A great journey has long been regarded as an access point to creativity, to new experiences, places and people, and often to introspection and self-learning.
I was looking forward to hearing David Campney in this talk, but at the last minute he was replaced by Aaron Schuman, and to be honest I was a little disappointed in his interview technique. He did not seem to bring the best out of either men. However, that could just have been their personalities….
Matt Black and Antoine d’Agata were in conversation, ‘exploring the concept of the journey as a structure for visually responding to the world.’ They discussed their personal take on the photographic road trip and how the journey can be used as a framework for making photographs.
Matt Black is from California’s Central Valley, an agricultural region in the heart of the state. His work has explored the connections between migration, poverty, agriculture, and the environment in his native rural California and in southern Mexico.
For over 20 years, photographer Matt Black explored the issues of poverty, migration and farming in California’s Central Valley, examining the extreme economic hardship in one of the country’s richest states and is highly critical of the contrast in the richest nation in the world also having these pockets of huge deprivation. He photographed people living at or below the poverty line. According to MSNBC, fully 45 million people living in the US ‘meet the official guidelines for poverty’ many are undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Apparently there are 250K more Mexicans in California than in Mexico, leaving ghost towns behind. Mexico has lost 80% of its population, which is a staggering figure.
Black was inspired by the work of the FSA but he believed they should have documented the black Africans more than they did, he followed one family, tracking down Hayley Jones, the daughter of the original migrants, and three generations later she is still working in the fields. There is a distinct lack of opportunity and mobility.
In 2014 he took to Instagram for his latest project, Geography of Poverty, using the social app’s mapping feature to pinpoint California’s poorest communities. In the December he was named TIME’s Instagram Photographer of the Year.
California always seemed special and unique in terms of how it symbolised promise and progress, so it seemed somehow symbolic to begin there and travel east, but what has surprised me is the similarities I have encountered as I travelled from one community to another. All these diverse communities are connected, not least in their powerlessness. In the mainstream media, poverty is often looked at in isolation, but it is an American problem. It seems to me that it goes unreported because it does not fit the way America sees itself.
After two decades of concentrating on California’s Central Valley, Black expanded his project to the rest of the country.
His on-going project The Geography of Poverty, saw him travelling 48,000 miles across 44 States to photograph designated ‘poverty areas’ and highlight the growing gap between rich and poor and Matt Black was awarded the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Prize for this project. He also received the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 2016 and was named Senior Fellow at the Emerson Collective. With his high contrast black and white being described as ‘stark and impressionistic.’ I thought they were highly atmospheric, maybe a little too romantic despite the subject matter, and had a grainy retrospective feel about them which reminded me very much of the early work of Sebastião Salgado, Other Americas, plus his Kuwait body of work.
Going back to the theme of ‘the journey’ for Black, the goal was to use it as a storytelling mechanism.
Every stop along the way has a level of poverty above 20%, I wanted to find a continuous route that linked all of these towns, which are no more than a couple of hundred miles from each other. And the fact that you can link all of these communities from coast to coast and back again is telling.
What I took away from Matt Black was:
The idea of always beginning from home and comparing photographic experiences to what you know of yourself, it ‘contextualizes what I am seeing.’
Taking a journey away from home and then returning.
Looking for similar motifs in the unfamiliar
Exploring similarities within different communities
Seeing a lot very fast
Inclusion of captions/text/interviews with people
Thinking about different platforms for the results
Born in Marseilles, Antoine d’Agata left France in 1983 and remained overseas for the next ten years. Finding himself in New York in 1990, he pursued an interest in photography by taking courses at the International Centre of Photography, where his teachers included Larry Clark and Nan Goldin.
Antoine d’Agata was totally different from Matt Black. He spoke very little, put on a PowerPoint presentation set to a throbbing beat to display his images, and let the work speak for itself. Growing up as a punk in Marseilles had a very strong influence on his life and subsequent photography. His images were firmly within the realms of Daidō Moriyama; they were black and white, grainy, out of focus and looked at the seedier side of life. For his first books published in 1998, De Mala Muerte and Male Noche, d’Agata ‘travelled the world to document characters of the night’s further edges: for sex workers, addicts, war-torn communities and homeless.’ d’Agata informed us that he looked for fragility.
In 2001, he published Hometown and won the Niépce Prize for young photographers. ‘Compiling intimate and provocative images, the book focused on his travels in France and personal journey.’
Unlike Black he undertook no preparation prior to setting out, other than ‘mental preparation’. d’Agata travels the world, documenting his personal experiences and encounters, and oddly more often than not hands his camera over to others to take the photographs. His intention is to be part of the action, not outside it…he did not wish to be a tourist or a consumer…and a lot of the images I suspected him to be the subject of, or part of, were very dubious in nature, and I suspect he had consumed many things… When asked how he knew his work was finished , or know that the journey was over he replied ‘when the darkness became ‘normal’ and it becomes comfortable…’
He believes in going as far as he can as a human being, but always considers the responsible way in which to represent something. Having said that he thinks he challenges Magnum’s comfort zone, but thinks his work has documentary value. D’Agata has lived as he stated a very murky and nomadic life. Immersing himself in his subjects, ‘prostitutes and other marginalised misfits,’ and never shies away from dangerous, drug-addled and sex-fuelled situations.
Most of my photographic strategies are aimed at reaching the highest levels of pleasure or unconsciousness and, in this sense, sex and drugs are highly enjoyable working methods. Part of my recent work could be easily described as some chaotic and biased sociology of ecstasy. I live my life with people who use pleasure as a way to impose their existence and identity in a world that denies them every right. But pleasure can’t be separated from pain and alienation. Pleasure is still a dark territory to me and I am exhausted exploring its limits. It’s just a route. Satisfaction isn’t the aim. Feeling might be the point. I’m hooked on adrenaline.
Because he get so involved in the lives of his subjects he does not think his work is voyeuristic nor exploitative. Since 2005 Antoine d’Agata has had no settled place of residence but has worked around the world, he has a passion for his work that does not always fit a commercial niche and runs many workshops to make ends meet.
MEXICO, TIJUANA, 2000.
What did I take away from Antoine?
Don’t do drugs!
Don’t be scared of looking at the uncomfortable things in life
To not always consume but to try to sometimes be part of the action
Challenge reality and the understanding of the world through the eyes of others
Photographs don’t always have to be about aethetics
Research was directed towards several links…but as with some of the other links in the coursework some are now defunct : the 2011 BJP link in the course notes comes up page not found and following the link to Emphas.is, the specialist photojournalism crowd-funding platform covered in the OCA article, takes me to a different site called Crowd Angels?
Find a Crowd Angel to guide your project. You‘ll need other stuff then just money to execute your idea. Maybe someone to cover your back. Maybe expert advice. Certainly exposure. You know what? There’s still good folks out there. You just have to find them. Our Crowd Angels will cover your back.
Launched in 2009 as a web platform for funding personal creative projects, Kickstarter is the original crowd-funding concept. Thanks to Kickstarter photographer Pete Brook has been able to raise nearly $8,000 for his Prison Photography project. A worthwhile cause of universal social appeal, coupled with an intelligent marketing strategy, will allow Brook to develop his project and… put pressure through public opinion and raise awareness of the social issues he is concerned with…
Kickstarter projects are only funded if the fundraising target is met. Amazon manages donations but no money exchanges hands until the deadline for raising funds is over. It is only then that Kickstarter and Amazon get their commission – 5% and 3-5% respectively.
There are many benefits to crowd funding, not at least the fact that a photographer, completing a project others would ‘like to see’, not only no longer has to bear the financial brunt, but they can also gauge the level of interest in the suggest idea. New forums for documentary photography are opened and work can reach many different audiences. A photographer backed by ‘the few’ could retain more editorial control than one backed by a major publisher. There are also potential rewards for sponsors, so on the surface it’s a win win situation.
