Straight Photographs.

AE: Whereas what we’re calling ‘Gay Photography’ right now is not really dealing with that dialogue at all, it’s simply art utilizing pictures for whatever functionality it is attempting to challenge/engage.

JM: I really think we need better words to define these different practices.

KO: Hahaha

AE: Okay, so Bryan, would you say that your images with the matte board and the scanned index page reflect a reaction to photography or to the larger spectrum of art overall?

BK: I would say the work I’m doing now is a general reaction to the power of immersion images have on us (photographs or not). But I feel by using photographs specifically it puts itself in the realm of photography, especially since I have been making “straight” photographs in conjunction with my acts of appropriation.

JM: I like the drawing of focus onto the intent of an image. I think that a lack of response to intent and a reliance on response to for- mal content is what results in the images grouped in the essay. Or at least the disconnect from the viewers ability to take in the whole original image will bring that to their attention. It reminds me of a sort of photographic interpretation of the ideas in “Ways of Seeing” and other texts

BK: My piece or the grouping in the essay?

JM: Both I guess. I was referring to the encouragement of visual literacy.

KO: I think the matte board piece is pretty funny. It’s like when someone asks you to highlight key phrases in a text and you basically highlight the whole page.

BK: Yeah and in my case, I’d be highlighting everything but those key phrases, since all of the “narrative” information is removed. All there is left is a general context. I guess its the opposite of the punctum.

KO: Its interesting that at first it reads as a general overuse of mat board. Will a viewer make the leap to ponder your other implications?

JM: I think most will, because the reaction can only be, “Why so much mat board.” and with the general standard of a rectangular / square photo you assume something must be / have been there.

BK: That’s a good point, Jake. And that’s part of the reason why I use the strict 8x10 format - because it is very familiar. If I were to use a crazy panoramic or something like that, I’m not sure if it would work as well.

KO: I think its a satisfyingly perplexing contemporary art object. 

AE: I’ve added something to the collection. It’s a page that has all of the ‘Bleed’, ‘Slug’, & ‘Crop’ marks that you can enable in Adobe InDesign as ‘Printer’s Guides’. Ever since I’ve been working at an ad agency, making comps, designing presentations in InDesign, and sketching logos, I’ve been wrapped up inside of a process of creating multiple presentations upon presentations. I’ve found a lot of the materials we create in the office get thrown out due to imperfections or just simply because we had a meeting and we don’t need them anymore. I’ve spent countless days paying close attention to Crop marks and Bleed marks in order to create perfectly constructed presentations for visiting clients and I feel like this experience has changed my awareness when experiencing printed matter. The image in the center is one of the works I created in the Spring semester of my Junior year at SVA. It was in my exhibition “Coming Soon...” and I’ve had this InDesign file with the materials and title info for a while now. I’ve been consistently sending it out along with my resume to various sources in an attempt to deliver my work in an accessible format. I sort of stumbled upon it when organizing a lot of the Dear Dave files and I wanted to make a page that showcased the work as if it was still in early preparation for a monograph.

JM: I’m downloading a Quick Read Code scanner on my phone in order to activate the link.

AE: The url below the code is where the QR sends you. It is a direct destination to the a jpeg of the mug shot of Jared Loughner.

BK: I like the idea of the whole piece functioning as an inter step - nothing is final. The crop marks to the image we see in the center, which isn’t an end to itself, it’s a platform which takes the viewer elsewhere. I like the “apparent” contrast it presents with the finality of the magazine, our pieces, and our section as a whole.

AE: I think that the image I originally used was taken down or the site was removed but I like the idea that that QR Code is sort of a dead symbol that at one point in time functioned and now is the remains of a temporal cog in an imperfect technological system.

JM: I like what Bryan is saying. Can you explain the significance of Jared Loughners photo to that QR Code project?

AE: Well I made all of the QR Codes in one day and the system I was using to find the content that I was creating links for was based off of current news blog feeds that I had been viewing that day. The Gabrielle Giffords’ gunshot event was one of the popular articles and I remember being really struck by experiencing a tragic event as the news unfolded in a virtual/televised space. And the reason it has those swirleys all around it is because all of the works I did in this series were eventually produced as photogram. I wasn’t thinking about why I was doing this at the time, but looking back I believe that it was an attempt to make the imprint of the QR Code more valu- able in a photographic context as well as permanent mark of a temporary content portal.

JM: So a response to the way that with technology becoming such a large part of our daily time these events permeate our lives in a new way as well?

AE: Yeah, and I think using a photographic process to produce results of that experience helped me find a way to create an object that confronted the viewer in a way that might interrupt the typical allure one’s experiences when looking at a photogram with the content that I’ve prepared after experiencing it myself.

