examines how image sharing and the Internet have changed the role of photography in the digital age. The process of creating and disseminating imagery has fundamentally changed in this new context provided by digital photography, smartphones and more recently the “selfie.”
To create this work Tom commissioned bespoke computer software, which accesses the publicly available Instagram API and appropriates imagery tagged #selfie immediately after it is published. A custom facial recognition algorithm then scans the downloaded images to identify instances of the now ubiquitous single person, arm’s length portrait. These images are printed using a thermal receipt printer, one every twelve seconds, and allowed to fall to the floor and accumulate during the exhibition.
Through physical transformation and defamiliarisation of this seemingly harmless content, #selfie highlights our readiness to trust the unknown and reveals its darker side; our unconscious participation in self-surveillance and the notional freedom it brings.
This work now consists of over 150,000 individual images that have been produced since it was first exhibited in 2014. Visitors are encouraged to walk over, pick up, examine and interact with the prints in whatever way they wish. Notable creative uses have included categorizing them by type, lying down and making “selfie-angels,” throwing prints to make “selfie-snow,” visitors burying one another with the prints and playing “real life Tinder.” Visitors can also print their own image using the hashtag “#selfieprinter.” Images posted in this way jump to the front of the queue and print immediately, further deepening the viewers’ experience and understanding of the work.
After reading a news article, Stayte began to research the distressing circumstances in which without direct human influence, “bots” – automated computer programs, were responsible for the image of a deceased girl being used in an online dating advertisement. He discovered the ease with which these “bots” collect and distribute the photography consumed online. To investigate their capabilities, Stayte commissioned the creation of a bespoke “bot” to collect images and accompanying data.
Set to work on social media site Facebook, the “bot” collected
the profile pictures and names of the first 500,000 of 1.15 billion Facebook users with active accounts, starting with #1 – Mark Zuckerberg. Face Book, Volume 1 of 2300, displays the collected data in chronological order. A further 2299 titles would need to succeed this volume to complete the series and contain every Facebook user to date.
The work provides commentary on contemporary debates about online privacy and perceived control of our own self-image. The book, a physical manifestation of this debate, leads us to question our activity as individuals in the enormous online realm and therefore as modern humans.
At the Discover photobook exhibition in November 2013, Face Book was awarded first prize, the SHU Photobook Award.