Chrissie Macdonald and Lydia Whitmore Created a Monster
The Internet is a volatile place. When anonymity is the standard and shaming is the go-to response to the unsavory, lives and careers can see destruction in a matter of days if not hours. The list of casualties from the mob rules of the Internet is long and growing, with any number of causes. Whether it’s the result of a single ill conceived tweet (like in the case of Justin Sacco), or a private photo made public (like Lindsey Stone), the calls of an anonymous public deafen reason and careers, relationships, and in the most drastic cases, lives can be lost.
Covering last weekend’s The Guardian was a story by Jon Ronson about the danger of the internet mobs, detailing his own troubles, and examining other, better known cases. To illustrate the idea, and communicate the emotional issues behind it, The Guardian tasked Chrissie Macdonald for the cover and a spread. She partnered with B&A still life photographer Lydia Whitmore to help her bring it all together. And they didn’t have much time.
The concept, shepherded by Guardian Weekend Art Director Maggie Murphy, was using emojis to illustrate the emotions behind the dangers of the anonymous masses. “It was quite a quick turnaround, but I quite like the idea of trying to create emotion in everything in as little mark making as possible,” explains Chrissie. “It was about keeping it bold and graphic and playing around with the different expressions to see how it worked.” After spending a few days playing with a number of materials and applications, Chrissie created a literal monster. Since she was using a paper cut technique on balls, she found she could alter the projected emotions of each character with a slight movement, doctoring each face to ensure it told the story precisely.
Once Chrissie had made her figures, she brought Lydia in to get the composition just right. For Lydia, communicating the power of Chrissie’s creation was about angles. Shooting the monster was about placing the camera to look up at it, giving it the illusion of scale and strength. For the cover, it was the opposite. “Since we’re looking down at the guy getting squashed he’s kind of more pathetic,” explains Lydia. We find ourselves feeling sorry for a little squished yellow ball.
Both Chrissie and Lydia are very sensitive to the mysterious whims of the internet masses: both have largely shirked social media. “I avoid all of that stuff,” says Lydia. Once you put something out into the world on social media, you cannot be sure how it’s going to be interpreted. Lydia explains her hesitance: “I don’t like that you have no control over the audience.” For Chrissie, once those interpretations are solidified, things can get out of hand. “It’s kind of easy to gang up on someone en masse on social media in a way that maybe you wouldn’t in the real world,” says Chrissie. As Jon Ronson explains it, there's a fine line we all have to walk, less we squashed.