Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Design Plan for Photo Essay (Revised)

I have two main goals for this project: to become more versatile as a communicator by learning to incorporate images into a text (something with which I have little experience), and to create a piece which will inspire my audience to think critically about the commonplace. Specifically, I will introduce to the audience the idea that truth is invariably constructed to some extent via signs, whether they be linguistic or pictorial, and that even through such seemingly transparent media as photography and film, one could only hope to possess a partial representation and not a neutral record of reality. My intentions are ultimately rooted in Socrates's dictum that "the unexamined life is not worth living." I hope that others may not be dismayed, but fascinated by the perplexity of the world, so that they realize the uniqueness of human life and the necessity of exercising their rational faculties.

Part of my audience is comprised of my classmates and professor. The larger audience I hope to reach consists of high-school and college-age students whose epistemic attitudes have deviated little from the "commonsense" view of reality (that there is one truth independent of the subject and faithfully conveyed by signs). This group will most likely include those with no background in philosophy or semiotics, and who are not familiar with academic parlance. Despite this, they are insatiably curious about their surroundings and willing to examine themselves and their beliefs.

My classmates are going to receive my text in an environment which may not be ideal for stimulating intellectual discussion. It is towards the end of their school day and after lunch, meaning that they are apt to feel lethargic and unreceptive to ideas which fail to provoke their interest. Simultaneously, my colleagues are a part of the more general audience to which I alluded, who are at a time in their lives when they are establishing new identities in the world. They are searching for themselves and are becoming more and more independent of their nuclear families; therefore, some may reconsider the dominant Weltanschauung. My piece will be an appeal to those seeking alternatives, and an insinuation to those who have never seriously contemplated their most basic assumptions about life.

In this project, I will be using a combination of text and images to achieve my purpose. For my pictures, I will use natural objects which are easily accessible, such as fruit, so that I may denaturalize them (illustrating the artificiality of their representation, and/or the relative arbitrariness of their categorization), thus jarring my audience and evoking thought. I will accomplish this by incorporating different icons of the same apple and angling the headers in the slide show to resemble a stem of an apple (the body of text lying underneath), and also by using the "organic" theme in Microsoft Powerpoint. I have also thought about the potential uses of light and shadow. The “natural light of reason” is an allusion to Descartes that I could use to demonstrate the necessarily perspectival element of knowledge (the “light,” after all, belongs to an individualized consciousness in a particular locale). Darkness naturally lends itself as a symbol of ignorance and of the unconscious (those seemingly uncontrollable elements which seep into one’s communication).

I hope to establish an ethos that is authoritative yet relatable; that is, I would like to exhibit my knowledge without coming across as pedantic. I must try to raise serious academic questions in a lighter, more playful manner through images that will be intriguing but not frustratingly difficult (for I do not have the space to explain all the minutiae, as much as I would like to). I will achieve this by including cultural alusions which will indicate my frame of reference, establishing my credibility with those who have the proper background, while also limiting my use of jargon so as not to alienate those who are new to the topic. Accordingly, in regard to typeface, I will select a font which is neither too ornate nor too dull, but elegant and at least semi-formal.

I would like my pathos to be bizarre and disorienting, to challenge any complacency. I will use a recurring image of an apple, whose position will vary according to the placement of other elements within the slide. For example, if the apple occurs in a second picture, it will be absent from its customary position on top of the bible found at the top left corner of the page. This will create the impression that one has reached into the text (so to speak) to grasp the object and move it across the plane of the text. This obvious absurdity demonstrates that the pictures used are not reality itself, but belong to a sphere of its own which can be manipulated according to one's purposes. I will also do a tribute to Magritte's "The Treachery of Signs," by writing captions which are plainly descriptive yet contradictory (see "The Text) as well as subtly inserting the famous image into one of my photographs. However, this might be off-putting unless there is some levity. Humor will be used to bring philosophy down from the infamous “ivory tower;” for the audience, unfamiliar with the terminology, would not yet be able to participate in or critique that type of discourse. Therefore, in the conclusion, I will utilize the extensive metaphor of light in a simplistic manner which will refer to a quotidian experience (turning on a light) so as to provide a contrast to the mostly abstract arguments of my essay.

My logos will follow this pattern: in the beginning, I will emphasize divergent perspectives; at the end, in order to refute the idea that the only possible conclusion is relativism, I will suggest the complementarity of differing viewpoints by photographing multiple "lights" or perspectives (hence perspectivism). Thus, I could properly denounce dogmatism by refuting both extreme fundamentalism as well as skepticism, while simultaneously providing an array of perspectives and insights that the audience could examine themselves. A second strategy I will use will involve the use of a secondary language—French—to challenge the idea that there is a 1:1 correspondence between words and objects (words possess different values in different languages). A third approach I have utilized is to invert the visual hierarchy endemic to the West by presenting text and images in order from right to left. (In "Mediation," for example, the vector of attention follows from right to left to indicate that the portrayed gesture is retroactive [one is reflecting on the original conditions requisite for the incipience of language and thought].)

I will have a title slide, a beginning slide which will contain the narrative, and a concluding slide to summarize the purpose of the essay and to discuss future possibilities in connection with the discourse. Because I’m trying to introduce a different perspective, I might do well in the body of my essay to juxtapose two pictures on some slides. I could present one ordinary image, and then a second which undermines its “ordinariness.” Still, I will want some (purposeful) variation. A group of three photos could be used to both introduce the notion of negative differentiation and suggest the limitations of dualism (Truth, especially God, must transcend opposites, which are inextricable from the phenomenal flux and necessarily interdependent, whereas Truth/God must be supra-historical and independent). In a similar vein, I will divide the essay itself into three parts. Yet another alternative would be to use one frame which contains multiple images, to express the self-referentiality of signs (apparent in the irreducibility of linguistic signs to images and vice versa).

Testing will occur between my classmates and me. I will moreover receive feedback when my professor grades the assignment, and when (and if) I receive comments on my blog post. This will help show if my conclusions coherently follow the narrative produced by the images, or if I need to elaborate on certain points; if my piece is leading others to reflect or is simply confusing them.

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