Write a reflection in your learning log about some of the ways in which marginalised or under-represented people or groups could be badly or unhelpfully portrayed. How might being an insider help combat this? (OCA IAP, p66)
In reflecting upon this, I’ve drawn on some of the work studied since the beginning of my OCA course, with references to previous blog posts below.
Diane Arbus (1923–71) was duplicitous in her approach to subjects, with her main interest in being getting the photo. Her subject matter was often ‘freaks’. In her book On Photography, Susan Sontag showed an almost obsessive dislike of the work of Arbus, mentioning her name no less than 85 times. In one summing up of an Arbus show, Sontag says:
… lined up assorted monsters and borderline cases – most of them ugly; wearing grotesque or unflattering clothing; in dismall or barren surroundings … Arbus’s work does not invite viewers to identify with the pariahs and miserable-looking people she photographed. Humanity is not “one“. (Sontag, S. (2014), loc 394)
Of her own practice in the Aperture Monograph, Arbus says, ‘actually they tend to like me. I’m extremely likeable with them. I think I’m kind of two-faced.’ (Fitzgibbon A, 2016). Arbus viewed marginalised people as spectacles to be photographed and put on display, much like an old-fashioned circus freak-show. A way for ‘normal’ people to view the ‘other’ and make them feel appreciative of their own normality, ‘humanity is not one’, and perhaps happy in their own perception of superiority. It is an extension of this kind of ethos that can be found in photography in the popular press; for example, taking images of refugees out of context and showing them in an unflattering way to fuel the sense of difference in extreme right-wing orientated readers.
Bruce Davidson (b 1933) is a humanist photographer, who works closely with his subjects to understand their perspective on the world. An antithetical approach to the divisive use of photography discussed above. One example is his work Freedom Fighters, in which he followed black civil rights campaigners and joined them on their campaign bus, also putting himself in harm’s way of law enforcers. On this work he says:
“Yes, I was pulled in emotionally by the courageousness of those young kids (the Freedom Riders), who as soon as they got off that bus, they could have been murdered.” (ASX)
Davidson spent time with his subjects, sometimes photographing them over the course of one year or more. He describes him self as a humanist photographer. A humanist perspective can be defined as ‘a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; especially : a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual’s dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason’ (Merriam-Webster.com)
Being or at least acting as an insider, with empathy towards subjects and their lives can help to build understanding and not foster division. Agreement is not necessary, but understanding is essential for a civilised society.
ASX [website]. Everything is Sacred – An Interview with Bruce Davidson (2006). Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/12/interview-interview-with-bruce-davidson.html [accessed 8.11.16]
Fitzgibbon A (2015). Context.Fitzgibbonphotography [blog]. Inside/Out by Abigail Solomon-Godeau (May 2015). Available from: http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/insideout-by-abigail-solomon-godeau/ [accessed 7.11.16]
Fitzgibbon A (2016).Identity.Fitzgibbonphotography [blog]. Bruce Davidson at Fundación Mapfres (August 2016). Available from: http://identity.fitzgibbonphotography.com/tag/bruce-davidson/ [accessed 7.11.16]
Fitzgibbon A (2016). Identity.Fitzgibbonphotography [blog]. Diane Arbus, Aperture Monogram (July 2016). Available from: http://identity.fitzgibbonphotography.com/2016/07/10/diane-arbus-aperture-monogram/ [accessed 7.11.16]
Sontag, S. (2014). On Photography (Penguin Modern Classics) [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com