This image was created by manipulating the RGB colour profile of a photograph of the sand and breaking waves at Mitoma Beach in winter. I like the way it turned out because attentive viewers will find so much that’s interesting in it. Without knowing what the original image was, it could appear to be an arctic coastline or a frozen lake with a coastal settlement or town lit with electric light at night. The white ridge in the centre of the top third of the picture is Ainoshima (an island) which is 5-6 kilometres out in the Genkai Sea but it could be taken for distant snow capped mainland or glacial mountains. When I alter pictures like this, it’s for a reason. I love colour and abstract and inverted images but the process and finished product serves to demonstrate that all is not as it appears. I’m reminded of notions of ideology and political economy and in particular of what Marx had to say about revenues and their sources. For Marx “all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided.” This quite obvious statement has always interested me and if people were aware of it they might be inclined to delve not only into the text that it came from (Das Kapital, Vol.3, Chapter 48) but also into what it means to be inundated with and even assaulted by visual imagery of all kinds in today’s world. This would of course involve making the leap from considering sources of revenue to thinking about the appearance of things and ideology.
Some people often (wrongly) consider ideologies to be closed systems of political thought and more often than not associate the word ideology with totalitarian regimes. However, ideology is ever-present in all forms of society and no more so than in capitalism. Ideology masks the essence of society and is manifest in the appearance of things and social relations. It’s what informs the idea that under capitalism people are free to sell their labour as they please and to exchange goods and services as free agents. Clearly, this is not the case and there is a contradiction between the essence and appearance of society. When I look at images like the one above, I’m forced to think, even just a little bit, ‘What is that? What’s going on here? How was that image manipulated? When I look carefully, after a minute or so, it becomes clear.
Unfortunately, I feel that a lot of people today seldom take the time, or even have the time to get past appearances, but it’s important to note that the contradiction between the essence and appearance of social relations is very real. It is the appearance of things that tends to be accepted by both the wealthy and the poor alike. The way the world appears is regarded as normal by everyone who fails or refuses to consider the true exploitative nature of the production process and the importance of labour therein.
If we consider advertising, (which is the very conscious effort to sell people things they do not need), the manipulation of images and ideas stands out as an example of the visual element of the contradiction between the essence of things and their appearance in society. Of course, attached to the images there comes the narrative deceit which is required to convince consumers that their material life will be enhanced by purchasing the product or service advertised. The idea that people are free to refrain from unnecessary consumption (it’s an advertisement, you have the choice not to consume this or that) is inherent in the concept of the advertisement, and as such advertising is a good example of how ideology functions. What’s missing from the images and storylines in advertising is the labour process, who was paid what and where the profits went (not forgetting the elephant in the room – How was the profit generated?). Which of the people involved could refuse to actively engage in the process?
Anyway, I hope you like the image.