Assignment 2: The archive


The world is flat! We inhabit it through the touch screens of our handheld devices. This is where we communicate with each other, share photographs and find things out. As we become more and more addicted to this digital environment, we are neglecting the world around us.

Our preoccupation with social networks has made us numb to what is in front of us. Couples out for a meal sit at the table, blindly staring at their phones; pedestrians and cyclists risk their lives by scrolling through their timelines. Children are deprived of their parents' attention. Although our world is better connected than ever before, there is less contact between each of us in the real world. The concept for this assignment was that when someone is so absorbed with their mobile phone, they are oblivious to everything and everyone in their surrounding environment.

For this assignment, my archive was Google images and Flickr. Whilst searching for appropriate images, I discovered a new word, 'phubbing'. This is the act of ignoring someone in a social situation, by looking at your mobile phone (phone snubbing). Once I had found this out, I was able to search the archive for 'phubbing', as well as terms such as, 'using phone at the table'. The search results produced a lot of posed stock images. The issue of people phubbing is very current at the moment, so I can see why there is such a demand for stock images. However, I was looking for something much more realistic. Therefore, I spent a long time looking for realistic scenarios. 

This subject has been addressed in a number of different ways by other photographers. For example, Simon Roberts 'The Last Moment' (2011-2014) consists of a number of floating 'bubbles' which contain the mobile phones of people photographing particular events in the press. I liked how Roberts' use of the surrounding white space was part of the wider narrative, a metaphor for the various ways that cameras are used today. 

Meanwhile, another photographer, Antoine Geiger, depicted the faces of people being sucked into their digital devices in 'Sur-fake'.

In order to convey this 'absence' I first used the Photoshop Fix app to blur everything around the main subject, to suggest that they are not in the their consciousness. The images below are examples of what I achieved. By blurring the images, the relationship between the subjects was lost. Instead, it created a stronger link between the viewer and the main subject. Therefore, I decided to think of an alternative technique. 


After looking at Mishka Henner's 'Less Américains', I began to develop my idea for removing the person from the scene, who was using their device. However, unlike Henner, I wanted the viewer to be able to refer back to the phubber. Therefore, I printed them on acetate, so that when the viewer turned the page, they would physically remove the person from their surrounding environment. The sheet of acetate represents the screen of the digital device that the user is 'trapped' inside.

Below are a selection of found images that I used for my book, showing how I used Photoshop to separate each photograph into two images.   

Contactless 1a.jpg
Contactless 1b.jpg
Contactless 1c.jpg
Contactless 2a.jpg
Contactless 2b.jpg
Contactless 2c.jpg
Contactless 3a.jpg
Contactless 3c.jpg
Contactless 3b.jpg

Once I had printed all of the photographs, I used the Japanese stab binding method (mentioned in another post) to produce a photo book.


In order to display my finished photo book, I filmed it and uploaded it below. 

Contactless, by Matt Davenport


Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Using an online archive enabled me to have a wide choice, however it took a long time to find the right images. I tried to find photographs that were realistic, rather than staged. At first I wanted to find images which were portrait orientated, so that they could be held by the viewer in the same way that they would hold a mobile phone. However, he majority of the images were landscape. If I was creating a photo book based on my own images, then I would have attempted to photograph them in a portrait view.  

In addition to this, I was pleased with my use of Photoshop to select and separate parts of the image, and then print them as separate layers.  

Quality of Outcome

As well as being restricted by the orientation of the image, the low resolutions meant that I was unable to print them any larger than 4 by 6". I chose to print them in black and white, so that the body outline could stand out on the background. I believe that my photo book clearly says what I wanted it to say: that digital device users are cutting themselves off from the world around them. 

Demonstration of creativity

Similarly to my first assignment, I think that taking the time to develop my ideas has really paid off. The book that I have produced is nothing like what I thought do when I first read the assignment criteria a few weeks ago. 

Having printed parts of each image on sheets of acetate, I have started to think about how I can experiment with printing on other media. Furthermore, I have taught myself how to use Japanese stab binding to produce my own photo books. This is something that I’d like to use in a future assignment.