"Photography of the Subject: A Photobooth Snapshot to Reframe McLuhan"

The broad theme of my final paper is self expression versus self creation (both in relation to the concepts of 'identity' and 'self'). I plan to construct a new way of thinking about mediation and the presentation of the self's identity through the concept of the Photobooth. I plan to put a new spin on the traditional technical deterministic arguments of Kittler and McLuhan in suggesting that different possibilities for less mediated self-expression are made possible through mediation/mediating objects themselves, exemplified by the photobooth scenario. In comparing the photobooth to the voting booth (in which one is allowed to go only once, and once one leaves one cannot take back or redo what was done inside), I aim to show that not all media are resolutely deterministic, that agency through media exists. However, I do not plan to entirely scrap the technical determinist argument, for I want to also claim (drawing somewhat from Williams' writing on the concept of 'social practice') that the determinism of the medium of the photobooth—in that its very 'work' connects people (whether it is the actual coming together of two or more people to have their pictures taken, or for instance, a soldier taking his picture to send to his mother over seas)—allows for a potentially wider/broader range of less mediated selves to be experienced by the subject (who can take as many pictures as s/he wants; the issue isn't foreclosed once the subject leaves the booth—as it is in the case of a voting booth—the subject can return for an endless number of times.) —*I'm not sure how to deal here with the fact that s/he may be limited to how much money s/he has, though I'm willing to overlook that at the moment in light of the main thrust of my paper. The photobooth becomes an environment for expression that is less mediated than that in the outside ('real') world by establishing a space in which one is conscious/aware of one's identity, and one's own presentation of it (all behind a curtain).

(footnote: *It is from the concept of the photobooth that I draw the title of my paper, for the photographed subject is also the photographer in a photobooth. Also, the subject can see his/her own reflection in the photobooth, and therefore can gage and adjust his/her facial expression to his/her liking (i.e. to project the identity s/he wants to be perceived by others))

Drawing on a quote from a short story that was used to describe Juan Munoz's sculptural work (“… trying on names as if they were hats…”) I aim to construct a photo-project that will explore the relationship between one's identity and the hat (taken in the broadest sense of the term) one puts on/wears. The hat—it's an incontestably 'charged' object. For one, it has a function; it serves a purpose—one of practicality: it blocks the sun from getting in one's eyes, it keeps one warm, it protects an individual from actual, physical, bodily harm, it can even combat a bad hair day. Then there is the seeming symbolic (I'm not sure if that's the right word) value of the hat, as it is considered 'proper' to one's hat off as a sign of respect in a home or a place of worship for instance. The 'content' of a hat—its implied meaning—seems to have the potential to reach even further, beyond the symbolic realm and towards one that is indexical, as a particular hat has the potential to indicate one's social status, occupation, political views, and possibly even one's personality. There's a sort of simultaneous showing-and-telling, a type of performance, at play in wearing a hat, a concept emphasized by the tradition of taking one's hat off as a sign of respect having originated from the fact that cowboys did so in the presence of allies in order to indicate that they were weaponless and had nothing to hide. (I have only heard this anecdote through the grape-vine, and it might be complete nonsense; but it works with my argument so I'm going to use it at the moment!)

My Project
In My Project, I want to explore the idea that something as significant as one's identity can be tried on, assumed, and taken off as easily as a hat… pointing to the fact that certain people actually select to wear particular hats in order to assume a new identity. It consists of the following staged conditions: there will be three hats. Each subject will be photographed (from the shoulders, up) first by me (two pictures for each hat), then by themselves with the aid of a mirror (in order to syndicate the photobooth experience), wearing each of the hats—all for a grand total of nine pictures per subject.

- Before taking the pictures, I will say to the subject: Obviously the hat is 'loaded' object that has both personal and wider cultural implications, each one marking certain forms of discourse, be it racial, gendered, political, etc. When wearing each of the hats I give you, what's going through your head? Are you consciously trying to play the role of one who you think would choose to wear this hat? If so, how successful are your efforts? (judged when the subject is shown his/her picture)

- So, for the two pictures I take myself, the subject will be instructed to first put on one of the three hats and wear it as s/he would expect someone who 'typically' would choose to wear that hat does. Then, the subject will be asked to pose for a second picture, this time wearing the hat as s/he (the subject her/himself) would wear it. These two pictures will be taken when the subject is wearing each of the three hats.

- Each time a subject wears one of the hats, s/he will also be instructed to take a picture of his/herself (really his/her own reflection) by way of sitting in front of mirror with a camera pointed at one's reflection

- I also will have each subject sign a piece of paper; though this doesn't relate directly to my paper, I think it's interesting to think of one's signature as an integral element in defining one's identity; I think it'd also make it feel official (as though they were verifying that, yes, it's actually their own, 'true' selves that they are presenting to the camera to be photographed and recorded for all of time!)

Here are some of the questions/issues I want to try to get at through my photo project:

- How aware are we of the hat as a (fecund) site/oasis for self expression? As an object of self expression?

- When wearing a particular hat, will the wearer try to wear it as an actual, typified wearer of the hat, or will s/he wear it as a wearer of the hat—one who is conscious of the staged circumstances and the photograph? Furthermore, will the subject succeed at exhibiting (communicating)/concealing whatever they are feeling or whatever is going through his/her head at that moment by way of his/her facial expression (face as medium)?

- Anyone can put on a particular hat, but as far as one's identity is concerned, does/can one (and to what extent) assume the identity that the hat connotes? Does one simply embody that identity, or can one actually BECOME that identity?

- How far can a piece of apparel, such as the hat, go in so far as its ability to convince others AND THE WEARER HERSELF that she is actually rich, poor, black, white, young, old, etc? (Consider the fact that actors say their performance is greatly enhanced/altered by the costumes that they wear, that putting on the costume and makeup is termed 'GETTING INTO CHARACTER'.)

- Also, what about the fact that individuals actually don a particular hat in order to indicate their place in society; someone who is poor and looking for a job will literally put on the hat of another identity—that of a successful, well-dressed individual—by wearing a hat that is symbolically polished and respected.

- What does it mean when one purposefully defies the functionality of a hat? (eg: inside out, mutilated, a visor (which did serve to block sun?) that's flipped)

The fact that the recording medium used in my project is photography is not simply a matter of convenience; it explicitly has to do with the fact that historically, photography had been considered a documentary medium—one that 'sees' better than the human eye; one that simply captures what's there, the 'truth' of what's there. (don't worry, I plan to give some more official background on the evolution of photography and its course from being thought of as a purely technical medium to one that one can used for artistic expression as well.)

The title of the photographic portion of my final paper is 'For Fear I'd Bat My I' taken from the signature on the back of a self-portrait (one that was photographed by the subject sitting in front a camera and her taking a picture of her reflection) presented in a book called 'photo booth;' the play on the word 'eye,' replaced here by 'I' (indicative of the self), accentuates the conflict in self and presenting or representing that self. Who or what fear does she in fact fear she'll betray?—her self (compare with 'herself') or the persona/image of herself (her self?) that she was trying to communicate/represent/embody/present; I am intrigued by the implications of this little quote in reference to the idea that there's something in ourselves that is out of our control, almost separate from our selves.)