This article features an A Level Photography project by Melissa Kelsey, completed while studying while studying at ACG Strathallan in 2012, Auckland, New Zealand. Melissa achieved Top in New Zealand and was graded 100% (A*). She writes about her project below.
Some of Melissa’s sketchbook pages are included in our new book: Outstanding High School Sketchbooks. This book has high-resolution images so that fine details and annotation are clear, making it an excellent resource for students and schools. Learn more!
Themes and ideas
My theme was Social Networking. I explored the effects this has on people and the concept of being ‘together but yet alone’. I set out to visually display how people place themselves in bondage through an addiction to an online presence, along with making strong visual statements of people becoming disconnected from reality, creating an insight into a world not physically seen inspired by imagination.
I felt passionate about this theme, as I was shocked at the rapid progression of social media changing the way people relate to each other. In addition, I experienced the pressures to be involved and alienation when not involved. I found myself living in a society where people are all around me, yet so distant. My project explores the journey as one immerses and explores the cyber realm of social networking.
Social media has revolutionized how we communicate between individuals, groups and entire societies. It has been a rapid development spreading like a disease. The social networking realm offers us a multitude of information at our fingertips. We are bombarded constantly with information that is meant to help us, yet at times complicates our lives. I expressed this by creating busy, chaotic photomontages to show how people are overloaded with data.
People are now turning to virtual worlds to socialize; it’s as though face-to-face relationships are a thing of the past. Technology is becoming a vital organ of our being. I presented this through the girl being entangled, possessed, and mesmerized by social media.
Drawn in by the human desire to be connected.
Sucked from reality into a virtual world.
Drowning out what’s all around.
Overloaded with multitudes of instant cyber connections.
Addicted to an online presence.
Relationally absent whilst physically present.
Alive in a virtual world.
Stamped and marked with a digital identification.
The journey – as one engulfs herself in a virtual world.
I based my personal artist study on Ben Cauchi. Cauchi is a New Zealand photographer who is well known for his retrieval of mid 19th century photographic processes. His skillful manipulation of objects, light sources and darkroom effects make his photos illusory and mysterious. I drew from his lighting techniques, composition and illusory feel to create peepholes into the virtual world of social media.
We were encouraged not only to base our research on photographers, but also painters, sculptures or experts in the field of our controversial issue chosen. I found an expert on social interactions called Sherry Turkle. Turkle is a professor, author, researcher and licensed psychologist who spent the last 30 years researching the psychology of people’s relationships with technology. She has spoken on TED Talks and written books about this. One quote that she shared strongly stood out to me that visually stimulated many ideas in my mind:
We are consumed by that with which we are nourish’d by – Shakespeare
This quote inspired the image below of the girl having over indulged from her consumption of social media connections and data.
Use of media
I am fascinated with how you are able to manipulate an image once printed out onto paper. When turning through my sketchbook many textures jump out: scratching, painting, taping, tearing, stitching, pasting and gesso printing onto different kinds of materials. I emphasized the tactile aspect to my project to further the contrast of a virtual world being displayed in the physical.
Gesso printing is a prominent part of my experimentation printing processes. This is a hands-on printing process that allows you to print laser printed images onto nearly any surface. This is a fascinating process, which I have carried on and still use in my portrait and wedding photography business today.
Experimentation was a huge part of my project; this helped me create well-developed visual concepts. My teacher encouraged me to think outside of the box and be daring to try new digital and tactile image processes. This helped me to process, develop, generate and re-generate ideas until I achieved a final product of an extremely high standard.
Tips for other A Level Photography students
Melissa is highly dedicated and determined to achieve with a willingness to learn new skills. Her hands on and practical approach and her ability to think laterally have benefitted her significantly, and she works scrupulously to ensure she meets all deadlines. Melissa is an independent worker who uses her initiative to set her goals high. She has striven to create her own individual style. While being prepared to seek feedback from various sources when necessary. – R.Kirkham Executive Principal
The quote above gives an indication of what helped me to achieve high results. I feel that having a topic that many people can relate to and a wide range of well-developed ideas through expressive experimentation made my photography project stand out.
Have fun with your subject! There are guidelines in place to help you along, but also an abundance of creative freedom. Your only constraint is your imagination. What I love about photography is that there is always more to learn. Photography is not restricted to digital display, but includes gesso prints onto any material, projections onto sculptures, extremely large scales then manipulated in a tactile way and many other ways (for more inventive ways for Photography students to use different media, please read 100+ Creative Photography Ideas).
Put the time in to get results. Most of my lunch times were spent in the Art Department, allowing me to go the extra mile on my project. This was definitely worth it. Bounce ideas of those around you, including your teachers. Be childlike with your creativity, master the photography principles and then splash out into your own style!
This project was also submitted into the New Zealand Young Designers Award and was awarded 2nd place in the Senior Photography Section.
This high school art project was shared with our audience so that other students may benefit from the ideas, techniques and approaches used. We celebrate the effort and achievement of high school students and Art Departments around the world. If you would like to share your own art project (or that of your students), please read our submission guidelines.