The Still Photography as Literature in the 21st Century Using Ty Bello's Photoshots
English and Literature
Submitted By ayokunmi1
THE SIGNIFICANCE AND DEPTH OF THE MEDIA ON THE TEXTUAL INTERROGATION OF LITERATURE IN ‘MY FATHER’S BLOOD’
OJEBODE, AYOKUNMI OLADELE
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
POSTGRADUATE STUDIES IN LITERATURE
REDEEMER’S UNIVERSITY, EDE
ENG 871/ LITERATURE AND MEDIA
DR. OFURE AITO
THE STILL PHOTOGRAPHY AS LITERATURE IN THE 21ST CENTURY USING TY BELLO’S WORKS
“Art is about collecting experiences and expressing them. For me music and photography are similar art forms. I collect experiences, stir them in myself and express it in my own language. Just like my photography, music is my language.” Ty Bello Today people live in a visually intensive society and a world of spectacular and exciting images. They are bombarded with an orderly and continuously stream of visual stimulation from all manner of media every day. They see mediated images more often than they read words. Images sell everything. This paper offers an analytical framework for understanding how still photography is Literature in the 21st Century, using TY Bello’s still pictures. According to Aristotle, “There can be no words without images”. The world is surrounded with mediated images in such a way that has never been witnessed in the history of mass communication. Every era has expressed itself in its own way since the beginning. Antiquity was the time of legends, epics and mythical narratives. During the sovereignty of this era, meaning was constructed with ‘the word’ and its peculiar rules. Though the permanency of ‘writing’ as opposed to the fleeting character of the word has grown to be the symbol of authority and power, literary narrative which was developed together with the Enlightenment and the invention of printing process have brought out the freedom of ‘written language’. Whereas ‘writing’ was fundamental to the construction process of meaning and the meaning itself at that time, with the invention of instruments like photograph, cinema and television which are used to record the still and moving images, whole world has been caught up in an ever-flowing process, which can only be explained through the unique rules of an ‘audio-visual language’. Furthermore, in this age when images gradually maintain their supremacy, cinemas, newspapers, magazines, books, posters, computer screens, television screens, clothes and even restaurant menus have been enclosed with images as it has never been before. In mass communication, the written culture has been step by step superseded by an audiovisual culture. ‘Reading’ has increasingly weakened against ‘watching and listening’. Obviously, an emphasis on visual messages does not mean that words are less important than images. The most powerful and meaningful messages are combined with words and pictures equally (Lester, 2000: x). Considering the rapid developments in technology, we come face to face with an era widely dominated visually. Signs appear in various ways; they can be written and/or oral words or any kind of sound or visual image. Semiotic analyses of the images in the visual means of mass communication, that is, cinema, television, video images, posters, magazine and newspaper advertisements may help us to reveal their innate meanings. Of all the approaches used for the analysis of visual images, the most popular one is the semiotics. Visual semiotics emphasizes the ways visuals communicate and the system dominating their usage. As an apparatus directly associated with culture, semiotics is fundamentally diverse from the traditional criticism. Obviously, traditional criticism primarily analyses the aesthetic object or the text according to their face values. Nevertheless, semiotics predominantly enquires into the ways through which the meaning is created rather than simply investigating what it is. Human being has always wanted to understand and interpret the world he lives in. He desires to get to know, and read, the nature, the universe, human being and his culture, which is why he needs to think about and analyze their meanings. The meaning doesn’t necessarily come out obviously, it often exists latently and waits to be disclosed, analyzed and read (Parsa & Parsa, 2002: 79). In this paper, semiotics is used as methodology. Semiotics attempts to hint the ways in which an analysis might be done but, with the significant exception of Peirce’s categories of ‘index’, ‘icon’ and ‘symbol’, it suffers from an underdeveloped system of descriptive and analytical categories. In this brief analysis, after an introduction of still images and the theory of visual semiotics, it will be aimed to clarify the meaning construction process and its interpretation by the reader at the perceptive level and the course of shallow meaning units into the deeper levels of meaning in the selected still photographs taken by TY Bello.
