Saturday, 30 August 2014

Assignment 4 planning (part 5) - questions surrounding objectivity

Questions surrounding objectivity

For the purposes of this discussion let us look at ‘straight’ photographs of real objects.

Does objectivity end when manipulation begins?

As a mechanical (or digital) record of a scene, a photograph should present the scene as we would expect that particular scene to look, it should be recognisable – let’s ignore poor image quality and forgive less than perfect technical capability.

What happens when the ‘scene; isn’t recognisable; does this automatically mean it’s been manipulated? Certainly, (today, in this current environment) our immediate reaction is to doubt the integrity of the image and to challenge its ‘author’.  Everybody knows the regularly trotted out cliché “the camera never lies”, however, in our Smart Phone world we also know there are numerous apps available and with zero skill, minor effort and only a couple of minutes tweaking, the new image looks nothing like the original! So, why do we manipulate?

Two manipulated images spring to mind:

1.     The Storybook Wolf (2010) by José Luis Rodriguez
The first because the wolf was a tame wolf as a wild animal would not naturally have jumped the gate, effectively the entire concept and execution of this image was manipulated. Whilst the image is undoubtedly a great image, the intention behind the manipulation was so the photographer could win a competition. The photographer intentionally broke the rules of the competition, resulting in his disqualification. Nobody questioned that this was a clear cut case of totally unacceptable manipulation.

2.     The Death of the Muhammad and Suhaib Hijazi (2012) by Paul Hansen
The second because certain areas of the image were either lightened or darkened, thus balancing the composition and drawing the attention of the audience to the dead children. This photograph was taken by a photojournalist in the midst of a jostling crowd, under very difficult and emotionally charged circumstances. None of the image pixels were moved, nothing was added or removed. The manipulation did not materially alter the message of the image; rather it highlighted the tragic events unfolding across Gaza. Is this manipulation unacceptable? Was the manipulated image, the way the photographer actually saw the scene, but because of circumstance he was unable to accurately capture the situation?

Does circumstance thwart objectivity?

There was controversy over a photograph of ‘Brad and Angelina’ sunbathing together on the beach – the couple were sunbathing on the same beach, just not at the same time; or at least not at the same the image was needed for the magazine; thus a composite image was created. It is hardly a stretch of the imagination that they would sunbathe together and it’s difficult to read any malicious intention into the behaviour of the magazine. Nonetheless, this can hardly be considered as objective journalism – there was clearly a belief that the pair must be seen together to make the magazine layout to work; it may even have been something seemingly unrelated, for example, the advert positioned on the facing page…

If objectivity is truth and manipulation is fakery, can they legitimately co-habit?

Paintings, whilst they may be hyper-realistic and may re-present the object/scene faithfully, have never been tasked with telling the truth. It is universally accepted that painters paint from their imagination, regardless of what they see in front of themselves, the resultant composition is what fits the painters’ vision of their paintings. The removal of extraneous elements such as, pillars, statues, trees, people, the list is endless and is a testament to this fact.

It is much easier for a photographer to execute his vision within a controlled environment, i.e. a studio. To clarify, ‘the studio’ is not limited to a physical room; it could be anywhere, the limitation of this ‘space’ is defined by its ability of the space to deliver the photographer’s vision. ‘Studio’ photography because of its very nature, allows for the isolation and/or removal of the object from its normal context, this functionality moves studio photography into the realms of abstract art. Gregory Crewdson has successfully taken ‘studio photography’ to a whole new level.  

On a much more conservative scale, it is perfectly normal today to see a family portrait where the people are stacked one on top of another and floating in a white void – we know that this cannot physically be the case, but we accept the image because we recognise the object, as well as appreciating the objective (or purpose) of the image – in this particular scenario, we are willing to suspend-our-disbelief!

Therefore, does an abstraction need to be 'total' to deliver acceptable fantasy? Have these scenarios enabled us to create an acceptable environment of objective un-reality?

If this is the case, then the format of the presentation (of the image) to the audience is critical in terms of ensuring that the audience believe in its objectivity and authenticity. Not only but also, the same rules of total abstraction must apply to the subject matter of the image. In other words, as long as the photographer can legitimately link different abstracted elements together, there is no reason why the audience should question the objectivity of any particular image or part thereof.

