Code Unknown (chap 1)
The right of likeness is something that has long troubled everyone with a camera. And today with the rise of social network systems, we have become even more acutely aware of photographs and those who appear in them when they are posted on digital media. In the highly esteemed director Michael Haneke’s 2000 film Code Unknown, there is a scene in which the protagonist’s lover, a photographer, secretly snaps pictures of passengers sitting across from him on the train. I used the same approach to shoot people in Berlin trains. Needless to say, in contemporary society it is not acceptable to rashly and publicly display pictures of people’s faces that were taken without their permission. Thus, I shot and edited these pictures in a way that makes it impossible to identify the individual people who served as my “models.” To avoid impinging on the right of likeness, I used shadows that were created by direct sunlight pouring in through the window, various compositional approaches, and digital processing. When we look at another person, either directly or through another medium, we interpret a wide range of information based on outward appearance (face, physique, clothes and accessories, and movements) – in other words, various codes. By regulating and altering these codes in various ways, I set out to obscure the individuality and specificity of the subjects in the pictures / images in this series. In facial close-ups, I used framing and trimming to make it difficult to identify the individual by eliminating elements such as clothing and personal effects. On the other hand, in photographs which focus on clothing and personal effects, I brought the subject’s individual qualities into sharp relief. In photographs which contain both the person’s face and their body, I modified the code in the pixel-based images by digitally processing parts of them. With further technological developments in digital photography, it will probably be even more difficult to make legal judgments in cases involving the right of likeness. The visual structure of the human eye and the light-based, information-processing structure of the camera lens are fundamentally different. When a portrait is taken with a camera, which provides much higher definition than the human eye, you might not even realize that the person in the picture is you. And when a portion of the data that makes up an image is digitally processed, we might not be able to say that it depicts a given person anymore. I took these pictures over a period of several months while riding various subway lines in Berlin from morning to night. The city is home to people from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds. On the train, the air is not only filled with German, English, and other European languages, but also many languages from the Middle East and Asia. To someone like me, who was born and raised in a racially homogenous country like Japan, it seems as if these codes, unleashed from every direction and unmixed, form a diffuse reflection.