Words and Photo: Literature and Photography
Origin of Photography According to Electronic Encyclopaedia, Encarta, “Photography is a method for producing lasting images by means of a chemical reaction that occurs when light hits a specially prepared surface. It was invented during the first three decades of the 19th century as a direct consequence of advances in chemistry and optics (the science of the behavior of light). The word photography comes from two Greek words that mean “writing with light.” Although the technology is fairly recent, the origins of photography lie in an artistic technique known as single-point or linear perspective, which was developed in the early 1400s. Pioneered in Italy by architect Filippo Brunelleschi and others, the system of single-point perspective provided painters with a method for depicting three-dimensional space on a flat surface. It is based on the notion of a single observation point and results in lines that appear to recede into the distance by converging on a fixed point on the horizon, called the vanishing point. In the 16th century many artists employed a boxlike device known as a camera obscura (Latin meaning “dark room”) as an aid to depicting space with single-point perspective. This consisted of a box with a pinhole on one side and a glass screen on the other. Light coming through this pinhole projected an image onto the glass screen, where the artist could easily trace it by hand. Artists soon discovered that they could obtain an even sharper image by using a small lens in place of the pinhole. The camera obscura was used by Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Also essential to the invention of photography was knowledge of the light sensitivity of certain materials. More than 2000 years before the invention of the camera obscura, the ancient Phoenicians knew that a certain snail, the purpura, left a yellow slime in its wake that turned purple in sunlight. In the 18th century a German anatomy professor, Johann Heinrich Schulze, observed that silver salts darkened when exposed to light. But the idea of making pictures using this phenomenon did not occur to him. That innovation required the talents of a later generation of scientists. By 1800 a young English chemist, Thomas Wedgwood, had succeeded in producing images of leaves on leather that he had treated with silver salts. However, he could find no way to halt the darkening action of light and his leaf images eventually faded into blackness. His attempts to capture the image displayed by a camera obscura also proved unsuccessful. For the birth of photography two key discoveries were still needed: a way to combine a light-sensitive material with the camera obscura, and a way to fix, or make permanent, the resulting image.
In the 1820s French scientist Joseph Nicéphore Niépce was experimenting with improvements to the new printmaking technique of lithography. In the process he discovered a way to copy engravings onto glass and pewter plates using bitumen, a form of asphalt that changes when exposed to light. He first coated a drawing or etching with oil so that light would shine through it more easily, then placed it on a bitumen-coated plate and exposed the plate to light. Light shining through the paper burned an image into the dark bitumen, creating a nearly perfect copy of the original. Niépce could then etch and print this image using traditional printmaking techniques. In 1826 he put a bitumen-coated plate in a camera obscura, which he then placed with its lens facing the window of his estate in central France for eight hours. The resulting image, View from the Window at Le Gras (Gernsheim Collection, University of Texas at Austin), is the earliest camera photograph still in existence. In 1826 Niépce began sharing his findings with Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, an artist and theatrical designer who owned a theater in Paris. This theater, the Diorama, provided a popular spectacle consisting of large, painted scenes that were shown in succession, changing before the viewers’ eyes. Like Niépce, Daguerre hoped to find a way to create images from the camera obscura, but he had little luck until the two decided to become partners in 1829. Even then, Daguerre’s most important discovery came only in 1835, two years after Niépce’s death. Daguerre found that the chemical compound silver iodide was much more sensitive to light than Niépce’s bitumen, and he placed a copper plate coated with silver iodide in a camera obscura. After exposing this plate to light for a relatively short time and then to fumes of mercury, an image appeared. One problem remained: The image darkened over time. But in 1837 Daguerre solved this final obstacle by washing away remaining silver iodide with a solution of warm water and table salt. On January 7, 1839, Daguerre’s process, called the daguerreotype, was announced to the French Academy of Sciences, and hence to the world. The announcement by respected French scientist François Arago was brief but nonetheless created a sensation. Newspaper accounts spoke of pictures 'given with a truth which nature alone can give to her works.' Half a year later the French government gave Daguerre and Niépce’s son, Isidore, lifetime pensions in exchange for their release of all rights to the invention and public disclosure of the process. The daguerreotype was to become France’s gift to the world. Just three weeks after Arago’s announcement in Paris, William Henry Fox Talbot, an English amateur scientist, read a translated account of the discovery. Perturbed, if not distraught, Talbot recognized Daguerre’s invention as similar to his own unpublicized process, which he called photogenic drawing. Talbot moved quickly to claim priority over Daguerre, writing to members of the French Academy and presenting his process in a paper to the Royal Society in London, England. To create a photogenic drawing, Talbot first coated a sheet of drawing paper with the