Identity is a complex concept that is historically and culturally constructed, thus it is not fixed. It is an understanding of our self that we develop, which evolves throughout our lives, some more significantly or frequently than others. Our identity is a fundamental part of who we are as human beings and is dependent on a lot of things, for example, where we were born, the colour of our skin, where we grew up and the family we were born into. There are other aspects, however that we have more control over; whether we associated ourselves with any sub genres, our hobbies, how we dress, whether we have piercings and tattoos- or not- and the type of music we listen to. These various aspects play a great role in shaping us into the people that we are. Our morals and opinions can be learnt from the people round us, as well as what we see in the media. Ideological state apparatuses shape our views of the world and the many issues within it. Identity can also be ‘intrinsically linked to issues of power, value systems and ideology’ (Terrill, 2017) and can either be celebrated or shamed, by ourselves and others. It can prove to work in our favour, or be a hindrance in daily life. Some people battle with their identity every day, refusing to accept who they are, whereas others have the privilege of leading their lives, without the need to question or be in denial of themselves and their identity.
Class, age, gender and ethnicity are the four key aspects of one’s identity. Social class can determine the quality of life that a person will have, from the schools and university that they attend, to the opportunities that they have in life. Being male, female, or anywhere in between can also affect one’s experiences in the world, from dealing with sexism, transphobia and misogynism, to not having to worry at all about being discriminated against, due to gender. Ethnicity is a huge part of a person’s identity. Different ethnic backgrounds come with different traditions, values and moral expectations. . In most Western societies, the ‘norm’ could be considered as a white, cisgender, heterosexual, male, however not everyone fits perfectly into this category, in fact most people do not meet this criteria at all. For a lot of people, there is a tendency to see the world in terms of binary opposition (good and bad, male and female, heterosexual and homosexual, able-bodied and disabled, and so on). There is a constant battle between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and ‘conforming’ and ‘rebelling’. People who are not considered to be ‘normal’ and who may go against these norms and societal standards become ‘the other’. This sense of otherness can leave people conflicted by their identity, or in many circumstances, prove to be beneficial in helping them find their identity.
male, however not everyone fits perfectly into this category, in fact most people do not meet this criteria at all. For a lot of people, there is a tendency to see the world in terms of binary opposition (good and bad, male and female, heterosexual and homosexual, able-bodied and disabled, and so on). There is a constant battle between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and ‘conforming’ and ‘rebelling’. People who are not considered to be ‘normal’ and who may go against these norms and societal standards become ‘the other’. This sense of otherness can leave people conflicted by their identity, or in many circumstances, prove to be beneficial in helping them find their identity.
The Johari window, created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955, suggests that there are four key aspects of one’s identity and personality; how we display ourselves to the everyone, to close family and friends, what others perceive of us and behaviours that neither we nor others recognise or acknowledge. It is a technique that can be used to map ‘interpersonal awareness’ (Macaux, 2016) and can prove to be beneficial in gaining a better understanding of the relationship with oneself, as well as others. Analysing these aspects of our identity and personality can help secure feelings surrounding personal identity, as well as allowing us to have a deeper understanding of our behaviour and self-concept.
Photography can grant individuals a medium to express themselves and represent themselves in the way that they wish to be represented, as opposed to how the media may portray them, which unfortunately for many cultures, is in a negative light. For people of colour, religious minorities and the LGBTQ+ community, photography can be a chance for individuals to be in control of how they are being portrayed in the media and can be used to raise awareness for issues within these communities. Images can be used to promote feminist ideologies and the ‘#metoo’ movement, which challenges rape culture and aims to call out sexual harassment and abusers, particularly in the entertainment industry. In many cases images can prove to be more powerful and effective than words, one example being the image of the 3-year old Syrian child Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach of the Greek Island, Kos that featured on newspaper covers all over the world. This image was extremely shocking and distressful, therefore it was effective in making the public aware of the European refugee crisis in 2015.
Hashtags on Twitter and Instagram like #praisintheasian allow users to celebrate their cultural identity by sharing images of themselves and can provide them with a sense of community, unity and belonging. Other hashtags, like #BlackLivesMatter, which first started trending in 2013, and #OscarsSoWhite, which trended in 2015 and 2016, express concerns regarding social injustice and civil rights as well as ‘debates about equal opportunity and discrimination’ (Vincent, 2016). Photography can give a voice to the otherwise voiceless, and can help provide us with a visual representation of the suffering that these marginalised communities may face. Photographs can be an authentic representation of what is going on in the world that we live in, without political bias and agendas, unlike the information that may be gathered from the news and other media sources. There have been many artists and photographers who, through their work, explore the complex concept of identity, from Yinka Shonibare and Lorna Simpson to Cindy Sherman, Claude Cahun and Barbara Kruger.
