Tag Archives: Time

Tutor Report for Assignment 5

shaun-mullins-512659-photography-1-context-narrative-assignment-5

I have just received my Tutor’s report for my last assignment for the Context & Narrative course and I am both pleased and relieved that my Tutor liked it and has given me a good report.

He comments that I didn’t mention if I used a tripod.  This was an oversight in my blogging, as I had used it and I listed it as the equipment used but obviously I did not make it clear that the camera was mounted to the tripod for all my shots.

When setting up for the shoot, I reasoned that by mounting the camera, it would slow me down and help control the framing of the picture and although I didn’t consider it at the time it was important in order to be able to merge more than one image through Photoshop, if required.  Which in fact was the case.

I feel that although I achieved what I set out to make, I still felt that picture wasn’t quite as good as I hoped.  I struggled with the framing as the camera was fixed; and my dog was not, which caused problems getting all the elements in the right place.  Perhaps I should have set the camera up a little further away or set the zoom to a wider angle for greater flexibility when cropping.  However, I was working at my second choice of locations due to circumstances beyond my control and time had been wasted trying to get access to my first location choice, leaving me less time to work.  All in all, I made the best out of a non-ideal situation and I am fairly happy with the final picture if not ecstatic.

 

 

One-Way Street & Other Writings by Walter Benjamin

One-Way Street

Walter BenjaminOne-way Street and other Writings, (2009) London: Penguin. ISBN:978-0-141-18947-5.

On the critique of violence, (1921) is an essay considering the use of violence as a form of law enforcement and justice.  An interesting essay for studying documentary theory.

There is an essay on surrealism and an essay about a Czech writer that I had not heard of but who sounds interesting Franz Kafka. I shall look for examples of his work.

A collection of essays that include Brief History of Photography, (1931) that looks at the early development of photography and such influencing works as August Sanders.

Also included is The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, (1936) Benjamin examines how photography has made the great art classics more available to be seen by the mass public but by doing so he considers that there value has diminished in virtue of the rarity for public access.  He then goes on to look at cinema as a new art form and how this form of media is changing and influencing art both politically and culturally.

Notes of interest for, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)

  • Benjamin argues that recent technology has fundamentally changed the meaning of reproduction in art.
  • He argues that art has always been reproducible by limited technological means since the times of Ancient Greece by means of casting and embossing for bronzes, terracottas and coins.  Then much later came printing.
  • Until the development of photography and gramophone the reproduction of most art forms could retain their genuineness through provenance.
  • However photography and the gramophone has fundamentally changed the meaning of reproduction of art as a whole.
  • A piece of art holds its status of genuineness through provenance and provenance is beyond technological reproduction.
  • Something reproduced by manual means still holds its genuineness (even when branded a forgery).
  • Something reproduced by modern technological means does not.  For example a Brahms symphony reproduced in a concert hall 150 years after Brahms’ death still retains its genuineness.  However, if recorded and then played back the genuineness.  A painted copy (manual reproduction) of the Mona Lisa retains a genuineness.  However, a photograph (technological reproduction) of the Mona Lisa does not.
  • With the new technological reproduction of photography and gramophone, the reproduced works of art has now a new meaning: one that can go anywhere and be enjoyed by anyone. A symphony concert can now be enjoyed in a living room or a priceless Rembrandt painting from the pages of a book.
  • New methods of technological reproduction has also provided new ways in which to experience beyond the range of our normal senses for example slow motion and macro-photography.
  • Although technological reproduction does not physically alter or effect the original, it does alter the original’s value.  Its here and now is devalued.
  • The genuineness of a thing is the quintessence of everything about it since its creation that can be handed down, from its material duration to the historical witness duration to the historical witness that it bears. The latter (material duration and historical witness) being grounded in the former (the thing’s genuineness), what happens in the representation, where the former has been removed from human perception, is that the latter also starts to wobble. Nothing else, admittedly; however, what starts to wobble thus is the authority of the thing. (233).
  • The above passage suggests that when the genuineness has been removed the material duration and its historical witness becomes questionable.
  • ‘We can encapsulate what stands out here by using the term ‘aura’. We can say: what shrinks in an age where the work of art can be reproduced by technological means is its aura.’ (233)
  • Reproductive technology, we might say in general terms, removes the thing reproduced from the realm of tradition.  In making many copies of the reproduction, it substitutes for its unique incidence a multiplicity of incidences.  And in allowing the reproduction to come closer to whatever situation the person apprehending it is in, it actualises what is reproduced. (233)
  • Art’s meaning alters over time.
  • Within major historical periods, along with changes in the overall mode of being of the human collective, there are also changes in the manner of its sense perception. (234).  ‘A classical statue of Venus, for example, occupied a different traditional context for the Greeks, who made of it an object of worship, than for medieval clerics, who saw it as a threatening idol.’ (236)
  • ‘Works of art are received and adopted with different points of emphasis, two of which stand out as poles of each other. In one case the emphasis is on the work’s cultic value; in the other, on its display value.’ (237)
  • Much wisdom had already been thrown away on deciding whether photography was an art (without asking the prior question: whether, with the invention of photography, the very nature of art had undergone a change), but before long the theoreticians of film were asking a similarly hasty question. (240)
  • The fact that the work of art can now be reproduced by technological means alters the relationship of the mass to art.  From being very backward (faced with a Picasso, for instance), it has become highly progressive (given, say, Chaplin).  Yet this progressive response is characterised by the fact that in it the pleasure of looking and experiencing is associated, directly and profoundly with the stance of passing an expert judgement.  The link is an important social indicator.  In fact, the more the social significance of an art diminishes, the greater the extent (as clearly turning out to be the case with painting) to which the critical and pleasure-seeking stances of the public diverge. (248-249)