Are there pitfalls? Well further research has revealed that Emphas.is went bust with all the inherent difficulties:
While all photographers who successfully raised funds on the platform received the money they were owed before the company’s liquidation, a group of photographers have seen their work become hostage to Emphas.is’ internal divisions.
As Jose pointed out would all the projects that are worthy be overshadowed by ‘that which is comparatively trivial and self-indulgent … [or] be dangerously blurred in crowd-funding.’
His main concern was that once funded the successful documentary bidders would decide to publicise their work on a pro-bono basis resulting in a ‘surplus of quality and free documentary work.’ This indeed would be manna from heaven for editors and a kick in the teeth for professional paid photographers. As noted the quality of crowd funded work and even straight forward amateur work that you can find on the web can be outstanding.
Another pitfall I guess is being able to promote and market yourself as a commodity!
The comments on the article also threw out some other valuable links:
The main issue between documentary and art is how a gallery positions i.e. defines the work itself.
Ignatieff (2003) stated ‘ Photography which loses sight of documentation risks becoming mannerism, while photography which loses the ambition or art loses the possibility of becoming forgettable.’
What he was possibly trying to say was that certain bodies of work put forward in a way as to be considered an art practice ‘fuses expression and information’ and has a legitimate forum within a gallery as it disseminates and articulates. A prime example given is Jim Goldberg’s Open See project which I was lucky to see in 2011. I am sure I wrote a huge review about it at the time but currently can’t find it! I know I really enjoyed the use of ephemera, different ways to display the work and how he allowed and encouraged his subjects to personalise their images by writing over the Polaroid photographs.
The title, Open See, comes from one such quote ‘in the open see [sic] there is no border.’
Listen to Jim Goldberg talking about Open See and his exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery.
Visit Goldberg’s website and reflect on how or if it works as a documentary project within the gallery space.
Open See, which was a book and an accompanying exhibition, were both part of a project about what Goldberg calls the ‘new Europeans’ – illegal immigrants, refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East and eastern Europe.
Goldberg was commissioned by the Magnum photographic and began this body of work in 2003 in Greece, which at the time had an estimated two million immigrants, most of whom lived a ‘clandestine life, unable to work legally or avail themselves of even the most basic rights.’ This project won him the Henri Cartier-Bresson prize, which helped fund his subsequent travels to the various countries of origin of his subjects: Ukraine, Bangladesh, Liberia and many others.
Described as ‘documentary story telling’ he uses many formats – Polaroids, photographs, video stills, found images and hand-written texts – all which go towards creating ‘a fragmented narrative that fractures the received conventions of reportage or straight documentary.’
Since 1970, I’ve been using text and ephemera as well as photographs in order to tell stories of one kind or another,There’s a thread that runs through all the work that is to do with bearing witness. The photographs are about asking questions, though, not answering them. I’m not a politically radical person. In fact, I’m much more interested in being radical aesthetically.
So does this project work in a gallery setting? Is it documentary or is it art? Is it appropriate to consider documentary photography as art?
Open See does not come across as documentary in the traditional sense, although I strongly believe it is a documentary project; it highlights global issues that need to still be resolved and gave voice to usually invisible individuals. It could be considered to be overly artistic in the way it was created and presented, but the original intent was to inform and make people question rather than to be pieces of art to be hung on the wall, and be admired for aesthetic reasons alone.
Photography and photography as art has become more accessible. No matter how much we dislike the ‘commodification’ of documentary photography it does generate much needed funds for new projects and allows photographers to self- fund if necessary. This I feel does make the gallery a valid setting for documentary work and Open See, in my opinion, works brilliantly as both Documentary and Art.
Read the article ‘Images that Demand Consummation: Postdocumentary Photography, Art and Ethics’ by Ine Gevers (Documentary Now! 2005).
Summarise in your learning log the key points made by the author.
The article was broken into different sub-headings so I will respond likewise.
Main points –
Documentary photography is a tradition with its own history and reflection.
Since the Seventies there has been such a blurring of boundaries
In today’s post-media age, should there be a new label of ‘post-documentary photography. ‘
What is the ethical stance of the photographers?
Main points –
Aesthetics is a complicated concept, and needs much clarification and examination.
Looked at etymologically, aesthetics has an ethical foundation.
Aesthetics and ethics are intertwined. Aesthetics growing from ‘ethics of perception’ into ‘a concept that appeared to be more and more autonomous and was no longer accountable to anything or anybody.’
Ethics and aesthetics is a contentious issue with ‘The media merely see ethics and aesthetics as antitheses.’ ‘Thoughts about beauty and truth seem to have ended in stalemate.’
‘Faded aesthetics’ (a new sub-label?) can be ‘presumptuous, elitist, arrogant, undemocratic and even fascistic at times.’ it ‘judges, censures, discriminates, stereotypes and restricts.’
Aesthetics has become dogmatic and can cause more harm than good.
Postdocumentary photographers, filmmakers and artists question if their work can be defined on an ethical instead of purely an aesthetic perspective
Oscar van Alphen is cited as being influenced by Barthes, Foucault and Bataille, and turning away from aesthetics.
Photography: objective, aesthetic, colonial
Photography opens up our world, enlarges our awareness, creates knowledge and makes everyone share in experiences
Photographic images, whether they are documents, snapshots or works of art, can turn people into objects. Introducing cliche and the ‘numbing of our conscience’ – Susan Sontag
Documentary rather than being a mirror to reality too often is used as a tool for propaganda and indoctrination.
Documentary photography too often supports the ‘status quo of oppressive institutions and practices.’
Documentary film and photography are being harshly viewed in light of post-colonialism.
‘Representation in its totality is in a crisis’ – possibly a little over dramatic in tone?
Gevers links photography to scientific disciplines, archiving and research
Postulates that American artist, writer and activist Martha Rosler is not a documentary photographer herself but uses documentary photography in her work. Subverting ‘qualities as factuality, veracity and objectivity in relation to both the photographic image and the word.’
Rosler introduces the idea that photographs alone are incomplete, inconsistent and inadequate ‘descriptive documents’ embrace different disciplines and media, also collaborative projects with people.
Gevers discusses Allan Sekula, who has ‘appropriated documentary photography as his domain’ yet ‘opts more consciously for a recognisable aesthetic approach,’ focusing on ‘social, cultural and political-economic developments in today’s (post)capitalist society. The photographic work never stands by itself.’
Photographic documents can be turned into commodities which can be distasteful given some of the subject matter, being ‘distorted’ by presentation e.g. The Killing Fields
‘In 1997 the Museum of Modern Art in New York exhibited a selection of the S-21 portraits, oblivious to their problematic role in the politics of representation. Elaborating on an existing tradition, the photographs were selected and presented on humanitarian grounds. The public, however, regarded the photographs as art, an aesthetic appreciation that was nurtured with no shame whatsoever.’
A more recent example would be images from Abu Ghraib prison, ‘which were sent out into the world like trophies.’
Alienation as strategy
The reaction of the art world to the attack on the Twin Towers was a mix of shock but impotence
The awareness of the aesthetic impacted on what to show and how to show it
More and more filmmakers are turning to deliberately not showing images, a tactic that goes back to Guy Debord’s 1952 film without images, Howls for Sad.
Alfredo Jaar (1994) travelled Rwanda and took thousands of photographs following the mass slaughters – later, he made an installation Real Pictures. The installation contained many photographs from Rwanda, but only one could actually be seen. The rest lay in piles of closed black boxes.
‘The artist’ in aesthetic terms
More philosophy from Alain Badiou, ‘the artist’ is someone ‘who feels the necessity to pursue a personal truth and to remain faithful to it in spite of considerable opposition. According to this argument, being an artist and ethics are inextricably bound up with each other.’
Truth is not something that can be communicated
Personal is political
Gevers returns to Rosler and an argument that ‘photographers and artists have shifted their attention to ‘the small’, the personal. Their goal, it seems, is no longer to change the world but to know it.’
The Atlas Group’s pictures show how, on the basis of personal experience, truths can be formed and put into context in such a way that the viewer can supplement them with his/her own experiences and observations.
