Post-Colonial ethnography

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:

African Dinka girls, by George Rodger, 1948. The Dinka are Sudanese tribespeople who rely on cattle herding at riverside camps in the dry season and grow millet and other grains in fixed settlements during the rainy season
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
Benin Woman Smoking, by Hector Acebes, 1953
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent


Chief Kingo by C Vincenti, 1898
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
Contemporary African Couple by Seydou Keita, 1956. Keita (1921–2001) was a self-taught portrait photographer from Bamako, Mali
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
Early Morning Wait at Lake Rudolph, by Mirella Ricciardi, 1968. Lake Rudolph, now known as Lake Turkana, is in Kenya’s arid Great Rift Valley. Up to three million years ago, when the area was more fertile, the lakeside was home for some of humans’ earliest known ancestors
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
Five Turbanned Dahomey Women by Irving Penn, 1967. Dahomey in west Africa is now the Republic of Benin
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
M’suguma Dancers in Tanzania by C Vincenti, 1898
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
Nuba Dancers of Cau, by Leni Riefenstahl, 1975. The Nuba inhabit the Nuba Mountains in Kordofan province, Sudan. Between 1962 and 1969 the filmmaker Riefenstahllived intermittently among the Nuba in remote valleys of Central Sudan, “studying them at close quarters, taking unique and fascinating photographs, which now constitute a lasting record of what was once their way of life … “
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
Portrait Study, East Africa, 1875, photographer unknown
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
Children from the Wagogo Tribe Wear Special Headgear for the Circumcision Ceremony, by George Rodger, 1947. The Wagogo or Gogo are based in the Dodoma Region of central Tanzania. They are traditionally pastoralist, but in recent decades have migrated to urban areas or work on plantations
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent


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.rodger-keyholeMirella 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.



Lehnert & Landrock – 211 – Bedouine.jpg  From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

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:

  • Decontextualisation – primitive nudity /erotica (e.g. Lehnert & Landrock)
  • Romanticism – the ‘noble savage’ (e.g. Edward S. Curtis)
  • Primivitism – projecting exotic ‘other’ (e.g. in some cases George Rodger)
  • Dehumanisation – the treatment of subjects as specimens not individuals (e.g. J T Zealy )

Peter Lavery

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.HimbaDavid 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.


Alvero Leiva

was born 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)

  • use colour over B&W
  • use candid photography
  • shoot within the natural environment
  • name the subjects with captions

Jimmy Nelson

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.

Tumbu, Hango, Peter, Hapiya, Kati, Hengene and Steven Huli Wigmen, Ambua Falls, Tari Valley, Papua New Guinea 2010.

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.

Jacob Maentz

again uses colour and occasionally relevant captions, even if once more he enjoys taking slightly romantic and artistically composed images.

Badjao (Badjau) community in Mindanao, Spearfisherman.
Badjao (Baju) spearfisherman. (Mindanao, Philippines)





Philippines - Typhoon Haiyan Aftermath
Typhoon Haiyan Aftermath – A woman in rubble covers her nose from the strong smell. (Tacloban, Philippines)

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.


Research (2017). Ju/’hoansi Bushmen | DAVID BRUCE. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 August 2017] [Accessed 29 Aug 2017] (2017). Jimmy & Projects – JIMMY NELSON. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Aug 2017] [Accessed 29 Aug 2017]  [Accessed 29 Aug 2017] [Accessed 29 Aug 2017]  [Accessed 29 Aug 2017] [Accessed 29 Aug 2017] [Accessed 29 Aug 2017] [Accessed 29 Aug 2017] [Accessed 29 Aug 2017] [Accessed 29 Aug 2017] [Accessed 29 August 2017] [Accessed 29 August 2017]


Ethics of Aesthetics – Reflecting on the war photograph

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.’

I think I agree with him.

Sarah James looks more at the aftermath, the Sublime and the ethics behind making an ugly world beautiful. The examples of photographers who fulfil this criteria she cites as: Simon Norfolk, Paul Seawright, Joel Meyerowitz and Sophie Ristelhueber. (note to self to research more on SR)

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…

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.


Research    [Accessed 4/07/2017] [Accessed 4/07/2017] [Accessed 4/07/2017] [Accessed 4/07/2017] [Accessed 4/07/2017]

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.

