Heightened Visions

How imagery’s agency through modern day has come to prove somewhat dangerous– holding a new sense of uncertainty in an ever changing world. 


Images are often perceived as impartial records of what once was; a marker of time and place, in simpler terms. But how would you feel if I were to tell you that images are now no longer simply a record, but rather an agent regarding human experience? Wild, I know. But within a new age, and with the rise of digitalisation, images have come to be one of the most significant factors leading into pretty much every aspect of life as we know it. Digital media has permanently changed the way that we view images, whether it be more critically or with a certain degree of nonchalance. But does this new way of viewing mean that digital media has taken away the beauty of traditional imagery? And if so, what does this mean for us on a larger scale?


The question can be brought up whether or not images have begun to lose the significance that they once held, a more raw and genuine significance, due to the constant bombardment of images which surround us. Personally, I in no way believe that it is not that they are no longer significant, but rather that they hold a fully different meaning than was once present. Images can deceive. We can (and often are) easily fooled by what we see online– but this is common knowledge. Our understanding of what we see represented through the media is becoming somewhat of a trickery; a trickery which upsets our dire need for truth and the act of knowing. We need to shift the method in which we look at images and how the information transmits back to us in order to better understand a new variety of imagery. Think of it like this– some say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so with more left to analyze in said picture, should there not be more to say? 


When asked whether or not more must be considered when looking at new forms of digital media, UNIS teacher Ms. Frose says that “we need to be aware of any source data that we look at. Being familiar with the tools that are used has always been important”. When looking at newer sources, “the emphasis on AI is more predominant,” therefore, it is more important to look critically at things because of the wider variety of methods of sharing, rather than the tools that can be used to alter the information”.


The language of image is beginning to sound increasingly foreign to many of us, anything and everything we see online dictating our greater perception of society. Just think of everything you scroll past on social media on a daily basis. Sure, most of it truly does hold little significance… But think more closely along the lines of world events, social issues and so on. The images we see on topics such as these have the ability to hold just as much meaning as classical artwork or images seen in history textbooks. So why not treat them as such? It is how we choose to view these images which sets the implication for their reception back to us– a mistake that we often make. We are suffocated by a constant wave of information through images, barricaded within their constraints. These are the new records of our time, the new textbook images. They guide our thinking, our understanding, our perception, and our fears and doubts about an ever changing world. 


This leads me into my most important point, digital media’s connection back to classic forms of imagery– art. In general, classical art is not as hyper focused in the same way that digital images are, though the two share a lot of commonalities. The main, and maybe the only, difference between the two has to do with the outreach which they each gathered during the time of their production; how many people they reached and how many times they were viewed. So it is not that images are just now beginning to have the potential to have agency in our perception and understanding, but just that we are more susceptible to their effects, allowing them to have this agency. 


An example of how images are able to have such outreach was something mentioned in an interview with Tristan Hagan, a fellow UNIS grade 11 student. He stated that whenever out and about, there is always a sense of discomfort left lingering in the back of his mind that he may be being photographed or videoed– often seeing reports of such shared online. He lives a lot more cautiously, knowing that his actions may be documented at any moment. This issue is not just specific to Tristan, but rather, beginning to become a much more universal experience. 


Moving back to the similarities between digital media and classical art, one clear example presents itself within the domination of the female form. Objectification of the female body through modern media has always been extremely prevalent– us now being quite desensitized to such. But is it that this objectification has only recently come to light throughout media? Nope. The modern gaze truly does not differ much from century old beliefs. Historically, it is that women have continued to follow a pattern written out by males (whether they be artists or on social media), art and imagery sort of shaping this pattern of behavior which is still present to this day. It is just that now, more light is being shown on images contained in this category, allowing them to be more widespread. Once again, images having the potential to be a clear agent within human behavior. 


The beauty of traditional imagery has not been lost. Simply, reinterpreted in order to cater to a new world. Within a new age we are left more vulnerable, more susceptible to the weight that images carry us down with. Don’t let them slip past you, speak in the language of the image, understand the image in its entirety. A picture is worth a thousand words– make sure to read out each and every last one of them.