Identity crisis of a web personality

20 tammikuun, 2012  |  Published in UP-TO-DATE

I published my first website at the end of the last century. I designed a symmetrical bilingual site in the middle of a black and white mid shot taken of me by an Italian friend, where I’m posing with a Nikon. I wasn’t wearing shirt in the picture so it was a little risqué, at least in university circles where a photo is supposed to make the personality disappear.

At the time I received a lot of feedback about the website. People from as far as Japan inquired whether it could be used in a book about different websites. I gave permission but have never seen the book.

When I went on sabbatical from the university (and later moved to the free market), I closed the web pages. Now that I’ve become acquainted with hundreds of different websites, my online personality is in a worse identity crisis than myself.

Photographers’ web pages follow style trends just like photography itself. The return of the standard lens and a reduction in the amount of photoshopping have made websites that display trick shots and different publishing methods look pretentious.

Neo-matter-of-factness is a response to rampant technological fireworks and unnecessary showing off. So no flash gimmicks. Simple and functional is sexy. This does not mean, of course, that we should return to the stone age of the web. It’s the opposite. You have to think carefully what kind of image you create for yourself and how close it is to the truth. Obviously this does not affect the big stars. They can do what they like or stay outside the whole web circus.

The background colour of a photographer’s prototype website is nearly always grey or black, unless he or she particularly wants to emphasize colour management skills with a sophisticated colour palette. A photographer introduces projects, photo stories, portraits, multimedia, videos, CVs and blogs with headings that start with capital letters and use standard fonts. A big colour image on the home page acts as a hook. You start browsing through endless picture galleries.

How about Martin Parr, that genre anarchist loved and hated by the Finns, what does he do with his website? He turns it into a home gallery, an ironic poke at the middle class. The background is ornamental flowery wallpaper. All kinds of information about Parr can be found inside a silver picture frame. And there’s a lot of it. Parr’s user interface is a relic from the turn of the millennium. Naomi Harris must live in the same web hotel as Parr because their web pages resemble each other to such a surprising degree.

What about our own photographic artist Elina Brotherus, who is attracting global fame? What does she reveal on her domain? Her website has a white background and is minimalistic and informative. No gimmicks. News, works, biography, extras as one block and photography as another. Everything in English. Everything works. Almost as perfect as the brand artists of the Helsinki School. At the time of writing 174 people have lifted their Facebook thumbs on behalf of liking.

The web pages of advertising photographers seem to be the most experimental. Fashion photographer Mario Testino is extremely careful about his image. But he also knows how to give a good impression of himself on the web. On a grey October morning I’m staring at glamour and a flash-filled opening video and the time lapse that follows it. Testino is a celebrated hero among his own kind. After the introduction it’s easy to go and check whether the photographer who is loved by his models has produced a new publication.

The visual escapades and ego tripping by the likes of Testino and snowboarding photographer Mattias Fredriksson don’t seem to suit photojournalists. They are mainly the pawns of their media houses or offices. FB and picture galleries take care that you can find your pictures being illegally used on the web. YouTube makes sure that your greatest video clips also end up on the web.

As I’m currently perfecting my own website and cloud services, I now have to ask what kind of image I would like to give of myself in this millennium? Shall I keep treading along my own path or adapt and become part of the literary and photography collective? Who am I on the web? How far does Mr Hyde dare to manipulate his virtual identity in the direction of Dr Jekyll? My new website will be published a.s.a.p. That’s when it (and other things) will all be revealed.


Hannu Vanhanen

Docent of Visual Communications

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