Back to Crewdson, the planning and preparation required, right down to the minutest detail, is unbelievable just to create a picture and this shows in the end results. It looks like Crewdson has taken his photographs on a film set, they are just too ‘big’ to be normal photographs – but that’s the objective. Like any film, regardless of it being based on a true story, we accept that the director has taken ‘liberties’ and been selective in terms of inclusions and exclusions; these decisions rather than detract from the film normally enhance the plot and add to the pace. Crewdson, like any film director, takes liberties with reality to create his final image - we know it’s not real, but it could be.

How does the subject matter support, or not, objectivity within photography?

Atget, a pre-documentarian photographer, applied strict control over his subject matter and regularly created abstract images by taking his photographs square-on to the object. This format ensured that his audience focused only on the subject captured within the frame, rather than pondering upon what was happening outside the frame. Regardless of the abstract style of Atget’s work, his photographic record of old Paris defines him as one of the greatest urbanist historians of all time and offers a truly objective view of the bygone days of the city.

On the other hand the documentary projects of Bloomberg and Chanarin are often seen as deliberately and unnecessarily confrontational, a specific example being “The Day Nobody Died”. Their work is undoubtedly very conceptual, but no audience should be asked or expected to suspend-their-disbelief this far! This type of project and these photographs are not objective, nor can they legitimately be referred to as documentary.

Is part of our dilemma with regards objectivity, the fact that we have been conditioned to expect perfect images?

Paraphrasing Freud, the beauty of any fantasy is knowing full well that it is indeed fantasy. The reality of a camera is that it records what is in frame – all the bits painters selectivity omit; all the things that photographers have happily, historically used Photoshop (and the like) to remove after the event.

It is generally accepted that image manipulation tools have been greatly over utilised, often without much thought to the consequences and regularly inappropriately – with the intent to mislead. As a result it is hardly surprising that our audiences are sceptical of photography - the people and the practice. Nor is it surprising that we find ourselves in an environment that overzealously applies the prohibition of the publication of any “inaccurate, misleading or distorted material including pictures”.

This phrase is vague enough to be applied to all forms of manipulation. Historically, the removal of litter and poles sticking out of heads; the straightening of horizons; adjustments to levels and curves; cropping to define the focus and finally sharpening were acceptable – even required. Now depending in the interpretation of the rules, they can all be considered unacceptable. In most cases, if the photographer had had the opportunity these ‘local difficulties’ would have been illuminated at the time, but often the one image may turn out to be the only image and the best needs to made of the situation.

The human eye if fundamentally more capable than any camera in terms of managing dynamic range, high or low light situations and ‘mentally’ filtering out colour casts (e.g. orange from SONS or green from fluorescents or both). Rather than using filters on the front of the camera in the days of film; today, this type of correction is managed in post-production.  Does this have a bearing on objectivity or on the professionalism of the photographer; and the editor if the image is subsequently published? Why submit/publish an image with distorted colour when it’s easy enough to correct?

Is our challenge regarding objectivity, the way in which photographs are presented?

Glamour - a spotty face versus a beautifully air-brushed face – we know everybody get spots; we know that models don’t have perfect complexions; we understand that it’s a marketing company selling us a dream; and we knowingly and intentionally buy into that dream. Back to Freud and wanting to believe in the fantasy. Is part of our “expose-culture” because we spend so much time trying and failing to live that dream, it’s important for us to know that the celebrities who have allegedly achieved the dream have the same flaws as us? Are the exposes our ultimate and ruthless need for objectivity, our need to break out of the dream and return to reality?

Famine – colour images showing proud, confident people capable of looking after themselves; an ideal and morally appropriate investment opportunity? Regardless of how bad the situation is, the images cast a positive light on the situation to ensure that the donations continue – after all there is little point in investing in a hopeless cause.  Would objectivity in this particular situation be in direct conflict to the objective of the charities?

War – if your audience is too far removed from the situation; if they have no usable experience to be able to take on board and understand the gravitas of the situation, is clinical objectivity the only effective method of communicating the reality? When censorship of the news is widespread, how can any communication objective?

Monday, 25 August 2014

Assignment 5 planning (part 2)

Following on from the previous post:

I have further investigated the work of John Piper, who came to prominence during WWII when he travelled the country painting our ‘war-torn’ cities. He had previously spent some 4 years as an abstract painter, but by his own admission, never got to grips with the “mystique of abstraction”. Nonetheless, this experience paid dividends when he was required to paint bombed out and semi-derelict buildings for the war office.

