Week 9 David, Levi Strauss. Between the eyes. 20.03.20
During the MA I have discussed many times the ‘problem’ of aestheticization in my imagery with tutors, and when I read last weeks reading Between the eyes, I was really draw to it’s content and subjects, I do wonder how different my research project proposal and oral presentations during module one and two would of been had I had this writing in my lexicon at the time to inform my position and make it stronger.
I think the belief that to be impactful, to be important, but mostly to be taken seriously, photography cannot be aesthetic, is misguided and runs rife in the art industry, but also seems to be a strong train of thought within the MA discussions with peers as well. The ‘fashion’ of the moment is the banal, and it is almost an unwritten rule that this cannot be beautified, cannot be aesthetic , that they are opposite sides of a coin. I do believe that there is a place for beauty, a place for aestheticization within a body of work, even with the banal, the everyday, the ordinary, the in-between places, sometimes I think these quiet in-between moments are actually the most arresting and beautiful, so why not show them that way ? It is this I was writing about in reference to Clare Gallagher’s book second shift, she has taken the banal, the mundane, the everyday, the downright disgusting and aestheticised it , the work has no less merit because of that, in fact I would argue it has more.
This module I have been working in part with the banal , the inbetween, the traces, and I have been trying to put my own mark on this style of photography, creating my own message with my own visual language. In 1991 Ingrid Sischy wrote in her essay ‘Good intentions’ in the New Yorker, of Salgado’s work “It is Salgado’s manner- his visual rhetoric – that has given his work so much clout. His compositions, crops, lighting, angles, and toning stand in sharp contrast to the usual lack of insistent style in photojournalism” (Sischy. 1991. pg 90) Sischy’s scathing attack runs all through this piece, but the over all take is serious can’t be beautiful, beautiful can’t be ‘a call to action’ , something I vehemently disagree with, both in respect of Salgado’s work , and in respect of the question in the broader sense. People are huge in number , and have as many varying stances as there are people, to give a blanket statement that a certain style or aesthetic can’t influence anyone, or can’t do any good is such a generalisation, that leaves so many opportunities or potentials inaccessible to you. She does however, have really interesting, and not to be ignored things to say about the exhibition such as the ‘disparities between – between claims for the work and what is actually there in the image” (Sischy. 1991. page 91) Sentiments I cannot ignore, but do well to contemplate when she considers the ‘educational’ role Salgado’s images take on, and echo the question from Strauss below “What right have I to represent you?” (Strauss 2003)
This quote below is one I think is particularly important to my body of work both this module, and my wider body of work across the whole the MA. If indeed the aim of my work is to get people who do not partake in alternative education, and do not understand it, to do so. I believe it will do me no favours showing only what people imagine ‘alternative’ people to look like, just like it will do my project no favours to be overly drawn to the unaestheticized banal image. I wish to engage people with the subject, to get the think, to question, to explore, I do not wish to bore them, and I do think, a lot of the images being produced today, can be ‘boring’. They may well have the most intricate and wonderful meanings and intent behind them, but I am drawn personally to beautifully composed and lit images , as I said in module 1, I aim to photograph how I ‘see’ the world, how I see our journey of alternative education, and ultimately , I see it personally as beautiful, so that is how I choose to represent it, and I do beleive as Strauss says below that this helps “disparate peoples recognise themselves in one another.” (Strauss)
I also thought this quote below was a really important one in respects to my work and the ethical questions in presents. I am telling my children’s story as well as my own, and a responsibility comes with that. It would be awful for me if in 10 years time the children thought their reality wasn’t represented, that this wasn’t how they saw themselves or each other. In her guest lecture Clare Gallagher said she “battled ethics to photograph them [her boys] in ways that doesn’t show them” (2020) and that she “talks to them about the images, how she reads them & how they do.” These are both really important in my practice with my children , to keep them as collaborators , and for them to know they always have final say over if I photograph them, and if they want me to show those images. I am very lucky that they mostly don’t have any issues with me photographing the, sometimes they ask me not too if they are in a tough place, or just can’t be bothered, and thats fine. If I were trying to show the intricacies of family life I think that would be a different story, that would make it very hard to tell a full story, but ultimately my research project is all about the education, that is what underpins it all, and so I have the creative freedom to not have to include those things. Sometimes I do, and thats great, but it isn’t a necessity to a fully rounded project for me.
This ‘tension’ is an interesting concept and something that I intend to research more to inform myself on contextually within my own, and others practices. I am constantly aware of , and working with this concept of the viewer not just having to accept or reject a message. I want my work to be as Charlotte Jansen says in Girl on Girl “A challenge to enquire ” (Jansen 2017, pg 9)
Jansen. Charlotte. 2017. Girl on girl. London, Laurence king publishing.
Strauss. David, Levi. 2003. Between the eyes; essays on photography and politics (The Documentary Debate: Aesthetic Or Anaesthetic?) . New York; Aperture.
Sischy, Ingrid. 1991. Good intentions, The New Yorker.