The ethics of aesthetics – Imaging Famine

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.

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.

Imaging Famine


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.

1981, World Press Photo of the Year singles, World Press Photo of the Year


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 vulture and the little girl

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.To match Feature AFRICA-FAMINE/

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)

Another photographer who bucked the trend was Alejandro Chaskielberg

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?


Then we have the cause célèbrewith 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
Moving images
Picture, celebrities and policy
Stereotypes, icons and symbols
Visual memory
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’
1992 Somali

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.

References [Accessed 07/06/17] [Accessed 07/06/17] [Accessed 10/05/17] [Accessed 07/06/17]

Documents of conflict and suffering – Houghton and Kaplan

In the next exercise we are directed to read two separate articles, one by Jonathan Kaplan the other by Max Houghton.

Jonathan Kaplan
Jonathan 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, 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  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 exposé stop 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.

Imaging war – Jonathan Kaplan, Walk the line – Max Houghton [Accessed 24/05/2017] [Accessed 24/05/2017] [Accessed 24/05/2017] [Accessed 24/05/2017] [Accessed 24/05/2017] [Accessed 24/05/2017]  [Accessed 24/05/2017] [25/05/2017] [25/05/2017]

Documents of conflict and suffering – Don McCullin

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!


Listen to Don McCullin talking about his exhibition Shaped by War on Radio 4’s Excess Baggage

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!

Research [Accessed 16/05/2017] [Accessed 16/05/2017] [Accessed 16/05/2017] [Accessed 16/05/2017]

McCullin, D., Evans, H. and Sontag, S. (2003) Don McCullin. London: Random House.

Sontag, S. (2003) Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Picador

Documents of conflict and suffering -Gilles Peress – Farewell to Bosnia

Gilles Peress was born December 29, 1946 in France and grew up in Paris with his mother, an orthodox Christian from the Middle East, and his father, who was of Jewish and Georgian descent. Starting out, it is possible that his background sparked his interest in photographing the consequences of conflict, political or otherwise, with one of his first projects being on Turkish immigrant workers in West Germany, and the documentation of the European policy to import cheap labour from the third world.

Further research revealed that it was his educational background in politics and philosophy that drove his initial motivation, both to take up photography and the subject matter he captured, not due to it inspiring him, but more to do with the gap between political words and political reality. Peress has also documented events in Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, the Balkans, Rwanda, the U.S., Afghanistan and Iraq. One of his projects, Hate Thy Brother, ‘looks at intolerance and the re-emergence of nationalism throughout the world and its consequences.’ Now a Magnum photographer I love the quote on his profile page:


I don’t care so much anymore about ‘good photography’; I am gathering evidence for history

In Farewell to Bosnia, a body of work that we are directed to in the course work, Peress is said to bear ‘testimony to the brutality and devastation of the 1990’s Balkan conflict.’

Here starts the curse of history, an illness that may not be so personal anymore. It may be a very European disease, after all, with a double-edged nature: you are damned if you remember – condemned to re-live, re-enact the images of your fathers; you are damned if you don’t – condemned to repeat their hypocrisy.

Continue reading “Documents of conflict and suffering -Gilles Peress – Farewell to Bosnia”

Part Four – Ethics and looking at the other – The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes

The gaze…what is ‘the gaze’ A definition of the broad term is:
To gaze is to look steadily and intently at something, especially at that which excites admiration, curiosity, or interest: to gaze at scenery, at a scientific experiment.To stare is to gaze with eyes wide open, as from surprise, wonder, alarm, stupidity, or impertinence: to stare disbelievingly or rudely.

Other definitions or ideas can be taken from the term popularized by psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, and the growing awareness and attached anxiety that develops when a person realises that they can be viewed. The psychological effect, Lacan argues, is that the subject loses a degree of autonomy upon realizing that he or she is a visible object. This concept is tied to his theory of the mirror stage, in which an infant child, viewing themselves in a mirror, realizes that he/she has an external appearance.

A certain tribe in Alaska, the Koyukon, have their own thoughts about visibility and therefore ‘the gaze’. The Koyukon:

live in a world that watches, in a forest of eyes. A person moving through nature…is never truly alone. The surroundings are aware, sensate, personified. They feel. They can be offended. And they must, at every moment, be treated with proper respect.

Do we as photographers respect all our subjects and the way we view, or portray them?


