Category Archives: Current Events

Matt Garber: A Picture is Worth 140 Characters

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Cut the Middleman

Photography, Text and Video by Matt Garber, Copyright 2018

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A Picture is Worth 140 Characters 

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Among the most important political developments of the last two decades is social media. With the proliferation of these tools, politicians and public figures are able to reach their audiences directly. This has caused a massive shift in political communication.

Instead of relying on print, radio, and television media to distribute messaging, public figures may use their own voices without any of the critical analysis provided by the media. This shift in communication has led to a shift in the communicators too. Former President Barack Obama has almost 90 million followers and Twitter, and President Donald Trump is widely known for his use of Twitter, not just for gaffes, but also as an effective tool.

With the recent accidental deletion of the President’s Twitter account, it makes sense to take a new retrospective look at the ways Twitter, and Donald Trump’s use of it in particular, has come to reshape American politics.

Prior to Twitter’s ubiquity, news was consumed either in person or through journalists. Even online, journalists would post stories on their websites. This afforded the populace a critical lens through which to view the events of the day. Even though media can be slanted to the left, right, or middle, its consumption through the filter of journalism provided people an accountable source for information.

Today, users of Twitter like the president can cut out the middle man. Donald Trump makes a point of undermining traditional news sources like his so called “FAILING New York Times.” Even if news media’s business is performing better, the way the public is receiving political communication is lacking the broad lens of journalists. Donald Trump has no need to appeal to his detractors because he can reach his supporters directly.

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No Filter

Twitter also has an immediacy. No longer is it necessary that all serious thoughts be developed into considered remarks to be given in an interview, speech, or press release. The bully pulpit has transitioned from a careful podium to an edgy smartphone. Few are better known that Trump for taking this to task in haphazard Twitter rants that invigorate his supporters and alienate most everyone else.

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Make Covfefe America Again

Perhaps he does carefully consider each character. Or perhaps not. It is impossible to analyze Donald Trump and Twitter without mentioning his May “covfefe” gaffe. When the president made a silly, Scrabble-word type typo, it sparked national news because of Twitter’s speed, permanence, and social vitality. However, providing insight to his character, Trump failed to simply laugh off the incident for what it was. Instead, he defended it and attempted to appear intentional. He failed to allow himself to be a normal Twitter user who could correct the Tweet and move on.

Perhaps he does carefully consider each character. Or perhaps not. It is impossible to analyze Donald Trump and Twitter without mentioning his May “covfefe” gaffe. When the president made a silly, Scrabble-word type typo, it sparked national news because of Twitter’s speed, permanence, and social vitality. However, providing insight to his character, Trump failed to simply laugh off the incident for what it was. Instead, he defended it and attempted to appear intentional. He failed to allow himself to be a normal Twitter user who could correct the Tweet and move on.

Short and Fat

Again, demonstrating his imperfection, Trump unleashed a classic Twitter insult earlier this month. “Why would Kim Jong-Un insult me by calling me old when I would never call him short and fat?” While hardly presidential, this tweet revealed again the childishness that Twitter allows us to see. Its immediacy again provides direct access to the character of the user, and this is magnified when that user is the leader of the free world.

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Flip Flop

The major difference between the casual Twitter user and the public figure is the consequential nature of their positions. If the average joe announces a change of mind through tweet (and a change back and then forth again), we likely move on.

However, social media once again magnifies the thoughts of the president. Donald Trump’s Twitter feed is no stranger to contradiction, but it can be particularly amusing when it marks an overt flip flop. Again, without the reigning in by aides and writers afforded by formal policy announcements, Twitter can reveal the worst of an individual.

The major difference between the casual Twitter user and the public figure is the consequential nature of their positions. If the average joe announces a change of mind through tweet (and a change back and then forth again), we likely move on. However, social media once again magnifies the thoughts of the president. Donald Trump’s Twitter feed is no stranger to contradiction, but it can be particularly amusing when it marks an overt flip flop. Again, without the reigning in by aides and writers afforded by formal policy announcements, Twitter can reveal the worst of an individual.

Policy in 140 Characters

Finally, we see a striking ability of social media to influence the policy of the nation. This is the real crux of the issue. The president can judge opinion by likes rather than polls. He can decide merit by retweets rather than analysis. The jury consists primarily of the people with whom Trump interacts online. This translates into actual policies affecting actual people. It is a broken system and one magnified by the personality of this president. If we do nothing to address it, it could mean that what is popular online is what counts on the books.

