Week 7 Activity: Aesthetic or Anaesthetic?

To represent is to aestheticise, that is, to transform. It involves a vast field of choices but it does not include not to transform, not to change or alter whatever is being represented’ (Levi Strauss, 2003: 9).
• Research and share on this forum, a particular body of work / exhibition / advertising campaign / coverage of a news event etc. which aims to convey a particular message. Ideally, this should be relevant to your own practice.
• Identify the message the work aims to promote and who you think its intended audience might be.
• Post to this forum a short critical outline of your own response to the relative success of this work in achieving its intent.
• Consider, highlight and respond to any key ideas raised by Sischy (1991) that you particularly agreed or disagreed with.
• Define and evaluate how these practitioners achieve this? (or not?)

“It is work that is sloppy with symbolism….it feels as if the artist’s work is being worshipped instead of examined.” (Sischy, 1991, p90).

In speaking about the intentions of photojournalists Sischy (1991, p91) notes how few have succeeded in calling people to action “Others have simply been naive-even deluded-about what they were doing. Still others are complicated mixtures of high aspirations and presumptions. It seems to me that Salgado is one of these.” I think I am one of the former with my project work.

Referring to Salgado’s quest for beauty and respect in his image composition Sischy (1991, p92) notes “And this beautification of tragedy results in pictures that ultimately reinforce our passivity toward the experience they reveal. To aestheticize tragedy is the fastest way to anaestheitize the feelings of those who are witnessing it. Beauty is a call to admiration, not to action.”.

In contrast Walker Evans photojournalism is “straight” and “naked” as noted by Lincoln Kirstein and quoted by Sischy (1991, p93). Perhaps like my in situ images, showing the subject as it is in its raw found state. Whereas my more creative compositions and manipulations in front of the camera and in the digital darkroom are possibly more in the style of Salgado. One example which illustrates this split approach is to be found in an image I took of a dead seagull. Either I could post this as is and perhaps upset some on instagram or I could make it into a creative image that retains the curious sight of the viewer for longer and is less likely to garner upset or angry comments from those who found the alternative distasteful. However as I do not know how it died and whether it was natural causes it may not be appropriate to post it on a site focussed on the damage to creatures from our waste.

Speaking of the challenges of using photographs to draw attention to suffering in the world Kimmelman noted:

“Photographers deal with this problem differently, but above all by struggling to make beautiful pictures: what causes any image to stick in the mind, aside from shock content, whose impact tends to be brief, are qualities like pictorial integrity and compositional originality, which are fancy terms for beauty. If your subject happens to be the dislocation of people and their suffering, then those people and that suffering become your compositional devices.” (Kimmelman, 2001).

I would suggest that both Salgado and Brandt have similarities in approach in that they take beautiful images, both with haunting qualities that remain in your consciousness, both in black and white, both to do with making the earth a better place to live on for all future generations. The differ, however, in how the images were composed and contextualised with Salgado’s images suggesting ‘this is how it was found’ and Brandt openly making available how he constructed his images and decided on the locations for them. He photographs animals whose habitats have been disappearing through the actions of mankind, transports and positions them in the transformed landscapes, to be taken as a final image for his collection Inherit the Dust.

My emotional responses to the images of both Salgado and Brandt differ when thinking about their impact in raising awareness which both photographers are reported to have intended with Genesis and Inherit the Dust. Maybe that has something to do with the plight of the subjects in the images: people (Salgado) versus animals (Brandt). Maybe is is to do with time, Salgado’s images come at a time when we are subjected to many images and films of people in very poor health in far off places and we may have become anaesthetised to such images.