 

 

 

Exercise – ‘Question for Sellers’ by Nicky Bird.

http://nickybird.com/projects/question-for-seller/

Nicky Bird purchased old unwanted photographs on Ebay, first waiting to see if anyone bid for them and if no-one did he purchased them himself and asked the seller, how they came to own the pictures and what they knew about them?

This is an interesting subject as I had never imagined that family photographs would ever become unwanted / redundant.  Their meaning lost, their memories forgotten.  That is until a recent event in my own life touched on this very subject.  My wife’s Aunt died without issue in 2011, her husband had died the year before and she left her whole estate to her four nieces.  When we were going through her things (which was a big task as she left a six bedroom house to be liquidated) I came across two old leather suitcases full of old family photos mainly of my wife’s Aunts family taken in the 30’s and 40’s.  No one was interested as Sarah’s Uncle was the family link and if I hadn’t have taken these cases myself they would have been lost for ever.  At the time I took them I had no thoughts of photography; but I felt a certain sense of responsibility that these lives should be remembered and these images should be kept.  I can’t explain why, I just thought it was the right thing to do.  Perhaps it is simply was that we all feel important and deep down wish to be remembered.  Photography gives us this chance, even if the name and the memory is lost the image can still tell future generations that we existed, what we looked like, how we dressed, and how we posed, even what the world around us looked like.  Photos are more important in this respect than say a painted portraits of a Victorian, for example. The photograph gives a better likeness, it captures the confidence or awkwardness of the subject; thus hinting at his or her character.  The camera captures background that can tell a little about that moment in time and perhaps history that the artist may leave out or re-interpret.  Sadly many family pictures will disappear over time and the surviving images will become more and more important.  Imagine if photography had been around at the time of the first Roman Republic, even if only all that survived was a few family photos of only ordinary citizens our historians would have a field day!

In this exercise I am asked if Bird’s second-hand pictures displayed on a gallery wall elevate their status?

I guess the answer has to be yes, for now they are now the focus of attention and anyone or anything that becomes the focus of attention must by default become elevated in status.

Where does their meaning derive from?

Their meaning derives only from the context of their use if they have lost their original identity.  An unwanted family photo of an unknown person, taken under unknown circumstances, perhaps even the location is unknown, then only the meaning that is attached to the picture from the exhibition exists.

When they are re-sold is their increased value because they are now art?

This is a commercial question and one that can not be simply answered with a yes or no.  If the exhibition is successful, if the pictures can attract a contemporary historians eye, if the pictures can capture the imagination of art collectors, there is a lot of ifs, if the seller can market these images correctly / cleverly to the right market.  Art is very subjective.