While amplified by the bombastic nature of our current President, this analysis by no means ends with Trump’s term. These ideas are welcomed and fostered by Twitter’s environment. The polarization it creates among our citizenry transcends one administration. Obama was the first Twitter President. Trump will likely be the president most remembered for his Twitter. But social media is not going away, and its effects in politics will live on.

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Regarding the photographs…

Each photograph in this article is an abstract illustration of the ideas at play. Social media is an abstract, simplifying process, so in representing it photographically, the challenge became, “How abstract and simple can this be made?” If a picture is worth a thousand words, but a tweet is merely 140 (or now 280) characters, then they are awfully dissimilar. So how far can we go to bridge that gap? That is the philosophy behind the photos.

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About The Author: Matt Garber is a Freshman enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020.  To access additional articles by Matt Garber, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/blog/matt-garber-doll/

 

Also posted in Blog, Documentary, Environment, History, News, Photography, Politics, Popular Culture, Student Life, UPenn, UPenn Photography, Video

Julia Chun: Art as Activism

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Photography, Text and Video by Julia Chun, Copyright 2018

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Art as Activism

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Sometimes, a protest and going on a strike for a few weeks will do the job. Your city government hears you out and resolves your issues. 

Sometimes, a series of protests or making to the news headlines throughout the year will pass that bill that you’ve been fighting for.

Often times, issues are left unresolved. Some years, the society and the political scene seem to be fighting in your favor and in others, they turn their backs to you.

In this project, I wanted to capture the artwork and the people who use art as a means of activism to perpetuate political and cultural issues that need attention of the society. Some targeted topics that are more directly influenced by politics such as LGBTQ, reconstruction of a rundown town in Philly, black women oppression, and Islamophobia. Others created performances to enhance the sense of resonance, which is crucial in every minority communities or communities formed by people of the same race but with vastly different social status. One Indian American might be the CEO of Google while many others are still subject to deportation with DACA’s end. The commonality among all the artworks and people I captured is that they all fight for their long-lasting causes in a peaceful way through film, performance, music, and poetry.

I photographed three different events for this project. First series was themed “Resonance”, organized by the Asian Pacific American Heritage Week (APAHW), which featured different shows put together by cultural groups. The second series was also put together by APAHW, but it featured guests from outside of Penn to showcase their work and talk about the various issues they fight for – Islamophobia, LGBT rights, urban renovation, etc. The last series was called “SPEECH/ACT”, an exhibit taking place at the Institute of Contemporary Art. The artists used black poetry as a way to discuss black rights and used commercials to show black oppression in America.

After seeing so many protests, often violent, take place since the election last year, it was very mind opening to realize that there were so many other issues to fight for besides taxation or those that are starkly political. It was also inspiring to discover artists who are so persistently and actively trying to make a statement through their artwork shaped by their personal experiences, although they may never make it to the front page of a news paper.

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About The Author: Julia Chun is a computer science major enrolled in the School of Engineering & Applied Science. University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2019. To access additional articles by Julia Chun, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/blog/julia-chun-aesthetic-non-aesthetic/

 

 

Also posted in Art, Documentary, Music, Photography, Popular Culture, Student Life, UPenn, UPenn Photography, UPenn: Photography Students, Video, Women

Noel Zheng: Untitled (“Bare”)

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An ongoing project by Noel Zheng, Copyright 2018

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Untitled (“Bare”)

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The specifications of this project was based around the idea of “sex sells” and “Erotica”. In response to this, I developed, more or less, a social project on what it means to be sexy and attractive in the 21st century.

The idea behind this project is to explore the interaction between the model and a white button up shirt, and how this article of clothing is used to accentuate or mask the body; this takes the model to the brink of what they are confident with. In any of the cases along the spectrum, the model will thus be confident and comfortable with how much or little they are showing. Therefore, this resonates the idea that skin or no skin can be equally sexy and attractive. At the project’s core, skin is just skin.

I interviewed each model during each photography session both to reap the safest and body positive environment, and to understand their confidence in their own skin. Some of the answers are as follows (responses provided by differing models):

What makes a man/ woman beautiful/ attractive to you?

Confidence, 100%. If someone is confident in themselves and shows this when they are around others, I think it makes them more attractive and more beautiful than any surface appearance.

Follow up question: do you feel beautiful/ attractive?

I think I’m beautiful. I don’t often think of myself as attractive.

When do you feel the proudest of who you are?

When I’m creating-in the kitchen, behind the camera, on a canvas, on paper and then when I’m looking at my finished creation. Also, when I see that I’ve made an impact on someone else, that’s definitely a very proud moment!