Photographs themselves have no weight. Only those images acquire meaning that have it in themselves to unleash such a truth-process
It is up to the viewer as co-author to give weight to the image – Barthes punctum
Wow…ok…lots of insights and having to pick between examples to get to the main points which seem to be that ethics and aesthetics collide a lot in documentary photography, that don’t believe everything you see, everyone has an agenda…messages can be put across in many ways. The interpretation of the image is the responsibility of the viewer and when this is realised ‘only then can an image, a documentary photograph, a written intervention, a staged situation, give the other the opportunity to become involved and engrossed.’
Gevers, I. (2005) ‘Images that Demand Consummation: Postdocumentary Photography, Art and Ethics’ in Documentary Now!
Research the current activities of Photovoice and some of their archived projects.
PhotoVoice’s vision is for a world in which everybody has the opportunity to represent themselves and tell their own story
If you want to know why Photography in particular they also give the answer to this.
Photography is a highly flexible tool that crosses cultural and linguistic barriers, and can be adapted to all abilities. Its power lies in its dual role as both art form and way to record facts.
It provides an accessible way to describe realities, communicate perspectives, and raise awareness of social and global issues.
Its low cost and ease of dissemination encourages sharing and increases the potential to generate dialogue and discussion.
The aim of this research is to look at the ‘the documentary value and visual qualities’ of the images produced, but it was also interesting to look deeply into the charitable organisation, especially at their aims, ensuring that they:
Design and develop projects specific to communities, issues and needs, and based on engagement with them
Promote the imagery produced from the projects utilising media, events and exhibitions
Provide consultancy, training, materials and resources to organisations wishing to use participatory photography in their work
Every project they have participated in is visible via their projects link. Whilst not every image undertaken for that specific project may not be available on their site you can research further and discover more at individual links.
Without diving too much into the ethics or consequence of the projects I found this article which summed up or mentioned many of the issues previously covered within the course e.g representing a different culture without being stereotypical, ethics and possible exploitation, making the ugly look beautiful, environmental issues and wanting to campaign to change something, using ‘people, landscape and still life to convey the true and often unheard story,’ the use of social media and different mediums to convey a message, although as yet I don’t think the images were taken by the indigenous population.
Now I am back in the world of study, having spent far too long applying for a new job, and eventually securing one, dealing with personal ‘moments,’ attending weddings and generally spending time over the summer on my house and garden, it is time to look at Post-colonial ethnography. (As well as catch up on other study bits and generally panic about deadlines)
Having looked closely at control and discipline we are now asked to explore an aspect of that, according to Elizabeth Edwards (1992, p.105), a research Professor in Photographic History and Director of Photographic History Research Centre at De Montfort University, photographers and photography is obsessive in wanting to ‘record, catalogue, explore, reveal, compare and measure the human body…’ This was especially so during the Victorian colonial photography era. The methods used by the ethnographers and anthropologists during the mid-nineteenth century are now recognised as demonstrating ‘the unequal relationship between the colonisers and the colonised.’Three names we are introduced to are: Thomas H Huxley, Louis Agassiz and J T Zealy.
Thomas H Huxley was a pioneering biologist and educator who supported Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and introduced an anthropometric method which all colonial governors were asked to adopt. Naturalist and scientist Louis Agassiz, in another project, commissioned J T Zealy to photograph slaves in Columbia, South Carolina.On reflection, have the historical and contemporary photographers who captured indigenous groups, accurately represented the peoples they have studied? Were they occasionally ‘faked’ or romanticized? Who were the intended audience? Was it science or just another excuse to gawp at the exotic ‘other’ or an attempt to make the colonisers feel superior?In discussing this topic you cannot avoid the name of Edward S. Curtis or the term ‘the Curtis syndrome.’ Edwards (2001) comments on his ‘obsessive commitment’ in capturing tribes of the North American Indian by stating “… documenting traditional culture in the face of irreversible change is not necessarily pure ‘documentary’. It evokes feelings of nostalgia at the passing of cultures and an aetheticised ‘nobility’ which transcends documentary.”Martha Rosler was not so kind and wrote: ‘[he]… was also interested in preserving someone’s cultural heritage… he carried a stock of more or less authentic, more or less appropriate (often less, on both counts) clothing and accoutrements with which to deck out his sitters…the heritage was considered sufficiently preserved… In Curtis; case, the photographic record was often retouched, gold-toned and bound in gold-decorated volumes… financed by J.P.Morgan.’Which makes you question all over again the authenticity and intention of the photographs we see. Do Curtis’ 20 volumes which span 30 years work contain a realism? I would hope that somewhere in there, even if a bit of a jumble, he managed to capture several tribes of vanishing people.
Bronislaw Malinowski, sometimes described as ‘the father of the functionalist school of anthropology’ (which is based on the notion that all the parts of the society work together as an integrated whole) perceived, and substantiated, ‘the fact that the mind of the “primitive” man was essentially no different than that of “civilized” peoples.’ He also held the view that the ‘ethnographic subject disappears at the very moment of its recognition.’ He saw that information being recorded was not a true reflection of the peoples being studied, not their way of life nor their intellect. Also, that once scientists arrived en masse they influenced the behaviours of others.
Malinowski vigorously emphasized the importance of immersing oneself deeply in the indigenous language or languages. But perhaps more than any other researcher before him, Malinowski embraced the value of studying everyday life in all its mundane aspects. Thus for him it was not enough to simply record what tribal members said about their religious beliefs, sexual practices, marriage customs, or trade relationships – it was important to also studying how this measured up to, or played out in, what they did in everyday life.
Browse the catalogue Tribal Portraits:Vintage and Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent , Bernard J Shapero Rare Books. Core resources TribalPortraits.pdf and write a brief commentary.
Tribal Portraits: Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent was an exhibition and sale of over 200 rare images dating from 1865 to the present day, some of which had not been on the open market for decades.
A small sample of images are below:
Noting that most of the images on the Guardian website only featured frontal nudity of women I thought I would address the balance! I also love this image as the photographer focuses on the serious business of capturing a posed portrait of what I assume to be a form of traditional dress other people aimlessly mill about or intentionally photobomb the image. None are adorned like the subjects so it is easy to see why the audiences from the Victorian era, or even now given depending on the images, people assume that different cultures walk around in such exotic attire, or naked all the time, which obviously they don’t.
From researching various photographic works there is a tendency from photographers to follow suit, no matter what the genre. The way in which reviewers and curators write about the images also romanticise various bodies of work:
On Sebastião Salgado:
These Sebastião Salgado photographs were shot during a time of extreme industrial growth, marred by harsh social inequalities and political turmoil. The harshness and cruelty of this period is present at every turn in Salgado’s arresting images, juxtaposed with these curious observations of tenderness and romance in humanity. The result is a remarkable series of emotive photographs, that invite us into a world where – in Salgado’s own words – “dignity and poverty ride on the same horse”.
On Peter Lavery:
…the Xingu and the Yawalapeti are lucky to have him as their silent recorder, their likeness shimmering for prosperity in an alchemical mix of silver and whatever precious metals it may take…
As to be expected with a catalogue devoted to one area of photography the subject matter is broadly similar despite a few different approaches to capturing the portraits. Are or reactions different to these different approaches? I’ll try to sum it up as I go along…difficult when their is so much material to comment on.One of my favourite images is that on the front cover, taken by George Rodger: I like the silhouette, shadow and the framing, the candid nature of the image, even if possibly staged, and the naturalness of the action. However, not all his images were given this treatment as seen above, although none seem to take advantage or show any disrespect.Mirella Ricciardi was another featured photographer, and not one I had previously heard of…typical blurb on her site reads:
Born in Kenya, then still a colony of British East Africa; to an Italian father and a French mother, Mirella Ricciardi grew up on the shores of Lake Naivasha in a household that was both sophisticated and wild. She was married at twenty-five to the Italian adventurer Lorenzo Ricciardi, who swept her off her feet and hired her as the photographer on the film he was making in Kenya.
