Reflection: ‘Square Mile’ from ‘Photography 1: Expressing Your Vision’

Reflection: ‘Square Mile’ from Photography 1: Expressing Your Vision

If you’ve completed the assignment ‘Square Mile’ from Photography 1: Expressing Your Vision, you might like to think back and reflect on what your ‘square mile’ means to you.

I have previously completed the assignment ‘Square Mile’ ( The ‘Square Mile’ means ‘home’ but not in a sentimental way – for example if in changed circumstances I had to move with my immediate family to another area I would do so. Within the area where I live is contained signs of the past in the form of historic buildings where history is measured in centuries as well as decades. For example there is church dating from the 1500s and an area that in my memory was a village centre that is now ‘bypassed’ to become something quaint, but not lived in. My sense of place is not allied too strongly to sentiment or a strong sense of community because my extended family and friend mostly live outside this, my local area or Square Mile.

Reading from the ascribed list for Photography 1: Identity and Place I came across an idea of place and the individual that I had not considered before. This derives from communications technology such that it is no longer necessary to be physically present to be in a place in order to be ‘there’. Thus:

The media offer access to settings with which the individual may never personally come into contact; but at the same time some boundaries between settings that were previously separate are overcome. …the media, especially the electronic media, alter the ‘situational geography’ of social life: ‘More and more media make us “direct” audiences to performances that happen in other places and give us access to audiences that are not “physically present”’ As a result, the traditional connection between ‘physical setting’ and ‘social situation’ has become undermined; mediated social situations construct new communities – and differences – between preconstituted forms of social experience (Giddens, 1991: 84).

The above was written in 1991 and the phenomenon identifies has grown and intensified in the intervening twenty-six years with the almost universal use of the smart-phone. An image that was (wrongly) viewed as showing this absence of the individual from the real place is shown in Figure 1. Despite its misinterpretation (see Molloy, 2016 for details) the image is interesting for its juxtaposition of a strong real place with a virtual ‘place’.

My sense of place is grounded in the real perhaps because as a consequence of my age I’m a late comer to the virtual world. The image of van der Wal (above) was noteworthy because the children in the photograph would have never known a world not augmented by the virtual. Is it something to mourn or celebrate that for such children the local (or real) ‘Square Mile’ may be destined to be a dull, uninteresting or even emotionally barren place? As mentioned above my age means that I am unlikely ever to experiences such changes to the ‘situational geography’ (Giddens, above) of my social life.


Giddens, Anthony (1991) Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the late Modern Age. Oxford: Polity Press

Molloy, Mark (2016) ‘The real story behind a viral Rembrandt ‘kids on phones’ photo’ In: The Telegraph [online] At: (Accessed on 18.04.17)


Figure 1. van der Wal, Gijsbert (2016) Untitled. At: (Accessed on 18.04.17)


Introduction – Reflection point, social media portrait

Reflection point — Identity, social media portrait

If you have a social media profile picture, write a paragraph describing the ‘you’ it portrays.

This un-posed portrait (see fig. 1.) was taken by a friend. I used it because it reflects a positive, outgoing aspect of my personality, an image that chimes well with a presence on social media. The photograph is in no way a thoughtful portrait and does not seek to ‘see below the surface’, it is just me on a good day. If a portrait or self-portrait can be the ‘means of self-analysis, presenting an opportunity for self-reflection, or self-expression and self-promotion; a bit of eternity’ (Rideal, 2005: 7), then only one of the above attributes applies to my social media portrait – that of self-promotion. Any past association of ‘eternity’ with the generation of a personal likeness has long been swept away in the digital age with its constant churn and blur of millions (billions?) of personal images. The image was taken in colour but I converted it to black-and-white because this reflects my interest in photography (and the main reason I engage with social media). Why the black-and-white image should be thought ‘ photographic’ is because it reflects photography’s analogue past. Charlotte Cotton (2015) draws a connection between evoking this past and stage magic:

a century ago , a magician’s top hat and coattails constituted the adopted signs of genteel respectability in the fashion of a gentleman’s attire. When a magician wears this costume now, it is a re-enactment of the uniform (or camouflage) for creating illusion, a culturally loaded ideogram of the past. Just so, the artist … using historic analogue tools in the image environment of the present, … (Cotton, 2015: 10)

What aspects of yourself remain hidden?

The portrait in Figure 1 reflects a single aspect (above) of myself therefore all else remains hidden. Previously when completing the Unit ‘Context and Narrative’ I considered the difficulty of capturing the self in a self-portrait and attempted an image that reflected the necessarily multi-dimensional aspect of the self (see fig. 2.)

If you were to construct a more ‘accurate’ portrait of yourself, including various aspects of who you are, what would you choose to include? How might you visualise these things?

Try creating a new, more honest, self-portrait.

Figure 3 and Figure 4 are attempts at a more nuanced social media portrait. Figure 3 reflects the ‘good nature’ of the current portrait (see fig. 1.) yet includes some element of wariness or even calculation in the encounter with the viewer. Figure 4 is inspired by the self-portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, ‘Self-Portrait with Artist shading his Eyes, 1748-9’ (see fig. 5.). Here my portrait is too ambiguous, and shows a wariness to the point of distrust (distrust of being open on my part and distrust of the viewer or both).

As a compromise the chosen new social media portrait (fig. 3.) appears distorted with a fisheye lens (done in post-processing). Thus this portrait is accurate as far as it goes but the distortion makes the statement that much remains un-captured. Again the image is in black-and-white for the reason stated above for the current social media portrait.

Figure 1. Current social media portrait (Click to enlarge)

Figure 2. Previous self-portrait (Click to enlarge)

Figure 3. Version of new self-portrait (Click to enlarge)

Figure 4. Version of new self-portrait (Click to enlarge)

Figure 5. Sir Joshua Reynolds, Self-Portrait with Artist shading his Eyes, 1748-9 (Click to enlarge)


Cotton, Charlotte (2015) Photography is Magic. New York: Aperture Foundation

Rideal, Liz (2005) Insights. Self-portraits. London: National Portrait Gallery