chemical compound silver chloride and, placing it inside a camera obscura, produced an image of the scene with the tones reversed (a negative). He then placed the negative against another coated sheet of paper to produce a positive image. Talbot did not find a way to make the image permanent until a month after Daguerre’s announcement. But his photogenic drawing process—later refined and renamed the calotype—forms the basis for most modern film technology, which relies on negatives to produce multiple positive prints. For a number of reasons, including the imperfections of Talbot’s process, the daguerreotype was the method of photography that first took the world by storm. The low-cost daguerreotype became so popular that, by the end of 1839, Paris newspapers were referring to a new disease called Daguerreotypomania. With improvements in its sensitivity to light, the daguerreotype quickly proved ideal for portraiture. By 1840 daguerreotype studios throughout Europe and in the United States were producing unique, detailed likenesses that were set inside hinged leather cases. An emerging middle class gazed in amazement at its own image in these 'mirrors with a memory.' Photography arrived in the United States due to the enthusiasm of Samuel F. B. Morse, an American artist and inventor. Morse visited Daguerre in Paris in March 1839 and observed a demonstration of the daguerreotype process. Morse returned to the United States to spread the news, and by year’s end new practitioners such as John Plumbe of New York City and the Langenheim brothers (William and Frederick) of Philadelphia had mastered the daguerreotype process and set up successful portrait studios. The yen for daguerreotypes persisted in America well into the 1850s, long after European photographers had switched to a much improved positive/negative process derived from Talbot’s method. Most pictures of the California Gold Rush of 1849, for example, are daguerreotypes. According to Francois Brunet, “photography was dubbed 'sun painting', a phrase often intended to be derisive, and one which epitomized the seemingly inescapable confrontation of photography's mechanical character to the painter's artistic freedom. This confrontation remained a leitmotiv of virtually all discourse on the invention until, in the twentieth century, photography gained acceptance in the museum and the art market on the basis of a partial assimilation to the model of painting. More recently, an alternative gloss of photography as 'light writing' has gained acceptance to foreground an affinity of photography with literature, or the realm of the written. To many commentators of both the early and the later history of the medium, this sympathy now appears quite as relevant, if not more, as the somewhat forced marriage of photography to painting. From William Henry Fox Talbot's ground- breaking exploration of photography in his extraordinarily subtle book The Pencil of Nature (1844-6) to Cindy Sherman's or Sophie Calle's impersonations in fictional photographs, and not least to the countless insights offered by writers engaging photography either as a theme or a companion, the relationship of photography to literature now forms a vital part of the medium's complex history As described in the book by Jonathan Crary “Techniques of the observer”, early photographic reports resulted as a manifestation of archaeological projects, thus enabling a conquering view of the world. Mainly taken by western explorers, these photographs generated a very political view of the world. In those images, objects of the real world were slowly transformed in intention-oriented objects, becoming an inseparable part of our shared perspective of history. Leading away from the technological and scientific reality and provoking a new vision of the world – artistic photography – is indeed a new notion in itself. As a matter of fact, artistic photography and technological advancement that shaped our contemporary culture has only emerged in the last decades. The demarcation of this historical passage lies in the famous encounter with theory reflected in Man Ray’s aesthetic idea of photography where he declared that: “Beauty is a random encounter of two unrelated objects placed in a random environment.” On the other hand literature is by default imagination incorporated and processed into fiction. Modernist literary works of Baudelaire, Proust, Aloysius Bertrand, Margarite Duras and William Faulkner, to name just a few, had lead the path for this conceptual encounter, their poetic material enabling a recreation of imaginary realities, which made possible to turn anything into an image. There is a great influence of photography on French culture through the writings of Roland Barthes. The book by Barthes “Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography” became an important historical reference, not only recognizing photography as a creative practice – as an art in time - but also determining a new mode of observation of photography, thus revitalising theory. It is the subjective experience of photography which established a challenge to the representation of history. There is a connection with photography when viewed from the perspective on autobiographical photography. This type of photography aims to retain the identity of past events, becoming an almost impossible task in the light of Barthes understanding of photography. Therefore, he argued that pictures never represent what actually happens, what they fail to show is the existence of an invention rooted in its own time, showing correlations of technology and the implication and impact on culture and history. The fact that widespread access to multimedia formats equals all representation tools at once, could well highlight the notion of how the virtualization of the image and its meanings can be perceived as perishable truth. In relation to this principles of photography and its theory, Mexican writer Federico Campbell, characterized