Pipers art was (is) very emotionally charged and he favoured buildings with extraordinary character that enabled him to paint them using his unique pictorial design in terms of colours, texture and illumination. Many of his paintings appear unfinished because of the way he ‘mixed’ very intricate building detail alongside blocks of colour lacking any detail at all.

Rievalux Abbey - painting by John Piper, courtesy of Rochdale Art and Heritage Centre
Image taken form the BBC website.
Rievalux Abbey - photograph entitled “Rievaulx Abbey – Rievaulx, North Yorkshire (EH)”
Image taken from the United Kingdom Tourist Information website.

He regularly painted using his own personal colour key and as a result it is often difficult to compare the object to the art. He also infused drama into his paintings by creating additional shadows and cragginess and regularly painting scenes as a night view, thus further enhancing the feeling of menace and destruction.

This method of representing what he saw was very powerful, primarily because the art required the viewer to compete the image – either to re-build the building using the blocks of colour he provided or to accept that the building was now a ghost.

For this last assignment I intend to investigate my local environment with a view to depicting it through a ‘Piper’ lens – highlighting what I consider to be the principal elements of structure, texture and illumination; whilst developing my own colour palate to communicate how I feel about the environment and in particular the scene I have photographed.

Post-colonial ethnography - The Curtis Syndrome

Exercise 44 - browse the catalogue “Tribal Portraits: Vintage and Contemporaryfrom the African Continent, Bernard J Shapero, Rare Books.
Write a brief reflective commentary in your learning log.

Let’s start with a couple of definitions:

Anthropology is the science that deals with the origins, physical and cultural development, biological characteristics, and social customs and beliefs of humankind. Basically its the study of human beings similarity to and divergence from other animals.

Ethnography, originating in anthropology, its a term traditionally referring to a practise in which researchers spend long periods living within a culture in order to study it; the aim of this type of study being ‘cultural interpretation’.

The ethnographer must play a duel role:
1.    They must become embedded in the environment and culture they wish to study, otherwise their knowledge remains, at best, superficial and they are unable to effectively interpret the cultural activity.
2.    They must maintain the stance of a detached observer, thus ensuring they remain alert to all the cultural nuances of the particular culture they are observing, thus ensuring an accurate and unbiased cultural interpretation through their observations.

The Curtis Syndrome

Curtis concurred with the observation made by anthropologist Malinowski who believed that the ethnographic subject disappears at the very moment of its recognition. Fundamentally, as soon as somebody studies anything (regardless of whether it is human behaviour or a manufacturing process) the act of the study changes the nature of the person(s)/item(s) being observed. In other words, it is impossible for the ethnographer to carry out their role without influencing their subject; a person from one culture cannot become embedded in a difference culture without bringing something new to the culture they are observing, thereby altering that culture. Since the culture being observed, tends on the whole to be [considered] more ‘primitive’ by the observer (hence the need to observe) the subjects studied are influenced and ‘educated’ by the observer.

Re: Tribal Portraits: Vintage and Contemporary

I am slightly confused by this document, it was allegedly published in 2000 (but I see no date on the pdf) by Bernard J Shapero, Rare Books, however, the extract we have in our notes contains photographs that are dated any time up to and including 2006.

As a collection of images, I find them interesting and I appreciate that they were taken over the period of circa 150 years; thus they include a number of differing view-points across (perhaps) five generations of anthropological study. I find it difficult to take a view on the images either individually or as a whole, in terms of their efficacy of developing ‘cultural interpretation’. However, I firmly believe the more knowledge we have about our planet and its inhabitants the better – especially if it enables us to foster diversity whilst protecting environments whose inhabitants are more vulnerable to exploitation. With regards to this type of ethnographic study, I believe it undoubtedly enabled us to make judgements about ‘foreign’ civilisations; I’m just very dubious as to whether those judgements were to the advantage of the indigenous people or whether the information provided gave the ruling classes of the time the justification they needed to ride roughshod over the ‘savages’.

