I am super interested in this story with the World Press Photo Awards. It ties in with issues I’ve been looking at and thinking about quite a lot recently. My mum, an ex journalist told me the other night when she was working in SA, it was not unheard of for photographers to carry props around in their bags (what, with all that equipment too?) such as a child’s shoe for instance which they might place strategically at a car accident scene to evoke more of an emotional trigger (Barthes’ punctum) in readers. They were all at it, she said. I’m not a journalist and my own photography is a mixed bag of caught moments and set up stuff, although I tend not to set anything up in Calais/Dunkirk. People are too busy getting on with things and I’m an observer, and I certainly don’t have any desire to make my presence a thing. In fact if I had an invisibility cloak that would be best! (I did witness another photographer asking someone to jump over a puddle so she could re-enact the famous HCB image, which I was quite surprised by, I must say – see the PDF below re my thoughts on photographing in that area. She’s a nice woman. But young and I just think she hadn’t thought such an act through.) But sometimes someone might ask me to take a picture of them at which point I will say, sure, just move over here where the light is better. Perhaps I want to get a good picture because I am planning to print and give it to the family*. Lines are drawn and I suppose that is the point. With all the current hoopla about ‘fake news’ one can see why this is so contentious. But I would say the journalist in question has repeatedly asked his friends to stand in as subjects and got them to pretend to be things that they aren’t in order to tell a story, which of course is fantastically unethical. But is it ethical to take pictures of people in awful situations in the first place? SA photographers my mother knew back in the 80s were taking pictures of people being necklaced for goodness’ sake, why is that ethical? And what of the burning monk? Why stop and photograph him rather than put out the fire? And would saving him when he didn’t want to be saved be ethical or not? Nevertheless, there is a world of difference between asking one’s mate to pretend to be a prostitute and taking a picture of someone you’re talking to in a spot that is lit more appropriately than the spot she was originally in. Also, captions can carry some responsibility too. We seem to have lost touch with what it is to be genuine. We are like lost little crazy robots who don’t have access to certain parts of our programming.
Language, be it syntactical or visual can either be brimming with substance, or it can be the opposite of that. A lie might be an empty, vacuous vessel (unless instead of the intended content it contains something about the liar). Or perhaps it’s like a nice looking cake which you bite into and find only the contents of the rubbish bin, smooshed up rotten food, or worse. It would obviously be great if people just stopped lying. But that’s not going to happen, so we need to reconnect with a part of ourselves that sees through nonsense. And find the courage to call it out when we see it too. I have often thought, “that’s not true” about things people say, but been too afraid to speak the thoughts aloud and I suspect culturally, we more or less, all function in that way. Because when someone looks at you and says, I see what you’re really saying, it can be quite unnerving. We’re not used to it.
And all of that is made even more complex by the fact that sometimes people’s relationship with truth is rather slippery and all over the place. In other words, they might not know how to be truthful. There’s that word truth we all have so much trouble with….I’ve tried to avoid using it but it’s tricky. There is no truth, we are told. Tell that to someone who has been beaten senseless by an abusive partner.
And – this is really important – we need to stop feeding and creating a desire to consume certain types of image, such as a shot of a supposed prostitute’s arse on the bed, taken from the floor. I mean if someone wins an award for such an image then more photographers are going to take images like that. Surely such a picture is just about satisfying some male sexualised visual desire. The photo award industry have something to answer to there too.
I’m not sure about how this might fit into any re-edits for A5. I have been looking at Plato’s Ideal Real as suggested and started to venture in Derrida’s absence/presence.
Two things have sprung to mind – my son downloaded a game which allows you to build a virtual world from scratch. He has created a family – based on our own. Only he has made it ‘ideal’. In it, his father still lives in the family home and he has the baby sister they all want (lucky me, 4 children!) He is using the virtual world to form a narrative, which is informed by ideal narratives he sees around him. Film, TV and books provide us with ideals where things make sense and there are beginnings, middles and ends (even if they’re jumbled up). This is the direct opposite of Self’s argument which I analysed in A5. A computer games is giving my son the tools to make narrative. He still needs narrative. He seems to need it more than ever, despite Self’s assertion humans are evolving beyond the need for narrative. Outside of narrative, things don’t make sense. They are merely random events.
The presence/absence suggestion is more complex. I have touched on it in an article I’ve prepared for Just Shelter whose work I document in Calais, in relation to the way in which western culture defines itself by how it relates to non-western culture. “I’m not that, therefore I’m this”. I’m not yet sure how I can bring it into the essay but am thinking about it. Here is a draft PDF of the article which I will refer to in a talk/discussion re a slideshow of images from the area responsible-photography-just-shelter-2017
Image (c)SJField 2017
*Added later and re-edited -I have just looked through the slideshow I am preparing for the talk and there are two or three images in the Dunkirk section where I was specifically asked to take the picture. None are great images to be honest, but they show something I want to express to the potential people coming along. In the main, the rest of the images are more interesting, with all their chaos and obvious observational context. I have looked at the initial images I took and really thought about how I impacted on them, if at all. An interesting exercise.