Having finally severed her umbilical tie to the African continent, she now lives in the East Sussex English countryside surrounded by her Archive.
Romantic again, also smacks of colonialism even if not intentional, the ‘I have embraced the wild primitiveness of Africa yet due to my upbringing and background remain apart from it and sophisticated and above all that….’ attitude. Her images seem to veer more towards the posed and artistic and still fall into the trap of naming people within a ‘group’ rather than as individuals.
I found it quite hard to categorically state that I did or did not like the way in which some of the photographers worked. For example Hector Acebes seemed to take overtly sensual images of nubile young boys and girls yet on the other-hand capture some genuinely interesting ‘activity’ and landscape shots.
However, he wasn’t as bad as Lehnert & Landrock:
The photographic studio of Lehnert & Landrock, active in Tunisia and Cairo in the early years of the twentieth century, specialised in producing images of the landscapes, architecture and people of North Africa. Made in large part for a European audience, the work was originally distributed through a series of monographs, as well as being sold from their own shops in the form of original prints, heliogravures and reproduction gravure and lithographic postcards. Since the 1980s, this work has enjoyed the renewed attention of scholars and collectors.
Contemporary photographer Antoine Schneck, applied a totally different creative technique removing almost all contextual information from his portraiture.
There was a smattering of images either taken in a studio or outside against painted backdrops. I always find this odd if trying to reveal an indigenous population within its own environment. The photographers who fell into this trap were C. Vincenti, Pascal Sebah, and even Irving Penn…these images remind me of the typological approach of August Sander.
In conclusion this catalogue illustrates the diverse nature of ethnographical anthropological approaches in capturing African tribes. None supply the entire context or background story, but then what photograph can or does? On reviewing these images and harking back to the exercise on ‘the gaze’ it does make me think twice about how I should represent any future subject matter myself… note…don’t use bed sheets and palm fronds!
Primitive typologies/Research Point
Under this section we are introduced to the work of Peter Lavery ‘Of Humankind’, David Bruce’s images of the San, Juan Echeverra’s studio images of the Himba of Namibia and Alvaro Leiva’s work regarding peoples of the Amazon Basin, and to question if and how photographers capture indigenous peoples honestly and without falling into the many traps there are associated with this genre. The traps being:
is certainly guilty of decontextualised tribal portraits with his use of B&W portraits taken against a black velvet backdrop, which harks back to the Victorian era and typology aesthetic, thus reducing his subjects to stereotypes. This is quite at odds with a statement made on his website which was to:
make portraits for himself of people he met in his travels and who interested him not as types but as individuals.
My argument is also underlined by his lack of captioning or use of the individuals’ names.Juan Echeverria
also parallels with Lavery to a certain extent as much of his work it decontextualises the subject from their environment by placing them against a plain backdrop. In some instances the images are printed in sepia or B&W. There is, yet again, a smattering of nudity, some of which seems in context whilst others appear voyeuristic.David Bruceseems to treat his subjects with a more gently human approach to his direct portraiture. As with others many are against a plain backdrop and taken in B&W but he seems to engage with his subjects, they are smiling, pulling faces, interacting with him on an equal level. The variety of expressions reveal the engagement rather than the usual serious/bored detachment often found. He includes small detail shots as well as wider contextual everyday activities. I found myself warming to his body of work.
wasborn in 1970 in Madrid. In 1989 he started shooting travel photography, and has travelled to over eighty countries on assignment. In conjunction with his commercial work, he has worked for the past seven years on The River People. The project documents the daily lives of people along five of the world’s major rivers – the Amazon, Ganges, Mekong, Mississippi and Niger.
Researching this photographer was made fun by his website seeming to be out of action for a while and a typo in the course notes spelling his name Leyva! A selection of his work can be seen here and he was featured in an edition of foto8 magazine.
From the small amount of work I could find he also shoots in B&W and uses large landscapes, small detail and incorporates more natural/candid shots than formally posed.
In completing my own research the obvious name that appeared was Jimmy Nelson, I then thought of Sebastião Salgado’s body of work Genesis, and also that by Jacob Maentz. There were many more I could use but have previously mentioned them in other posts when exploring how famine is presented or capturing the exotic ‘other’.
The reasons behind believing they succeed more often than not is that they generally, not always (they do also fall into some of the traps, especially Salgado)
wanted to ‘create carefully orchestrated portraits of these amazing peoples, at their absolute proudest.’ Endearingly honest his website tells us:
Jimmy Nelson is not an anthropologist or a man of science. He does not claim to have the knowledge to address the questions we have about indigenous and other traditional cultures. He is a photographer and a storyteller. What started as a naive engagement with the peoples he met during work assignments, has over a period of three decades turned into a personal project. The book ‘Before they pass away’ is an homage to the cultures he will probably never fully understand, but who will never stop luring him to explore.
In an interview in the Guardian (2014) he admits his pictures are ‘intended to be aesthetic rather than factual…There is no sociology, no statistics. It’s how I see the world..’
His images are definitely more on the ‘Art’ end of the scale but he tempers this with captions, naming not only the tribe but the individual people within his images.
Rather than focusing on the fact they are vanishing Nelson has since altered his view he now believes :
Where there are challenges, there are solutions. he has come to appreciate the pride, strength, vigour, honour and resilience of the people he asked to pose for his lense. This provides him with an unending inspiration to continue his work.
In this light, ‘before’ attains a meaning that is diametrically opposed to the fatalistic reading of doom. ‘Before’ signals a moment of opportunity, a call for action and an appeal. To decide with confidence that we value what we have and will take our support into the future.
again uses colour and occasionally relevant captions, even if once more he enjoys taking slightly romantic and artistically composed images.
The above shot shows he does not shy away from the difficult situations either. When downloading this image from his website it was called ‘Yolanda’ so presumably although her name is not used within the caption, Maentz knows exactly who she was.
The Brighton Photo Biennial’s 2008 programme Memory of Fire: the War of Images and Images of War, explored conflict photography, the making of, use, circulation and relevance in today’s society. The exhibition was curated by Julian Stallabrass, who took the Iraq War as his point of reference.
Whilst researching this topic I came across:
Are You a Vulture? Reflecting on the ethics and aesthetics of atrocity coverage and its aftermath Rughani, Pratap (2010). Book Chapter published in: Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution Peter Lang : Oxford, pp 157 – 172.
Which also covered many similar points but I will probably do a separate review on this essay.
This exercise asks that we read the two essays in the BPB 2008 programme and look at the work and the curator selected for the exhibition, writing a short press release of about 250 words in our learning log.
Making an ugly world beautiful? Morality and aesthetics in the aftermath by Sarah James.
The Power and Impotence of Images by Julian Stallabrass.
Firstly I thought I would research WHY press releases are made in the first place, sounds obvious I know but a good starting point.
Different from an invitation, a press release contains background information about the artist, the work, and the show. It is targeted to members of the press who may want to check out, write about, or even review your show. That having said, you can also send your press release to clients, galleryists, curators, or anyone you think might be interested in knowing more about your work.
I thought I would also check out the original press release and found one here, which had a word count of 175.
A review of both essays…
I found the essay by Julian Stallabrass to be uncomfortably informative. During the Iraq war and subsequent War on Terror, we were all made aware of the torture that was being meted out to detainees. Probably most of the general public thoughts went along the lines of ‘good they deserve it.’ But does anyone ‘deserve it’? Many people commit atrocities due to indoctrination or mental issues. Many of the victims of torture, we are told, are innocent, or if not completely innocent have no real information to give. Should we even trust information given under duress?
The fact that many of these torture sessions were photographed makes me wonder why? Was this for further degradation? Did the powers that be learn anything from observing still images of a man tied to a bed with a pair of panties covering his face?