I do not mark this as a failing on the part of the photographers, whom I believe were genuinely interesting in developing an understanding of new people, new cultures and new experiences. Nor, do I actually blame the bureaucrats who sat hundreds or even thousands of miles away making decisions based on images as to how land, minerals, etc were to be used to fund the further development of the developed world. When all said and done, what say should be given to people who don’t even wear shoes? How can they possibly understand the bigger picture and thus be capable of making appropriate decisions? In all truth, they weren’t. Unfortunately, nor did they have anybody with any clout who could stand up and speak for them until it was fundamentally too late.

Whilst I believe that some of these portraits are exceptionally good and are fitting in terms of ethnographic study, for example, the works of George Roger (pages 18 – 21); there are, however, other images that add no value what so ever. For example, the image by Stephane Graff, Harakat nude, Marocco, 2006 (page 45) with the exception that it was taken in and amongst other genuinely ethnographic images, there is absolutely nothing ethnographical about this image. That said, it is a good example of fine art imagery with a very sculptural feel.

There are numerous other images in this collection that I believe are totally inappropriate, for example, the work of Lehnert and Landrock; plus many works by ‘photographer[s] unknown’ see examples on page 98. These works do nothing to develop knowledge or to better inform understanding of ‘tribal culture’; they have nothing to do with ethnography and have had only the most fleeting of relationships with anthropology (biological characteristics – perhaps?). These portraits, were taken in the early 1900’s for the “discerning European gentleman, to peruse at his leisure”, in short, they were the pornography of the day. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

War photography

Exercise 43 - read the two essays in the BPB 2008 programme and look at the work the curator selected for the exhibition; now write a short press release of around 250 words.

Brighton Photo Biennial 2008

Friday 3rd October to Sunday 16th November

Brighton Photo Biennial returns for its largest Biennial yet, expanding its boundaries both conceptually and geographically on the previous two events; with ten curated exhibitions across the South East at venues in Battle, Chichester, Portsmouth, Winchester and consolidating its presence with three exhibitions in Brighton. This year’s collaboration presents photography in its most expanded form, referencing related platforms including the performative, moving images, mobile technologies and web-based work.

BPB would also like to thank its core partners the University of Brighton, Photoworks and the Arts Council England for their continued support. For 2008, BPB would like to welcome and introduce Guest Curator Julian Stallabrass, a writer, a critic and a lecturer in modern and contemporary art at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London; he is also a photographer who has exhibited and published internationally. This year's theme:

Memory of Fire: the War of Images and Images of War

Stallabrass explores photographic images of war, their making, use and circulation, and their currency in contemporary society. The exhibitions include images produced by more than thirty-five photojournalists, artists and non-professionals, bringing together historical, contemporary and newly commissioned photographic works covering the period from the Vietnam War all the way to the present day conflicts in the Middle East.

Some of the photographers and artist exhibiting this year include: Thomas Hirschhorn, Geert Van Kesteren, Frank Hurley, Harriet Logan, Simon Norfolk, Paul Seawright and Philip Jones Griffiths.


To print or not to print.....

Exercise 42 - Read Claire Cozen's article in the Guardian about Guerrero's photograph. What would you have done had you been the editor of a British broadsheet newspaper?

In addition read the reflective piece by Michael Ignatieff of Magnum Degrees on the ethics of photojournalism "But Should You Print It?"

Part 1

As editor for a British newspaper, I'd have printed the picture, but in black and white! 

The photograph is graphic, but I don't accept that it's too graphic because it merely records exactly what was there at the time the photographer pressed the button. Terrorists bombs explode in Madrid on the commuter trains, killing 191 people and injuring 1,800 more - the act was horrific and the results were graphic. I think in these bloody times of war we should provide the public with the information then need to understand the full ramifications of the current behaviour around the world - but it shouldn't be so shocking that the general public can't look. 

I would also have made the image available on the web again in black and white, but as per the links originally set up by the Guardian (and now removed) I would have given people the opportunity to view the image in colour had they wished to do so. 

I don't doubt that the British culture is more reserved or more sheltered than the Spanish culture, but this doesn't mean that we should be able to opt out. 

Extracts from article "Editors 'clean up' bomb photo" by the Guardian Friday 12 March 2004

The Guardian also took the decision to change the image - it changed the colour of the bloodied body part from red to grey, making it almost impossible to distinguish. Paul Johnson (deputy editor, news) said that while the colour change was "not perfect by any means", it was the best solution.