Read the article The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic by Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins.

In what ways does the idea of the gaze apply to your photography? What are the implications of this for your practice? Write a short reflective commentary in your learning log.

The thing is, if a lot of this is new my commentaries are never that short, or observations are tucked in with the analysis of the text…

To be able to answer the questions posed here I needed to fully comprehend what ‘the gaze’ is all about, do I apply it to my photography? Before ploughing through this lengthy essay my gut feeling is that to a certain extent I do use ‘gaze’: my own ideas of what I want to project in the frame, the personal baggage I bring, the signified and symbols I try to include, how I edit images after the event, the narrative I want to tell, do I want my subjects to be aware or candid, what mood do I want to capture? These are questions I ask as I shoot. In the past I have taken photographs of my, then much younger children, from behind, rather than a direct gaze. This was to mix up the images, give a different mood so even before considering the implications I do and have employed various guises, but have I ever thought about this politically or ethically? Beyond what I would deem unacceptable due to my own morality, no, I guess I haven’t really.

Lutz and Collins open their essay by advising us of the cultural importance of the National Geographic, its over reliance on ‘Third World scenes’ and ‘legitimacy as a scientific institution …that…relates to the history and structure of the society that has developed’ and in turn, simply put, how we ‘gaze’ at others – as seen through the eyes of this particular magazine and applying it to society as a whole.

From a standpoint of Westerners (in particular the USA) and non-Westerners they outline and dissect 7 different aspects of ‘the gaze.’ Despite this very narrow sample, and the publication date of 1991, I think that these different aspects are still relevant :

  • The photographer’s gaze
  • The institutional gaze
  • The reader’s gaze
  • The non-Western subject’s gaze
  • The explicit Westerner’s gaze
  • The gaze returned or refracted by mirrors or cameras
  • The academic gaze

The ‘gaze’ links into objectification, both of the photograph and the subject, and in most of the examples given, relates to the objectification of the non-Western person, how we ‘look’ – our differences, the perception of difference and how accentuating that difference is either productive or counter-productive, depending on your point of view. There is an emphasis on considering gender and ethnicity.

Is the gaze ‘an act of mastery’? (Williams 1987) Lutz and Collins’ essay was published in 1991 when most academic writing was still very patriarchal, is the gaze still considered to be masculine? Is how I view things that indoctrinated? In some ways I believe it must be. The magazines we view, films we watch, books we read all influence our thinking and if never challenged or informed of another way, how are we to know better?

Gradually, society is looking at things in a different way, or trying to at least. The Feminist Avant-Garde is one example, A Mighty Girl is another, there are articles highlighting women within the field of art and how women should strive to forge a career in photography. These are a small example of how society is attempting to alter one aspect of how we view, look at and ‘gaze’; trying to overcome Berger’s ideas of contemporary ideology, that men are doers whilst women are passive (1972). There are many more articles aimed at other sections of society, but that would be an entirely different post…the important point is, as Lutz and Collins remind us, of ‘the position of the spectator…to enhance or articulate the power of the observer over the observed.’ Welcome back Foucault with a bit of Lacan thrown in for good measure!

The National Geographic can be labelled as elitist and colonial, with editors who were at the time of writing ‘overwhelmingly white and male,’ how much influence did they have on educating people’s gaze or did they merely support pre-exisiting ideas of the ‘Other’? (Lacan 1981, p.84)

As with many things, we are not just one person, we have multiple roles and approach situations depending on what hat we are wearing at the time; am I being a daughter, a mother, a lover, an employee, is it a sensible day or a silly one? Just as these roles influence my mood and approach to life, they will also affect my gaze when both looking at, and taking photographs. As stated in this essay there are many interpretations of a photograph which centre around ‘intimacy, pleasure, scrutiny, confrontation and power.’

Let us look to these gazes…

The photographer’s gaze

Fairly obvious and straight forward, the argument that the photographer makes subjective decisions when capturing an image, over position, subject matter, vantage point, depth of field, cropping, colour et al. These decisions influence the readers gaze with the ‘camera[s] eye…a conduit for the magazine reader’s look.’ I particularly like the example given here of  a Venezuelan miner selling his diamonds and how vantage point and gaze has been used to construct a certain narrative.