the language of photography differently from that of the narrator, where the latter is the one that truly “challenges the progression of language” highlighting that photography has its own inherited technical language. He opened the questions of time by mentioning that “photography is the static portrayal of immortality” and that a merging occurs between time and space within photographs. In reference to memory he made an explicit antagonism between words and photography, where the latter consolidates memory and the first one reflects it. Campbell credits the Argentinean writer Julio Cortázar in his novel “The Devil’s Drool” and explains how the enacting of the film based on his work, Antonioni’s “Blow up”, questioned the illusive aspect of reality – the familiar shapes of the world seen through the photograph. In the story, the act of taking and enlarging photographs becomes a display, an illusion of certainty, thus pinpointing the limitations of its own perspective. Campbell explicitly said that he mistrusts the idea of photographic fiction – “photography itself is part of fiction,” he says. However, history uses photography to try to explain human kind, somehow trying to find its own aesthetic reality. Campbell also made reference to the novel “Catcher in the Rye”, by J.D. Salinger, in which photography plays a descriptive narrative role in the text. He says that: “by utilising photography in the narrative, the author draws imaginary relationships of desire and fear, leaving the camera to become an intermediary to this process.” According to Roland Barthes, “arguably photography's most influential critic, described in his Camera Lucida (1980) the 'trouble' introduced by the advent of photography. His own intellectual background, as literary scholar turned semiotician and then philosopher of the photograph, testifies to a cultural matrix for which photography remained something of a novelty, and an intruder of sorts in the older and more serene realm of literature. To be sure, much the same pattern may be observed in traditional western narratives of the relationship between word and image, or written and visual cultures, and such narratives have deep roots in western philosophy”. Literature, conversely, is not so solid or clear-cut a domain as the foregoing remarks might make it sound. In English, as well as in French and German, the word literature changed meaning in the first half of the nineteenth century. Until then, it had been a very inclusive term, covering virtually every aspect of written or printed culture; science, insofar as it was written, was routinely defined as a 'literary pursuit'. This older definition needs to be borne in mind when envisioning the beginnings of photography, which were deeply enmeshed in written and printed culture. More generally, the larger sense of literature as text or commentary is relevant to my purposes, insofar as photography has so often been presented as an alternative to it. Meanwhile, the birth of photography more or less coincided with the advent of a more strictly delimited and increasingly prestigious realm of 'literature'. In France the publication in 1800 of Madame de Stael's De la litterature was an important step. In the wake of German Romanticism, literature (like art) was now envisioned as both cultural heritage, especially national, and individual pursuit with a reflexive, aesthetic ambition, as well as a claim to deliver truths about society. 6 After 1830 or so, in West European and North American dictionaries, the word for 'literature' started to become specialized as a label for the collective production of writers and for 'liter- ary' practices, especially fiction and poetry. This redefinition of literature - consistent with M. H. Abrams's larger thesis of the transformation of the role of art from 'mirror' to 'lamp' 7 - was by no means purely semantic and instead resulted in the establishment of literature as the major cultural expression of both the Enlightenment and Romanticism, arguably the quintessential or most authoritative expression of (western) culture.
Representation of Still images in Adverts Images sell everything. They can sell soap, car, a company, a star, a politician or a political party. Over the past fifty years the images are simplistic and generally less important than the words. Today this situation is reversed. According to Boorstin (1963), “images have become more interesting than the original and in fact have become the original: ‘the shadow becomes the substance’. Advertisements, he argues, encourage extravagant expectations because they are more dramatic and vivid than the reality – reality cannot match up to the image.” Ads present us with images and than make them seem true (Quoted in Dyer, 1982: 82). The new and recent technological developments have changed the significance of the ‘image’ and ‘culture’. In advertising the image is perfect ‘re-presentation’ of life. According to Barthes (1964), “in advertising the signification of the image is undoubtedly intentional; the signifieds of the advertising message are formed a priori by certain attributes of the product and these signifieds have to transmit as clearly as possible. If the image contains signs, we can be sure that in advertising these signs are full, formed with a view to the optimum reading: the advertising image is frank, or at least emphatic.” (Barthes, 1999: 33). In classical communication studies, a message is encoded by the source, transmitted through a channel and decoded by a receiver. In advertising the message is put into words and images by a creative team, approved by a purchaser, distributed through a medium like radio, television or magazines, and it is decoded by the targeted audience. The messages of advertisements have to use appropriate signs and symbols to stimulate the individual’s perceptual system into action. Magazines are also a valuable medium and their ability to reach many pre-selected and targeted audiences.