BK: The fact of it being so fixed does make the viewing of the eventual content seem that much more substantial. Primarily because you’re putting boundaries around it, whereas one viewing the link on the internet from the get go may have momentary amnesia when switching back to tab #1 to see whos updated their status on Facebook.

KO: For some reason, I’m starting to feel like this idea of using the language of other media isn’t that interesting because advertising uses it all the time. Like a fake surgeon general message: WARNING BUD LITE MAY CAUSE EXTREME AWESOMENESS

JM: I think that this way of working, that the end product taking the appearance or format of something else, is partly a response to the way that we take in the majority of the images we see, and partly response to how we feel about the way we take in images. Or any information. Trying to respond to a way of information dissemination, and at the same time making something that can lure in a viewer. I don’t know that I would compare it so directly to “Extreme Awesomeness,” but then that brings up the argument of where we draw that line, between those sorts of ads, a parody of those ads, and art. That is also a fairly personal definition, so it makes it even harder. I guess I think it comes when the piece tries to analyze that practice or media, and reinterpret it. It’s up to the creator of the new media or art to decide if this is a worthwhile technique / practice. It also depends on who you’re trying to reach, but that’s what everyone says about doing anything. I guess the issue after a while becomes am I beating a dead horse? Is this still worthwhile / going to change what I want it to, or going to change it or the people I want it to. And finally, is this still personally relevant?

BK: Also, when does work stop being a critique of something and become the answer to the problem that the critique is pinpointing?

JM: Which then ties all the way back to those groups of flickr photos, and out side of that advertising / cultural / art movements, when at some point people have to figure out if enough has been enough of a type of image, and if it is time to move on. 

AE: Kristiana, where did the images in your piece come from? Also, they seem to recycle each other as they cascade in their vertical form, it reminds me of Tumblr the way you vertically experience images. Also the blending really makes me think about the overlapping contexts that are created through Tumblr’s format.

BK: Yeah, it almost resembles how Tumblr would be represented in book form, reading in columns from left to right - horizontally rather than vertically.

KC: Each of these images were created by layering screenshots taken from which is a tumble log that records the “Best of Blogs” by only reblogging posts that have gained over 1000 notes (reblogs, likes, hits, etc). Each of the images in my piece were created by layering screenshots taken from this tumblelog’s archive that records the best of blogs by only reblogging posts that have gained over 1000 notes.

AE: Why did you choose this specific tumblr page? Or was it just a random selection?

KC: I chose this tumblelog for it’s representation of what is popular amongst the tumblr community but also for how it exists primarily by using the reblogging feature that allows for the ever-growing repetition present in Tumblr. There are similar sites that each tumblelog is equipped with which results as an archive that sorts its posts by months.

AE: I noticed that there are numbers arranged to each specific cascading grid, I’m assuming that they are 3 different collections that all come together in a collage in the 4th grid?

KC: Yes, the first three images (1, 2, and 3) represent the last three months’ worth of posts separately while the last image (1,2,3) is the three months layered on top of one another. The images seek to visually represent the blur of images that Tumblr produces through its everyday users. Almost all tumblrs seem to repeat the same themes and imagery. Although this over abundance of familiarity is not just limited to the Tumblr community but can be implied to the Internet as a whole.

JM: It’s kind of funny, I just noticed that the pose in the photos of Kayode and Djimon Hounsou their pose is the inverse of most of the back of girls head photos. Same basic pose, just faced the other way.

BK: Hmm thats true - and with the equalizing quotations, they almost achieve the same effect. By that, I mean Anthony’s grouping and Kayode’s pieces are both meant to bring up a point about representation - though obviously from different angles.

KC: Now that I’m looking at it, I’m pretty sure that the second from right image on the third line is the front of a girl just with her hair hanging in her face.

JM: Yea, the “The Ring” pose... kind of hard to tell, but I’m pretty sure you’re right. I’m spending way to much time trying to figure this out.

BK: Hah, and the girl with the big pink bow is facing forward. This changes EVERYTHING!

KC: I feel like everything is a lie.

JM: I’d like to retract all statements made during these chats, and over the last several months. Its kind of funny too, as the last thing Kayode said really calls into question the purpose of these discussions were having. Its the same questions we raise when talking about the work the essay is reacting to, and this discussion of our work is kind of a justification for our “rebellion.” Trying to figure out what we’re challenging and why, and how we can go about it. Though I’m not sure how much we really figured out, hah.

BK: I’m not sure how much we figured out either, but I suppose I can see from our general conversation and work as an upheaval against passivity. In respect to information, images, process, and identity.

JM: I don’t see it as a failure that we didnt ‘figure it out”.

BK: Nor do I. It’s hard to understand anything you’re steeped in. I feel our words and our works function separately. Our works kinda say it without saying, but showing our words is an attempt to figure out what we’re showing.

KC: Exactly.