The institutional gaze

In this instance the magazine’s gaze, using the National Geographic as the prime example. Here Lutz and Collins discuss the four main processes employed when selecting aspects of the photographer’s gaze: editorial decision to commission articles; the choice of image; magazine layout dictating crop, size, possible digital manipulation and emphasis; the caption which underlines the visual reading/understanding. Again, great example of layout given, where photographs of natives from Papua New Guinea in traditional feathered costumes, were interspersed with local bird life to project them as ‘natural creatures.’

The reader’s gaze

This is where it becomes slightly more complex…

<opens door…welcomes in Barthes> who stated: the ‘ photograph is not only perceived…it is read…by a public that consumes it to a traditional stock of signs.’ (1977, p.19)  re-iterating that our baggage, previous knowledge and the semiotics within an image influence our interpretation. The reader was also found to be slightly more discerning; the magazine would fail in its potential message if they found the images jarring, unnatural, off-kilter or re-touched. Viewers also ask questions beyond the frame, some fairly obvious such as the examples given: what are those people in the background doing? What is going on outside the picture frame?

These further complications are acknowledged by Lutz and Collins who agree that there is not one single reader’s gaze due to a ‘somewhat unique personal, cultural, and political background or set of interests.’

Burgin (1982) wrote about how the reader is forced into following the camera’s eye, of voyeurism, narcissism and surveillance. He believes that the ‘voyeuristic look’ promotes a distance whilst the ‘narcissistic’ promotes the mirror illusion. Do different photographic types alter how we gaze? Do we believe that depiction of the ethnic other relieves ‘the anxiety that the ideal of the other’s gaze and estimation of us provoke’? Do readers hold fast to the idea that by reading high brow magazine they elevate their own status and therefore gaze? Interesting questions that deserve more time on another day. I shall never read another magazine in the same light again! Will it affect how I take and display my photographs? Possibly, may be not, but I’ll probably think harder before pushing the button.

The subject’s gaze

Once again, in this essay they refer to the non-Western subject’s gaze. The authors explore the four main types of response a subject can make:

  • confront the camera head-on – direct gaze
  • look at something/someone within the frame
  • look out of frame/into the distance
  • no gaze

The first suggests an acknowledgment of the photographer and reader but is it confrontational or ‘open voyeurism’? Even the academics can’t decide and throw caveats into the ring, how is the gaze returned, what is the context, how does history and culture impact upon interpretation?

There is implied intimacy and a collaborative feel, which juxtaposes the magazines intent to reveal an unmanipulated view. How can a posed portrait be candid and natural? Lutz and Collins’ statistics revealed that ‘weaker’ subjects such as: the elderly, children, women, the poor, natively dressed and the tribal are more likely to directly face the camera, whilst others such as: men, the wealthy, those attired in western dress, the lighter skinned and those more technologically advanced are depicted as looking elsewhere.  Are these natural instincts or learned behaviors? Do these figures support Foucault’s disciplinary power theory, or were taken in this way because of it? Although having said that Tagg (1988) informs us that history has shown that a direct gaze is a ‘code of social inferiority’ with the subjects considered to be more civilized turning away from the camera (and previously the artist) making themselves ‘less available.’ It is highly likely that the editorial process within the National Geographic at the time, continued this tradition rather than actively altering it.

The second, where the subject gazes at an object or someone else gives the reader an insight to character and intent, with the example given returning to the Venezuelan miner, looking down at his diamonds the caption strengthens the opinions of the audience: ‘the hard won money usually flies fast in gambling and merry-making at primitive diamond camps.’ I find the language sometimes more condescending than the imagery!

Thirdly, gazing off into the distance – is it a form of defiance? You are not important , I am ignoring you. Or is it a deliberate ploy to reveal a pensive nature, thoughts of the future and therefore ambition and drive? Metz (1985) suggested this may help the reader connect with the subject as they are both ‘outside the frame.’

Lastly, we come to no gaze at all, either due to the insignificant size of the figures within the frame or the subject’s face covered by a mask or veil. Covered faces seem to be mainly representative of women.

It would appear to me that the subjects gaze, no matter which category they fall under, can have multiple readings depending on other factors within the frame such as context, signs and symbols.