Stallabrass does not talk about the morality of torture but informs us that the power of imagery has altered from a historical point of view. Torture during the Vietnam War was a state secret, whereas by the Iraq War it had become an overt policy. The nature of photography had also changed and his essay explores the ‘changing relationship between military strategy, the conduct of war, the media and its technology.’
He asks us to consider the vast amount of amateur footage that was published, the embedding of photojournalists with the military, giving unfettered access to military operations, and the encouragement to produce positive propaganda images only. This had a restrictive downside; narrow points of view, some censorship meaning highly controlled and sanitised images, those that Kenneth Jarecke railed against. How much was staged for the cameras, to sell a clean and anodyne war to the folks back home?
The media controlled the publication of stronger imagery due to fear of upsetting viewers and advertisers, proving the old adage that money talks. The rise of TV news and digital photography has probably exacerbated the decline of the paid rate for printed materials. Newspaper barons now have profit as a prime motive, information is published unchecked. ‘cliché reigns..[the] press has become degraded in public opinion…thought of as unreliable, gullible, mendacious and venal.’ To this effect ‘unrestrained capitalism works against the interests of democracy.’
There are seemingly two facets of photography; the photo-journalistic – speeding and intimate – and the ‘aftermath’ images which tend to be exhibited in museums – slow, sometimes artistically beautiful and ‘severely composed’. Whichever facet you view people remain cynical of the press and the imagery served up before them. There appears to be a lack of opposition to war, the Coalition seemingly allowed to engage in Nazi like tactics with ‘inadequate comment from the press…and with little published photographic representation.’ This is why the biennial and the work of Edmund Clarke is becoming more and more important.
Stallabrass concludes that whilst he believes that the biennial is ‘powerless’ in greatly swaying opinion or changing the course of these forces, ‘if…we have become to behave like Nazis, and if that cannot be grasped…if it does not cause a fundamental questioning…then something about our democracy is broken.’
Yet again these bodies of work link to the war on terror, Harlan K Ullman and James P Wade defined the new mode of warfare as shock and awe. James links the political strategy of shock and awe to the imagery also produced, describing an aesthetic of violence, a staging of the key events exploited to create ‘a dangerous range of…war-mongering emotions.’ It is her opinion that this war is also being fought over the precise meaning of the photographs, that these images depict ‘highly aestheticised’, surreal depopulated landscapes. The fact that they appear devoid of life adds to the abstraction.
Both Meyerowitz and Norfolk refer to the sublime and how this art term may need a new definition. Is it wrong that such destruction can look beautiful? This is a question that has been asked many times before over different subject matters for example Edward Burtynsky with his take on pollution and the oil industry. I think it is warranted as the slow process, several of the photographers used large format cameras, offers a different perspective. I don’t think that the empty landscapes, urban or otherwise, make me dismiss the people who once dwelt in the battered tenements. More so I wonder what happened to them, question the right we have to bomb the innocent populous. I don’t think a ravaged building needs to have a dead body or displaced person out front to make me empathise with the situation.
I don’t know that I fully agree with her summation that these aftermath images are totally detached. The Ground Zero imagery had a poetic beauty about them but that added to the poignancy of the event. Sebastião Salgado’s images of Kuwait are stunning, but they also reveal the horrendous effect that the war had on the oil fields and the workers.
James asks ‘does a war photography that seeks to represent the inhuman, abstract and even horrifically beautiful world of this contemporary military sublime offer any resistance against it?’ This was also a question asked by Stallabrass. Is there resistance to the war? I ask is it the photographer who is creating little resistance or the political will of the people that is influencing the imagery?
The article leaves us to contemplate the success or failure of this type of work, reminding us that ‘the sublime is the peculiar place where aesthetics and ethics merge, and that it is an uncomfortable coalition at the best of times.
followed by the press release…
Memory of Fire: the War of Images and Images of War – BPB 2008
The Brighton Photo Biennial feasts on strong meat this year. Guest curator Professor Julian Stallabrass, lecturer at the Courtauld Institute, is also a writer and photographer, with a keen interest in the relationship between art and the political. Along with other renowned theorists he investigates the urgent issues which arise from the depiction of war, the use of these images by the media, the circulation of unofficial amateur images, censorship, the military as a PR and image-producing machine, and the impact of digital media.
The Biennial, housed in several venues from Bexhill on Sea to Chichester, Portsmouth, Winchester, as well as in Brighton, will display images ranging from the Russian Revolution to more recent conflict, focusing predominantly on Iraq and Afghanistan. It will analyse how images are informed by the changing social and political climate.
Fully embracing the multimedia experience itself, this year BPB 2008 with three exhibition venues in Brighton, will have on offer an extensive film programme, talks, workshops and portfolio reviews along with a series of participatory and publicly sited projects. Furthermore, BPB 2008 looks to inspire the vast online community by launching a new website as a platform for ideas and discussion around the theme of photography and conflict.
Are You a Vulture? Reflecting on the ethics and aesthetics of atrocity coverage and its aftermath Rughani, Pratap (2010). Book Chapter published in: Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution Peter Lang : Oxford, pp 157 – 172.
Throughout the coursework the issue of compassion fatigue, people’s attitudes and responses to constant images depicting certain disasters – be that war, famine or other tragedies – have been raised. Various organisations as well as photographers and editors gradually became aware that they had to consider a new approach to their work and how it was presented. In September 2005 the exhibition Imaging Famine ‘posed poignant questions of ethical documentary practice.’
An ethical code of documentary practice allows for the imbalance of power that often arises between filmmakers/photographers and both their subjects and their audience to be addressed. It should affirm, among other things, the principle of informed consent for subjects. However, documentary conventions do alter. Along with those alterations, judgments about what compromises trust or violates another’s humanity also change.
We need to consider the effect of using positive versus negative imagery, about images of suffering evoking a response. I have already looked in depth at the photographers involved within the Eight Ways to Change the World project.
Exercise Read the booklet ‘Imaging Famine’ – from The Guardian. Do some research across printed and on-line media and find examples that either illustrate or challenge the issues highlighted in the document.
The catalogue sets the scene by discussing the press coverage of the Ethiopian famine disaster; pinpointing the watershed moment in October with the 1984 BBC TV report from Korem in Ethiopia, filmed by Mohamed Amin and reported by Michael Buerk. In fact, the consequences of how the crisis was perceived in Europe via such imagery was investigated by a United Nations organisation instigating new codes of practice for the use of NGO imagery.
My initial response was to not read the text but to look at the images contained within the booklet. What was my immediate response? What did I see? What did I read into them?
The opening image taken by Paul Lowe in Somalia was very telling; a starving child surrounded by 4 white photographers all hoping to get a ‘scoop’. They closely resembled the vultures from a later image; picking the bones of opportunity, survival of the fittest and seemingly more concerned about themselves than the child. That may be totally inaccurate, they may have sent funds to help the aid agencies, they may have transported struggling victims, but going on stories brought back this didn’t happen that often.
Not that I am overly criticising them, the reporters, film-makers and photographers had and have a role to play, stories need to be told if we are to help, not everything can be solved by throwing cash at it. Politics plays an important role in every event and, if images are to have an impact, those images have to be made. I can understand how some photographers felt, and feel, guilt at getting into an air-conditioned 4×4, staying in a 5 star hotel and then flying home to a very comfortable life knowing that they win awards and funding off the back of others’ suffering.
To give two examples of these moral dilemmas and the guilt photographers feel, I can cite Mike Wells who won a World Press Photo Award for the following image.
Taken in Karamoja district, Uganda in April 1980, the contrasting hands of a starving boy and a missionary spoke louder than any world leader and any news story about the famine in Uganda. Karamoja region has the driest climate in Uganda and was prone to droughts. The 1980 famine in there where 21% of the population (and 60% of the infants) died was one of the worst in history. The worst recorded famine was the great Finn famine (1696), which killed a third of the population.The photographer Mike Wells, who would later win the World Press Photo Award for this photo, admitted that he was ashamed to take the photo. The same publication that sat on his picture for five months without publishing it entered it into a competition. He was embarrassed to win as he never entered the competition himself, and was against winning prizes with pictures of people starving to death.
