Monika Schwärzler is an Associate Professor at Webster Vienna Private University, Department of Media Communications; Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Vienna; graduate training at the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna; taught at Webster University in St. Louis, MO and in the study abroad program of the University of Oregon; lectures at the International Summer and Winter School of the University of Vienna; founder and chair of the T.K. Lang Gallery at Webster University. Main fields of research: visual culture, art and media theory, history of photography, animation. Most recent publication: At Face Value and Beyond. Photographic Constructions of Reality, Transcript Verlag, 2016.
To be honest, I am shy and people frightened me. Animals only pooped on your shoes.
Macinnis’ photographs of various groups of animals are so striking because all the animals assembled in front of the camera seem to be most willing to accept the camera’s gaze and the power relation implied. Animals are usually hard to photograph, because they are not particularly collaborative, unpredictable in their movements, and tend to flee the frame. Macinnis’ protagonists pose and look straight into the camera. They appear tame, pacified, ‘civil’, patiently awaiting their pictorial equivalent. As in all well-managed and representative group photos, there are no obvious signs of disorder or potential subversion. Macinnis’ patchwork families look friendly and demonstrate unity and a sense of aesthetic order. Macinnis’ photos allow for a reflection on group photographs and their specific arrangements. At the same time, they make one painfully aware of the disciplinary nature of the photographic act. Posing and freezing in front of the camera is a cultural practice that had to be trained and appropriated. Narratives from the beginnings of photography prove that. By looking at Macinnis’ fully disciplined animal models, one realizes how much of our own unruliness we had to give up to fit into the photographic system.
The distorted faces of the youths on social media feature ready-made expressions that do not correspond with any deeply felt psychic reality. The face no longer acts as a surface but as a mere plane where highly standardized signs can be projected.
While at the end of the 19th century grimacing was considered a symptom of schizophrenia, and pulling faces was regarded as an assault on the decency and reliability of facial features, grimacing has become a frequent practice on social media today. My argument will be that the distorted physiognomy of Facebook users features ready-made expressions that do not correspond with any deeply felt psychic reality. There is nothing essential about the contractions of the facial muscles enacted by these members of the social media community. They are playing, trying out poses, and emulating already approved face farces. My thesis is that by performing these grimaces young people create a reality of surplus and excess which they would otherwise miss. If everyone is supposed to enjoy him/herself to the fullest, then the excessively grimacing party manages to communicate this effectively. Grimacing has become a performative act of talking or photographing oneself into a feeling of high life. To prove my point, I will do a close-reading of a commercial that most recently appeared on billboards in Vienna, depicted a young woman performing one of the standard grimaces. The verbal message said, “Do not just stand but pose,” implying that the model is given credit for the extra effort that “posing” requires. Subsequently, her figure morphs into the classic disciplined body, well known as one of the main battle zones of economic interests and power plays.