Still images are drawings, paintings and photographs. Images are the central medium of information, and the role of language has become that of a medium of commentary (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996: 38). In today’s new world order, visuals are dominant images. According to Kress and van Leeuwen, “the dominant visual language is now controlled by the global cultural/technological empires of the mass media, which disseminate the examples set by exemplary designers, and, through the spread of image banks and computer-imaging technology, exert a ‘normalizing’ rather than explicitly ‘normative’ influence on visual communication across the world.” (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996: 4). A Visual Semiotics Theory Surrounded with symbols, images and various signs, human being has always strived to signify them and utilized for communication. The meaning comes out of an interaction between the message and its reader (audience). While handling a text, one must consider not only its components but also the relation between those components, all the impressions it has created and the techniques used for creating such impressions as well. When the images urge us to react, we are aware of its effect upon us, which is resulted from myths, ideologies and connotations embedded in the images. Only through a sophisticated analysis, the hidden meaning under the obvious one could be formed. Visual semiotics deconstructs the communicative visuals while in its attempt to attain the meaning and ideology. Human being is acquainted with this signs throughout his life learning to use and signify them. The evolution of modern person who is bombarded by encompassing audio-visual messages transmitted out by the means of mass communication is defined by Mehmet Rifat as follows: “the new name of human being striving to signifying the world around him ‘Homo Semioticus’… the whole life of the signifying human is a “reading” odyssey from then on” (Rifat, 1996: 41). Reading is one of the most essential activities carried out by humans when encountered with a meaningful construction. It occurs in three basic levels: Perception, memorizing and interpretation and reconstruction of the signs (Günay, 2001: 17). A literary or musical work of art, a portrait as a visually meaningful construction or a TV advertisement, in other words, the entire body of any kind of images designed for creating a meaning can be read, signified and analyzed by the perceptive skills of its reader. Every text produced by the means of mass communication is a fictitious world reaching its audience or its reader with a certain narrative form; however, this fictitious world gains a meaning through the encircling real world. The relations and the information in the fictitious world are interpreted through an analysis done in the light of the information of the real world. Semiotics (semiology in Europe) is the science of signs. Semiotic analysis is used in the study of sign processes in various fields such as communication, linguistics, anthropology, architecture, medicine and so on. Semiotics was first described by its founder, Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1985) as ‘a science that studies the life of signs within a society’. Simultaneously, American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce published his own ideas about the effect of sign on society. It is important to place what ‘semiotics’ is, and has been in this age. Three schools of semiotics have applied ideas from the domain of linguistics to other, non linguistics mode of communication. The first was the Prague School of the 1930s and early 1940s. It developed the work of Russian Formalists by providing it with a linguistic basis. Notions such as ‘foregrounding’ were applied to language as well as to the study of art (Mukarovsky), cinema (Jakobson) etc. The second was the Paris School of the 1960s and 1970s, which applied ideas from de Saussure and other photography (Barthes), fashion (Barthes), cinema (Metz) etc. The ideas developed by this school are still taught in countless courses of media studies, art and design, often under the heading of ‘semiology’ and by referring to various terms like the ‘langue’ and the ‘parole’; the ‘signifier’ and the ‘signified’; ‘arbitrary’ and ‘motivated’ signs; ‘syntagmatics’ and ‘paradigmatics’ and so on. The third was contrary to the former kind of semiotics, which is called the ‘social semiotics’, first began in Australia where the ideas of Michael Halliday inspired the studies of literature (Threadgold, Thibault), visual semiotics (O’Toole, Kress and van Leeuwen), and music (van Leeuwen), and other semiotic modes (Hodge and Kress) (Quoted in Kress and van Leeuwen, 1996:5). Visual semiotics is a new branch of the field of semiotics -originating in 1990’s- and has been defined by Kress and van Leeuwen’s (1996) book, Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design, “We intend to provide inventories of the major compositional structures which have become established as conventions in the course of the history of visual semiotics, and to analyze how they are used to produce meaning by contemporary image-makers.” (p. 1). Because of meanings are not given, but constructed. The sign is the key term in any semiotics. A sign is simply anything that stands for something else. The ‘stands for’ process is the point where meaning is created both through encoding (by the source) and decoding (by the receiver or reader) as in these stylized representations of people (Moriarty, 1994). But what is not sign? According to Paul Martin Lester (2000), “that is a good question because almost any action, object or image will mean something to someone somewhere. Any physical representation is a sign if it has meaning beyond the object itself.” Consequently, the meaning behind any sign must be learned. And also Umberto Eco stressed, “Signs are correlated with what they stand for on the basis of a rule or a convention” (Eco, 1985:196). Thus, if signs which are understood by the receiver or reader are used in an ad, images will be much more memorable and interesting. A sign can be a word, a sound, or a visual image. Saussure (1985) divides linguistic signs into two components--the signifier (the sound, image, or word) and the signified, which is the concept the signifier represents, or the meaning. As Berger (1990) points out, the problem of meaning arises from the fact that the relation between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary and conventional. In other words, signs can mean anything, and they can mean different things to different people. The arbitrariness is true in most written and spoken language; however it is clear that visual signs are not arbitrary.