The explicit Westerner’s gaze

I found this section quite interesting with regards to the change in power and cultural shift within Western society. This ‘gaze’ seems to have altered the most. When first published the image of the all-conquering hero striding out into the unknown was very popular, adventurers, explorers, mountain-climbers, and scientists from every field or the wealthy indulging in the unfamiliar were depicted alongside the ‘exotic other.’ The differences between them distinct, as they revealed a superiority and higher status.

This depended on who was watching who, were they watching the reactions, were the gazes reciprocated? The implication is that many come across as colonial and slightly condescending.

World events and cultural shifts doomed this style of photograph. International tourism meant more readers travelled to these foreign climes, the Vietnam War had an impact on how the Third World was viewed and how it should be represented, the fight for civil rights gave ‘white people a sense of changing… relations’, and decolonization all played their part. Westerners no longer wanted to be seen to be involved with contentious issues and dangerous places where they lacked control; photographically at least, the Westerner’s gaze withdrew to a ‘safer distance.’

The refracted gaze

This section of the essay deals with the number of photographs in the National Geographic, where a native has been handed a mirror or a camera, presumably for the first time, or where the mirror has been given significance within the frame. The suggestion is that these are tools of ‘self-reflection and surveillance’ and the authors link once more to the idea of the childlike fascination of newly acquired self-awareness and self-reflection and Western superiority. These images have also reduced with the impact of decolonisation, modern technology and the development of the Third World. More and more ‘native photographers’ have come to the fore and are telling their own narratives from their personal perspective. And all to the better in my opinion.

The academic gaze

Described as a ‘sub type’ of the reader’s gaze I am guessing Lutz and Collins put themselves firmly in this camp, alongside anthropologists, where this gaze is used to look at photographic and cultural differences and social relations. The intent is not ‘aesthetic appreciation’ but geared towards the critique of the images. ‘The author is dead’ rings in my ears


My own sentiments echo some of the concluding remarks made by Lutz and Collins as in, ‘the multiplicity of looks in and around any photo is at the root of its ambiguity.’ This is a very complex issue and although the main gazes outlined above can be applied and understood, they do occasionally contradict each other. Despite the contradiction there is definitely a link to how a photographer captures a subject’s gaze, the narrative they wish to convey and the message the reader accepts.

Lutz and Collins’ essay made me aware of myself as a viewer of images, my passivity as a viewer and my responsibility as a photographer. In thinking about my own photography I know I ask subjects to look in a certain direction or pose as if they are engaged in an activity to tell a story or create a mood. Even candid shots are invariably timed to show lost and confused tourists or children having fun. I must admit I never think much of the ethical issues other than not capturing the vulnerable or ‘exotic other’ to demean, give a sense of superiority to the audience or merely because they are a point of interest. I also never consider targeting a different audience beyond my own cultural references. So maybe I’ll never sell migraine pictures to an international magazine lolol.

Research [Accessed 08/05/2017] [Accessed 08/05/2017]

‘The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes’ [Accessed 08/05/2017]

Sontag, S. (1977) On Photography. New York: Dell/Delta

Wells, L. (Ed.) (2003) The Photography Reader. Oxon: Routledge

Ethics and looking at the other – Gaze and Control – On Foucoult

In this section of the coursework we start to take into consideration the ethics surrounding documentary photography, from both the perspective of the practitioner and the audience. I thought it best to look up the actual definition of ethics before progressing any further:

Ethics: moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity.synonyms: moral code, morals, morality, moral stand, moral principles, moral values, rights and wrongs, principles, ideals, creed, credo, ethos, rules of conduct, standards (of behaviour), virtues, dictates of conscience
“the ethics of journalism”

The opening paragraphs ask us to consider the ethics of how we use imagery. Do we know enough about the people we photograph, do we portray them in the correct way or leave too much open to interpretation? What are the ethics surrounding the naked form? In the image within the coursework, should it have been cropped to not show the woman’s head? All interesting stuff!

Michel Foucault (1926 – 1984) was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist, and literary critic. His theories addressed the relationship between power and knowledge, and how they are used as a form of social control through societal institutions. His thoughts and ideas have been highly influential both for academic and for activist groups, especially those working within contemporary sociology, cultural studies, and critical theory.

Wells (1997, p.95,96) briefly touched upon his theories, of power relationships then leading into the power of knowledge and the gaze, when mentioning how John Tagg,(1988), following on from Foucault’s ideas,  analysed the increase in the power of photography through surveillance and observation.

