Leap Day, February 2020
Are we drowning yet? The most clear way that I think I can express my thoughts about multiple possible media, positives and negatives is a chart. My comments are by no means a complete — or accurate analysis of media types, or advantages and disadvantages. However, it’s a very helpful exercise to do as I now have more questions than answers.
I believe that you can click on the image to make it full size.
9 March 2020
Sprawling on a Pin: Our family was gifted a yearly subscription of Nat Geo by a kind great-uncle, and the magazine opened my eyes to the world. I remember the issue which feature the newly discovered Terracotta warriors of Xi’an, China. I poured over maps which influenced my future travel. I felt no unease staring at the images of the foreign peoples. Without overt declaration, NatGeo granted me the ability to stare. I learned about ‘those people’ – peoples who didn’t look like my people- the white “normal” Americans. Through this exposure to the objectifying the other, I must have realized that I could travel and experience the world – in safety and in superiority.
I was struck by Grundberg’s sentiments: “There is even an occasional portrait of the kind for which the National Geographic was once slightly notorious: dark-skinned, bare-breasted women, in their customary dress, looking at the camera without any awareness of their impending status as spectacles for adolescent Western eyes.” His statement echo’s Sontag’s observation: “To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.”
I am uncomfortable taking pictures of people, other than in a portrait session. It’s been suggested that asking for permission prior to creating the image makes the practice of street photography ok, because permission was granted. However, as Sontag states above, asking for permission implies that the subject truly understands the intended use of the image, and the reaction of the viewers. I value the ethical principles of autonomy—in this case- the right of the subject to make an informed decision about the distribution and use of the image. I was surprised to read the issue of NatGeo where the girl-featured on the cover, famous for her wild green eyes are red shawl was found as a woman…and she had no idea that her image had been seen by people around the world. I think that this is a clear case of being viewed as a person who doesn’t deserve to have self-determination. And the justice meted out for this case was the creation of an educational fund in the young woman’s name.
I did take street photos in China and Portugal. I am like a leopard: I watch people and pursue to get a good image. I waited for the transformative moment when I could feel ok about what I was doing. It didn’t come. Below is an example of an image I took in Lisboa.
Grundberg, A. (1998) Photography View; A quintessentially American view of the world. The New York Times. P 35, pp4.
Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.