What three things do you value the most about your body?

I most value my body for what it is capable of. In terms of aesthetics, I value my abs, my lips and my butt, of course.

What three things do you value the most?

Money, food, and friends. In that order.

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About The Author: Noel Zheng is a Sophomore majoring in Architecture, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020. To access additional articles by Noel Zheng, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/blog/noel-zheng-untitled-jolie-laide/

 

 

Also posted in Architecture, Art, Blog, Documentary, Erotica, Fashion, Glamour, Models, Nudes, Photography, Popular Culture, Portraiture, Student Life, UPenn Photography, Women

Victoria Meng: 24 Hours in Philadelphia

Photography, Text and Video by Victoria Meng, Copyright 2017

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24 Hours in Philadelphia

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The glare of passing cars on a wet boulevard glows, ironically, orange. I’m standing beneath the looming shadow of City Hall. To my right, a group of screaming protesters seems more comforting than the sight to my left, a row of fifteen armed police officers, leaning on their thin bike frames like stoic knights preparing to joust. It’s a cold Saturday night, shortly past midnight. Shouts muddled with static erupted from bullhorns, filling the air with complaints about small hands and big grievances. Yet, in the chaos around me, I found a source of peace.

Weaving between the ANTIFA activists and reporters and policemen, there were people. Normal Philadelphia citizens going about their nightly activities without batting an eye. Colorful beanies bobbed their way up and down the stairs of the SEPTA station, cars stuck in traffic blasted the newest single from this week’s one-hit wonder, Philly Jesus smiled silently from his post.
I went Downtown to look for signs of decay, clear beacons of injustice and hatred that have sprouted up over the past year. But I didn’t find that. Instead, I finally saw in Philly, something that I’d always wanted to see: resilience. Despite all of the tragedies and embarrassments that have befallen us as a society in the past year, Philly is still Philly. The city is no less vibrant, and the people are no less brash, diverse, creative, or phenomenal.

The next morning, as I walked through Chinatown and then to a Day of the Dead Celebration, I witnessed a new type of protest. Among these vibrant immigrant communities, there was no screaming, no posters, no Papier-mâché presidents. Instead, they fought back by simply living and loving in a city they made their home. Their very existence was a raised a middle finger to the nationalist forces that rally against them.

Old women guarded their posts in Chinatown, chattering together in brightly patterned jackets, while young children 20 blocks down got their faces painted to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Whether it was the smell of warm Pan de Muerto or the faint thump of some Taiwanese rap single, I witnessed how joy can be a form of defiance.

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About The Author: Victoria Meng is a Sophomore enrolled in the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020. To access additional articles by Victoria Meng, click:http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/victoria-meng-wendy-dinosaur/

 

Also posted in Blog, Documentary, Environment, History, News, Photography, Popular Culture

Yash Killa: Propaganda

 

Photography and Text by Yash Killa, Copyright 2017

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PROPAGANDA

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When I was given this topic as my assignment, I knew I could go two ways about it – either go for a direct representation of propaganda by covering a protest or find some other day-to-day activity around us and transcend it into a metaphor for the idea behind propaganda.The latter is what I chose to go for. This allowed me to perceive a certain aspect of our society in a very different and unique way, and further challenged me to convince all who view the project.

Propaganda aims to change and influence people’s views, and is often misleading and biased. It is often seen directly in the form of protests or posters. It can be of political, religious, social or economic in nature, but in the crux of it, it is based on changing people’s perspectives and ideas by using certain tools like social media to spread information.

Something similar is what I see in a barbershop. People getting their hair ‘altered’ by the barbers through tools like scissors and trimmers, can be compared to people getting their views ‘altered’ by the propagandists through tools like social media and protests.

And so, for this project, I focused on taking photos that can help the viewer draw this parallel – from the picture of the trimmers, to the picture of the broom and the cut-off hair. The trimmers being the tool of the influencing, whereas the cut-off hair symbolises the fresh and unique ideas that have been tactfully removed through the process, with the broom cleaning everything at the end.

Furthermore, the final nod given by the customer using the mirrors around him portrays the susceptibility of the common man to social media and other people’s opinions, and how it is they, themselves who allow propagandists to bring an impact to their lives.

Finally, I hope the series of photographs makes this metaphor easier to comprehend and I, maybe encourage people to think more about what happens around them.

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About The Author: Yash Killa is a Freshman enrolled in the School of Arts & Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020.

 

Also posted in Blog, Documentary, Environment, News, Photography, Politics, Popular Culture, Student Life, UPenn Photography