Another photographer who faced a barrage of criticism was Kevin Carter, over his image of a little girl being stalked by a vulture. In March 1993 Carter was in Sudan near the village of Ayod. There he came across a girl who had stopped to rest on her way to a United Nations feeding centre; a vulture had landed nearby. Carter waited for twenty minutes until the vulture was close enough, positioned himself for the best possible image and only then chased the vulture away.
The photograph was sold to The New York Times where it appeared for the first time on March 26, 1993. Practically overnight hundreds of people contacted the newspaper to ask whether the child had survived, leading the newspaper to run a special editor’s note saying the girl had enough strength to walk away from the vulture, but that her ultimate fate was unknown. Because of this, Carter was bombarded with questions about why he did not help the girl, and only used her to take a photograph.“The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene”
What is never made that clear is that Carter was working in a time when photojournalists were told not to touch famine victims for fear of spreading disease, nor that her parents were close by taking food aid from a plane.
Carter won a Pulitzer for his image, but the darkness of that bright day never lifted from him. In July 1994 he took his own life, writing, “I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain.”
As a separate note Kevin Carter, was the first to capture a public execution by ‘necklacing’ in South Africa in the mid-1980’s and questioned cause and effect of the media asking: ‘The question that still haunts me is ‘would those people have been necklaced, if there was no media coverage?’
These images are nothing new, history has revealed a morbid fascination of death and disaster, the oldest image in this article being published in 1876 of a famine in Madras by a Captain Hooper. Earlier images were posed and subjects arranged so that their plight was obvious yet a code of decency was adhered to; no naked flesh or obvious genitalia on display. However, it is worrying to note that some of the subjects were tied/propped up so they could be posed properly?!? Dignity does not just mean covering up or cropping out various body parts.
In 1901 an unknown photographer took a still in Allahabad of a pile of emaciated bodies, the scale of the crisis meaning that the value of human life and the level of dignity which their remains received was scant; this is still echoed in the mass graves found today in troubled spots throughout the world. These images still have a power to shock and raise sympathy and concern, even if they have become more prevalent. Whilst these stark images are created to raise awareness and financial aid for these people, is there a compromise of dignity which undermines their value? There is most certainly a moral obligation to portray the truth and they should not merely sensationalise.
We still have to ask, because they effect us on an emotional level and occasionally stir enough people to act in order to resolve issues, should some of these images be shown? Or shown in a different way?
I came across a blog post written by photojournalist Barry Malone called Me and the man with the i-pad. It is worth reading, it sums up the dilemmas and distaste he feels every time he has to cover a human disaster. He is angry that the governments and aid agencies know these things are coming, yet are either powerless to do anything, or choose to do nothing to prevent it. He questions how he acts, how he feels he should act, or does he even really know how he should act, if what he does is ultimately right? Does he treat people with the dignity they deserve?
Some journalists leaned down over the mothers to talk to them, some stuck cameras inches from their faces. I stood further away when taking the photos, I sat down in the dirt to interview people. I thought I was better, but I wasn’t. I was just more conceited.
Part of me felt bad for publishing the photo of the man with the iPad. Because he was a good person doing his job. And because we are the same.He comes with an iPad, I come with a notebook.Both of us steal dignity and neither of us belong.
More contemporary photographs seem to depict individuals, mainly children, or parents with children, the elderly, in fact those highlighted in my earlier posts that are considered to be the weaker members of society.
Whilst Rankin’s (working name of John Rankin Waddell) images don’t follow this trend I still question the hands out holding food pose….. (totally off topic his wife is actress Kate Hardie, whose stage name is derived from those of both her parents: Jean Hart and comedian turned naturalist Bill Oddie)
Imagery for charity campaigns has traditionally been caught between a Rock and a Hard Place. The Rock being a lack of decent funds for a campaign which has lead to ‘shock’ imagery in search of publicity. The Hard Place is the challenge of creating imagery that neither feeds stereotypes nor is so emotionally gutting it turns away potential givers because it makes them feel any contribution is pointless.Alejandro Chaskielberg, Sony’s 2011 World Photographer of the year, avoids both in his Photos exhibition for Oxfam opening today at Southbank’s OXO Gallery.
Or are these too artistic?
Mary Atabo’s family used to own over 100 goats but now have only 10 due to the drought. Their family also used to have a shop but it was destroyed in recent flash flooding, now they survive solely on releif food and by selling charchoal. Oxfam carried out food distributions in Kaalatum village for 6 months and will start again next month.
Elisabeth Ekatapan and her eight children live in the village of Natoo in Northern Turkana near Lokitaung. Elisabeth’s husband died from sickness, leaving her soley responsible for bringing up her children. “I appreciate pastoralism but animals are not sustainable anymore. When there is drought your animals die and you are left with nothing. If I could make one thing happen it would be to have my own business and earn money.” says Elisabeth
Then we have the cause célèbre, with famous people ready and willing to promote certain fund-raising events or charities. The cynical part of me wonders if this is done to promote themselves as much as the charity, many famous characters donate or help anonymously, why don’t all? But sadly, I realise the general public are more likely to help out too if something is endorsed by their favourite footballer, film-star, singer or comedian. The Guardian ran an article on the pros and cons of celebrity endorsement in 2011.
The catalogue has several topical sections which hopefully I have covered above or below:
What is the appeal
Positive versus negative
The nature of photojournalism
Geographies of death and disaster
Picture, celebrities and policy
Stereotypes, icons and symbols
Time and place
Working my way through it, I shall share some of my observations…
The watershed report at the time met with mixed reaction, some thought it brilliant, so it was beamed around the world, whilst another producer had the response of ‘not more starving Africans,’ revealing the truth of not pleasing all the people all of the time and underlining the problem of compassion fatigue.
The impact of LiveAid etc created a stereotype of African nations lumping them altogether as a ‘single impoverished place.’ Charity appeals tended to rely on these images for fund-raising appeals. The type of image used does seem to depend on if the charity is responding to a sudden disaster or a long term project. Sudden disasters show the more harrowing or emotional images whereas the long-term projects portray the positive and uplifting.
Compare the Water Aid campaign to the Christian Aid Syrian Refugee Appeal and others.
I noted with interest that the same image had been used but flipped for the Christian Aid poster. All of them still showing the ‘weaker’ section of society. Don’t grown men and teens also suffer? Can charity appeal images go to far?
It always seems very sad to me, yet indicative of human behaviour that it is always the negative images that gain more attention. Although a photographer may balk at taking and showing certain photographs they are usually the most honest and representative images during a disaster. May be more needs to be done to emphasise these images are of a select area at a select time and do not represent an entire country or continent.
As with the previous articles by Houghton and Kaplan, the words that accompany the images are just as important. Journalists/editors can be as much to blame for the consequences when they use a certain rhetoric or lexical set. Even the catalogue acknowledges that an image without text or a caption is ‘arguably purely aesthetic…shot of clear meaning and not photo-journalism at all.’
Very topical at the moment is the spate of terrorist attacks in the UK. Minutes silences have been held for the victims in Manchester and London. Yet major incidents occur throughout the world all the time and we don’t seem to bat an eyelid unless a British citizen is involved. With an ever shrinking world this may be less so, but sadly I don’t think so. Do we really need to have a break down of the nationalities every time there is a plane crash or a suicide bombing? The catalogue cites Susan Moeller who stated ‘One dead fireman in Brooklyn is worth five English Bobbies, who are worth 50 Arabs, who are worth 500 Africans.’ The reporting of far-flung places may not hit the main stream, but with Facebook, twitter et al local residents and more local photographers are on the scene to show what is happening at any given moment in time across the globe.
Possibly this is the general way forward, with using more indigenous photographers who know the people, the area, the politics and would offer a more balanced viewpoint. Would the bias tip in the other direction, would they be under political constraint to be less honest? Both situations have different problems.
