As ever with Mr Bowie, the trendmeister’s new release highlighted a deeper visual and cultural driver. We track visual change in the IMSO blog over the year and extract five image trends to consider for 2014
Drum roll….the year’s big traffic drivers to IMSO were our Visual Trend Briefings on Business , Family and Conceptual Advertising imagery – “surely not?” you say, raised eyebrow, tongue-in-cheek. Well yes, images of Business, Family, and “Conceptual” imagery are the ABC of stock photography – some trends are highly predictable. But our popular visual trend briefings highlighted the shifts in the visual construction and composition of these images, reflecting new social, cultural and economic drivers.
And at the heart of everything on IMSO, we look at the wider visual languages of exhibitions, magazines, cinema, social photography all the imagery that art buyers, designers, art directors and the public are actually immersed in. Why do we this? It’s only when stock photography limits itself to other stock photography for inspiration, when it exists in its own social, cultural and visual vacuum, when it’s emotionally patronising, that it becomes one of those funny, mocking posts shared around the web.
The IMSO blog explores very different kinds of imagery to reveal how photographers can create imagery to connect credibly with consumers, and most importantly to help buyers keep abreast of changes in visual culture. To understand how visual culture changes at the margins (you have to look at the right ‘margins’!) is to get a unique insight into possible directions for different kinds of image-making. On that note, keep an eye out for some fascinating interviews and features related to our Matures/Seniors briefing in 2014.
So aside from the big reports we deliver, we have analysed some of the other big traffic drivers on our blog in 2013. The 5 trends here are ideas that sit below the surface of some popular features. Like any potentially useful trend insight, these ideas highlight groups of data and give the grouping a new name. Back in the 1990s as a broadsheet journalist writing on Art, Media and Pop Culture, giving a new name to a cultural or musical trend, and seeing it pass into everyday usage was every young journalist’s cheap thrill. But in truth these new word mashes was simply a way of making sense, telling the story of how our culture was adapting to and shaping social and technological change.
One-part analysis, one-part speculation, one-part necessary creative tomfoolery, these names aren’t tablets of stone, but thought-provokers for photographers, Art buyers, Designers, Art Directors to spot new opportunities. They’re signposts of change.
Take two words – the more unrelated the better. Mash together. Make the new word easy to slip off the tongue. Puff-of-smoke and… “Hey Presto! New Trend!” While it’s well known that Trend-spotting is a subset of the Magic Circle, the fact is, sometimes we really need new words to capture the change that is really different.
So let’s talk “Mythography”.
Mashing together ‘Photography’ and ‘Mythology’, Mythography pictures our current passion for photographic myth-making, for mythologizing the camera and even the act of taking a photograph. Photo critic Susan Sontag once wrote, “Today everything exists to end up in a photograph.” When Sontag said “today” she meant the 1970s, before smartphone cameras and all its evocatively instant-history software filters.
In 2013-2014 even photography itself exists to end up in a photograph. This year we saw the phenomenally successful Videre a cardboard pin-hole camera created by Brighton Illustration Graduate, Kelly Angood. This good-looking, ‘flat-pack’ assembly, medium-format camera was a practical homage to the age of classic photography.
There was Benjamin Von Wong’s Nikon symphony created from the mechanical sounds of the Nikon camera, and of course there was yet more obsessing about the selfie – this time the selfie’s social etiquette – when Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Denmark’s PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt recorded their group ‘selfie’ at Nelson Mandela’s Funeral.
Or take photographer Christopher Dawson’s Coverage project, which covered the coverage by photographers and media of news events. Lifting the curtain on the machinery behind news events Coverage adds to the myth as much as demystifies it, a fascinating catalogue of media logistics and event management.
And finally there was Philip Lorca diCorcia’s East of Eden exhibition, an exhibition exploring the myths of Modern America, and what happens when the promises are revealed to be empty. The title references John Steinbeck’s Depression novel East of Eden. But diCorcia’s show is also an exhibition about looking and seeing – ‘Andrea’ the blind lady walking her dog in the forest; or blind couple ‘Lynn and Shirley’ in their Dining Room; or the images in our mind that overlay ‘Sylmar, California’, a picture we see through the mythic filters of Westerns, of Marlboro Man, of the romanticism of American 19th century landscape paintings.
