Otto Neurath’s contribution of the ISOTYPE (International System of Typographic Picture Education) system represents an important development in the area of communicative visual design. The success of this system demonstrates the necessity for a means of communication to cross linguistic, cultural, and other barriers – in this case, visual. While Neurath himself was not a graphic designer, much of his work revolved around the study of sociology, and his contribution of the ISOTYPE was a response to the idea that ‘visual methods–even the most careful charts and the most elaborate exhibits–are frequently confusing rather than enlightening, because their elements are unfamiliar’ (Neurath, Visual Education: A New Language).

I feel this thought is largely intriguing also in relation to the familiarity of photography.

To break it down further, the ISOTYPE system is a graphic language that was specifically designed to transcend the boundaries of cultural and language barriers. It is essentially a set of symbols that represent common concepts and send simple messages, which we see and decode near daily in the context of crosswalk signs, etc. It builds on a fundamental human understanding of reality and utilizes simplistic renderings of people completing various activities, where the symbols used are designed with qualities that make them universally understood.

So how does this translate to photography? Especially in light of the recent development of the digital camera, I would argue that the photograph has itself become a universally understood concept.

Because a large percentage of the population are familiar with the concept and process of photography, more specifically because they have personal experience with the medium , they are more likely to interject their own ideas of realism into a given piece of photo realistic visual communication, almost placing themselves within the scenario that the photo was taken. It’s almost as if photography has become its own language of subtly interactive visual communication, the implications of which could be limitless.

Granted, photography has been used as a means of visual communication for years, but if we understood its power as potentially universally understood conversation of sorts, how could we use it more effectively within the broader field of design and communication?

I think the big question is, how can we embrace digital processes within photography while also maintaining this fundamental connection between the viewer, the photograph, and understood reality?

Something I’ve been working on over the past couple of months is a website called Backstage Noise. The idea came from having written reviews and photographed various gigs over the past few years, and then moving to Northern Ireland, where the people I had previously written for weren’t exactly keen to cover events. So, as anyone would, I decided to start my own musicesque site.

But, the initial beauty of the idea was that it would be a collaboration. On many levels, really, but mainly between myself and a web developer who would do the more-geeky coding side of things while I would tackle the visuals, and we would mutually provide content. This did not quite work as planned, leaving me at the last minute, still full of ambition and wanting to fulfill my declaration of a December launch date. So I buckled down and got to having some web design fun of my own. This resulted in seeing a lot of this:

Which in turn produced a bit of this:

In all seriousness, I did learn some lessons from this failed collaboration (collabor-not? no-llaboration?), and I did prevail in the end, so it was far from a total loss.

I suppose to summarize, from my experience I will say this:

If you want to do something, figure out why you want to do it. I watched Simon Sinek’s video where he talked about the ‘Golden Circle’ a couple months ago and was fascinated by this very concept that people aren’t really interested in what you do, but more so why you do it. I never really thought of this applying to something like a website, but when I thought about it, it makes a ton of sense. It seems so obvious – it is so obvious, really – but it is equally easy to skip over.

Because everything was sort of put on hold and the workload was going to pretty much double for this project, I was forced to stop and think about why I was doing it. What was the point of it? And so the whole mentality behind the site sort of shifted because of this change in events.

So Backstage Noise exists to inspire awareness, creativity, and collaboration between art and the music industry. The goal is to provide interesting articles and images that showcase successful companionship (eg, how photography benefits musicians, and visa versa), and it will do so in the form of a blog/website.

Stay tuned to see how it develops…

(Also, I like webdesign a tiny fraction more, so that’s exciting.)

As a photographer, I have a love-hate relationship with camera phones*.

On the one hand they are generally not stellar quality and are quite limiting when it comes to technical settings. On the other hand, my phone goes everywhere with me, which is more than can be said for my 4lb Canon DSLR. Likewise, with size comes intimidation – if I aim my phone at people they smile, but when I whip out my 5D Mark II, people tend to hide.

Personally, looking on my phone, all my photos were taken using various apps which simulate the look and feel of old school photographic post-processing methods. In other words, it took a lovely Springy afternoon and made it look like this:

Sure, it’s just another picture taken with a camera phone, but on another level entirely it represents a hugely interesting phenomenon – why are we choosing to use our new technology to recreate the feeling of the past?

It’s almost as if the tinted colours (in all their oversaturated glory) with added vignetting or sprockets somehow inspire the perception of an added feeling of authenticity. Or an extra layer of creativity. Somehow, they seem to make something taken with a crappy camera phone into something interesting.

Granted, a crappy photo is still a crappy photo, but if nothing else, these apps are inspiring people to look at the photos they’re taking in a new way. To use, yes, an ‘added layer of creativity’ to force them to frame what they see in an interesting way, to attempt to turn the content into something visually interesting.



Taken with Retro Camera Taken with Retro Camera


While Hipstamatic is perhaps one of the most popular for the iPhone, countless others are also abound and available on other platforms (personally, I am a fan of ‘Retro Camera’ for the Android). The beauty of many of these is that you can select both the lens and the film to manipulate your image with a seemingly endless combination of your choice.

I’m willing to wager a fairly decent percent of the users of the aforementioned apps wouldn’t have even known what an Instamatic or Holga or Diana was, and yet they are using some of the latest-and-greatest technology to recreate the look of these very old-school analog cameras.

If we are romanticizing the future through media, then what is this saying? That we love our technology, but we want it to do exactly the same thing as our beloved traditional processes… just faster and with less work?

It would appear that technology really is helping us manufacture nostalgia.

*It’s about 80% love, 20% hate.

We met up bright and early on the 4th to get things setup and start off for the much anticipated Help-Portrait Belfast event. The amount of people who ended up coming to volunteer – from photographers to hair and makeup artists to people serving tea and coffee and everything in between – was seriously mind blowing. I love how a group of like-minded people can come together to do something so spectacular – to give back in the simplest of ways. To tell stories by listening to stories. To use our skills to bless others.

I had planned to take photos throughout the day and have them all compiled for a nice visual narrative of the day. But it didn’t really work like that. After each photo I took and had printed for someone, I reformatted my memory card. The photos only exist in the printed form – which says volumes in itself I suppose, because it’s not really about the photos. It’s about the conversations that happened because of the photos. It’s kind of a difficult concept to explain if you haven’t experienced it; it really is a shift in thinking about photography.

I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but I believe we ended up with around 7 photographers, 13 volunteers, 2 hair dressers, and 1 makeup artist. I think the final count of photos taken was around 136 (probably around 60 unique people/families). Everything about the event was pushed up a notch from last year – lots of fresh baked goods, tea, and coffee, Christmas carol sing-a-long for the kiddos, hair and makeup beauty stations for the ladies, photos, and of course, lovely conversation for all.

Even bigger, on the same day, thousands of other people around the world were doing the same thing. Global collaboration in all its selflessness and beauty. I am so excited to have been a part of it, and to meet other amazing folks who gave their time and energy and awesome talent. Check out the Flickr pool for behind the scenes photos from other Help-Portrait events around the globe.

Also, check out Russel Pritchard’s Blog for a lovely, better documented recap of the day. And I definitely recommend joining us if you’d like to be involved next year!

Without further adieu, I will break the rules of blog posting and end with a smiley. Because really, I can’t think of a better way to say it than:

Help-Portrait is :)

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