Road to factory with Zebra, 2014 Nick Brandt

I think Brandt’s images are more powerful for me because they directly confront the changes that we have made to environments, many of which will have dreadful consequences for life on earth unless action is taken. While Brandt’s images are to be applauded for their compositional arrangements (e.g. such as the giraffes being juxtaposed against a background of cranes, the zebras being confronted by a train with stripes on the front and the hills lined up with those in the original images) there are interpretations possible that he might not have intended. Most, if not all, the images repeat the story of lives in poverty, possibly ad hoc/chaotic industrial and domestic building and an inability to manage waste. Thus Brandt seems to be delivering several messages which could place his venture at risk of overwhelming the viewers as there is so much to accomplish or because his ‘point’ or ‘purpose’ is missed and viewers are not tempted to ask why the work has been presented in this way.

In discussing environmental activism through photography has made me reflect not only on my work to raise awareness of debris in the sea and on beaches but also that of others who have made films about the waste problem we have across the world. Lay (2016) presents an easy to understand film about the Pacific Garbage Gyre and mentions Boyan Slat (2017) at the end as the person to clean up for us. For me this suggests that this is the only solution to the complex problem. While Slat and his Dutch company will be starting work on one gyre this year, there is much more to be done than collecting waste that has already been inappropriately discarded. Unless I have missed some information, The National Geographic 2016 film on the same topic also stops short suggesting that good farming practice is an answer to improving health and the environment. Both A Plastic Ocean and Plastic Ocean have more ‘punch’ in that they are at times shocking, films but also clearly present facts as well as potential solutions. The former being made by Plastic Oceans Foundation and endorsed by David Attenborough (Heaver, 2016). and the latter produced by the United Nations.

A Plastic Ocean, Plastic Ocean Foundation, 2016
Plastic Ocean, United Nations, 2017









What have I learned with this brief sojourn into aesthetics and impact in relation to addressing environmental issues? I am agreeing with Sischy (1991, p92). Beautiful images depicting concerns and plights have a place and can go so far with raising awareness but greater impact may be achieved with showing ‘it’ as it is and adding a visual narrative such a the contrast of background and subject in Brandt’s images and the two Plastic Ocean films. The use of text and speech in these films is more effective than either gentle or abrasive music which either minimises the problems or confronts the viewer head on in a challenging and potentially alienating way.

In relation to my work I will need to think about impact, not just for the course but also for the cause. Taking Brandt’s idea I wonder what response I would get placing huge billboards of my images of rubbish found on beaches on the beaches…?


A Plastic Ocean Official Trailer. 2 February 2016. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zrn4-FfbXw. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Brandt, Nick. Inherit the Dust. Available at: http://www.nickbrandt.com. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Brandt, Nick. 2016. Dust to dust: Animals lost in an African apocalypse – in pictures. The Guardian (5th April 2016). Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2016/apr/05/nick-brandt-inherit-the-dust-africa. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Heaver, Stuart. 27 November 2016. Plastic Ocean: it’s a must-watch for Attenborough. Available at: http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/short-reads/article/2048924/plastic-ocean-its-must-watch-attenborough. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Jordan, Chris. (2017). Albatross. Available at : http://www.chrisjordan.com/gallery/albatross-trailer/#trailer. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Kimmelman, Michael. July 13 2001. Photography Review; Can Suffering bBe Too Beautiful? Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/13/arts/photography-review-can-suffering-be-too-beautiful.html. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Lay, Peter. 3 April 2016. Pacific Garbage Gyre. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6kw96LjTzY. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Levi Strauss, David. 2003. Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics. New York: Aperture.

National Geographic. 16 September 2016. How We Can Keep Plastics Out of Our Oceans. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQTUWK7CM-Y. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Plastic Oceans. Available at: http://plasticoceans.org/about-film/. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Sebastiao Salgado. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sebastião_Salgado. [accessed 17-03-2018].

Sischy, Ingrid. 1991. Good Intentions. The New Yorker (9th September 1991).

Slat, Boyan. 14 May 2017. Boyan Slat: How we will rid the oceans of plastic (May 2017). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=du5d5PUrH0I. [accessed 17-03-2018].

United Nations. 24 May 2017. Plastic Ocean. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ju_2NuK5O-E. [accessed 17-03-2018].


