One of the challenges of working with models is that the best ones are in demand and you have to give them some reason to want to shoot with you. That may be money, or they might like your work enough to want to make some art together. Or it may be that you can get the images published, or you…
I know that you use social media more for brand development/name recognition than for individual interaction, but, if you don’t mind, after your critique stream today I did have a question. (If you do mind, then whatever.)
I wonder how many photographers now have been scared off making something substantial and topical because of the agonizing over what it is suitable and not suitable to portray - an agonizing that is almost entirely negative in its outlook. The agonizing should rather be over how something can be portrayed, a positive agonizing that gets the story told to its best effect
In this recent post Colin makes an interesting point about how we define what might be a suitable way to approach particularly “sensitive” topics. He arrives at this distinction on foot of a remark made by David Goldblatt (seen here in conversation with Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin) to the effect that the expectations of critical writers like Susan Sontag prevent photographers from really engaging with the world. As quoted above, Colin’s interpretation of this notion seems to me the best way of dealing with what is to some extent a reactionary (if not unwarranted) opinion.
Even speaking as an admirer, Sontag’s book on this subject is highly uneven and its influence on how pictures are actually made must be, at best, negligible. But there is little doubt that “engaged” photography can unconsciously reproduce those structures of oppression it nominally seeks to undermine, all without ever coming to fully understand, or even to acknowledge, that they exist. The issue here should be with photography itself and its own history of high-minded voyeurism, which takes any kind of vulnerability as fair game for its predatory gaze, at least when safely insulated by a thick coating of “socially concerned” rhetoric.
Although Goldblatt’s own work is virtually unimpeachable, he is in the minority of photographers who, when dealing with these topics, can claim the moral high-ground; history was on his side. So while there is a sense in which Sontag does go too far in her hand-wringing about this - photography is still possible, after all - to imagine it can also show us a transparent “social reality” is a trap that most photographers seem only too willing to be caught in. Any chance we have to question our own engrained positions (as both viewers and image-makers) should be enthusiastically welcomed.
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There is something arbitrary about the decision making that a photographer engages in. What I mean by that is this: I can get out of the car and stand by the edge of the highway and take a picture that looks like a totally natural landscape, untouched by the hand of man. I could move back six inches and include the guardrail in the picture and the meaning of the picture changes dramatically. There is a marginal point where I can stand here and it’s one picture or I can stand there and it’s a different picture. And this decision, of what is the meaning of what’s in the rectangle is entirely my decision. It sounds wrong, because I didn’t create the landscape, but that decision so drastically alters the meaning that the weight of the decision becomes very interesting.
The same thing with portraits, facial expressions flow in time, the picture takes the face out of the flow of time. As I’m looking at you, facial expressions are passing by in the time that we’re sitting here, I know that I can take a picture now, or a second later, a half second earlier, and have a different meaning. People could make different judgments, even though those judgments are really not about you, they’re about this image of you.