Photo essay “Special Class Citizen”
The international in the local. The photo essay “Special Class Citizen” consists of ten images and developed out of a personal reflection of us full-time students in Groningen. We asked questions about the daily lifestyle and expectations we encounter and political choices students make. Additionally, we were wondering about the identity of Groningen and its adolescent population. The idea of capturing a “Groningen-type” feeling of freedom, independence, and hedonism fascinated us. Through simple shots we were able to transport the inherent significance of politics to a personal audience.
Groningen possesses an unrivalled vibe of opportunity and young creativity. While this might not appear at first sight, small details such as “living in public space” and organizing social events, can be interpreted as synecdoches for the whole.
The first part of the series, containing five pictures, portrays the unorthodox and free way of life. Socializing on the roof, for instance, could not be imagined in many other places where social and safety norms prevail. Other examples of the captured Groningen identity include its international outlook and flourishing nightlife.
The second part of the photo series strongly contrasts. We aim to show that underneath this surface lies a serious, ambitious character of students struggling with classes, expectations and social and financial pressures. This shows how selection of photos can be political, resulting in a potentially different representation and interpretation.
Undoubtedly, our choice of presenting two pictures of one setting discusses also on a meta-level the usage of perspective, colour and framing. The photo essay therefore invites the viewers to critically assess the images, and challenge their personal views on inveterate meanings and established ways of seeing. Moreover, our selective student dimension becomes apparent where “which part we pick out determines which aspect of the whole we are focusing on. In other words, a particular characteristic becomes the signifier of a totality.” (David Shim, 2014, ”Visual Politics and North Korea”, p.70) In our case, this means picking certain aspects of the social situations we encounter, creates the image of the Groningen student environment.
We are convinced that the political lies in issues of daily life, rather than it being detached through institutionalised boundaries. It is about our capability of maintaining, amending and interpreting rules. Therefore, all issues discussed in the images (be it drugs or internationalisation) are in our view inherently political. Decisions and laws by a local government or university shape both individuals and society.
Technical details: photos taken with a Nikon D7100 camera 18-55mm F3,5 lense and a Canon 5D Mark III camera with a 35mm F1,4 lense.
By Ansgar Fellendorf, Lasse Lohmann, Thomas Wassenberg