Week 7 Forum: An agent for change?

‘So accustomed to being addressed by these images, we scarcely notice their impact’ (Berger, 1972: 130). Are we really so desensitised? If so, as Ritchin (2013: 74) asks, ‘How can we, in the best circumstance, strive to make images that might even help to diminish, or avoid, a conflict in the making?’

With your peers, you should now discuss the following questions:
• Can photography provoke change?
• How might it achieve this?
• Should we censor shocking subject material?
• What is the role of aesthetics?
• Are we desensitised today?
Illustrate your discussion with visual examples to justify your points.

Aberfan disaster 1966, photographer unknown

A colleague responded to this task remembering the disaster in Aberfan when a colliery spoil tip engulfed the school killing 116 children and 28adults on 21st October 1966. I too remember Aberfan and wondering what would it be like if it happened at my school with my younger siblings there with me and being horrified at the thought. I am always concerned about things being precarious and maybe slipping such as cliff edges and although these concerns may not have been a direct consequence of my upset that this had happened to children like me and my siblings and friends, I think it did raise my awareness of being mindful of potential dangers and taught me how fragile life can be.

Another event that is etched in my mind was the massacre of children and a teacher at Dunblane on 13 March 1996. Again at a school and involving children, but this time raising my concerns for my own children when they were out of my care at school. Unfortunately not only has gun crime involving children and young adults featured with regularity in our world news since then, survivors have had to live with chasing by the media and the publication of untruths at risk of damaging them and the memories of that event (Luft, 2009). I think we are becoming anaesthetised to such events because of their frequency and our seeming inability or unwillingness to take preventative courses of action even if this upsets the political gun cart.

Yesterday’s news included a moving speech by a young person at the school in Florida where his friends have been massacred recently, rallying other young people in the world to take control and sort it out as the adults do not seem to be able to. Families from Dunblane have reached out with support to them (Ochagavia, 2018). As long as there is a willingness and a strength in joining together we can come round from the anaesthetic to bring about change. In order to be awakened we do need to see and hear the truth about what happened in order to make the right decisions.

The walk out protests on Wednesday this week by schools and colleges across the USA are showing the world as well as their government that change must come in relation to gun laws. As well as professional news footage there is a plethora of amateur footage by students and families that is being used to show how powerful this lobby has become and that it cannot be ignored any longer (Yee and Blinder, 2018). With young people highly versed in modern day technology they have found a photographic and cinematic voice to show their concerns and state their demands.

In relation to my work on my project Beauty and the Beach… I am finding through Instagram (@sarahnewtonphotography) that images I post of potentially distasteful finds on beaches (depending on your sensibilities) are not as well liked as more aesthetically pleasing images. In turn some more abstract presentations of rubbish are even more popular.

Dead Seagull Sarah Newton 2018 20 likes
Alien white plastic on the seashore Sarah Newton 2018 30 likes


Fishing lure and hooks Sarah Newton 2018 24 likes

What does this tell me? I am not sure as I do not know exactly who has been looking and liking or ignoring the images, but I am getting a sense of trend. People may access instagram for pleasure, to while away the time, to search for things of interest and perhaps do not want to be reminded of unpleasant things and thereby consciously avoid the call to action and feelings of guilt. Perhaps they are anaesthecised to such images as there are thousands available now  the awareness of the problem is reaching governments and legislative stages? Perhaps they think it is all going to be dealt with now those in power have to make decisions about our waste on land and in the sea? Maybe it is the labels that I give the images and not the images themselves that influences likes. I think I will continue to post a range of more unpleasant to abstract images as looking at the latter people may also note the former and take the concerns for the environment and ourselves on board almost subliminally.



Luft, Oliver. 16 March 2009. PCC targets Sunday Express over Dunblane allegations. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2009/mar/16/pcc-targets-sunday-express-over-dunblane-claims. [accessed 16-03-2018].

