MODULE 4: INFORMING CONTEXTS. WEEK 8.
Our assignments this week are concerned with the notion of responsibility in photography, especially in relationship to documentary (and press) photography and its recording of war, trauma, historic events etc. and by extension it’s capability to change or influence people. However, I can’t really comment on that with any great knowledge as my practice is not part of that vocabulary: I am not recording those kinds of events, and the purpose of my personal practice is not to capture some part of history directly for the media. I can read about how others may have done so historically, or believe they can today, but it is not my place to make assumptions about responsibility via other photographers experiences.
In any case, I am with Sontag when she says “In these last decades ‘concerned’ photography has done at least as much to deaden our conscience as to arouse it” (Sontag, 1977, p.21). For me this is more how the images are used by the media, chosen to shock and to sell, than the instigation of the photographer on the ground at the moment of capture.
I am also utterly aware that photography has reached such a saturation point that it’s power to affect or motivate the viewer to some kind of action or change of mind is very slim. Our consumer mentality, technology, and societal make-up veers us towards the temporary. Photographs (with rare exceptions), if they register at all on the consciousness, are here today and literally gone tomorrow. In the main they are offered in formats that lack sustenance and nutrition (e.g. a social media or news feed). One has to chose a specific means of consuming images in order for them to have a life beyond immediacy or a greater meaning or impact.
My responsibilities are to my personal ethics as a photographer (respect, professionalism etc), and to those people I work with who let me into their lives and worlds. Other than that, any potential for communication with the viewer lies in the possibility for my practice to allow for individual recognition or connection in some way. My practice can attempt to ‘articulate a set of correspondences which provoke in the viewer a recognition. . . This recognition may remain at the level of a tacit agreement with memory, or it may become conscious. When this happens, it is formulated as an idea’ (Berger 2013 p. 90). I don’t believe I can expect more than that from photography in the twenty first century. For me, whatever thematic considerations I am investing in as a photographer (be they social, environmental etc), my practice has a responsibility to challenge perceptions, starting with my own and then perhaps to another individuals’ perceptions, recognition, memory etc.
This is why I am increasingly finding the tension between authenticity and fiction in my work so pertinent to my thematic exploration. Just photographing the world without this added layer is no longer enough for me, it is too akin to consumption and not enough about an exploration of perception and understanding that might deepen my work.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- Berger, J. 1967. Understanding A Photograph. 21st edn. London: Penguin.
- Sontag, S. 1977. On Photography. London: Penguin.