Documentary was and is, seen to be part of the process of examination explored by Foucault under the banner of ‘objectification and observation.’ Documentary photography, it can be argued, can assist in maintaining ‘social class hierarchies’, a prime example would be the depiction of the poor through the work of the FSA and the depiction of the exotic ‘other.’

In 1979 Foucault wrote:

Disciplinary power…is exercised through its invisibility; at the same time it imposes on those whom it subjects a principle of compulsory visibility. In discipline, it is the subjects who have to be seen. Their visibility assumes the hold of the power that is experienced over them. It is the fact of being constantly seen, of being able always to be seen, that maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection.

An example of  discipline/punishment and visibility is given as the Panopticon, a prison from which the people in control could view everyone without being seen themselves.


Read the article ‘On Foucault: Disciplinary Power and Photography’ by David Green (The Camera Work Essays, 2005, pp.119–31).

Summarise the key points made by the author in your learning log.

Within his article ‘On Foucault: Disciplinary Power and Photography’, originally published in The Camera Work Essays (2005) David Green mentions the various writings of Michael Foucault; his views on power, in particular disciplinary power in society. Foucault explores the interdependence between power and knowledge and the ‘development of new forms …of power over man.’ This links in with the Documentary module as many documentary images and bodies of work were created as political leverage, to have some kind of power over the audience or to impart knowledge of some kind.  As Foucault stated:

No body of knowledge can be formed without a system of communication, record, accumulation and displacement…no power can be exercised without the extraction, appropriation, distribution or retention of knowledge.

Green discusses the relationship between power/knowledge and truth, suggesting that each society has its regime of ‘truth’, even people who determine what is ‘truth’ within that society. Documentary photography has come under much scrutiny with regards to truth, and photography itself can be recognised as one of the ‘new forms and modalities of power over man.’ However, Foucault insisted that power did not necessarily have to have negative connotations, but could also be used for positive gain; he was also unconcerned with the concepts or methods behind scientific discourse, merely the link to the power within institutions. This links to the power gained by photography as it was in the fields of scientific investigation and criminology, as well as discipline.

These days modern technology has made surveillance an even more prominent feature of disciplinary power; CCTV, dash cams, spy satellites et al have entered the fray.Green summarises by advising us that there are some criticisms of Foucault’s ideas; that they create the impression that power within society is pervasive and resistance is futile.

Foucault disagreed stating that ‘wherever there is power there is potential for its resistance.’It can also be argued that these forms of power are ‘localised and specific’ and must be opposed at this level. In this respect there cannot be just one strategy for dealing with ‘oppositional cultural politics of photography’ (The term cultural politics refers to the way that culture—including people’s attitudes, opinions, beliefs and perspectives, as well as the media and arts—shapes society and political opinion, and gives rise to social, economic and legal realities) Therefore to ensure that photography does not become dictatorial or accepted as blind truth, giving it too much power to influence it will be:

necessary to develop alternative ways of working with photography, to develop different photographic forms and devices suitable to the varied contexts in which the photograph is placed and used.


On Foucault [Accessed 03/05/2017]

Wells, L. (1997). Photography. A Critical Introduction 1st ed. London: Routledge.

OCA Study Day – Photographer’s Gallery January 2017 Part 2 – Simon Fujiwara: Joanne

After having my mind blown by the artists on the floors below I took a quick wander upstairs to the 5th floor to peruse the work of Simon Fujiwara.

Simon Fujiwara’s installation and short film Joanne depicts the many faces of the artist’s former secondary school art teacher Joanne Salley, addressing issues around the representation of women in social media, the tabloid press and consumer culture. Joanne tells us:

I am a model, I am a teacher, I am a lover, I am an artist, I am a chameleon, I am a fighter, I am a person, I am a female

Forgive me, but if you want to make people respect you, forget the negative things that were said, and be thought of as more than ‘a body’ why open with ‘I am a model’? Something that is there to be stared at solely for aesthetic pleasure or as a commodity? Followed quite quickly by ‘I am a lover’ when all you wanted to do was reduce the commentary about a perceived ‘sex scandal’?

Opinions in the press seem to be divided, although most agree that it is ‘transparently manipulative’ and doesn’t pretend to portray Joanne the real woman. Instead what is does is underline the misplaced trust that we have in the power of the image to project ‘us,’ but the harder and deeper we look the more we realise that the images we see are often mere illusions.