As we head into 2014 in the mainstream world of smartphone imagery, photography is less about the image and more about the photograph as a ritual of sharing, of asserting one’s presence, of sending a signal out on social media that ‘I am here now’. At one level, to use the internet metaphor of the ‘Hive’, photography as used in social media is much closer to the chemical signals animals and insects send to each other. People in general are so much more familiar with the codes, the visual languages of imagery and media in general. In a recent feature on Ad Age regarding the use of ‘mythic’ anchorman Ron Burgundy by Dodge to sell cars, Tom Denari highlights just how familiar we are all are with the codes of visual culture – “Ad Age wondered in October whether Ron Burgundy’s humor would go over the heads of its audience. Don’t worry. While Americans are falling behind in math and science scores, we continue to be really good at watching TV. Let’s stop saying, ‘I get it, but I’m worried that my customers won’t.'” Ditto imagery in general and photography in particular. The ever-increasing awareness of codes of imagery by the public at large – who are also producers of imagery, and publishers (blogs) – means the whole process of image-making will continue to become more ‘mythic’. Like in this film by Matthew Frost we blogged about in February, which has a bit of fun at the expense of visual and cultural trends. As the viewer ticks off the social and visual codes the film pokes fun at, the film-maker knows that like the heroine, we are also absorbed in the sheer pleasure of the image.
2. Post-Cowboy Capitalism
‘Scuse me while ah use the spittoon. The cowboy in advertising has long stood for a kind of rugged individualism, a frontier figure, whose ability to rustle up a living whatever the circumstance seemed a rough analogy for business folk – well, men in any case. Even the language used by some commentators to describe some aspects of the emerging economies – ‘the Wild West’ – betrays a sneaky admiration for not-yet-wholly-regulated business worlds.
This year has seen the return of the cowboy, not ‘movie cowboy’, but the worker-cowboy (remember even Shane was a nomad Cowboy looking for work). It began with a Superbowl ad for Ram Trucks, God Made a Farmer entirely curated from photography.
There was Joel Wintermantle’s wonderful State Fairs Project
documenting a dwindling American tradition, the photographer revealing a transient, mobile culture of rodeos, pig exhibitions and rooster-crowing competitions that exists below the radar of cool-hunters.
There was Luis Fabini’s Horsemen of the Americas project, and Ashley Jouhar tracked the long journey of Richard Avedon’s American West project, from a book of portraits to becoming the default visual language for jeans advertising.
Post-Cowboy Capitalism sits on the spectrum between 1) The ongoing craft/handmade trend expressed in Image Source Photographer Julian Love’s Creative Review award-winnning Handmade London project and 2) The celebration of hubris-free entrepreneurialism in agenda-setting magazine The Smith Journal.
Trend? Go West!… Or East…?
3. Neo-Geo Plus
Back in the mullet-powered, Delorean-driving, shoulder-padded 1980s, Neo Geo was an art movement – “Neo-Geometric Conceptualism “ – represented by artists such as Jeff Koons and Peter Halley creating images and art with figures ripped away form their ‘natural’ context – like Jeff koon’s basketballs suspended in water. Championed by such as Charles Saatchi, it was also very 80s, so even though it felt like a marketing ploy, it also felt like Art being a sign of the times – creating commercial art to highlight a new relationship between money and art. Neo Geo’s exuberant celebration of commodities and pop culture reflected the decade when Financial markets were deregulated and capital could flow across the globe more freely.
The Geo in Neo-Geo Plus refers to Geography, to photographers, artists and graphic designers obsession with mapping. From Edward Burtynsky’s epic mapping of our modern eco-system in his show Water at the Flowers Gallery London;
to Alys Tomlinson’s portrait project Following Broadway, mapping human co-ordinates on a journey through Manhattan island.