Research Point – A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing by Diane Arbus

A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing, N.Y.C. 1966 photographed by Diane Arbus.  This image brings back memories of my childhood, as my Uncle and Aunt looked similar to this when I was just a toddler.  My Uncle had that Teddy-boy look of the 60’s and my Aunt had her hair in this style which must have been very common at that time on both sides of the Atlantic (I believe that it was known as the Beehive).  The image clearly suggests an awkwardness in the attitude of the husband and wife, neither appear relaxed or very cheerful.  The wife appears distant and unhappy whilst the husband is trying to make more of an effort; but there appears to be a mix of friendliness and sadness in his eyes whilst his mouth suggests a faint smile.  Perhaps they have argued, perhaps the husband likes the photographer Diane Arbus and his wife is aware of it.  Perhaps his young wife feels trapped, her life over before it really began torn by her youth and her duty and love as a mother of two young children, one of which is disabled and likely to be quit a handful on top of that of the baby.  The baby appears fairly quite and happy whilst the boy may be sensing his parents mood as he gives the appearance of acting and looking confused and restless.  I note that the mother has clearly spent time on her appearance with her cloths, hair, make-up and eye-brows.  Is this for the benefit of the camera, herself or for the trip out?

This picture is the subject of an essay by Liz Jobey and was published in Singular Images, Essays on Remarkable Photographs.  Edited by Sophie Howarth and published by Tate Publishing.  (This book is currently out-of-print and I obtained a copy second-hand through Amazon.

According to Jobey’s essay this photo was taken on a Sunday in 1966 and the parents were taking their children out for the day.  Arbus had got to know this young N.Y. Brooklyn family and had visited then at their apartment and took some photos there as well as this one.  their names were Richard and Marylin Daurin, Richard was an immigrant from Italy working as a car mechanic he met his wife in high school and Marylin was still only 16 when they were married.  They had three children, the two in the picture is Richard Jnr. and Dawn.  Marylin was 23 when this photo was taken and she told Arbus that she was often mistaken for Elizabeth Taylor (which I suspect she encouraged by her choice of hair and make-up).  This image was first published in a special family issue of the British ‘Sunday Times’ titled ‘The American families’ with photos of the Daurin’s in the Bronx juxtaposed against the life-style of a wealthy Westchester couple.

When Arbus sent this photo to Peter Crookston the magazine’s deputy editor for the Sunday Times supplement she of Richard and Marylin, “They were undeniably close in a painful sort of way.”  However, Crookston re-wrote this for the caption as, “Richard Jnr. is mentally retarded and the family is close in a painful sort of way.”  Arbus later wrote a letter to Crookston complaining about his miss-quotation.

Arbus, by her own admission had a way with charming people in to posing for her and she became famous for seeking out people of the fringes of society and taking their portraits.  These people whom many would derogatory call freaks would be mentally ill down and outs, dwarfs, transsexuals, etc.  Sadly Arbus committed suicide in 1971.

Photography a Concise History

Photography_a_Concise_History

I have just finished reading this book Photography a Concise History by Ian Jeffrey, published by Thames and Hudson.  ISBN: 0-500-20187-0.  This book was first published in 1981; so the history only goes up as fay as 1979 and is typically biased towards black-and-white images.  I guess partly due to the attitude towards colour photography at that time and also most amateurs and artists who may be reading this book would have predominately been working in black-and-white anyway.  Jeffrey sums up in the last lines of his book that he felt that American photographers were producing more diverse and interesting imagery than their European cousins at that time (1970s).

Interesting book for timeline of development of photography for mainly Europe and America the rest of the world is hardly mentioned.  Early images are linked to the technical development of photography but this thread appears to be is lost by the 1920s and the development of the Leica.  However, very little is mentioned about Japan’s development of cameras or examples of artists work using any.  Interestingly by the time this book went to print most professional and amateurs were all using Japanese cameras.

A book to keep for reference.

Exercise-Project-3-Self-absented Portraiture


Photo by Nigel Shafran, Titled, 4th January 2004. Three bean soup, cauliflower vegetable cheese. Morning coffee and croissants. From the series Washing-up. Available to view online: http://nigelshafran.com

This image has a tell-tale clue that this is a man’s washing-up from the drying paint-brush hanging over the sink.  It doesn’t surprise me that these photos are taken by a man; but the choice of subject matter does.  I am sure many married men (I being one) often do the washing up.  My father often washes up for my mother but he often does such a poor job of it needs cleaning again.  Thankfully I don’t follow in this tradition.