In my opinion, what Fujiwara and Joanne aspired to achieve back fired slightly. I think in the film they tried too hard, I found Joanne to be irritating and just wanted to shout ‘oh get over yourself woman!’ Maybe a tad unfair, I don’t know, at the time not really knowing all the back story, I only gleaned information from the gallery wall, that basically Simon Fujiwara teamed up with a former teacher at his old school, Joanne Salley, who was once the subject of a tabloid newspaper scandal.

On digging about a bit, apparently she hit the headlines in 2011 when pupils found and distributed private topless photographs of her, taken by a female photography teacher, on a memory stick forgotten in a school studio. Seriously? I know we are all human and mistakes happen, but Ms Salley – you were an adult, working at Harrow school for Boys, you knowingly posed topless and were careless with the results…Rightly or wrongly, and despite the feminist movement, women today are still more harshly judged for ‘moral wrong-doings’ than men, so if you are going to get your tits out be prepared for them to go further afield!

As a former Ms Ireland, and former girlfriend of Matt Dawson, no doubt Ms Salley was quite used to being in the limelight, slightly bawdy behaviour, parading her body about in skimpy costumes, and being judged on her appearance – you can’t have it both ways. Judge me on how I look, but please don’t judge me on how I look. There is more to me than just my body?  And THEN have huge photographs put up on display in a gallery that serve only to portray you as a fit attractive young woman. On wanting to avoid the stereotyping she fell neatly back into them, a modern day parody of the artists on display a few floors down.  Although I get the use of visual and narrative tropes to explore the underlying hypocrisy of the press and a traumatic and emotional story it came across as ‘Bland, banal and weirdly repulsive’….thanks to journalist Adrian Searle for that gem.

On looking at the newspaper reports at the time none of them said anything really cruel, Harrow supported her, she admits after returning to school the boys were also supportive and respectful. In 2012 she got to tell her side of the story, which was also polite and respectful. I think any labels in her head were of her own making. I reckon 99% of the people going to the exhibition thought ‘who?’ rather than OMG it’s HER!


Fujiwara and Joanne made this film exploring the issues she faced in the wake of the scandal, aiming to present a more complex picture of her, and I ask why? Five years on and most people will have forgotten it, forgotten her. As they say yesterday’s news is today’s fish n chip wrapping. The cynical part of me thinks maybe that’s why, maybe she wants to relaunch her TV career? It didn’t come across as a ‘the press don’t respect women’ it came across as woe is me…all me, me, me….

I go back to my back fired comment as every review I found made a reference to her ‘shame’ which she was trying to get past:

Simon Fujiwara to Make a Film About His Former Art Teacher Shamed by Tabloids
Joanne Salley resigned after pupils and the tabloids discovered her nude photos.

Simon Fujiwara: Joanne review – a weird journey out of sex scandal, via avocado

No longer able to choose which face she wished to present to the world, she would instead become branded as the ‘topless teacher’ – a label she worries she will be unable to shake off no matter what else she does.

Every interview he gave sounds like this was a serious attempt to show a real person; in the film Joanne states: ‘The point is for people to get a sense of the real me.’ But the perfectly made up laughing, posing person on the screen seemed totally fake? Or was that the intention?

Adrian Searle of the Guardian summed it up perfectly for me:

This installation points to complexities that can’t or won’t be unravelled. Joanne is a hollowed-out being, the nuances of her personality and her authenticity as coiffed as her hair. She is a flesh-and-blood armature, on which a self has being remodelled and rebuilt, a “real me” replicant of Joanne Salley. Someone lurks inside Fujiwara’s disturbing portrait, but what we are given hardly amounts to a person at all.

Fujiwara also wanted to raise questions about ‘how empathy works.’ Well…my empathy works along the lines of, if you stick your hand in the fire and get third degree burns I will empathise with the pain you feel, but also shake my head and say its a bloody fire what did you expect?