Another photographer whose work relates to the concept of identity (specifically that of young black Americans) is Adam Wold, an American freelance photographer based in San Francisco. Wold’s Black Lives Matter project focuses on the public demonstrations, which took place in 2015 and were held by Black Lives Matter St Paul, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis and the Black Liberation Project in order to protest the countless unlawful killings of black individuals by white police officers. These protests were a means for the public to demonstrate the distress that these deaths have caused within the black community (and others), and were a way of demanding for their voices to be heard, and acknowledged. The images from this project show the negative aspects of being young and African American, and how similar these situations are to those of the early/mid 20th Century. They show how these deaths have affected the black community, specifically young males, who may not be able to even walk outside or sit in their car without the fear of being unlawfully arrested, beaten or even killed for the simple fact that they are black. The deaths of Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, 12-year-old Tamir Rice and countless others may leave young black people wondering if they could be next. These images can be used to provoke anger within people, thus initiating change, and have given the public a sense of community and strength. The photographs demonstrate that although society and systems have progressed in America, there is still so much work to be done, especially regarding police training.
Rachelle Lee Smith is an award-winning photographer, whose ‘Speaking OUT: Queer Youth In Focus’ collaborative project focuses on individuals in the LGBTQ+ community. Each polaroid like image is a portrait of someone who identifies as either lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, gender queer or non-conforming, questioning or simply ‘queer’ and is accompanied by messages, which have been hand drawn by the subjects. Some of the messages share coming out experiences, whereas others have no correlation to their identity or experiences at all. This series of images explores a diverse range of people in the LGBTQ+ community and gives us a glimpse into their lives and varying experiences, some of which are positive and others negative. . . This series is a chance for the subjects to celebrate their unique identities and can provide them with a sense of community and belonging. The diversity of the subjects demonstrates to the audience the real people in the LGBTQ+ community as opposed to the slim, white, ‘attractive’ characters that can be seen on television or even on social media. This series demonstrates that the LGBTQ+ comes in all shapes, sizes, colours and ages and aims to dissolve stereotypes of what ‘gay’ or ‘transgender’ ‘looks like’.
Both Wold and Smith’s work explores identity, whether it be ethnicity or sexual orientation and gender identity, with Smith’s images exploring both at times. Both photographers delve into the struggles of being part of minority communities and demonstrate how these people’s identities, which they should be proud of, can be demonized and result in becoming something that they are ashamed of. The ‘Speaking OUT: Queer Youth In Focus’ project is very personal and focuses on each person and their stories, whereas Wold’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ project aims to raise awareness regarding the issues faced within the black community as a whole, as opposed to an individual’s story. Both projects are similar in aiming to provoke change.
This image from Wold’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ project depicts what the audience can assume is a mother and her son. The child, wearing the shirt with the words ‘Don’t Shoot’ (A phrase shouted in many Black Lives Matter protests) adds an emotional element to the image.
This photograph shows the raw truth of how the issue of police brutality affects the public and how it is a problem that will unfortunately affect generations yet to come if there is no change, in police policy as well as change in the ideologies that the police officers and others may hold. This image, taken from Smith’s ‘Speaking OUT: Queer Youth In Focus’ project, depicts a young man in a wheelchair, who is part of the LGBTQ+ community. This individual, as well as other disabled members of the LGBTQ+ community, is part of a group within the community that can often be silenced and lack representation. Often ableism can be linked to discussions surrounding the LGBTQ+ community, as people may sometimes forget about those who are physically disabled or mentally ill.
Both photographers have used photography to spread important messages of tolerance (of differing sexual orientations and gender identities) and intolerance (of police brutality and racism). Their work can connect with audiences of all backgrounds, regardless of class, age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and ability.
In conclusion, photography is a powerful tool that, when used correctly and effectively, can bring awareness to an enormous variety of issues taking place in the world that we live in. Especially in today’s political climate, photography is needed to provide the public with authentic information that may not be brought to light in mainstream media and newsZM1 ZM2 . It can be used to awaken the public from their complacency and inform them on world events that they may not otherwise be educated on. . Through their work, photographers like Wold and Smith are essential in the education of the public regarding stories that may not be publicised as much as western issues and other world events.