Semiotic analysis of some selected Still photographs by TY Bello extracted from Instagram
Instagram a Social-media for Photographers Instagram is founded in 2010 (Bergstrom & Backman, 2013). It is a mobile application, which allows users to share their photos and videos to their followers (Dubovik, 2013). According to Instagram (2014) as cited in (Dennis, 2014) Instagram first started off with providing functions on editing and sharing photos and later on added in the functions of sharing videos and photo messaging directly to another user. Instagram allows users to snap photo or video anywhere they are at anytime and share it with their followers nationally and also internationally (Jadhav & Kamble & Patil, n.d.). According to Otto (N.D.) as cited in (Bevins, 2014), users are able to take a 15 seconds long video and 13 artistic filters are available for user to edit their photos. According to Systrom (2010) as cited in (Maravic, 2013) Instagram started to develop when Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger want to focus on the HTML5 check-in application named Burbn, which allow the function of location check in, earn point upon meeting friends and post photos. However, they decided to focus on the application’s photo function after some confusion on the application and soon they renamed Burbn to Instagram. Instagram is a word combination of “instant” and “telegram”. In 2012, Facebook have offered $300m cash and 23 million of its shares to Instagram and the deal was finalized very soon after the offer (BBC News, 2012). Instagram is said to be the third most popular social network among the college students in the United States (Salomon, 2013). Following the press released from Instagram (2013) cited in (Maravic, 2013) in the year 2013, Instagram has 100 million monthly active users, 40 million photos were uploaded per day, 8,500 likes and 1,000 comments gained per second. All the still pictures by TY Bello attached below were all extracted from her Instagram page.
Taking the cue from the concept of Signifier and the signified which altogether make up the sign, both cannot be separated; they have to complement each other just like the two sides of a coin. But, in semiotic analysis they are temporarily disintegrated. The sign above is an Instagram still photograph taken by TY Bello. The signifier is an image of a woman dressed in white, who poses with her hands to her waist and her eyes lids closed. The picture is inscribed on a dark greenish background and toned with white colour at the center, which makes the center of the photograph looks bright. Her white flowing garment is designed at the breast like a crown, and she has on her head, a plaited black hair in the shape of a crown. Before I write my opinion on the signifier, I will like to include the personal post of Ty Bello on her Instagram page, since the discourse is on Photography as Literature in the 21st century, and hence, her post qualifies as a written Literature. She writes,
“NIGERIA: Crowned with glory .., wisdom and grace.. Bound in freedom.. With youth that remains ...This is she, the Beautiful Giant..standing tall ... Still..ever defiant ...the hope of the continent..loved by God. Nigeria arise: claim what is yours”. Now considering what the still photograph above signifies, it is important to consider first, the colour used in the picture, before moving to the image. The background colour is greenish black, and toned with white only in the center which appears as a glow, the white garment is also painted in white. Logically, the photograph signifies Nigeria. Since, the colour of the Nigerian flag is green, white and green. Placing a focus on the symbolism of the Nigerian Coat of Arms, the colours have deep meaning. Green represents fertility and growth; it explicates the natural endowments and resources in the Nation. There is a promise of fertility and a perpetual growth, while white represents peace among the ethnic groups in Nigeria. Another colour is black, which is the plaited crowned hair. Nigeria is the largest and most populous Black Country in Africa. It is considered the prestige and the crown of the continent, place at the heart of Africa. In the photograph, the feminine figure used is youthful, young and looks promising. This is a prophetic feature of the artist, as she hopes that the country will go back to the good old days, when it was vibrant, rich, filled with peace and favoured with fertility, as against the present day Nigeria, that is filled with blood-shed, crises, war and insurgencies. The photograph is ironic of the contemporary Nigeria, which seems has lost her pride, dignity and prestige in the world. It is also important to note that the representation of Nigeria as a feminine is intentional; she is considered a mother to other African countries. Many times, artist represents a Nation as feminine, because, she shares almost the same feature as found in a woman. The Nation also increases in growth, as in population and it develops, the picture could also be interpreted as the stunted growth of the country. Despite the age-long independence of the Nation since 1960, she is still considered a third-world country, and a slow developing Nation. The hands of the figure to her waist represent beauty and excellence, as found in ladies when posing for a photograph. It could be interpreted to mean that the photographer looks forward to Nigeria becoming an excellent Nation meant for display, which her citizens will be proud to associate with, and a Nation that can be exhibited for other countries. This is not the present Nigeria, many of her citizenry has escaped as emigrants in other developed countries, due to the hardships from poor governance, inadequate amenities, poor education, unstable power supply, insurgencies and other demeaning reasons. Like the late Martin Luther King Jr., I join the artist to re-echo that I have a dream that one day Nigeria will be standing tall with pride, crowned with glory, beautiful and will be the envy of the world, despite all the inadequacies in the Nation presently.