What did I take away from this exhibition

  • the idea that manipulation is a two way street
  • multi-media installations are on the increase
  • big isn’t always better
  • may be I am not as empathetic as I thought, or maybe I don’t suffer fools gladly…




OCA Study Day – FEMINIST AVANT-GARDE OF THE 1970’s – Photographers’ Gallery January 2017

I really don’t quite know how to write this study day up! As per usual a large crowd met, mixed genders which was great given the topic, we mingled, chatted, looked, had some opinions, scratched our heads, felt a bit overwhelmed by it all and eventually went home…

And no wonder I couldn’t really take it all in…Feminist Avant–Garde of the 1970s,  was comprised of over 200 major works from forty-eight international female artists. All are on loan from the Verbund Collection in Vienna, which specialises in avant-garde and conceptual art.  It was such a large exhibition that it took up over two floors in the Gallery with themes that tackled the representation of the female form, ownership, domesticity and sexuality, violence and female identity. The exhibition was divided into four sections under the headings The Seductive Body, Domestic Agenda, In My Skin and Alter Ego with a distinctly different feel to each floor; one more ‘fun’ the other more edgy and dangerous.

Focusing on photography, collage, performance, film and video work produced throughout the 1970’s, the exhibition reflects a moment when protests related to emancipation, gender equality and civil rights became part of public discourse.

…questioning feminine identities, gender roles and sexual politics through new modes of expression.

The exhibition was supported by an excellent free booklet which had a page on every artist, a photograph of some of their work and plenty of space for notes.


Title : Installation Image of Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970’s Works from the Verbund collection on display at The Photographers Gallery at 16-18 (7 October 2016 – 29 January 2017)  Copyright Hydar Dewachi and The Photographers’ Gallery. Courtesy of The Photographers’ Gallery, London



What do you think about when asked about feminism? Usually it’s the stereotypical ideas about burning the bra, unshaven armpits and dungaree sporting man-haters. However, contrary to popular belief that isn’t true. Especially when you look back to the time in the 70’s, when the ideas were new and radical, and this group of female artists decided to create ‘their own visual documentation of what it meant to be a woman, and a feminist.’

On wandering round the exhibition some of the ideas were bizarre and some were definitely more extreme than others, as they attempted to:

overhaul the prevailing iconography of women as passive or as muses to men — often by powerfully, and sometimes quite disturbingly, utilizing their own bodies to highlight sexism. In doing so, they created an assertive, appropriately complex alternative female identity.

The list of artists/photographers is quite extensive:  Helena Almeida, Eleanor Antin, Anneke Barger, Lynda Benglis, Judith Bernstein, Renate Bertlmann, Teresa Burga, Marcella Campagnano, Judy Chicago, Linda Christanell, Lili Dujourie, Mary Beth Edelson, Renate Eisenegger, Valie Export, Esther Ferrer, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Alexis Hunter, Sanja Ivekovic, Birgit Jurgenssen, Kirsten Justesen, Ketty La Rocca, Katalin Ladik, Brigitte Lang, Suzanne Lacy & Leslie Labowitz, Suzy Lake, Karin Mack, Ana Mendieta, Rita Myers, Lorraine O’Grady, Orlan, Gina Pane, Leticia Parente, Ewa Partum, Friederike Pezold, Margot Pilz, Ulrike Rosenbach, Martha Rosler, Suzanne Santoro, Carolee Schneemann, Lydia Schouten, Cindy Sherman, Penny Slinger, Annegret Soltau, Hannah Wilke, Martha Wilson, Francesca Woodman and Nil Yalter….and breathe!

Most of the photographers I hadn’t heard of, so there was a lot to absorb. Not only the artists to think about, but how they approached their work, why, and what was happening in society in general to spark these ground breaking practices.

Even though many of the arguments are still valid, and the imagery at the time was very shocking now many, but not all, seemed very dated. There was a lot of nudity, which I have no issue with and grasp that most of the women were revealing themselves to express their right to do what they wanted with their bodies rather than being on show just for male titillation. However, did VALIE EXPORT think that the man having a good grope in her ‘box’ gave a damn about the message she was sending or just gained pleasure from feeling her soft mounds of flesh? Got to love a bit of Mills and Boon which obviously did so much for feminism …cough. Is a breast seductively revealed by a woman making a point, no more or less a breast seductively revealed, due to the person who decided they wanted it that way? With multimedia abounding, sex still selling everything, naked flesh nearly everywhere you look what is the value of Hannah Wilke’s performance piece Super-T-Art now? Maybe a topic for an essay? I think its been done before…

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