Part one – The photograph as a document
Project 2 – Photojournalism
“Photojournalism is a term used to identify news imagery.” (Boothroyd, 2017:26)
We are asked to read chapters 3, 5 and 6 of La Grange’s Basic Critical Theory for Photographers, for further reading. I have provided a very high-level summary for each chapter below:
This chapter covers Susan Sontag’s On Photography. It is a pretty long chapter running from page 30 to page 75. Having read On Photography in full, La Grange’s book helps to further understand the arguments and points Sontag raised and I felt this chapter was very thorough in its examination.
This chapter covers Marther Rosler’s In, Around and Afterthoughts (On documentary photography). After having read the excerpt we were directed to in the course notes, which I nearly fell asleep reading about 4 times (sorry!), this walk through was much more palatable and a lot shorter. The chapter runs from page 113 to page 124.
This chapter covers Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s Inside/Out. Again this is relatively short running from page 125 to page 132. Solomon-Godeau brings in Sontag and Rosler as part of the examination, so although Sontag is sited in the notes under the critical viewpoint (see below) on Compassion Fatigue and Rosler under Charity, they still both had something to say about insider photography and Solomon-Godeau had a view in response.
This part of the course focuses on three critical viewpoints on the uses, problems and benefits of photojournalism; charity, compassion fatigue and inside/out.
Charity: Rosler believed that reinforcing the gap between rich and poor through photography was “a way of reinforcing hierarchical structures imposed by capitalism.” (Boothroyd, 2017:26)
Compassion fatigue: “Sontag argued that bombarding the public with sensationalist photographs of war and poverty was a certain way to numb the public’s response.” (Boothroyd, 2017:26)
Inside/out: Solomon-Godeau argues against the binary voyeuristic/objective or confessional/subjective approaches of photojournalism but to “produce work which provides a distanced look at the subject as well as offering some sort of ‘truth’, which may not be the truth.” (Boothroyd, 2017:27)
Research point – Project 2 – Photojournalism
“If you’re interested in the critical debates around photojournalism, try and make time to
find out more about at least one of these critical positions during your work on Part One.”
The whole of Part one so far has really grabbed my attention and imagination so I was interested in doing some further research/commentary but wasn’t quite sure which to pursue (time restrictions mean that you can’t pursue everything at the same time), so I chose the inside/out viewpoint.
insider – noun
“An officer or a corporation or others who have access to private information about a corporation’s operations.” (Wordweb, 2017)
Part of the reason for this is that there was much debate on a study visit I went on last year to see Martin Parr’s work in respect of the insider aspect to photography. A link to my EYV write-up on the two Martin Parr exhibitions (Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers and Unseen City: Photos by Martin Parr) I visited in May 2016 as part of the OCA study visits program can be found here.
Parr as a royal photographer has had access to high-profile people behind the scenes which few of us will ever get the chance to meet let alone photograph but does this make his images more interesting, worthy of exhibit or valuable as a photographer? A number of the photographs had subjects heads and legs cut off by the frame and had been taken at strange angles, which most photographers would have discarded as bad shots, and yet Parr has been able to legitimately present these images as part of his work.
As a photographer in a unique position, such as this, surely you would question whether your photos hold up because a) your ‘insider’ appointment reinforces your work to be of a certain quality/value so people believe it is on the basis that ‘you’ve been appointed so your work must be good’, or b) people are interested in your images as subject matter because you are an insider and no-one else could have captured these images not caring too much about the photographer or the rules of photography.
I liken this type of insider to a monopoly situation within the corporate world, where only a select few have the ability to be players within a specific market and, therefore, they get all the opportunities. I am not sure whether it is the general populous’ obsession with other people’s lives which drives the thirst for behind the scenes ‘insider’ images i.e. there is a market for it; or whether it is driven by the inside out i.e. by subjects wanting to produce these behind the scenes images so it captures people’s interest to want to know more. Either way it is an interesting debate.
This is a fascinating area to explore further, if you take for example the work of Nan Goldin in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, the insider viewpoint is very different to that of the insider viewpoint portrayer by Parr. Goldin’s work explored intimacy and familiarity on a completely different level. “Images of what would normally be private scenes, for example dressing, and the closeness of the camera to the subject, result in the viewer assuming an intimate relationship between the photographer and subject.” (La Grange, 2005;127) So maybe there are different levels of ‘insider’?
To provide balance (for reference):
outsider – noun
“Someone who is excluded from or is not a member of a group.” (Wordweb, 2017)
And so to one of the questions in the course text:
“Do you need to be an insider in order to produce a successful documentary project?”
I believe the answer to this question is no. However, I think it depends on what the project’s objectives and aims are as to how succesful the project can be.
For example, if the documentary project is to prove whether it is possible to infiltrate a particular group/club etc. and you document the steps you take to infiltrate the group/club including whether you are successful or not, then surely that documentary project would be achieved as an outsider (although you may become an insider by the end of the project if infiltration has been successful).
What should also be covered at this point is ethics and whether to infiltrate the club/group you had to use any dubious means, to enable access e.g. bribes, lies etc. If some of these dubious means were used then it might call in to question the authenticity of your other documentary findings i.e. if you’ve lied about one thing what stops you lying about something else maybe to prove your hypothesis/belief.
So it’s important to be aware that authenticity within documentary can easily be called into question. Often stories are reported on and then countered. This links back to the Eyewitness exercise under Project 1 and Citizen Journalism which is increasingly adding to the objectivity and truth to documentary projects.
I could carry on discussing this subject longer but I am going to stop at this point as there is more on the course to cover but no-doubt this will be drawn on further later in the course….
Boothroyd, S (2017) Context and Narrative, Barnsley: OCA.
La Grange, A (2005) Basic Critical Theory for Photographers, : Focal Press.
Sontag, S (1979) On photography, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
WordWeb: English dictionary, thesaurus, and word finder software. 2016. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.wordweb.info. (Accessed July 2017).
Aperture Foundation (2017) Nan Goldin – The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Available at: http://aperture.org/shop/nan-goldin-ballad/ (Accessed: July 2017).