An Agent for change:
I don’t think photography can provoke change. Negative events have been shown since the days of Daguerre and nothing has changed. Ingrid Sischy in states in Good Intentions: “In the history of photography, there are many who have tried to use photojournalism to change the world, as well as capture it, and a few have had some effect. Others have been naive – even deluded.”
I think that shocking material should be censored, as we do become less sensitive to it. (a stimulus after a while, is no longer a stimulus) so the media escalates it, as our feelings become dull. They do it by making the content more shocking and more brutal. I have become very sensitive to this type of material as I get older and stopped watching television over 19 years ago because of it. (and do admit, avoidance is not the answer to it either) I prefer sites like Amazon and Youtube where choices can be made by me as viewer. However, it’s very difficult to avoid spectacle and I still find myself being caught up in the melodrama and the propaganda once in a while.
This video presentation is very disturbing and attempted to avoid looking at these images. However, I noticed I could watch the image of the infant drowned (Alyan Kurdi) (Links to an external site.) more easily than I could of the Iraqi soldier being burned. I felt more empathy for the 3 year old boy because he did not have a choice. I saw the disturbing image at an exhibition (Refugee) at the Annenburg Space for Photography in LA, 2016. I remember seeing it and thinking: ‘this is the saddest picture I have ever seen in my life.’ I still feel this way about it. As Ian Jack in the Guardian mentions: “Shocking pictures, like that of the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi from Syria, can alter perceptions. But we pick and choose what will horrify us.”
Refugee: (link below) Claimed to have been made by five international “artists.” They are all parasites, like flies around blood, that contribute to the consumption of this type of imagery. The big white hunter syndrome disturbs me. Nothing is done for these individuals except exploit their misfortune.
The problem has become worse for the wear. Since the introduction of the digital image, the entire world has become imbibed with imagery. Maybe it is a form of digital drug addiction or electronic alcoholism, a way for the masses to become image dipsomaniacs. In an article about ethics in photography, Nasim Mansorov writes: “When the first digital camera was invented, little did the inventors know that it would later revolutionize the world of photography and media in general.”
It’s known as unintended consequences and this is only the beginning.
The main argument Sischy promotes about Salgado’s work is: That it’s not art. It’s fundamentally “Schmaltzy” “Button Pushing” and something from a “Whodunnit Movie” Whether she refers it directly, or indirectly through his work, or through the works of Eugene Smith or Edward Steichen, Sischy does not respect Salgado’s work. She also says this in an underhanded way: “Salgado’s work has appeared in postcard form. As yet they have not been produced as greeting card stuff. But who knows? Presumably that anyone’s work that appears on greeting or post card, does not deserve the title of ‘Art’
I agree with her point of view, because button pushing by means of subject matter or photographic technique is not enough to constitute a photographer as an artist. Photography as an art form is difficult at best, why meretricate it with cheap shots and tugging at heart strings. Art exists because there is some kind of mystery to the image, either in form and/or content and Salgado has neither. His work connotes nothing, only denotes peoples suffering and misery and this is easy to make any human with a heart to feel guilty.
Issued raised that apply to my practice. I am very concerned with this in my own practice, and by the time I do my first exhibition, I want to make sure that it falls directly into the arms or art, and have learned this much, the image has to connote, not denote. Denote=commercial. Connote=art.
Aesthetic or Anaesthetic?
In 1955 Ed Steichen, the director of MOMA, curated a series of images titled “The Family of Man” It sourced at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, then travelled around the world for 8 years and was seen by many peoples from all countries around the globe. Steichen said of the work: ” The people looked at the pictures and the people in the pictures looked back at them. They recognized each other.”
Family of Man Exhibition. Government Pavilion, Johannesburg. 1958. Photo Credit: MOMA.
I looked at some of the phototograhs of the exhibit and did not recognize anyone, and wonder where that statement came from. I get annoyed by the level of propaganda employed by these exhibitions, exploiting these individuals, mostly poor and underemployed for mu$eum gains. Once again the hunter $noops around with the camera, capitalizing in ego and dollars from these individuals’ misery. Salgado is another photo-clansman who leaches off misery as well. “With Salgado, there is no Tony Curtis or Kirk Douglas images” as stated by Ingrid Sischy (New Yorker -199) Steichen takes it a step further, he makes Salgado look like the Red Cross.
The exhibition circumnavigated the globe, touring 37 countries and 6 continents. Of the 270 photographers, a 160 were American. Another superficial culturally sanctioned method of whose in control, taking place. And, it also starts off in the US. The exhibition,in all these cities, Towery Lehman writes: “received heavier press coverage than any comparable æartistic’ event in our history.”
There is not a single image of the Mellon’s or Guggenheim types sipping Napoleon Brandy on their front lawn estates in this exhibition. Maybe those images would not sit too well between the images of Robert McDaniels, lynched. April 13, 1937 and Family on the way to California. Maybe someone can explain What family of Man he’s referring to? Are there not Woman families too?
This is why I prefer abstract photography, as my mode of practice. There is no capitalization off ‘someones’ misery or success, or “someone’s” beauty or ugliness. Abstraction deals with what’s in the image alone, the ‘someone’ is gone. The abstract renders what is, not what it ought to be politically, historically, or geographically, ethically or morally. It’s art for art sake, not some suedo Family of Man, Genesis or Nat Geo. Photraping (photography+raping) “someone’s” under the guise of humanity. The Family of Man should be torn down, destroyed, and buried with the Berlin Wall.
Robert McDaniels. Photo Credit: Moma
On the Way to California: Dorothea Lange. Photo Credit: allthatsinteresting.com
Dorothea Lang: Link (Links to an external site.)
On the way to California: Link (Links to an external site.)
Family of Man Johannesburg: Link (Links to an external site.)
Family of Man appraisal: Link (Links to an external site.)
Sischy, Ingrid. (1991). Good Intentions. The New Yorker.
Votes out the Lynching Bill; House Brings Gavagan Measure to Floor for Debate Today”. New York Times. 13 Apr 1937.