The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Sun and the Daily Mail removed the blood-soaked piece of a limb, airbrushing it out and replacing it with stones matching those between the rails.
Other newspapers, including the Independent and the Daily Mirror, got around the problem by printing the image in black and white.
In response to the controversy regarding this image, David Viggers, senior pictures editor at Reuters, commented "Our view is that we don't like any removals of any kind. We do not tolerate it on behalf of our photographers. Our view is that anything that could have been done in a dark room is acceptable, but we can't tolerate anything that changes the editorial context - we couldn't afford to do otherwise." 
[I take this to mean that Viggers was fine with the modifications that the press generally made to the image.]

Part 2

But Should You Print It? make very interesting reading...

My overall take on the article is that Michael Ignatieff is thoroughly frustrated with the current state of journalism and the namby-pamby way in which editors respond/reply to criticism they receive re their publications - fundamentally "you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't!"

Ignatieff posses four very reasonable questions to keep you straight when you have a dilemma regarding to print or not to print, namely:
  1. Is the event it portrays of such social or historical significance that the shock is justified?
  2. Is the objectionable detail necessary for a proper understanding of the event?
  3. Does the subject freely consent?
  4. Is the photograph expressive of humanity?

Ignatieff is not foolish enough to say all of these questions must be answered in the affirmative, only that at least one must be and even then proceed with care!

The only minor challenge I have with regards point 1 goes back to the points made by David Campbell in his lecture on documentary and narrative (pre-work for Assignment 3) when he discusses historic events - at the time of the event nobody living through the event knows if its historic or not! My point being, if its historic we probably don't know it, but its important by default, however, just because its horrific doesn't mean its going to become historic and therefore significant caution is required.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Assignment 5 planning (part 1)

Possible topics for assignment 5...

Based in Nuneaton it's hardly surprising that George Eliot pops up as a topic each time I think about assignments. During DPP I research GE, her literature and the location and came up with an idea for an assignment. My lecturer at the time supported it, but unfortunately I couldn't find enough material so we ditched the idea; later he came back to me with an alternative take on the topic - an amalgamation of old, new and text.

The Coventry Canal system is also just on the doorstep and certainly a very engaging topic - with some derelict boat yards, others yards that have been renovated and are now in commercial operation. The re-development of the original canal basin is now a thriving arts and crafts centre with shops and cafes. Looking at archival images in comparison to today, there is definitely an opportunity to develop an interesting paired-portfolio.

The re-development of Bermuda Village and the community centre - the village (street) was built in 1882 by Sir Edward Newdigate-Newdegate to provide housing for the miners who worked in the open cast coal mine. One section of the houses was bombed in the war and never rebuilt, as part of the current re-development (a new housing estate) a memorial garden is being built for the miners. As part of the re-development the community centre, the football pitches and the bowling greens have been re-located to the other end of the village to create a no-through road. This activity provides and excellent opportunity to create a docu-diary of the development.

One on my neighbours owns Racing Pigeons and has asked if I would be interested in taking some pictures for their club, they are always looking for sponsorship to keep the wagon maintained and believe that a professional set of images would support them in their applications. The local teams are very competitive and take the sport very seriously - my neighbour breeds, trains and races birds.

The significant influx of Charity and Pound Shops - whilst this is undoubtedly a clear sign of the demise of any town, I think it may have legs as an assignment. As yet I haven't applied much thought to the subject, but its one for the list. 

WeAreOCA - A Sketchbook Walk reintroduced me to John Piper, an artist I reviewed some time ago (January 2010 to be exact) when I did an assignment on Coventry for TAOP. I'd forgotten how much I appreciated his paintings and how individual he was in his approach to a scene. In the comments for the post Paul mentions "this is psychogeography territory" and undoubtedly 4 years ago I'd have just run away, but thinking about edgelands or more specifically looking for the beautiful in the mundane and the ugly (especially in Nuneaton) really interests me and would fit well for this assignment. 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Assignment 4 planning (part 4) - thoughts on objectivity

Objectivity, ethics and understanding – ongoing thoughts, ideas and ramblings....

Accepting that the term "documentary" can be applied to just about everything – The Indian Evidence Act 1872 (passed during the time of the British Raj) states “any substance on which matter has been expressed or described can be considered a document, provided that the purpose of such expression or description is to record the matter”, this act is still in use today and (with support from other acts) covers the use of electronic media to ‘record matter’.

The oldest English law I've found dates back to 1960, however, the current legislation is the Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 and pretty much follows the same route as the IEA.