TY Bello comments on the above picture in her post, as she writes, “JUSTICE SPRINGER: THE CLOUD. When Justice Speaks... we stoop to learn... A river flows from Springer's well”. The sign above is an Instagram still photograph taken by Ty Bello, the signifier is set on an army-green background of a boy half-clothed in a suspender belt and grey knickers, blowing from his right hand a whitish-powder, and with the other hand suspended in the air too. As I move to the signified, it is important to note firstly the background of the photograph, most times; a photograph can be described from its background at a glance. A close look at the above photograph shows the subject is placed on an army-green background, and he pays a keen attention to the blowing of the whitish powder in his right hand. The photograph could signify a person hypnotizing his unseen companions, taking the interpretation from the traditional culture of using magic by Africans in subjecting their victims under a propelling force which compels him or her to follow the instructions of the charmer. On the other hand, the boy in the picture is not dressed like a traditional herbalist, as commonly found among the Yoruba tribe or Igbo, but instead he is half-clothed in a suspender belt and knickers which signifies, he is an educated individual, as a result of the touch of modernity. Before giving a conclusion, as firstly mentioned, the army-green background could represent Nigeria, green being a prominent colour in the National symbol of the Nation. Hence, the picture could signify the tainted West African Nation. In Fine Arts, black and white is used to tint a picture while painting, as in a tinted glass of a vehicle. Therefore, I assume the tainted green colour represents the thick and dense corruption in the country, which overwhelms the brightness of our civilization and progress. Because, the subject is half-clothed, and drawing from that, nakedness symbolizes reproach, stigma, insecurity and exposure. The bare chest of the boy can be likened to the bare state of the Nation, whose shame has been exposed to the world, instead of being covered. A country that has lost her creativity and direction, Nigeria as at today is still described as a developing, immature Nation. Hence, the artist has symbolically used the boy to represent the naked state of the country, which is festered with corruption, insecurity, insurgencies and socio-economic under-development. Apart from this, another perspective to the photograph is the clothing of the boy, if he represents the stunted growth of the country, then; the cloth could signify the post-colonial state of the Nation. According to Aito in her (Unpublished Memograph) she comments on this concept by saying, “Post colonialism is a periodizing concept connected with the development of a new colonial cultural order that impinges directly on relationships between nations in the colonizing and colonized rubric after political independence was granted the latter. It is a critical analysis history, culture, literature and modes of discourse that are specific to former colonies of England, Spain, France and other European power. It is specifically focused in the Third World countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean Islands, and South America”. Nigeria got her independence from Colonialism in 1960, but up till date, the Nation is still robbed of her sovereign independence, with the perpetual influence from Western Nations, our clothing, culture and lifestyle as a people is still dictated by foreign Nations, she has a become a dumping ground for imported products, hence robbed of creativity. Going back to the photograph, the clothing of the boy is similar to the mode of dressing of teachers during the Colonial rule, mostly a brown short with a white shirt and a suspender. The white powder blown from the right hand of the boy could then signify truth, honesty and fidelity which well handled have the overpowering tendency of changing a country and her people for better. Hence, the artist through the right hand of the boy in the picture gives out a message to the Nation, that if only the Nation, regardless of her poor state will pave way for truth, honesty and justice we have a better chance of reclaiming our tainted status, socio-political and economic nudity, hence breaking the jinx of slavery by developed countries.
