Branded Space by Alan Hill
In an age where technology and an over-consumption of media have become large parts of our lives, we have grown accustomed to the bombardment of advertising that we face on a daily basis. Online marketing on Facebook and Instagram along with bus shelters and billboards, both digital and tangible space are valuable real estate for a plethora of targeted advertisements. But for Melbourne-based documentary photographer, Alan Hill, a personal reminder of these adverts around him served as the impetus for his series, Branded Space - an aesthetic and formal consideration of both our monetised physical environment and the intrinsically personal nature of creative projects.
While Hill’s photographic exploration of advertising began almost a decade ago, it wasn’t until recently that the real catalyst for his awareness of this phenomenon became clear. “My brother-in-law, having recently moved to Canberra, which is where I grew up, commented on the fact that billboards were outlawed in the ACT,” says Hill. “All of a sudden, it became obvious that, after moving to Queensland, I was feeling assaulted because it was something I had not grown up with.” Hill explains that once the project had reached a certain level of clarity, there was a period of intense shooting and experimentation before the project started to become a collection of images accrued over time with the ultimate destination for the work being an exhibition. “I have experimented with different methodologies like trying to (visually) quantify how much advertising we are bombarded with in a certain location or time period,” he says. “Nowadays, this is just one of a number of projects that are always ticking over in the back of my mind, and so every now and then I add an image that I have stumbled across to the series.”
Seemingly, the success of Branded Space lies in its combination of formality and technical prowess that reveal previously unnoticed absurdities to the viewer. Straight lines and the resolution of medium-format film render images of spritzed Coke bottles kept cool amongst a snow-covered courtyard and the glossy smiles of a mega-mall’s corporate body as they welcome the viewer to a urinal with the slogan, “We’re here to help”. As Hill explains, the series’ ability to convey its message is predicated upon its simplicity, and he quotes one of photography’s greats to support the claim. “I’m fascinated by the idea, beautifully articulated by Dorothea Lange, that “the camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera”. And Hills says that he has long been interested in the way photography can transform an observation into a strong message.
As Hill further articulates, although Branded Space seems to address the bleeding obvious – the extent of our exposure to advertising - ultimately, the bigger issue that the artist seeks to explore is more to do with what this says about our contemporary society. “So many of the problems in the world are hidden in plain sight – either by familiarity or by denial,” says Hill. “As unfashionable as it may be to say, photography can still be a very useful tool in countering-acting both those phenomena.”