In other words, as long as the photographer’s intent was to document the situation (record matter) then whatever was captured is officially a document. The next and most important clause is that the ‘record’ is only acceptable as long as it was made without the intention to deceive! Therefore, a personal record of events – to the best of my knowledge – is perfectly acceptable as long as the intention is not to deceive.

Near documentary

This goes back to the blurring of boundaries between genres and the need for artists and curators to define art in what have now become woefully inadequate pigeonholes. I find it difficult to believe that prefacing the documentary genre with 'near' provides any additional credibility. I would even go as far as to suggest it moves documentary - as a whole - further away from a robust and trust-worthy practice and a significant step closer to digital art.

Jeff Wall, Tom Hunter, Cindy Sherman, Mohamed Bourouissa, plus many more, are considered to be ‘near' documentarians because they recreate real situations (that have happened or could happen) or re-produce famous historic art – re-stage it - and capture it in camera. 

Reconstruction is a standard methodology used by the police during an investigation; this reconstruction is often recorded and used as reference material. If reconstruction can be used and recognised in criminology, I see no reason why it should not be used by photographers and accepted as documentary. I question the need for the prefix ‘near’ as long as the methodology of reconstruction is clear and there is no intent to deceive.

However, re-producing famous works of art, for me this is much more of a grey area. Painting is art, especially portraits, and it is understood that the artist captured on canvass only what he wanted to capture and what he deemed 'suitable' to optimise the composition. Therefore, it cannot be considered a document. Thus, any re-production of the work of art can only 'document' the art and not the 'scene' behind the art.


What would ‘true’ objectivity look like? Would all images of 'something' look the same? Could there actually be a single way to see something? As humans, we are undoubtedly pack animals, but at the same time thrive on being individuals - this is why the concept of "assimilation” is so terrifying.

ASIDE: I am less certain of this view point with the younger generation. Their continual connection to their friends, acquaintances and the world in general via social media and the web makes this an interesting topic for debate.

In order for us to maintain our individualism we require input from different sources so that we can sort, select and discard, enabling us to form new opinions as circumstances change. I believe, this element of our psyche means that if we were presented with only one view point, (after a time) we would reject it completely and search for alternatives.

When we are depicting a situation, why is it so important to take, to achieve, to provide an objective view?

Objective - not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.
Subjective - based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.

Referring to the definitions above I would suggest this it is virtually impossible to represent any situation from a completely non-emotional and unbiased point-of-view; even when dealing only in facts, what is left out is just as telling as what is included. Is our search for objectivity, actually a search for truth? Going back to the start of this post, is our obsession for objectivity, just a need to know that we are not being deceived?

We know that images are not objective, but are determined by the photographer’s cultural background, beliefs, intentions and preconceptions; does this mean we must assume that they are a lie and that by default the photographer’s intention is to deceive?

I do not believe we can turn art or documentary or journalism into a simple binary condition - right or wrong; if we do, we lose our ability to discern and make decisions for ourselves. Assuming we finally manage to achieve objectivity, what happens next? How do we ensure the audience approaches the ‘situation’ from a non-emotional and unbiased point-of-view?

Objectivity versus subjectivity

How do we go about selecting the images we take? As Miranda Gavin stated in her interview (Chapter 1, Exercise 1) "[all] topics have been covered before, so people are having to look at new ways to show them". In other words we need a new perspective, thus objectivity is out! To be in with a chance of publication, photographers are looking at existing 'art' making subjective judgements as to what's good and what's not and then further applying their own slant (knowledge, experience and prejudices) on the images they want to take before even leaving the house.

At the same time, the world - people, places, politics - is constantly changing, is constantly in flux. Each new experience changes (or not) our own point-of-view, similarly it changes (or not) other peoples point-of-view and therefore how we behave and interact towards each other. So, just because the topics have been covered before doesn't mean that they will have the same impact the next time around.

Accepting objectivity is out, how do we openly communicate our subjectivity to our audience and ensure we do not deceive them?

Ethics next..

The ethics of aesthetics (cont...)

Exercise 41 - read the WeAreOCA blog post 'The Ethics of Aesthetics' including all the replies and add your own comment.

I found both sets of images interesting and engaging; I would suggest both sets of images are 'staged' albeit to differing degrees - this is not a criticism, merely an observation.