Examples given are photographs by Chris Keulen who although not indigenous captured The Tour du Senegal amongst other positive series of Africa, and Petterik Wiggers who hails from the Netherlands but has been photographing Africa for over 20 years.
However, since then more African photographers have come into the limelight and are being talked about and publicised. Even more well established African photographers are becoming known outside the field of photography.
Sir Bob Geldof is cited in the text as he was another influenced by the images he saw but rather than compassion he felt outrage, just as Gilles Peress was inspired to capture his images with no political agenda, just wanting to show the stark reality of what is happening and his despair that the world stood back watching.
Has anything changed from the 1992 Guardian image of a ‘stricken Somali town’
to the 2011 famine?
Geldof is just one in a long line of celebrities to get involved in charity work, we have Comic Relief, Children in Need to name a few highly publicised events. Is it right that the many are entertained to raise funds for the suffering? The funds are much-needed, but is this just voyeurism under another name? How many viewers watch the sketches and go to make a cuppa when the taped ‘fact files’ are shown? An interesting article on philanthropy can be read here.
We recognise television as important in the respect of fund-raising whilst documentaries and news reports keep us up to date with events around the world, but what is the impact of new technology and digital techniques? Everything is so instant and disposable these days, a click or a swipe and the image is gone. We are asked: ‘If this is the future, what can be learned from advertisers who have mastered the art of triggering an emotional response through visual metaphors?’
So where lies responsibility? As covered earlier in this post some photographers feel guilt, others try to think of doing a job and moving on. Although not famine based there was some discussion over the photographs of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian refugee boy, whilst it may have impacted upon policy have we kept our word and welcomed many refugees? Have we done anything to stop the war? His father, although he thinks it was right to publish the images, does not think anything has changed.
Ultimately the question of ethics is a very important one. Who draws the lines? Who decides to cross them? Photographers don’t always have ultimate control over how their images are published and what text accompanies them, but they are responsible for pressing the shutter and their actions before, during and after. I can only strive to apply my own moral compass in the basic situations I face.
In the next exercise we are directed to read two separate articles, one by Jonathan Kaplan the other by Max Houghton.
Jonathan KaplanJonathan Kaplan is a battlefield surgeon who is also a journalist, speaker and documentary film-maker. His first book The Dressing Station introduced his work as an air ambulance doctor, battlefield surgeon and ship’s medical officer.He has written two books on his varied experiences: The Dressing Station, won both the Alan Paton Award and the SA Bookseller’s Award. Contact Wounds, ‘describes his attempt to find his place in a world in a time of instability and war, and the way in which his qualifications in trauma and uncertainty have made him a specialist in this century’s changed requirements.’Max Houghton Max Houghton has been writing on, for, with and about photographs since 2001, specialising in contemporary documentary photography. She secured her first book contract with Thames and Hudson for Firecrackers: Women in Photography. A senior lecturer in photography at London College of Communication Max is a qualified journalist writing for The Guardian amongst others. First writing about photographs of the effects of Agent Orange in 2001 for foto.com, she eventually became its feature editor and then editor. Her articles are regularly published in FOAM, The Telegraph, Black and White Photography, New Humanist, BJP, LifeForce, BBC, AxisWeb and Photoworks.
Read the articles ‘ Walk the Line’ by Max Houghton ( Foto8, issue 23,pp.143-4) and ‘Imaging War’ by Jonathan Kaplan ( Foto8 ,issue 23,pp.142-3)
Core resources Foto8#23_Kaplan&Houghton.pdf
Write down your reactions to the authors’ arguments.
Imaging War by Jonathan Kaplan
When you work a heck of a lot in the English department you can’t just read an article without noticing how it is written and why – contemplating who the audience is, the English Language techniques employed as well as the structure of the piece. I teach students how to minutely dissect non-fiction articles and to look for features of speech within writing. Most newspaper articles are written to inform, possibly entertain and like most persuasive texts use AFOREST. A Anecdotes F Facts O Opinion R Repetition / Rhetorical questions E Emotive language S Statistics T Triples. When considering my response to Jonathan Kaplan’s arguments I couldn’t help but apply this analysis to how he was putting his points across, as much as what he was saying. And I must say he is a consummate writer, every technique is there combined with a semantic field of horrific vocabulary and then a slice of humour to lighten the tone, as he describes how celebrities can potentially watch a ‘voyage up their own arsehole’, before delving back into the serious tone of the article.
But that’s the how…now onto that serious content…
Kaplan’s opening paragraph advises us how a doctor becomes a surgeon through hours of training and skills, which are part learned and part intuitive. This is the first idea that we can also link to photography: the need to be both physically present and directly involved, and it helps to know your subject intimately in order to do the job well.
Rather than initially discussing the images he takes Kaplan introduces us to the ‘Wound Man’
The earliest known versions of the Wound Man appeared at the turn of the fifteenth century in books on the surgical craft, particularly works from southern Germany associated with the renowned Würzburg surgeon Ortolf von Baierland (died before 1339). Accompanying a text known as the “Wundarznei” (The Surgery), these first Wound Men effectively functioned as a human table of contents for the cures contained within the relevant treatise.
This was later updated to include battle wounds and has been updated constantly over time.
The constant invocation of the Wound Man in surgical treatises for over 300 years shows the capacity of this image to bring the reader into the gruesome yet serious space of the surgical professional. But it also speaks to the ability of the Wound Man to capture the attention of any reader who stumbled across him, even today’s most modern viewers: as his recent reappearance in the NBC TV series Hannibal suggests, the morbid wonder he encapsulates still holds true for viewers today, a medieval image catapulted across time into the twenty-first century.
This ‘morbid wonder’ is still with us, as readily shown by websites such as Rotten.com and by Kaplan’s acknowledgement of editors requesting photographs depicting ‘surgical gore,’ which he regards as ‘medical pornography’ and ‘forensic prurience’, with people gaining lascivious pleasure from them. Although he holds back on the visual gore, Kaplan has no such problems with his written descriptions as he gives graphic details of battlefield injuries caused by bullets, shells and ‘flying pieces of other men.’ Graphic, but I feel necessary to the narrative to ensure people understand the horrors of reality, that war isn’t made anodyne and sanitized . Do we need the images to back him up? I think our own imaginations occasionally do a better (or worse) job.
Photographing his surgeries in B&W for instructional purposes, there is a distinct difference between taking them to educate or for editorial use. Even with these images being factual and not sensationalised, an editor of a book about landmines decided they were too graphic and would detract from the overall message of the publication. Compassion fatigue occurs in certain circumstances where people switch off. The same can happen with gruesome images; people don’t want to see these types of images and close a book or flick a channel.
Kaplan ends his piece with a statement that could also be a question, and one that needs to be addressed, what kind of images of the human body are considered suitable for publication?
Walk the Line by Max Houghton
Whereas Kaplan ends on a question of ethics Houghton opens with a similar point: ‘which images are fit for publication on the grounds of taste?’
As a co-editor this is a dilemma she faces on a regular basis. However, ethics seem to be on a sliding scale dependent on the audience, the examples Houghton gives are that ‘dead American soldiers are a no-no for the US press’ whilst dead enemy combatants, even Saddam Hussein’s sons are fair game. However, Houghton like Kaplan, likes to use dramatic language describing them as ‘decapitated.’ Although they were definitely not pretty to look at, with thick lips, cranial and facial wounds, their heads were still firmly attached to their bodies. Not that that made them any less dead or exploited, but in the interest of factual reporting and the embellishment by the press, I thought I’d point out that photographers aren’t the only ones who could be accused of being creative…this happens often enough for Susan Sontag to point out ‘the quality of feeling , including moral outrage , that people can muster in response to photographs of the oppressed , the exploited , the starving , and the massacred also depends on the degree of their familiarity with these images’ (Sontag. 1979, pg 19)
So important is this question of ethics that there are talks and conferences, for example one entitled, ‘Picturing Atrocity:Reading Photographs in Crisis’ where academics got together to discuss amongst other things, how we sometimes don’t take into consideration the feelings of the families concerned. How long did it take for them to come up with that startling revelation?
