In the introduction to this course we are encouraged to begin questioning photographs by asking who, what, why, where and how in order to dig below the surface of the photograph and extract its meaning. We are encouraged to look at and read certain texts, one of which is Judith Williamson’s commentary on an Apple advertisement. The commentary was found in the Source Photographic Review and provided online on the OCA student website.
The ad features a little Asian girl lying on her bed holding up an Apple iPad. She is staring, almost transfixed at the iPad, its white light illuminating her face and pillow. A free form poem consisting of three verses is written on the right hand side of the image, slightly above and behind the little girl’s head. Below that is the tag line “Designed by Apple in California”.
Williamson goes into so much depth lifting layer upon layer of meaning from this advertisement, gradually disseminating the back story information which casts a horrible contrast to what Apple is really trying to say to its consumers.
She begins by touching on the angelic quality of the light cast on the little girl, who is a picture of innocence, suggesting that the iPad’s stream of light and position from where it is coming “feeds into the central connotation of being touched by some kind of pure, heavenly power.” Having established that argument, she then turns to the poem, which thankfully she reproduced in her commentary (I found it rather difficult to read from the ad). The poem reads as follows:
This is it.
This is what matters.
The experience of a product.
How it makes someone feel.
Will it make life better?
Does it deserve to exist?
If you are busy making everything,
How can you perfect anything?
We spend a lot of time
On a few great things.
Until every idea we touch
Enhances each life it touches.
You may rarely look at it.
But you’ll always feel it.
This is our signature.
And it means everything.
Williamson turns this seemingly innocent poem on its back by revealing Apple’s policy of outsourcing the manufacture of its products to China, in horrific workplaces where child labour is practiced and exploited. She mentions the hypocrisy of people nowadays where they pretend outrage and horror at the work houses and child labour practices of Dickensian times, yet turn a complete blind eye to the same, or worse conditions of factories in Asia. A classic case of “so long as its not in my back yard”. The poem’s first verse encourages the consumer to ignore these facts (if they are even aware of them). Child labour doesn’t really matter is what it is really saying. The following verse touches on ‘perfection’ which Apple is hoping to sell to the consumers. The company is trying to put the idea across that it makes superior products, but the final two lines of that verse, “Until every idea we touch enhances each life it touches” is a continued affront to the child labour situation. The lives of those children, who are forced to work such long hours for such little pay, not to mention the working conditions, can definitely not fall under an “enhancement” category.
Apple has to deflect or disguise its source of manufacture by stating in bold letters across the ad “Designed by Apple in California”. This is a devious way of misleading consumers to think that the product originates or is manufactured in America. This trend seems to be extremely popular among all manufacturers, especially food manufacturers as I have often come across labels on tins where it is stated that the products is “packaged in Toronto” but if one takes a magnifying glass and reads further, one will see “product of China”. I really hate this type of false advertising and get very riled up about it, especially when food is involved.
I was amazed at the depth that Williamson goes into in her arguments. I know I definitely would not have been able to extrapolate all the connotations and facts that she has imparted in her commentary. It just goes to show that nothing should be taken at face value. Learn to look long and deep into each photograph and do the necessary research wherever necessary.
Williamson, Judith, (2013). Apple. Source Photographic Review