And Justin Lewis’ 70 Degrees West documenting the diversity of life on a single line of longitude that subtly recalibrates the relationship of humans and the environment.
And at the end of the year, Verity Fitzgerald’s poignant Robben Island project, which used photography to revisit the history of Nelson Mandela.
Neo Geo Plus is a visual trend linked to both the elastic idea of sustainability, the idea of being anchored, and the expression of a desire for discovery – no surprise Image Source’s best selling image in September was this travel image by Gary John Norman. Or that our interview with designer Fernando Gutierrez on the wordless issue of Colors, an extraordinary visual journey from outer space to inner space proved to be massively popular.
If the original Neo-Geo was rooted in the new freedom of money and entrepreneurialism, Neo-Geo Plus expresses both a desire to locate ourselves and a desire to experiment, to make our own new maps of the future.
4. Tonka Tech
As manufacturing heads from the traditional developed economies to the new BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) we’ve been seeing an extraordinary interest in industrial imagery. From Monty Rakusen’s factory shoot, to new graduate Bartek Furdal’s Hard-Hat portraits to Nadav Kander’s campaign for Morgan Stanley with double-exposures of bank employees and the infrastructure, architecture and factories the company invests in.
But Alex Boniface’s feature The Cult of Maersk generated as much traffic as you could fill in Maersk container. Like the classic Tonka Toys whose popularity seemed to grow in the 1970s just as the West’s industrial economies began to stagnate, the appeal of this extraordinarily popular imagery is about scale and size. Maersk’s containers are our industrial version of Mont Blanc, the classic, Romantic’s view of awe-inspiring nature.
5. The Double-Take
Just like the credit-crunch which threw financial petrol on its vintage, log-fired, authentically-real flames, the ‘authenticity’ trend may have finally flamed out. Certainly this year one of the major visual trends has been the visual Double-Take – originals and fictions, the young and the old, the-now-and-the-then.
Starting the year with the startling surprise of the first David Bowie release in 10 years and his promo The Stars Are Out Tonight where the cosmic one with the mismatched eyes meets his younger self.
Then there was Image Source photographer Noriko Takasugi’s haunting Fukushima photo project, shooting local Samurai in the devastation left by the Tsunami – powerful images of resilience and strength in a devastated landscape.
There was Cara Sykes’ Mother and Daughter project, a whimsical, sweet, joyful project exploring identity and kinship.
Our own Leonora Saunders’ photo project, shooting women working in traditionally male jobs, a celebration of female ambition and commitment succeeding against the gender-odds.
And the enchanting, charming and conceptual Afronauts project by Cristina Middel at the 2012 Deutsche Borse prize, a masterly concoction of fact and fiction.
The mechanics of the Double-Take in image-making is simple ‘compare and contrasting’ of one kind or another.
Looking at the imagery displayed this trend is partly about exploring identity, about fluid identity, about playing with images and self-image. Like this project by one of our photographers Leland Bobbé – Half-Drag, A Different Kind of Beauty. The feature on this not only proved immensely popular on our site, but Half-Drag was one of those pass-along projects, a viral hit, that made people Double-Take – “have you seen this!?”
The Double-Take trend, in photography and design (see the Bowie cover) is expressed in a variety of different kinds of image-making, but at its heart is a little bit of cheekiness, a willingness by photographers to challenge assumptions with a little bit of wit, charming the viewer. It’s a different way of flattering the intelligence of the audience. Art Buyers, and Brands looking to forge a connection with viewers that appeals to hearts and minds, would to want to consider imagery that delivers emotion and idea, that allows the viewer a little time to unpack it.
It’s an expression of an awareness of history and visual forms. It’s playful and provocative and expresses the fact that in 2014, we are so steeped in visual culture, its codes and history and nuances and presents a creative challenge to image-makers and users of every kind from Photographers to Art Directors. Creating engaging work for a deeply-knowing culture means recognising that an intuitively sophisticated audience will respond to work that talks in that language.