teresa cos – i was there – observations on “the Society of the spectacle”

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Teresa Cos

I Was There – Observations on “The Society of The Spectacle”

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“I Was There” is the first chapter of a long term (lifetime) project which explores western society and its obsession with success. I started by depicting the worlds of art, fashion and culture, where anxiety and struggle for success, together with the desperate need for recognition and approval are ubiquitous; where people live with the constant fear of being considered losers. The images have been taken in 2010 at Venice Architecture Biennale, Venice Film Festival, Milan and London Fashion Weeks, Frieze Art Fair in London and Paris Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC).

I chose these events because they are globalised examples of a bubble (for instance the art industry) that is on the verge of explosion. As wrote Jean Baudrillard: When one looks at the emptiness of current art, the only question is how much such a machine can continue to function in the absence of any new energy, in an atmosphere of critical disillusionment and commercial frenzy, and with all the players totally indifferent? If it can continue, how long will this illusionism last? A hundred years, two hundred? This society is like a vessel whose edges move ever wider apart, and in which the water never comes to the boil.

If one substitutes current art with current society the equation doesn’t really change, does it? And who are these indifferent players, if not us? I want to keep on exploring and understanding photographically the Hyper reality created by consumerism, where people aspirations are dangerously confused with the models of living that the society of the spectacle is constantly selling us and where need has become desire and admiration envy.

To me, it is fundamentally important to understand these social dynamics because, by creating the idea that through a selfish individualism everybody can finally reach extreme forms of wealth and success, one drastically contributes to the social and economic disparities in this world.



I was born and grew up in a small town called Latisana, in the North East of Italy, a one hour drive from Venice, where I ended up living for six years as an architecture student. It is thanks to architecture that I discovered photography, because it taught me to look at the world through different eyes.

After graduating in 2008, I was in the Italian team of architects and urbanists in the international table of consultation wanted by the French government to produce ideas for the future of Paris. I lived for seven months in the suburbs of the French capital, producing my first important body of work, Banlieue 08/09, that allowed me to be accepted last year onto the Photojournalism & Documentary Photography MA program at London College of Communication, where I graduated with Distinction.

I live and work in London and I am also part of the photography collective Five Eleven Ninety Nine.


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Teresa Cos

Collective Five Eleven Ninety Nine


74 Responses to “teresa cos – i was there – observations on “the Society of the spectacle””

  • hi and congratulations!
    I think this is so brilliant.
    It is a fresh and jarring mirror to issues that run rampant and unchecked. This is the high end example but it is a sampling of a mind set that I would agree has permeated society. I also like how the way in which it is photographed is supporting the issue you are presenting. A bright glaring light as if in a interrogation room.

    Also on a personal note (related), lately I have been trying to put some serious thought to what exactly it is I will need to feel successful in photography/in life. Of course I have project and career aspirations, desire for acknowledgement. But I have been trying to define exactly the difference between what society wants from you and what I may really need. So I’ve been trying ask myself -what will I need to have done to feel I lived life well and done the job that I was made to do?
    Looking at the work here makes me think again on how much outside sources and pressures want to answer those questions for you.

    Also another thought that has popped up when reading your bio is addressing an amazing correlation I find between photography and architecture. It seems many in both sects have some level of crossover. I always chalked it up to love of light and lines but there is more to the general mindset I think…

    thanks- Great work and I look forward to exploring it more.

  • Love this selection. I Can’t wait to see more !

  • I should probably give it more consideration and see what others have to say, but my initial reaction is a bit negative. It just seems to me that for this kind of hit piece to work, it’s necessary for the photographer to have a deep empathy, if not love for the subjects being skewered. I feel that with Martin Parr, for example. This just feels cruel.

  • -it definitely is unfettered exposure.
    I’m curious what Teresa would say to this…

  • Teresa..congratulations. Very thoughtful work.

    mw, that was my first reaction too. The direct flash, paparazzi/Fink style, awkward expressions, skewering is probably a fair description. However, having spent some time on Teresa’s site (I do like the larger edit there), and re-reading the statement, I’m coming around to appreciating what is going on here. This essay asks me a lot of questions about my own attitudes and takes on a pretty big topic.

    Not sure if we are breaking any new ground here, but then again, I’m the one who’s often remarking how over-rated the constant search for new ground is. Definetely worth spending some time with.

  • I’m not sure what my ultimate opinion will be, am curious to hear what others think, but I think it is fair to say that this shows the subjects in a bad light.

  • Value judgement photography directed by text…….. Rewrite the text for social media networking and it becomes all positive for some sectors of society.
    “Hyper reality created by consumerism” for some it is the reality and are quite comfortable with it all, it is about choice.

