Technology has a capacity to make us feel isolated and lonely. “Left to Our Own Devices”, is inspired by Banksy, who vandalised a youth club wall with a painting depicting two contemporary and smartly dressed individuals apparently embracing yet looking directly at their smart phones. (Banksy: 2004). The image is familiar, it’s near identical both in colour, fashion and simulated lighting to Phillip Toledano’s image of a disenchanted couple staring anxiously at their devices for the May 2012 Atlantic article “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely”. (Atlantic: 2012)
Left to our own devices takes online social isolation and places it in context with a photographic portrait. In these photographs, the devices themselves isolate the subject with its ‘captivating bubble’ yet the photographer also is present. In these photographs, we see a reality of human-machine interaction and a void, surrounding the subject.
Typical commercial portraits intend to flatter its subject whereas conceptual portraiture is designed to entice you into the story. There is a certain composure, often ignored yet seen daily which has only surfaced within the past few years. This is what Toledano and Banksy have suggested with the message of preference to digital interaction than that of personal.
It is interesting to see how people really look when they are ‘engaged’; they see not the device or the technology in their hand but their connections to friends combined with new and old strangers, motionless as expressions and body language cease.
Edvard Munch originally pencilled his artworks both vertically and horizontally providing the central character with the illusion of motion. “The Scream” was painted in nature, underneath a blazing red sky placing it in fear of its surroundings or of desperation from isolation. (Prelinger: 2010)
Left to our own devices releases an inner scream, silent – kept still by the inaction of the subject while encapsulating them within its source of light to the exclusion of all else.
The stillness of the photographs is also a reference to the passing of time. John Berger argues that original paintings (I infer photographs here) are silent and still in a sense that information never is. (Berger: 1972).
We can remain static, fixed within the bubble. Away from the physical, away from the vanity of outward appearance and existing behind a screen, true expressions secluded, sitting within a void.
This is our portrait for the duration of time online. How we really appear on social media yet how we’re perceived to those around us, in our comfortable and social environments. Portraits evolve and we no longer show our most flattering side to the photographer. The tangible self is lost to what’s inside, a mental space that no longer requires our bodies.
The world will go on without us, in fact Jean Baudrillard has spoken when humans disappear, when reality is left behind, our bodies are merely a phantom limb. (Baudrillard: 2007). Once the photographer has identified the subject, they have already disappeared and what is left behind is a malady of the self which is never projected online.