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Photojournalism and Documentary Photography

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Shadows of Reality

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“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” (Anais Nin)

Masks are arrested expressions and admirable echoes of feeling, at once faithful, discreet, and superlative. Living things in contact with the air must acquire a cuticle, and it is not urged against cuticles that they are not hearts; yet some philosophers seem to be angry with images for not being things, and with words for not being feelings. Words and images are like shells, no less integral parts of nature than are the substances they cover, but better addressed to the eye and more open to observation. I would not say that substance exists for the sake of appearance, or faces for the sake of masks, or the passions for the sake of poetry and virtue. Nothing arises in nature for the sake of anything else; all these phases and products are involved equally in the round of existence, and it would be sheer willfulness to praise the germinal phase on the grounds that it is vital, and to denounce the explicit phase on the grounds that it is dead and sterile (George Santayana – From the beginning of Erving Goffman’s book “The presentation of self in everyday life”, 1959, p. 7).

I’ve always been fascinated by Greek mythology and especially by the Myth of the Cave, an allegory used by the Greek philosopher Plato, in his work “The Republic”. In the fictional dialogue, between his master Socrates and Glaucon, Plato’s brother, it is described as a group of human beings who live chained to the wall of a cave, for their entire life, facing the wall. Behind those people, there is a fire that projects shadows on the wall by things passing in front, and the only things they can see, on the blank wall surface, are forms of these projections and not things in themselves. According to what Socrates says in the dialogue, these shadows are as close as the prisoners get to view reality. He also compares the philosopher to the freed prisoner: both of them come to comprehend that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners. The Myth of the Cave is related to Plato’s Theory of Forms: these “forms”, also called “ideas”, are the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. Only knowledge of the forms constitutes real knowledge. In addition, this allegory is an attempt to explain the philosopher’s role in society: his duty is to enlighten the “prisoners” and provide them an understanding of reality.

I used this allegory as an inspiration for my final project. With this work I wanted to investigate the role of mask and identity in the human being, as well as the role of the photographer as an observer and witness of the reality that surround us. I believe that the duty of the photographer in society, as in Plato’s allegory, could be compared to the role of the philosopher: he needs to find a way to represent the forms that surround us, capturing the reality of their essence to make people more aware of reality. My objective was to put myself, as a photographer, like the observer who tries to capture different aspects of reality, in a position to enlighten people’s perception of reality.  As human beings, we tend to individualize reality and, accordingly, different people’s perception of reality can be quite diverse. Photographers have the opportunity to display these differences and manifest their perception onto others.

In order to do this, I choose three examples of different groups of people, which I believe accurately demonstrate my assumption of forms as a means of knowledge for reality: halloweeners, cosplayers, and live action role-players. I find these groups of people particularly interesting for how they present themselves to others and how they experiment with their actions and appearance to those external to their group. All three of these groups use masks and dress up in order to express themselves. A passive observer would say that the mask is merely a technique to cover the real identity. I’ve always believed that it is just the opposite: a way to explore the inwardness, more or less consciously, in order to communicate to the rest of the world. Different masks do create different identities, and the interesting thing is that they coexist in the same world, giving an example of different perceptions of reality.

Paola Sarappa

Here you can see the full preview of the book:

The exhibition will take place at London College of Communication in the following days:

14th – 23rd December 2011 and 4th – 14th January 2012, Mon to Sat 10am – 5pm

Written by Paola Sarappa

27/11/2011 at 3:40 pm

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