I would agree with the opinion that gender does contribute to a the creation on an image.  for the reasons that certain issues will have more of a personal interest to one gender than the other for example – various feminine social, private and public politics; sexuality; male and female health issues to mention just a few.

These images have been composed without including people in the frame.  The angles and vantage points of the camera puts the viewer at normal head height relative to the subject matter.  This gives the impression to me of putting the viewer in to the picture; so that this not only can represent the artists daily chores but also offering up the chore to the viewer to do.

As a still-life the concept of putting the viewer in to the picture I do find interesting but these images as they stand as photos of washing-up, I wouldn’t spend much time in a gallery scrutinizing.  Has these images been carefully arranged?  Perhaps, perhaps not.

Exercise-1-Project-2-Masquerades

In the following examples, the artists have taken on the personality of another individual by dressing as the subject and acting as the subject and standing in for the subject.


Photo by Nikki S Lee. This linked image is available to view online: http://tiffobenii.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/artwork_images_139001_379786_nikkis-lee.jpg”

Nikki S Lee has taken this idea and used both a mixture of observation and performance to replace an individual from a group shot and replace that person with herself.  To obtain these images she has assimilated herself in to a range of social groups from Punks, Hispanics, Strippers and Yuppies.  The photos were either taken by a friend or a member of the infiltrated group.  Lee researched her subjects scrutinizing the social conventions, dress and body-language.  She has even photoshopped to change her weight, age, size and even skin colour to blend in to the group.


Photo by Nikki S Lee. This linked image is available to view online: http://annex.guggenheim.org/collections/media/902/2001.3_ph_web.jpg”

In Lee’s work I do see a little voyeuristic style as we appear to be looking at other peoples private snap shots of friends in a social world outside of our own.  Although Lee had infiltrated these groups in order to get her images I would say that using the word exploitation is too strong as I don’t think her intention is to exploit her subjects.  I believe that she is attempting to break the myths that surround these social-groups.


Photo by Trish Morrissey. This linked image is available on line: http://trishmorrissey.com/media/images/front-w/Sylvia-Westbrook.jpg”

Trish Morrissey has used self-portraiture in a novel way by approaching groups and families (strangers to her) and asking if she could change cloths with them and be photographed posing as the member of the group or family that she represented by wearing that persons cloths, for her project ‘Front’.  In another project, ‘seven Years’ she has taken the idea of family snaps and with the help of her sister, props and costume she has re-staged old photos to link her family memories with her own experiences and reappraise her family relationships.


This linked image is available on line: http://trishmorrissey.com/media/images/seven-years-w/September-4th-1972.jpg

I would have to admit that I would find it bizarre if someone came up to me and asked to swap cloths for a photo.  However, dependant on the mood I was in at the time and that I they has sufficiently convinced me of their sincerity I may well co-operate as I am not shy at taking-part in the unusual.


Photo by Trish Morrissey. This linked image is available on line: http://trishmorrissey.com/media/images/the-failed-realist-w/Party-Girl.jpg”

Morrissey, has used deadpan combined with surrealist art for this style of work.

Assignment II – The Unseen

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 The Unseen

 

I HAVE RECENTLY BEEN MADE REDUNDANT……

I have found that companies are generally now looking to recruit from a headhunting point of view with candidates having to bring customers, and business contacts with them.

Eventually I found another job in a new industry, the learning curve was steep.  I spent a lot of time away from home travelling.  I worked tirelessly to achieve my goals.  Tasked to introduce a new engineering concept, the product I was selling was expensive and required time to persuade industries to change their long established methods.  However, after only nine months my company decided that I was not meeting their objectives and sacked me.

This came as a huge blow, I felt that I had been set up to fail and totally deflated.  At first I thought I could cope but this second redundancy so soon after the first took its toll and my confidence began to evaporate with every new rejection.  It wasn’t long before I didn’t want to switch on my computer in order to job search and as a result of having attended some absolutely dreadful job interviews, I began to dread the prospect of going to any more.  My health began to suffer.

