Consumerism was a theme that recurred during my research. I became very interested in how we consume too much as a western society. I want to focus on how new design needs to be meaningful. That design needs to have a positive short term and long term effect economically, socially, and environmentally. This has become a very significant factor today because of the way previous design has impacted the world we live in- people are beginning to realise this but still more conscious effort needs to be made to ensure that design practises change.
Man's cloth made in 1972 in Sakora Wonoo
I really enjoyed Martina Paukova's illustration style. The picture above shows distraction in things that we are surrounded by daily. This again can link to my theme of consumerism.
Rachel Sussman (The Oldest Living Thing in The World)
She photographs the oldest living things in the world, connecting with the history of things to understand where the things around us come from. I started to think about all the objects that surround us daily, and their history - their life cycle. How long these objects will last? Some products are designed to have a short life cycle in order to create more profit.
Man's Cloth ( British Museum) by El Anatsui, Ghana, 1998-2001.
This is a traditional 'narrow-strip woven kente cloth of Ghana.' Here, however, the artist uses recycled bottle neck wrappers, symbolising the word of consumerism and its relationship with culture and tradition. This was another piece that influenced me to look further in to consumerism and how it has affected the world that we live in. For example, in a previous project I did about the kitchen, consumerism changed the meaning of the kitchen from the 'heart of the home' to a place of function and practicality.
Inspired by the piece I saw at the British Museum, I began to collect pictures from magazines and newspapers that I had around the house. The idea behind this was to create a photo collage that told a narrative about what good design is, focussing on the three points I had made - environmental, social, and economical. This collage was the beginning of the social section. I wanted to show how design effects culture, i.e the picture of a busy polluted city in the bottom left, or a remote village that has not been effected by modern design and kept culture in the top left. I connected these images through their subject and colour, linking them all together. I also wanted to focus on the use of recycling - and using materials that I already had- creating a sustainable mural myslelf. However I felt that the collage was not working so did not pursue this further. I liked the idea, but the message behind it was too complicated to understand at first glance. People in a office need something that will grab their attention and act as an easy reminder. I was also inspired by David Hockney's exhibition at Tate Britain at the time, particularly his own photographic collages.
Pearblossom Highway, 11th-18th April 1986, photographic collage, 77x112 1/2 in.
“Our entire market economy and the way corporations work need to be changed. We need to urgently move away from corporate success being based on who is most effective in influencing government regulation, avoiding taxes and obtaining subsidies for harmful activities to maximize the returns of just one stakeholder – stakeholders – to one based on resource conservation, genuine innovation (not just technological innovation) and the satisfaction of multiple stakeholder demands”. (Emmott, S., The Observer New Review2013, p. 11)
At the time I was reading National Geographic's Gender Issue who published an article on JeongMee Yoon's photographs. These photographs explore gender and how children are influenced by consumerism, particularly regarding popular culture merchandise. This led me to thinking how I can show the world of consumerism in relation to design, and in a way that would make people, including designers, think further about the things we are buying, the things we need, and what we are contributing to. I really enjoyed the mass of 'stuff' in the photographs, and wanted to create a similar style to represent the abundance of things that people buy. I thought about age - and decided that I would like to include people of all ages to reach a large target audience, and show how consumerism effects everybody.
“The self-assertive greed of corporations has given us strips of quick-food restaurants in every town or sizable village in the United States. The societal and social consequences are clear: a destabilization of the family, new eating patterns that frequently result in obesity and dietary deficiencies, a debasement of the human palate forced to find the lowest common denominator, and finally a ready acceptance of horrendous garishness and visual pollution...each hamburger, fish sandwich, egg burger, or what-have- you comes in its own styrofoam sarcophagus, is further wrapped in plastic foil and accompanied by numerous condiments each in its own plastic or foil pouch” (Papanek, V., 1985, p. 24/25).
Western consumerism has engrossed us in a society surrounded by the temptation to buy things we don't really need. If new design is sustainable- the things that people buy will be profiting a better world rather than impacting our environment in a negative way. There are many ways to do this, and although being completely sustainable and carbon foot free may be difficult, working towards it should be the goal. I started to look at a few companies that are already doing this, such as google ( a large company that has a lot of impact in the digital world today) and clothes companies such as Patagonia. Because 'Going Green' has become popular and important to a lot of people now some companies have also claimed to be greener than they are, such as BP. I found this extremely ironic considering they are the worlds leading gas and oil companies, and have had many incidents where the company has caused drastic damage to the environment ( like the deepwater horizon oil spill )
Patagonia's advertising campaign during Black Friday. It was to try and persuade people to not buy masses of stuff, and instead buy something that will last, and that was made sustainably- such as one of their products.
Development of Final Piece
I began to create a series of photographs with the purpose to make people, particularly designers, think about the product they are making, selling, designing, and its overall impact. I want designers to think about the journey of the product outside of the office- to place it in a home, in a office, a playground, or wherever it may be, and think about what it is contributing towards. For example, the plastic bag scenario: it solves a short term problem of creating cheap, functional, storage that can be carried, however ,long term it has created huge environmental product and waste. If you are designing a new bag for a company, how can this new design tackle these problems?
How can we as designers impact and positively change a consumerist society?
My first thought was to visit different family members houses and document the design products that they own. During discussion, each person picked a particular theme that they wanted to be photographed in,for example the kitchen. I then gathered every single item that was there, and we were both surprised at how many things were actually there- and how many of them were used on a daily basis. In every case more than half of the items were not used. It would have been impactful to document all the things that people owned and did not need in a household but this would be very time consuming and impractical. This is why I decided to do it in stages and use different people.
I began photographing portraits at an eye level, inspired by JeongMee Yoon's photographs that I looked at earlier. The kitchen photographs worked much better than the toys, but when I began to edit them I felt that a large amount of the products were cut out of the picture and it didn’t give the same impact of ‘masses of stuff’ that was seen in person. I also wanted to try and push this further, and felt that they were beginning to look a bit too similar to her pictures.
I decided to try and take a birds eye view instead. These worked much better, also because the person was completely surrounded and encompassed in the subject matter. This represented my theme of consumerism much better, and how we are constantly accumulating, buying, designing, stuff we don’t need.
During my feedback it was brought to light that these photographs actually looked very similar to a photographer I looked at during the beginning of my research who photographed people amongst their garbage. (Gregg Segal, Seven days of Garbage) Although my message was very different, the actual layout of my photographs were quite similar. This led me on to thinking how I could make it more original.
I decided to go back to my collage technique and expand on this- combining collage and my photographs together. It was pointed out during the crit that the people in my photographs could be linked together- they all look at each other. In photoshop I collaged these pictures in to one to create one mural, and one 'household' of stuff. I actually feel that the impact of this is much stronger as a combined piece.
The other thing I could do that was talked about in my crit was combine the pictures together and increase the amount of 'things' in the photograph, to create a photo mural similar to the style of 'Where's Wally.' The characters would almost become impossible to see in the amount of stuff around them. I talked to the technician and it was suggested that the best way to do this was borrow lighting and photography equipment from the loan store and photograph this again in a home. However I ran out of time to pursue this - recreating this scene with more stuff would take a very long time to do and it was not possible to do this in a couple of days. Instead I decided to work with the photographs I had already taken. I tried to do the 'Where's Wally' technique on photoshop, but it was becoming too repetitive and you could tell that the photo had been edited.
My mural is meant to serve as a quick reminder that we live in a Western consumerist society. If as designers we are contributing to more ‘stuff’ then at least the product could have a minimal negative impact socially, economically, and environmentally.