    Selfish individualism and art go hand in hand, consumerism is its friend creator, destroyer and keeps it fluid new and alive.
    It is a great time for those involved in the arts, new paths abound, watching aspects post-modernism disintegrate int splintered fragments. Having a chuckle at those who want to go back to modernity without them realising it’s juggernaut mentality……… better bigger, greater, faster,entropic mother of consumerism eternity eternity.

    The Venice Biennales are the old art world desperately trying to survive as it knows itself, resistant to change and a artwork in itself. It chasing it’s wagging tail, continually taking a chunk out of it’s now be-raged and tattered being.An artwork created by many owned by so few as the facade blurs their realities. There are those who aspire to reach the top of that heap with or without talent or any message of intent and happy to be mocked berated scorned upon……..all is good
    Now if we get the occupy movement to become a entry in forthcoming art biennales all will be sweet and they will have a sense of purpose and aesthetic appeal, give it some hyper reality credentils.

    Little art pods spring up and fall in gay abandon ………burn is a photographic pod.

  • ………..books, apps, new fujis, old GF1s, essays, ” I want to be a photographer”…..I want to make money…secret personas, intagrams,………panoses, civilians without an audience, krumicrap we have it all here ………hypercam abounds

  • This is dreadful – I don’t think the photos are dreadful – they succeed at communicating what the photographer wishes to communicate – but it sure makes the places and people seem dreadful, and makes me not want ever to be in such rooms, with such people…

    and yet… if I am ever to get a big show in some place like New York or Paris or Venice… not only will I be there, I will be such a person…

    Good job and may you claw your way to success as you work to complete this life-long essay, which I hope not to see completed in my lifetime.

    Darn. If all goes well for you, will never know how it finally turns out.

  • People just have different values Frosty…some would say that having a plane though it may have been necessary, as overindulgence………… keep the environment pristine …….leave only footsteps and dog droppings……….in social pages these people would be the good guys, here on on here people are saying they are dreadful as does the photographer………. a bias pderhaps

  • are you alien, or part of the world you are documenting? whatever you photograph, you always also look inside to yourself. the pictures show a strange world, at least to me, as I am not part of that world. but the pictures say – as the title of the essay – I was there. I think this is an essay worth following, over time it will become more and more interesting. to see how those people change, the way the pictures are taken will change, too.

    if I was too confusing: I like the pictures, they look like aliens to me, because I am not part (I am an alien in this context), the question coming up for me is – how much of yourself do you show in your pictures – and finally, the pictures make me curious how the whole project will evolve. maybe we will see more you your work in burn?

    congratulations, you made a good start.

  • I don’t really get the intellectual underpinnings of this essay, at least as Teresa describes them. What society is NOT obsessed with success, for example? Why is “Western society” (and what is Western society anyway?) singled out? Okay . . . consumerism, individualism, selfishness, etc. But how do pictures of people ignoring a Nan Goldin photograph at a gallery in London (#7) serve as a critique of this culture?

    So maybe the text could be revised, but the photos — they are mostly of well dressed people looking vaguely uncomfortable at being photographed. The pictures don’t seem particularly interested in their subjects. They are just casual shots of anonymous crowds.

    I don’t get how this is awful or undesirable or worthy of derision. It’s just not that interesting as it has been presented.


    I think the way you cropped the first picture, makes it much more interesting.

  • Yea Thomas it makes it look like a vegan convention………….. taking screenshots of sites sorta shows how same same they really are….lots of text with heading and paragraph templates, a scattered image or two, CCS edit structures etc stuff has to fit a screen or a pad and be friendly which is another word for one dimensional …………sigh that is the nature of the wwwdot world

  • Interesting photography but to me the photographer has fallen into much the same trap that she purports to document. Too much calculated intellectualizing and not enough real substance for me. Others mileage may vary of course.

  • Yea that’s probably the biggest hurdle the essay faces Charles and there seems to be no attempt made to resolve that issue. But there is a start there somewhere.Maybe it is about post financial guilt

  • Interesting; my summer’s road-trip was to be a short-week drive along the southern shore of Lake Erie, visiting Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Buffalo and Rochester. Five cities, once spectacular, now in decline. All with amazing art museums, purchased from the profits of steel, glass, automobiles and film.

    There is some sort of tie-in here. Teresa…want to go for a drive?

  • it is a tribal thing………….. Damian me lad where are you! ©Murakami the consumer freak and Friday Fantasy…………..

  • mmmmmmn the off my facebook set will get you all

  • Jeff some of the art was not so amazing just purchased and it too is in decline

  • won’t comment on the work, but instead, which to share 2 links to artists reacting to Venice in a way that can be profoundly instructive…

    the first, one of my beloved artists, the extraordinary conceptual artist Francis Alys…here is his project for Venice Bie. when he wasn’t invent…read the text


  • Common Bob your reaction bugger the punter reactions……all i wish to say :)), or not…. …………. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5N0ATdDdwKg

  • btw, i love 3 and 13…..

