Stuff I think about

Enslaved: A short reflection of consumerism, ethical consumption, and fair-trading (2007)

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on January 19, 2010

With the global economy being strongly driven by consumerism, human beings ceaselessly consume in order to survive, sometimes even to just pass time. We have to buy goods and foods in order to sustain ourselves, but ultimately consumers do not make a purchase because a product is earth friendly or because it is fair-trade, but more that the product is worth its value for the money paid, and often it generates more and more waste and by-products.

Consumerism has found its way into many aspects of our daily living and has lent its existence in capitalism. Unconsciously it has become a catalyst for media, marketing, advertising, and lending itself into social consumption. Soon in the early 20th century, consumerism had found itself widespread as a driving force behind numerous businesses and corporations. It has also found itself to be a force behind technological development, for the need to improve and outwit each other, to be the reason of why a product must be purchased. It is because the product claims to be superior over another. Consumers soon get affected by the claims of each individual product. It even has resulted in the creation of doubtful products of questionable purposes. All because to sell, and whoever buys the product will gain a certain form of comfort from it. Whilst having the “best” product, use and possession of such “best” products has made various products a status symbol of wealth and prestige. The cycle is such, and to this day most of our perceptions are still being skewed by these social factors.

As a result of improving technology, photography had much taken over in painting and painted portraiture as a popular medium of expression. Cameras, chemicals and glass plates have found its way where the oils, brushes and canvases were. Soon celluloid films have replaced glass plates, and in less than a century after the birth of celluloid films, they are getting taken over by imaging devices, and it bothers me to what will be taking the place of imaging devices in the future to come.

While the future is always uncertain, I would just leave that to nature, for nature creates the best paths. Being a photographer, I have always been aware of the vulnerability and fragility of an image, it is but a two dimensional representation on a media. As quoted by photographer Richard Avedon, “There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.” A picture is worth a thousand words, and hence is a good storytelling tool. How I have chosen to present my work tells literally of how vulnerable an image is and how an image is only an image. Yet taken into consideration is how most people would decipher an image looking at the content, what the image is expressing; a pseudo-paradox.

We are always in a need to buy more products, and better products, and cannot be freed from the habit of consumption. Have we also considered buying earth friendly and fair-trading products? I cannot answer yes or no, because there are instances for which choices made are being influenced by my own ability over preferences. Perhaps someday all political bodies in the world must completely come to recognizing the importance of ethical consumption and be highly supportive of its cause, as we have to come to terms with the costs of ethical and fair-trade dealing, as processing the materials is not cheap and therefore result in a higher cost. Whilst all that, even ethical consumerism is still the driving force behind the developments of recycling technology. We just got to have more, and better more.