Giving examples Houghton cites The Falling Man and Luc Delahaye’s Dead Taliban Soldier. However, after researching further, the identity of the falling man has never really been established and although I have no idea if the Taliban soldier ever was, he was so clearly depicted that any family or friends would be left in no doubt. Both men died due to acts of violence yet I find it quite obscene that the latter is described in more artistic terms and sympathy has only been expressed for the former. Maybe the background stories matter? One was an innocent man who went to work and never came back, another was a fighter and knew the consequences of his life choices, both have families whose feelings need to be taken into account. Again it is the same argument, does the ‘greater good’ the ‘needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?’ What did any of us gain from either of these images that words could not have conveyed?
Dressed in a khaki uniform, without boots, the corpse has a grace that almost seems posed. The photograph itself looks like it might have been taken by someone floating high above in a balloon. All time seems to have stopped.
Houghton then uses an image by George Phicipas, of a mother bleeding to death in front of her young child after ethnic fighting in Kenya, to demonstrate differing opinions and uses of image. Originally published in black and white by the Daily Telegraph, it was then re-used by The Observer, in full colour, after one of their journalists traced her identity. The photograph was never published in Kenya, with the argument being that it would more than likely inflame already high passions and further fuel the violence. Great, we got told a story, so we can shake our heads and maybe say ‘there but for the grace of god go I.’ We found out who the victim was but should we be making money from these unfortunate circumstances? Did the exposéstop the fighting? Did we learn anything of value apart from making a dead body become a dead person?Did the paper help her husband Jeremiah find justice?
Maiuashia’s insistence on a post-mortem examination provides a get-out for any police investigation and an agony for Jeremiah. The hospital will only perform an autopsy if Jeremiah pays and will not release Grace’s body without one. He has been quoted 5,000 Kenyan shillings, about £40 -Jeremiah is a night watchman and does not have that kind of money. On Thursday, he had to give mortuary officials a bribe of 2,000 shillings to move her from the stacks of white bags in the hot storeroom into a space in one of the four refrigerated units. With 36 as yet unclaimed corpses here, relatives in a similar position to Jeremiah are coming in each day, and as money changes hands so bodies switch positions as everyone desperately tries to preserve the remains of their loved ones to buy time to raise cash for post mortems and funerals.
The piece concludes with the alleged use of people with Downs Syndrome, by Al-Qaeda,as suicide bombers. The resulting images did not prove anything, and most were ‘severed heads’. These were not published, and I’d like to think that even if the facial features had proved the allegations, that these would not have been shown, ever. This would have been exploitation of innocent, vulnerable people in both life and death. I strongly believe that the media need to maintain a moral code when making their editorial decisions, and we as an audience/photographer, need to exercise the same constraint when taking, viewing and sharing images. Even to boycotting certain publications… apparently Liverpool and Manchester have called to boycott the Sun, not due to images but for poor reporting.
Both articles are about journalists using their own moral judgments; although Kaplan seems to take a stance Houghton appears more to give examples and quotes from others, but is never really clear on her position over the examples given.
Moral judgement works up to a certain point, how many of these decisions are profit related who can say, but it is probably a higher priority in some cases. A point also raised in the article is the growing use of social media and despite the press choosing to not display certain images there is very little control over Twitter feeds and Facebook statuses.
There will always be someone who wants to ‘be first’ have the goriest image out there. Sometimes it is just plain stupidity. Otherwise why on earth would the American security services publish sensitive photographs of the Manchester bombing?
Having read both articles and considered deeply my own invisible line, I think my moral compass points in the right direction, although I’ll probably take into consideration more the feelings of the potential audience, especially with the project I am considering for Assignment 3. (yups I wrote this post before completing the assignment for the last section as weather wasn’t being kind to me for outside shoots!)
Sontag ,S.(1979) “On Photography” Penguin Books , London ,England.
In my last post I spoke about several well-known war photographers who are sadly no longer with us. However, one who is, is Don McCullin whose images of the Vietnam war and other more relatively recent conflicts have made for uncomfortable viewing in some instances.
My photographs are stark and they’re not meant to be comfortable to look
at. They’re to make you respond. The only way you are going to get the
message across to people is to shock them. They’re not going to be moved
by a cosy picture…I want you look at my photographs… and go away with
a conscience obligation.
Don McCullin, Shaped by War exhibition, 2010
This seems to be in direct contrast to Gilles Peress who wanted to inform, but not set out to deliberately shock, just allowed the contents of the frame and the viewers personal empathy to inform the level of reaction.
Sontag wrote: ‘There can be no doubt of the intentions of this tenacious, impassioned witness, bringing back his news from hell. He wants to sadden. He means to arouse.'(Sontag 2001)
Back in 2013 I saw Don McCullin give a talk at The Photographer’s Gallery and did a fairly extensive write-up which can be found here. The penultimate paragraph read:
McCullin acknowledges that you can’t go to war without some kind of damage, either physical or mental. He welcomed his injuries so he could acknowledge others suffering. Now he wants some time to himself; you go to war you suffer, he has had 55 years of this and now wants time to himself. “I have been manipulated, and I have in turn manipulated others, by recording their response to suffering and misery. So there is guilt in every direction : guilt because I don’t practice religion, guilt because I was able to walk away, while this man was dying of starvation or being murdered by another man with a gun. And I am tired of guilt, tired of saying to myself : “I didn’t kill that man on that photograph, I didn’t starve that child.” That’s why I want to photograph landscapes and flowers. I am sentencing myself to peace.”
I think one of my favourite photographs is OF him rather than by him. Taken by John Bulmer in Cyprus in 1964, it reveals the side of McCullin that did do something and didn’t just watch.
Don McCullin is running; running as fast as he can. His mouth is open, hair neat and jacket crumpled. In his arms lies an elderly woman, her thick set legs bent over McCullin’s left arm. Her gnarled right fist clenches two long sticks; the wire and trees blur in the background. This unlikely couple are fleeing missiles fired into Turkish territory by the Greek army during the 1964 conflict in Cyprus. It’s McCullin’s first war and this now famous war photographer is captured in action in an extraordinary black and white photograph. The previous evening, McCullin had crashed on the spare hotel bed in the room of the photograph’s author, who had then driven them both into battle the following morning; “If I was going to get killed, I thought I might as well take some photographs”. The photographer is John Bulmer.
This was one of the images on display at the Peter Dench Great Britons of Photography exhibition, you never know what gems you can find unless you go look!
Before listening to the interview I wondered if I would discover anything new having heard him speak and read his autobiography. The link wouldn’t work for me, no idea why, but I found it on YouTube! One of the things he said in this interview that struck a chord was , ‘I don’t carry my life’s work lightly,’ which suggested to me that he did consider the ethics of his actions and the consequences. Although interesting it did cover much of the ground I have read in other interviews.
We are asked to consider ‘ethical practice,’ both our own and that of other photographers. McCullin admits that, on occasion, people had the right to be angry with him photographing them whilst under duress, of making a story out of their misfortunes. However. he is also a strong believer in getting images out there to implement change and to tell important stories. In a different interview McCullin did comment that he no longer takes photographs that would not implement change or tell a new story. This followed his work in Syria.
So what are the consequences of such images? The examples given by Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others, were that photographs of calamities can trigger opposing reactions, people will either call for peace or wish to exact revenge, or even be reduced to apathetic ‘bemused awareness’ of atrocities as they gradually become facts of life. ‘Compassion fatigue’ (Sontag 1977) was touched upon earlier when talking about the FSA and charitable campaigns but it can be equally applied to images of conflict. Sontag reminds us that over-exposure to gratuitous images of death and destruction does indeed have a ‘numbing, desensitising effect on the viewer.’
More food for thought for when producing images, be authoritative, reflective, consider the ethics, don’t labour the point and try to be different….I think I’ll put my camera back in its bag!