Disruptive Participation and Radical Listening: Magnum Foundation Photography Expanded Symposium 2017

In socially engaged photography and documentary practice, listening and participation can become both the medium and the form, the journey and the destination. This panel will explore relationships between listening and participation. Can listening set conditions for meaningful participation? Can participation produce new opportunities for listening? Is it possible for … Continue reading

I get the feeling sometimes that photography can be hypercritical and unconstructive in its criticism. When it gets the wind in its sails, it feels like you’re in the midst of  a mass Five-Minute Hate. It’s like the scene in the remake of the Night of the Living Dead where Donald Sutherland points and screams – and then everybody else points and screams. It looks and feels terrible even when there are some justifications for it, especially when there are justificatons for it.  This kind of response is something that also needs to be addressed in photography and its social media responses – because it is an embarassment and one day it will end in something very tragic. It is a form of bullying. Again, it’s nothing to do with photography, it’s to do with basic human behaviour.

The work that Gemma-Rose Turnbull and Pete Brook do is a constructive counterpart to this kind of response. Their work is considered, analytical and creates a counter-voice that is productive rather than reactionary and destructive, and leads us into new ways of seeing how images are made and the different fields in which they operate.

 
– Colin Pantall, Photography as Social Practice. In Bristol this Thursday

Just as media representations of the artist-as-genius have proved remarkably durable, the figure of the lone photographer is an enduring myth.

[The] figure of the intrepid, typically male, photojournalist is tied up with narcissistic fantasies about the photographer-as-lone-adventurer…the photographer-adventurer who bears witness to the world’s most beautiful and horrific truths has become something of an ego ideal or phantasm haunting all users of the camera. Men, apparently, are particularly prone to its seductive power.

– Daniel Palmer

Palmer, Daniel. Photography and Collaboration: From Conceptual Art to Crowdsourcing. London: Bloomsbury, 2017. p.1–2

 

Thinking about
who
represents
whom,
and
for whom,
is key to
my practice.

– Helen Cammock is an artist and artist facilitator. She lectures across the UK on participatory practice and is committed to exploring and evolving the way participation opens up dialogue, and aims to ensure that diverse voices are platformed in the cultural contexts she works in.

And how must a photographer behave?

This is a snippet from an amazing conversation between Anthony Luvera and Stefanie Braun in Critical Cities Volume 2; Ideas, knowledge and agitation from emerging urbanist   SB: The photographs in this project are taken by homeless or ex-homeless people. The creation of each ‘self-portrait’ is assisted by you, but … Continue reading

“Photographers seem ever more aware of the representational responsibilities which comes with their craft, but the question of who is actually doing this representing remains just as important as who is being represented and how. In a field like documentary photography this question becomes particularly essential, if only because it’s unrealistic to expect an adequate reflection of the world in all its messy complexity, when privileged, white, western men remain so often the ones taking the photographs and defining the terms of representation, dissemination, and so many other things.” – Lewis Bush.

 
This is a great discussion between Lewis Bush and Max Houghton on Disphotic, which is a blog on visual culture written by Bush. Although the conversation is specifically about women photographers in documentary photography, the sentiment of the quote above and the full commentary about tokenism vs. equitable representation are equally applicable to role of community co-authors in co-productive photographic projects. You can read the article in full here.

In using people as a medium, participatory art has always had a double ontological status: it is both an event in the world, and at one removed from it. As such, it has the capacity to communicate on two levels—to participants and to spectators—the paradoxes that are repressed in everyday discourse, and to elicit perverse, disturbing, and pleasurable experiences that enlarge our capacity to imagine the world and our relations anew. But to reach the second level requires a mediating third term—an object, image, story, film, even a spectaclethat permits this experience to have a purchase on the public imaginary.[1] (my emphasis)


[1] Bishop, C., & Creative Time (2011, May). Participation and Spectacle: Where Are We Now? [Video file]. Retrieved from http://vimeo.com/24193060

Feigned authenticity?

“The social, political and ameliorative objectives in historical social documentary photography are not dissimilar to some of the imperatives in ‘participatory’ art practice trends. These social and political aspects referred to relate to the desire to work with a social or political cause. The ameliorative has to do with the wish to correct a situation by drawing attention to it, making it visible, and the desire to ‘correct’ a situation, which, I have suggested, operates within a ‘liberal’ domain, representing a desire to ‘bring good and truth to the world’, to remediate and repair. Often, however, this operates at surface level only. In many instances it does not serve to break apart the mindsets and structures that create those situations. Strategies engaging participatory practice do not necessarily solve the photographic dilemma of finding ways to grant equal agency to both subject and photographer. In fact, these strategies often captivate the audience with a feigned authenticity, one that only serves to create another layer of ambiguity in the ‘truth factor’ of the photograph.”

 
– Natasha Christopher. “The whole truth, nothing but the truth: Photography and participatory practice.” In Wide Angle: Photography as Public Practice, edited by Terry Kurgan, 76-88 (88). Johannesburg: Fourthwall Books, 2015. iBook, e-book.