By @tybello "ISAIAH'S SPARK 2: BUNMI OLUNLOYO. Get out of bed. Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight. God’s bright glory HAS risen for YOU. SHINE The above still photograph is also taken among the collection of Ty Bello on Instagram, which is the sign. The signifier is the face of a lady pitched in darkness. The only visible part of the lady is her face, which retains radiance on her closed eyes. From the post by Ty Bello herself on her Instagram which tagged the picture, it is evident that the still photograph is a Biblical allusion to the passage in Isaiah 60:1-2, "Get out of bed, Jerusalem! Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight. God's bright glory has risen for you. The whole earth is wrapped in darkness, all people sunk in deep darkness, But God rises on you, his sunrise glory breaks over you” (Adapted from The Message translation of the Bible). It is worthy to note that there is a solid connection between the Bible and Literature, talk less of Photography. In the contemporary days, scholars have gone far to examining the Bible itself as a source of Literature, considering the stories, parables, proverbs, history, imageries and symbolisms that is embedded in the Bible. Apart from this, from the onset of Christianity, tracing the history back to the Roman Catholic Church, pictures and signs have always been used to denote some religious rituals, to the Biblical illustrations and representation of apostles imprinted on stain glasses of Catholic Churches, statues erected in remembrance of Biblical figures. Even more, many literary scholars have adopted Biblical symbols, names and quotes into their literature in order to show the religious diversities of African and the import of Colonialism as against the traditional religion of our ancestors. For example, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Adichie who is commonly guilty of importing her Catholic experiences into her Literatures, in Purple Hibiscus, she makes reference to the ‘missal thrown at Mama’s figurines’. These are influences of religion on Literature, and even on Photography, which cannot be exempted from life, because human beings are visual creatures, even traditional religion and communication depicts most of their practices with physical symbols and imageries. Going back to the still photograph which is the focus, the signified could be interpreted to mean the reference to the prophetic awakening call by Prophet Isaiah to the Jews to return back to God and rise from the gloomy darkness into God’s marvellous light. Another perspective to the photograph is to breakdown the symbolism of the dark colour or darkness represented in the picture. Black many times represents death, gloom, devastation, sorrow, Africanism, as well as corruption. Africa is regarded as a Black Continent; the picture could be a pointer to the rallying call for mother Africa to arise out of poverty, corruption, societal decay and devastation robbing her of glory. The glow on the face of the lady could be interpreted to mean that focus of Africans should be on God for help and assistance, at a point in time when things are falling apart in African countries, some battling with poverty, war, crises, killings and economic meltdown. The escape route out of these calamities according to the artist is to pray and seek God’s face, taking the clue from the lady whose eyes are closed and seems to breathe in the glow from the upward angle. The artist believes through prayer the tide can turn, from darkness into glory.
KANO: Grounds of glory marred by blood. The blue skies replaced by black clouds of smoke ... I've been here before... Galant horses stride no more.. The rider's back is bruised by earth..Ash tones .. Ash tones ... #pray for Kano #my heart aches The last photograph is also extracted from the Instagram page of Ty Bello, it is evident from all the still photographs that the artist has a keen passion for the progress of her motherland, as most of her works are centered on re-building and re-branding Nigeria. The sign above is the picture of Kano, while the signifier is represented with the colourful depiction of riders on horses, dressed similarly in purple, there is a sandy soil on which they rode, scanty trees and the peak of mosque is shown in distance. Kano is a city in Nigeria and the capital of Kano State in Northern Nigeria, in the Sahelian geographic region south of the Sahara. According to the 2006 census, Kano is the most populous state in Nigeria. The principal inhabitants are the Hausa people, with an Emir who wields a vast political influence. It was the first center of commercialization in Nigeria, before it was moved to Lagos State. The economic significance of Kano dates back to the pre-colonial Africa when Kano city served as the southernmost point of the famous trans-Sahara trade routes. Kano was well connected with many cities in North Africa and some cities in southern Europe. The products exported from Kano to north Africa include textile materials, leather and grains. Kano was connected with trans-Atlantic trade in 1911 when a railway line reached Kano. Kano is a major centre for the production and export of agricultural products like hides and skins, peanuts, and cotton. Kano houses the Bayero University and a railway station with trains to Lagos routed through Kaduna, while Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport lies nearby. Because Kano is north of the rail junction at Kaduna, it has equal access to the seaports at Lagos and Port Harcourt. The signified of the still photograph is a reception of what Kano used to be before, the peace and commercialization which it held before, is gradually decreasing, with the incessant bombings and religious attacks which started from the days of Sharia to the present radical Islamic movement known as “Boko Haram”. The picture is ironic of the present-day Kano which is pervaded with insecurity and constant death toll. The question that is raise through this still photograph of Kano is, where are the days when Kano was blessed with colourful festivals, like the Durbar? Where are the shuts of celebration and glamour it once had before? The emir of Kano hosts a Durbar to mark and celebrate the two annual Muslim festivals Eid-ul-Fitr (to mark the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan) and Eid al-Adha (to mark the Hajj Holy Pilgrimage). The Durbar culminates in a procession of highly elaborately dressed horsemen who pass through the city to the emir's palace. Once assembled near the palace, groups of horsemen, each group representing a nearby village, take it in turns to charge toward the emir, pulling up just feet in front of the seated dignitaries to offer their respect and allegiance. Lastly, the above picture is framed in black, which represents sorrow, death and loss that has befallen the present day Kano. In conclusion, it is apparent from this research the power that still photography carries, if Literature is a depiction of the society in print, then Photography is a visual depiction of the society. The research is made easier and comprehensible, by interpreting each picture, because it is visual. Photography represents life in the most realistic form; it has been used to narrate the ordeals and hopes of dedicated Nigerians like Ty Bello for her motherland. REFERENCES
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