Ekaterina Ochagavia. 13 March 2018. A message from Dunblane to Florida school shooting survivors – video. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global/video/2018/mar/13/message-from-dunblane-to-parkland-florida-school-shooting-video. [accessed 16-03-2018].

Yee, Vivian and Blinder, Alan. 14 March 20218. National School Walkout: Thousands protest against Gun Violence Across the US. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/14/us/school-walkout.html. [accessed 16-03-2018].

Week 6 Forum: Are You Drowning Yet?


Susan Sontag (1977: 174) gave the following description of photography: ‘Photography does not just simply reproduce the real, it recycles it, a key procedure of a modern society. In the form of photographic images, things and events are put to new uses, assigned new meanings’.
• Reflect on the contexts which are open to disseminate photographs today, eg, print portfolio, book, magazine, Internet, zine and gallery.
• Provide specific examples to support your comments.
• Evaluate their success or failure.
• Outline how each context might ‘assign new meanings’ to the work.
• Identify and reflect on ways in which this might inform the optimal context for viewing your own practice.

The list of possibilities for presenting photographs is endless. In addition to galleries and printed reading materials the internet has many ways of communicating including via social media. Then there are consumer products and publicity on public transport of all kinds including, on occasion, colourful advertising logos and messages in sky trails.

The history of war posters provides examples of enduring messages that are well known today. Eric Field was commissioned in 1913 to design a poster to encourage signing up to the armed forces. This was published on 5th August 1914 the day after Britain declared war on the German Empire. Lord Kitchener in his capacity as Secretary of State for War was in charge of recruitment of soldiers to fight Germany. He noticed Field’s advert and a group of ‘ad men’ were pulled together to come up with recruitment publicity. Ultimately it was Alfred Leete an illustrator with the firm Caxton who adapted Field’s concept and designed (following several versions) the more familiar Lord Kitchener wants you poster.

Alfred Leete 1914
Eric Field 1913
Committee of ‘ad men’ 2014

Copied in recruitment advertisements by many countries Leete’s design is thought not to have been the most widely used or effective during the war. Rather the one designed by the committee of ‘ad men’ is considered to have been more effective. However it remains Leete’s design that has inspired a plethora of imitations for a multitude of purposes.

A somewhat similar story seems to have occurred with designs for posters during the second world war. They were intended to boost morale and one in particular was saved to issue in the event that Germany invaded the UK. This was the well known Keep Calm and Carry On poster designed by the Ministry of Information. As Germany did not invade, thousands of copies of this poster were pulped and any remaining copies are now considered collectors items (BBC News, 2010).

Ministry of Information 1939

The Keep Calm and Carry On official and licensed store (one of many selling associated products) has many products based on the original poster from posters to iPhone cases, soft furnishings and mugs. You keep the Keep Calm text but can tailor the rest of the wording and the colours in the poster to suit yourself. So although not used in the war it has become very popular since. It’s use in more recent years appears to have coincided with the increased recognition of mental ill health and the need for people to receive wellbeing, moral boosting and empowering messages in daily life. Interestingly this resounds full circle with the original intention of this and other posters!

In my own practice I am at times torn between observing and photographing animate and inanimate things when seen and constructing situations or scenes when taking and/or processing images. I wonder which approach will serve me best. I think the former is for my personal memories to be kept to myself or shared with a few close relatives and friends and the latter is where I feel I am being encouraged to go for at least six reasons. Firstly, the MA Photography course is spurring me onto openness through experimentation. Secondly, I want to see how far my abilities in the creative sphere can go. Thirdly, I want to becomes more technically competent both in the taking and processing of images. Fourthly, I am now aware of the thousands of others who post photographs on social media of a very similar nature and style to myself. Fifthly, I would like to be able to show my work more publicly and to do this need be able to put together a collection that is worthy of such airing. Sixthly, although I may be making a small contribution through Instagram to the campaigns to clean our rivers, seas and beaches I need to see if there is a more impactful way I could contribute.