    Imants: :)))…saving words for pages…anyway, both (your links) say (kind of) what i wanted to say :)))…along with Alys and Hamilton….

    i should add about Alys…he was rejected when he submitted for Venice and so did the duet piece…later when he was asked to participate in venice, he sent this:


    and he also let a duck walk around ( i can’t find the vid)….

  • the thing is (i guess what bothers me about the photo essay) is that there IS great work being done which has absolutely nothing to do with the spectators of said festivals/museums openings, etc….

    actually, i’ll take Tina Barney instead….

    ennui done by the young seems, to me, just affectation….

    guess that sums up my reaction…sorry for the lact of poetry or usual bobblack post…

  • What about diamond earrings any likes on that?

  • As innocence on Facebook the images would work great, maybe it is just posted in the wrong place/context

  • Imants, the art south of Lake Erie may be in decline, the collections may have been pared down, but in the time, I’m certain it was 23 Ski-doo. How did the Detroit’s sampling influence Motown, Toledo’s art its glass-blowing craftsmen? What is the cultural anthropological connection between museums and their area’s art history? Venice and the Biennale; New York and the Armoury; Paris and the Salon des Refusés . What will happen in the new centres such as Los Angeles and Dubai? Why do museums act as a defibrillator serving to shock the new in some cities/regions, and not others? Lots to explore, relatively in my own backyard.

  • Charles wrote: “Too much calculated intellectualizing and not enough real substance for me.”

    Or maybe, that’s what makes this brilliant ;)) You could put these on the wall at these same events, and how many would really see them as intended? Or even look? But might buy.

    I don’t know Bob, #3 was a weak link for me. Hmmm, affectation? But isn’t that the point? Sure, you can do this kind of society work many places (Pinehurst #2?;)) but this seems right, the blade curved inward. Love the added twist of it.

    I quite like it. A bonfire of fear and loathing. Do you have to have empathy? For the afflicted, sure, but for the comfortable?

  • And, I would add, this works seems timely, on several levels.

  • I’m sorry this essay does absolutely nothing to me. It must be me because it does seem to have had quite a success with other Burn members.

  • “The real moment of success is not the moment apparent to the crowd.”
    George Bernard Shaw

  • Young Tom: 3 works for precisely for the its oppositional reason that most of the work seems vacuous…first, if you criticize in a work the vacuity and affectations of others, you damn well should make sure the camera is aimed right back at the self, and here it is not, it seems filled with squalor itself: in other words, a young photographer commenting on the emptiness of the art world/film world/world of wealth (ho-hum) without taking a chance at dealing with the emptiness of most of the photoworld itself is, umm, just lazy and also affected, particularly for a young photographer. like shooting ducks in a barrel. On top of that, the photographer (in picture and text) attempts to critique/criticize not only THESE people (does she know any of them personally?) but society writ large. Pretty huge swatch of effort but the effort is mired in cliched depiction of that ‘society’….on top of that the Baudrillard quote is totally decontextualized, self-serving…Baudrillard’ argument was much more interesting and not simply about the vacuity of the pricing/wealth/negiotation of the art world (it has always been like that), just as media and photography world is equally as corporate….i’m part of that ‘art world’ too, though completely uninterested in the ‘notions’ that lay behind the photographers argument…the ultimate insiders argument to critique how rotten the core is….but all of this would not have mattered one iota to me if the picture taking would have been more challenging, been more ambiguous (why i like 3 alot) and more interesting….why i offered her Tina Barney (whom she should study more than the current young snapshooters, party crashers, shoe gazers, glitterati of both the art/society/photo world)….barney’s work is insightful and challenging photographically and intellectually…..and Tom, this work isn’t timely….the materialism of the world, of the upper echelons of society (whatever that means) is as old as the hills…..

    i’m afraid the work looks and feels and argues much the same way most of a particularly kind of ‘photo society’ seems to operate….blinded in the headlights of its own flash….

    i do not wish to sound denegrating, and will come off as a hypocrite after my attack against others for the questioning of grogan diarmit’s essay (and that would be a fair and reasonable charge against me for sure), but if the essay had been about the festivals/art world, etc, i would have though, ok, some nice flash, nice TRichardsonesque looks, but seen in before no worries…but the attempt to judge others and a society via this route just smacks me of not only triteness but worse: affectation….

    the rich, the art world, are such easy targets and frankly, find it completely silly to search for depth here….did the photographer tell the folks in the opening frame what she thought of them?…..i wonder….