LaToya Ruby Frazier

“My practice as an artist and the collaborative photographs disrupt the classist and elitist viewpoint that only the wealthy, educated or the privileged can report, research and write about economy, politics, history, working and living conditions. I believe the answers to making a more equitable and sustainable future in the rustbelt resides in the families and individuals that have endured the greatest hardship. The people of these regions that outside reporters, journalists, commentators and politicians continue to ignore should not wait for mass media to tell their story. It’s not a matter of vulnerability, it’s a matter of empowerment.”

 
Read more “Genius Grant” Photographer Uses Camera as Weapon Against Racism
 

MARK STRANDQUIST

“In his book, Bending the Frame, Fred Ritchin called for photographers to produce “visual reference points,” for ways forward not simply an index of past struggles. If we focus on the process, and bring to the forefront the social interactions that went into the photograph, as well as those that its exhibition inspires, we can begin to see how those reference points could be created. By championing and further investigating the social aesthetics of photography; by viewing the production of the image as a staging ground for interaction, and its exhibition as an equally exciting realm for dialogue, exchange, and community action; by seeing the socio-political potential behind every creative choice; then our images can begin to create those reference points, and can propose and realize new ways of seeing, understanding, and being within the world.

 

From the PHOTOGRAPHY AND SOCIAL PRACTICE broadsheet, May 2014.

Sam Cotter’s “Reciprocity – a failure to communicate.”

  “Sam Cotter’s pocket-sized publication “Reciprocity – a failure to communicate” investigates photographic reciprocity failure, a technical term in photography for the instances in which photographic materials stops behaving in a linear way. In these situations the medium has a kind of autonomy and requires more from a scene than is … Continue reading

Gemma-Rose Turnbull

“As documentary photographers integrate participatory and collaborative practices into their projects––inviting people who were previously ‘subjects’ to become co-creators––there is an increased tension between the process and the photographic product. When we move towards making work that is co-authored, how do we meet the needs of our collaborators (as the primary audience of the work), and communicate the primary experience to the secondary audience (anyone secondary to the people making the work)?

Basically, how can we continue to utilize the visceral, affective visual language of documentary photography to activate for social change, while democratising the process of creating those images with people, instead of of people?”

 

From the PHOTOGRAPHY AND SOCIAL PRACTICE broadsheet, May 2014.

Susan Meiselas

“This stategy evolved when I sensed that I couldn’t work with a single image, even with a series of images, as I had before. The complexities were not going to be seen through my images alone. I’m deeply interested in the photograph as a record of an encounter and enjoy putting myself in a timeline of image-makers, alongside other travellers, such anthropologists, colonists, missionaries, and even tourists. I do that to emphasize subjectivity, rather than privilege any single perspective – I see myself as only one of many storytellers.”

 
Meiselas, S. in Bright, S. (2011), “Encounters with the Dani: Stories from the Baliem Valley,” Art Photography Now, pp 168

Eliza Gregory

“My personal life can be intertwined with my work in a positive way; relationships can provide the foundation of an image and a project, as well as a life. As I’ve grown into this understanding of myself and my work, I’ve moved from being focused on an image to being focused on a neighborhood. I’ve become a wife and a mother. I’ve seen how photography can create social change, and it isn’t through the pictures, it’s through the process of making art.”

 

From the PHOTOGRAPHY AND SOCIAL PRACTICE broadsheet, May 2014.

PROVE IT TO ME

    PROVE IT TO ME, curated by Natasha Marie Llorens, is a group show featuring the work of Shane Aslan Selzer, Stephanie Diamond, Dillon de Give, Mark Menjivar, Maria D. Rapicavoli, Julia Sherman, and Mary Walling Blackburn. These seven artists, loosely defined as making social practice artwork, refuse an objective understanding of photography. Instead, they create projects that … Continue reading

Participatory Book Design

    “You were not supposed to see these images. No one was,” says Christoph Bangert in the intro to his new book ‘WAR PORN’ which is basically a catalogue of battered, bloodied, mutilated and/or dismembered corpses from conflict zones around the world that Bangert has photographed during his career. … Continue reading

Pete Brook

“We don’t have to be making photographs to be making a difference. In fact, of the many photo-centric acts that increase engagement with—and understanding between—fellow humans, image-making is only one. Researching, collating, preserving, reframing, holding and talking about images form the context for photography in our world. Making an image is only the opening gambit; when an image-maker freezes a moment or place in time within a photo, he or she merely guarantees a long thaw of meanings and associations running from it. How we discuss, use and consume photography shapes the thaw. Andrea Stultiens’ ‘History In Progress Uganda’; Susan Meiselas’ ‘Kurdistan’; and Alyse Emdur’s ‘Prison Landscapes’ are just a few of the many photo-based projects with methodologies from which we can learn.”

 
From the PHOTOGRAPHY AND SOCIAL PRACTICE broadsheet, May 2014.