Fortunately, my wife, a trained therapist, recognised my symptoms of clinical depression and encouraged me to consider a complete change of direction in my career.  She also persuaded me to adopt a dog from Battersea to keep me company.  I have now had the time and space to consider alternative options and I have returned to my love of photography.  I realize that this is what I want to do more than anything.  I am now making a fresh start with new hope and optimism for the future.

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I WAS RECENTLY MADE REDUNDANT.

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Candidates having to bring customers, and business contacts with them.

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I found another job – the learning curve was steep.

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I spent a lot of time away from home travelling. Then they sacked me.

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My health began to suffer.

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She persuaded me to adopt a dog from Battersea.

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I am now making a fresh start with new hope and optimism for the future.

The Photographers Eye

The Photographers Eye by John Szarkowski is an illustrated book compiled from photographs collected for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1964 and the theme of this book is based upon the theme of the exhibition.

Szarkowski introduces his book by explaining that it’s theme, ‘is an investigation of what photographs look like and why they look that way. It is concerned with photographic style and with photographic tradition: with the sense of possibilities that a photographer today takes to his work.’  Szarkowski looks at how the art of photography has evolved through the period of 125 years from the earliest surviving pictures to the 1960’s.  Szarkowski looks at how photography has created and taught us new ways of seeing; how photography could make it’s own rules independent of the established art world partly through ignorance and from the practicality dictated by the camera and its view and enthusiastic experimentation.  Szarkowshi has selected a range of photographs to illustrate how photographers from different backgrounds all came to share the same photographic vision that was not taught but learned through years of practice and considers the history of this medium, ‘in terms of photographers progressive awareness of characteristics and problems that have seemed inherent in the medium.’

He has divided his book into five sections examining five issues that he believes are characteristics inherent and problematic in photographs and understanding these five sections will help in the understand of the language for the ‘reading’ of a photograph.

The thing itself.

Outside of the studio the photograph, unlike a painting, is captured not created therefor the photographer has fewer choices in composition, he can only choose what to and what not to include in the frame.  However, instead of limiting what photographers would choose to make pictures of the camera’s ability to capture anything in an instant making a permanent record of it opened up opportunities to create images of the ordinary and bland subjects that artist would not have drawn or painted and make them interesting .  However, black and white images would leave out certain details and exaggerate others and yet the final image would still be accepted as a true representative of the subject.  Holgrove wrote, “The nineteenth century began by believing that what was reasonable was true and it would end up by believing that what it saw a photograph of was true.”  The almost lifelike reproduction of the black and white image helped raise the naïve notion that the camera doesn’t lie for which many photographers  were happy not to discourage.  George Bernard Shaw wrote that this was a double edged sword, “There is a terrible truthfulness about photography. The ordinary academician gets hold of a pretty model, paints her as well as he can, calls her Juliet, and puts a nice verse from Shakespeare underneath, and the picture is admired beyond measure.  The photographer finds the same pretty girl, he dresses her up and photographs her, and calls her Juliet, but somehow it is no good – it will still be Miss Wilkins, the model. It is too true to be Juliet.”

The detail

“If your pictures aren’t good, you’re not close enough.” Robert Capa.  Outside of the studio, unlike drawings and paintings, photographs can only record what is actually in from of them and in the real world of photography it is usually impossible to alter the position and distance of various subjects to simply improve the composition of the picture.  Therefore often a photographer can only position himself in a place that will only capture a part of the image.  Unlike drawings and paintings photography is unable to produce a story type narrative, as successful painting will often combine several events that have occurred over a period of time and the artist has combined them into one scene that can tell the whole story.  Photography can only capture one scene at a time and when a selection of images are put together to tell the story these images still require text in order to explain the connection to each picture and the event itself.  However, it was soon realised that the photograph could use symbols instead to represent the intended narrative, therefore photographers focused on detail some that may have seemed to ordinary and trivial or dull to the painter but when photographed could symbolise the scene / event / for the narrative that the photographer could not otherwise be so easily produce.  An example of this is a photograph of cannon balls scattered across a road symbolising the recent ferocious battle and bombardment.  The chosen detail is the spent and discarded ammunition on a deserted road symbolic of the recent action.  In this style of imagery few words are needed, the photographer is taking advantage of the viewers own imagination to complete the story for the picture.