To Amano's points "wonderfully constructed and portrayed" and "these images raise questions that are impossible [for us] to answer". Generally, if we are left without sufficient information we are inclined to investigate further; specially with regards the Chaskielberg images I found this was the case - stylistically there is something not-African about them.

I found Jose's comments re the success or failure of any project very interesting and indeed concur with our pessimistic Western view of failure - even a partial failure means that overall project is a failure. When investigating problems at work, if a particular route does not yield resolution then the result it is considered another failure, rather than providing us with more data that enables us to make better informed decisions.

Brian refers to "Rankin's honest photos" and whilst I don't disagree with the Barthes 'surprise' reference, I do feel the need to challenge the word honest in this scenario because it implies that Chaskielberg images are dishonest. I think "Rankin's understated photos" would be more appropriate. 

Much later in the comments Edith discusses how these people portray themselves "straightening their backs and putting a smile on their faces" - this took me back to images created by the photographers employed on the FSA project - "poverty with pride!" Can you image the impact of Chaskielberg style if he had been one of the FSA team - I've no doubt that the images would have surprised America.

Back to Edith and her comment "These are not helpless people, but they need help at this moment." - it really is beautifully put!!!

With regards to Stoddard's image we have used interesting descriptors: powerful, haunting, penetrating, impactful... I wonder if this is simply because the legs appear to have been 'transported' to the Western world? The background is so spares, clean that it could be a photography studio and unless you look very carefully you don't notice the little tuft of grass at the woman's feet. The legs appear to have been completely taken out of their own context and moved into our context - "Starvation coming to a photographic studio near you!

Throughout the comments there are questions about the efficacy of 'beautiful' images to convey an 'ugly' truth and rally the appropriate level of support to deliver sustainable action. Jo (from Oxfam) describes the rationale behind this type of image - hope and dignity, plus belief in change. I don’t doubt this and I respect this ethical approach, however, I also suspect that in general we have become inured to shocking images and that we find them difficult to process at an individual level because we have never had that degree of personal exposure. In answer to Marmalade's question: "have we just stopped looking?" I think we perceive the scale of the problem to be so vast, that we feel impotent and thus rather than beat ourselves up over something we cannot change, we stop looking.

Gareth mentions ‘The Cruel Radiance’ by Susie Linfield - it is a great book and does really challenge our relationship with images.
"The flood of photos sweeps away dams of memory. Never before has a period known so little about itself. In the hands of the ruling society, the intervention of illustrated magazines is one of the most important means of organising a strike against understanding.... The 'image-idea' drives away the real idea. - Siegfried Kracauer's (1889 – 1966) was a German writer, journalist and sociologist; reference The Cruel Radiance.
I appreciate Kracauer was referring to a completely different situation - post war Germany, however, I think it is apt for this discussion. One could ask, do the individual styles of Chaskielberg and Stoddard strike against our understanding and drive away the real idea? Or do they constructively challenge our erroneously pre-conceived ideas?

Assignment 4 planning (part 3) - more books

Additional  reading material...

Barthes, Roland (1977): Image-Music-Text. London: Fontana Press

Burgin, Victor (ed) (1982): Thinking Photography. London: Macmillan

Eco, Umberto (1976): ‘Articulations of the Cinematic Code’. In Bill Nichols Movies and Methods. Volume I. London: Berkeley University of California Press

Feininger, Andreas (1974) Photographic Seeing. London: Thames & Hudson; extract ‘Differences in ‘Seeing’ Between Eye and Lens’ 

Goldberg, Vicki (1991): The Power of Photography: How Photographs Changed Our Lives. New York: Abbeville Press

Gombrich, Ernst H (1977): Art and Illusion: A study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. London: Phaidon

Hall, Stuart (1973): ‘The determinations of news photographs’. In Stanley Cohen & Jock Young (eds): The Manufacture of News: Social Problems, Deviance and the mass media. London: Constable

Kress, Gunther (ed) (1988) Communication and Culture. Kensington, NSW: New South Wales University Press

Kress, Gunther & Theo van Leeuwen (1996): Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual design. London: Routledge

Messaris, Paul (1997): Visual Persuasion: The Role of Image in Advertising. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Sanders, Noel (1988): ‘Angles on the Image’. In Gunther Kress (ed): Communication and Culture. Kensington, NSW: New South Wales University Press