I have already experimented with having products made adorned with my images of beach debris and/or seascapes. These include jute bags, flip flops, jig-saws, cushions and canvases for the wall. So far given as gifts, I do need to see if I can source more sustainable materials and diversify the product range before moving onto marketing. One opportunity may arise later this year with a suggestion that in the next module we will be encouraged to exhibit. My exhibition could include these products as well as framed images and possibly a pamphlet or small book. What I am not necessarily seeking nor likely to get is a name for myself as a photographer with my chosen project Beauty and the Beach… (there are so many images available in this area and I feel mine are not unique). However, as with the war photographers whose names do not appear on all the products from their original designs I would be pleased if some of my images were to be used in furtherance of ‘the cause’.

Sarah Newton 2018

“What makes something interesting is that it can be seen to be like, or analogous to, something else. There is an art and there are fashions of seeing things in order to make them interesting; and to supply this art, these fashions, there is a steady recycling of the artefacts and tastes of the past.” (Sontag, 1977, p175)

BBC News. (23 March 2010). Rare WWII propaganda posters fetch £15,000 at auction. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/sussex/8583618.stm. [accessed 11-03-2018].

Keep Calm and Carry On. The Only Official and Licensed Store. Available at: http://www.keepcalmandcarryon.com/history/. [accessed 11-03-2018].

Lord Kitchener Wants You. Available at: https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Lord_Kitchener_Wants_You. [accessed 11-03-2018].

Sontag, Susan. 1977. On Photography. London: Penguin Books.

Wikipedia. 2018. Keep Calm and Carry On. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On. [accessed 11-03-2018].

Informing Contexts Week 1 Photography: The Shape-shifter

Through my planned research project my name has become associated with rubbish over the past two modules, specifically debris found on beaches and other waterside locations. With Blue Planet II and government policies across the world highlighting the concerns and advocating remediating action now I find I am riding an ever-growing tsunami of photographic images and films. On the one hand there is, unfortunately, no end to subject matter to photograph while on the other it seems increasingly challenging to find a way to present my images that would merit a unique selling point.

I am delighted with the creatives talents evident in others depictions of rubbish and although I may have had similar ideas, I have not yet been able to or had the means to execute them. Mandy Barker http://mandy-barker.com and Andy Hughes http://www.andyhughes.net are two such artists who have made a great impression on me. I mean to continue with this project encouraged by the responses I am getting to my posts on Instagram and the places it is leading me to. I have already visited an incinerator and also plan to visit and photograph recycling at centres locally.

I am experimenting with ways of taking and presenting my images. Getting down low and making the piece of debris large against a landscape/seascape is my attempt to try out a viewpoint used by Andy Hughes. However I have not quite mastered the technique or visited a local electrical shop to purchase a battery operated lighting system (a step up from my torch I hope).

As some will know I was also in a little bit of a dilemma last module wondering whether to focus more on sea and landscapes, that is the settings in which debris is found. I feel that I am at an early stage in this area but hope that my portrayals are improving as I move through the course and develop greater confidence to experiment.

Whether Instagram responders and likes are in any way indicators of reasonable photography work I have found it interesting to see that two images in this category have apparently gained more ‘votes’ and comments than any of myrubbish ones! The first was of a sunset and while I like the clean lines and relative simplicity of the image I would have thought others would have dismissed it as another sunset/sunrise postcard image.

The second was a first outing to the beach with my new crystal ball. I had seen some images on line posted by others and wanted to try it out with rubbish but tried its with a moving seascape first. Taken on my iPhone I had not noted the breeze or predicted the shakiness of my hands holding it while being ready to jump to rescue the crystal if it rolled off its perch! Hence the strange effect of moving rock. See @sarahnewtonphotography on Instagram for version with movement and sound.

Production of tangible goods relating to both beach debris and seascapes resulted in a series of cushions, jute bags and flip flops bearing my images. Well received as gifts I have yet to see whether they are marketable. I hope to source more recyclable materials and investigate adding images to them, if possible, without the use of plastics.