The Frame

Where as in drawing and painting the frame is conceived, in photography it can only be selected forcing the photographer to choose what to include or not to include.  In this way what ever the photographer includes in to the frame will now have a relationship with one another that they may not of done in real life for example, two strangers photographed standing together on a platform waiting for a train can now appear to be companions simply because both were selected to be in the frame.  The painter begins with a blank canvas, the draftsman from the centre of his sheet the photographer from the frame.  The photographer must learn how to edit the real world, to isolate and juxtapose when unexpected elements come together within his frame.  The frame contains, what is inside the frame is subjected to close scrutiny but a photograph can also imply beyond the frame.

Time

A photograph is a moment of time captured by the camera this moment can be 1/1000’s of a second in length or up to several minutes or more.  A photograph captures this moment and freezes it in to an image describing a parcel of time which may allude to the past or future can only ever be viewed in the present.  This can mean that an image’s meaning can change or be re-interpreted by future generations of viewers.  Early photography required longer lengths of exposure time for the slower chemicals, often resulting in images never before seen, dogs with two heads babies with two faces transparent or elongated people as they moved during the exposure period.  Often theses early images have been regarded as photographic failures which ironically as film and cameras have improved and become faster modern photographers are now being deliberately replicating the affects for modern artistic styled pictures.  As the exposure time became faster images could be captured never before seen by the human eye, how the horse gallops, a bullet in flight, droplets of water thrown out from a splash as a stone hits the water, and many more sights invisible to the human eye due to the speed of the moment.  Cartier-Bresson defined the expression “The decisive moment” a visual climax a moment when the camera has captured a moment when all the elements came together to capture that image at the right moment.  Thanks to modern cameras with fast shutter speeds and fast continues shooting these decisive moments can be more easily captured providing of course you are prepared for them.  For example, sports photographers positioned to see and focused on the spot he or she will predict the moment will occur.

Vantage point

Unlike a drawing or a painting the photographer has limited choices when choosing a vantage point and so the photographer has sometimes been forced to use unusual view points such as very low level worm eye views, views from backstage seeing only the backs of the actors, birds eye views looking down, distorted and strange views created by lens distortion or patterns of light.  Through the necessity of moving his camera to see his subject clearly or to see it at all the photographer learned that the appearance of the world was a lot richer and less simple than he would have first guessed.  He also discovered, ‘that his pictures could not only reveal the clarity buy also the obscurity of things, and these mysterious and evasive images could also, in their own terms, seem ordered and meaningful.’

 

 

 

On Photography, Susan Sontag

On_Photography

Susan Sontag, On Photography, (1979) London, Penguin, ISBN: 978-0-14-005397-5.

This book by Susan Sontag is a collection of essays discussing how photography has influenced the world since its invention and how it has played a part in the surrealist art movement in the 20th Century.

The book was first published in 1977 and although photography has moved on she spends a lot of time discussing how photography was first introduced accepted or not and how it came to be the most enduring and influential part of the surrealist movement.  She also looks at how photographs are used and how they can be re-used.

Topics and points to note:

  • In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge out notion of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe.
  • Photos are a grammar and even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.
  • Photos give us the sense that we can hold the world in our hands.
  • In photographs the image is also an object.
  • As object they can be collected, bought & sold, cherished, thrown away, lost & found, etc, etc.
  • Photographs furnish evidence, they appear to provide proof when something is in doubt.
  • A photograph justifies, for example through use of surveillance and is a presumption of proof that something exists.
  • Photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that like all mass art form, photography is not practiced by people as an art.  It is mainly a social rite, a defence against anxiety and a tool of power.
  • Photographs can abet desire and emotions of morality.
  • The industrialisation of photography permitted its rapid absorption into bureaucratic ways of running society…photographs became part of the general furniture of the environment – touchstones and confirmations of that reductive approach to reality which is considered realistic.  Photographs were enrolled in the service of important institutions of control, notably the family and the police, as symbolic object and as pieces of information….many important documents are not valid unless they have affixed to them, a photographic-token of the citizen’s face.