Informing Contexts; Reflections on Week 7; ‘Responses & Responsibilities’, 10th March to 16th March, 2018

I would like to feel that most of my work as to some degree a ‘message’ narrative. Not in the wonder of life and nature seen in the images quoted by Ingrid Sischy on Salgado’s travelling retrospective. Mine are certainly not ‘stagey’, or so seductive to the eye. But while I feel the non-stagey aspect is all to the good, they could certainly be a little more interesting to the eye. Salgado in his interview with Rohter questioned whether any photographer can present himself as an artist, even though it his “lush aesthetic style” as commented  by Markogiannis that sets many of his images apart from simple photo-journalism.

The context by which they are seen is important. His is perhaps not such an issue for my new ‘Croydon Shop keepers’, where most will have an immediate familiarity with the type of environment my portraiture is being taken, It is however a likely issue for many of the images in my Researchers and influencers project where only a few of my audience will be familiar with the laboratory and certain other environments my collaborators work in.

Campany refers to the changing nature of ‘news’ photographs, the blurring between technologies and the much greater importance that cultural context has on imagery compared to the technological bias of the past, i.e. ‘coffee table large-format film imagery vs high-grain pixelated newsprint. Not that the technological divide has gone away, it’s just in different hands with a much greater likelihood of an artistic rather than documentary context applied. For instance the choice by Joel Meyerowitz to use a large format plate camera for his stunning ‘ground zero’ imagery. Whether he really has immersed himself so much in the technical aspects of his photography that creativity is an option, I doubt. Just comes more built-in than in his younger-past maybe..

Campany refers to the ‘late photograph’ as  being emblematic of contemporary photography. His point about the starkness of many current exhibited images and their juxtaposition between banality and the serene I can relate to, whether they will stay that way I doubt. It’s a fashion and fashion’s change. Video memories tend to lose their wonder with time, not so true for a powerful still image that is much more easy to remember accurately.

In her book “Regarding the Pain of Others’ Sontag talks about the power of war imagery in increasing the awareness of suffering and talks about George Bataille keeping an image of someone suffering the Chinese ‘Death by 1000 cuts’. These old 19th century grainy images of Lingchi execution still shock.

Ritchin discusses in his chapter ‘Other Alliances’ in his book Bending the Frame that the context at  which by images are picked by photo editors for publication often have a strong political context. He also feels that many powerful images are effectively suppressed  because of fears that they may incite hatred or additional violence. Currently this is now felt to be a concern with social media and the difficulty of channels like Facebook to police it’s billions of users.

Elsewhere Ritchin talks about the way photographic projects can communicate issues, citing Geert van Kesteran’s 2008 ‘Baghdad Calling” that used mobile phone images coupled with personal belongings to convey something about the unsettling nature of that conflict as one example. On a milder note he draws attention to the accusations of bias that were aroused by Newsweek article that showed an untouched photograph of Sarah Palin, the Vice-Presidential Republican candidate, that was said to draw attention to the imperfections of her skin and face. Clearly a challenge for the photographer, particularly given that reputable photojournalistic images are expected to be essentially untouched.

Nigel Parry; Cropped by Newsweek image from his portrait of the Vice-Presidential candidate ex-Governor Sarah Palin

Nigel Parry; Cropped by Newsweek image from his portrait of the Vice-Presidential candidate ex-Governor Sarah Palin

So far I’ve done little to smooth skin blemishes in my collaborators, but I guess I can’t assume that it might not one day be an issue, particularly given the increasing emphasis on data protection and the use of ‘personal’ data.

 

References

Sischy, I Good intentions The New Yorker 9th September, 1991 pp 89-95.

Rohter, L Sebastião Salgado’s Journey From Brazil to the World 23rd March, 2015 The New York Times.

Markogiannis, N Aesthetics and Ideology of Sebastiao Selgado New York Photographic Diary 8th June, 2015.

Campany, D (2003) Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of “Late Photography”, In Where is the Photograph, Brighton, Brighton Photoforum.

Sontag S, (2004) Regarding the Pain of Others London, Penguin Books

Ritchin, F (2013) Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary and the Citizen New York, Aperture

Swaine, J (10 Oct 2008) Sarah Palin: Newsweek criticised for unflattering cover. Daily Telegraph online edition https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/sarah-palin/3171956/Sarah-Palin-Newsweek-criticised-for-unflattering-cover.html (accessed 22-4-18)