    like i said, appears particularly affected to me to the point that i feel much more affection for the people in the pictures than the photographer herself….and her own wealth, does that too not lead to the same disparities she laments?….

    see what i mean?

    anyway, just my 2 cents

  • TOM,

    Well that’s a twist that I like but not sure if that was really the photographer’s intention. I just wish the piece had more, that she had really worked it out, really gone for the jugular. A few party pictures doth not make a manifesto about the state of art today, imo. In fact I feel there are some stronger pieces on her website – why weren’t those included here? Perhaps also just focusing on art fairs, vs trying to lump fashion, architecture, film, etc might make for a more cohesive piece. The shots of the art looking back at the viewers (or non-viewers as seems to be the case) are the strongest imo. Otherwise the people could be anywhere rich people go (say a high end fundraiser, a hotel opening, etc etc).

    The good thing about the work is it raises questions and discussions. So hopefully Teresa you can take away from this and continue on stronger.



  • Bob and Charles, thank you for good thoughts. Much to think about. This is the kind of discussion on Burn that I like.

  • I keep coming back to my first impression, which I think is at least a little consistent with Charles’s critique about over-intellectualizing. It seems to me that the photographer began with the idea that attendees of these art shows are horrifically shallow and then went out and shot them with the intent to make them look as ridiculous as possible; to literally cast them in a bad light. I have nothing against exposing the foibles of the wealthy, I’m all for it actually, but it’s so easy to make people look bad through photography that when it’s done with such clear intent, I’m more likely to find my sympathies lie with the victims, which is the exact opposite of the photographer’s intent. Occasionally an artist comes along that can get away with, even make a virtue of, being mean spirited, but that’s rare and it’s generally something one should try to avoid.

    That’s where I think empathy, or perhaps even love, comes into play. If these people really are so sadly empty, we should feel sorry for them, not want to rub their noses in it. If they really are so distressingly shallow, that should be apparent in the images without any need for the photographer to tip the scales with harsh lighting or sniper photography.

    Allowing it to seem that the photographer is out to get them could possibly raise more questions about the photographer than about the subjects.

    The trick is to make us see that they are pitiful without giving us reason to feel pity for them.

    How to do that? Well, that’s not for me to answer, but I like the idea behind the photos of the art patrons not looking at the art that’s right in front of them. I’d look for more symbolism like that.

    Anyway, that’s my two bits…

  • Imantz – please note that I did not say the people and places are dreadful. This is the message the photographer seems to convey through her photos. Had other photographers, myself included, shot the same people and places, they would not have looked so dreadful. And there was a little intended satire in my comment that I am not certain you picked up on.

    As to Alaska and airplanes, I don’t think I have ever heard anyone the least bit familiar with this place, conservation minded or otherwise, criticize the ownership of a good little bush plane as overindulgence or a threat to the environment. Plus, when you think of airplanes, you probably think of something much more expensive to purchase and operate and more polluting than was my little 7GCBC.

    Ah, what a beautiful little airplane! And I had to crash it and ruin it!


    And now you, Imantz, have brought all the pain of that loss back to me – just when I thought I had gotten over it.

    Well done!

  • young tom :))

    and you know how hard it is for me to ‘not like’ an essay…or, being more honest, to admit in public ;)…i do like A LOT of the work on Teresa’s website….and still like 3 and 13 here, a lot…i also love that much of Teresa’s work is driven by a strong conceptual foundation (love elephant loop, the book in what we wear, and the kapoor (one of my favorite sculptors) zen project looks interesting….even more frustrating (this esssay) after having seen her work (and its strength) and that her work is really an on-going dialog with the art world and contemporary practice….as i said, a real irony and misstep considering her own relationship with that world….but, something necessary to chat about….

  • Using snippets of thoughts(in this case the words of Jean Baudrillard) as the basis a body of work leads to a lot of back peddling.

  • Defend all you like but people’s perceptions of planes is about indigence even if it isn’t the case.This essay piece is about a photographers perceptions of the contemporary art world filled with assumptions.

  • FWIW … 1, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14

  • I WAS THERE is the first chapter of a long term project which explores western society and its obsession with success. lets hope she doesn’t want to be successful

  • I liked this, I really did.
    Would liked to have seen more and see where it will lead. Starting from the art world etc. was a choice of convenience I presume, since teresa is familiar with it. What will be the next parts of society put in front of the lens is still to be seen. But I really liked it.
    And I’m not sure why there’s all this talk of meanness and affectation. With all due respect I didn’t see any of that, there’s a specific point of view but that’s valid I suppose. For me, Tom Hyde’s first comment put it so well that there’s no much I want to add.

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