Through (White Washed) Eyes?

…And On Whiter Walls?

By Lizzy Tollemache (8th January 2020)
The White Gaze: it is a phrase that resonates in black American literature… The White Gaze: it traps black people in white imaginations (Grant, 2015)

Edward Said (1978) discussed this in Orientalism, a concept later referred to by Elizabeth Kaplan (1997) as the ‘Imperial Gaze’. Essentially: do we still view and construct the world through a white (eyed) perspective?

Is this white gaze still alive and well today? And, more specifically, is it the same in visual culture? Or, indeed, in exhibition culture?

Let us first consider the Family Of Man exhibition (MoMA 1955) as a point of reference, we should still consider, if, when and how contemporary exhibitions might maintain unequal power relations within the white walls of the gallery. Are these are entitled to the same critique as acts of ‘aesthetic colonialism’? (Sekula, 1981, p.15), even of ‘universalising’ [racial] expereinces (Barthes, 2009, p.121). Do these minority voices remain ‘silenced’ by the imposed narrative of the curator? (Phillips, 1982, p.62).

Ezra Stoller/MoMA (1955) The Family of Man

Like Phillips (1982), I view Steichen as an egocentric puppeteer; his decontexulisation of the artist’s works gave him the power to choose how photographers voices were silenced, and particularly how People of Colour (PoC) were represented, that ultimately served as this ‘instrument of cultural colonialism.’ (Sekula, 1981. p.15)  Theophilus Neokonkwo (1995 in Sandeen, p.155) also furthers this point, that non-western people, were depicted as ‘social inferiors, half clothed’ as well as victims of poverty and despair – and (as such, he argues) were exploited. He goes on to discuss the way that Western peoples were presented in ‘dignified cultural states’. Sound familar? Think National Geographic.

Nat Farbman.(1955) ‘Botswana / Bechuanaland’ from The Family Of Man.
The ignominious lack of inclusivity, out of 256 works exhibited only 12 were from non-westerners (Tīfentāle, 2018)

So thus, viewing essentially becomes voyeuristic. In ‘Regarding The Pain of Others’ Susan Sontag voices photography’s inability to accurately capture experiences not lived by the participant, in short, we have ‘no right to experience the suffering of others at a distance, denuded of its raw power’ (Sontag, 2004, p.73). Unequal treatment and visibility amongst the marginalised remains a prevaelent issue today. Whilst we might legitimately point the finger of blame at Western media, another might be a continuing (but shifting) exclusivity rooted deep in museum culture. Ali Meghji (2018) states cultural institutions are dominated by white consumers, that a discourse of ‘inclusion’ is promoted simply to avoid charges of racism, therefore PoC’s artwork is segregated and mainly only exhibited annually as a form of tokenism (Meghji, 2018)

‘Curatorial control has remained in the hands of white westerners.Third world writers and artists have had little say in the ways in which they were represented in these exhibitions and have only been able to react’ (Obguibe, 1999. p.158)

For example, the three winning photographs of 2018’s Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize depicted PoC, yet the images were captured by white photographers. Though, Khairani Barokka is interested in National Geographic – how far can we take this? Do we see again here a suggesstion that their ‘lives [are] classifiable, capturable, translatable only through the white gaze’? (Barokka, 2019). Are subjects are maintained in a position of objects of curious observation and consumption, victims of a gaze fixated on their ‘essentialist difference or desirable otherness’ (Ramirez in Ferguson et al, 1996. p.32)

Alice Mann (2018) from Taylor Wessing Prize
Enda Bowe (2018) from Taylor Wessing Prize
Max Barstow (2018) from Taylor Wessing Prize
‘What is often called the black soul is a white man’s artefact’ (Fanon, 1994. p.11)

Carol Duncan (1995) situates art museums as ‘species of ritual space’ to which  provide a sanctuary for the contemplation of artworks (Duncan, 1995, p.5). Yet, I would argue that this sanctuary is unfairly monopolised by white practice, while this ‘ritual’ is confined to ensuring that the ‘comfort of white people, whether participants or observers, [is] paramount to anyone else’s’ (Burge, 2019). Meanwhile, Duncan goes on to suggest that a multiracial ‘dichotomy has provided a rationale for putting westerns and non western societies on a hierarchical scale’ (Duncan, 1996. p.5).

Next time you visit a group exhibition at a major gallery, count the number of minority practitoners included. It may open a whitewashed eye.

Does this so-called White Gaze really help service the views of PoC? Or, is it merely tokenism or a portrayal of ‘Otherness’ and as still fantasised objects, silencing artistic milestones and capacity to represent oneself.

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Re-visualising Mental Health

‘Seeing’ the Stigma?

By Tove Hellesvik (4th january 2020)
Defining mental health will continue to be dynamic and fluid and will grow and change as context and cultural influences change (Goldie, 2010 p.36)
Daniel Regan (2015) from Fragmentary
‘Seeing these observations of myself from an outsider’s viewpoint prompted me to revisit those times in my life through my own visual archive. I have always turned to photography to express the feelings of a fragmented identity, of my mind splitting apart and into something destructive, something unknown. Working with self-portraits taken on or close to the date of the medical record I have disrupted the image by digitally inserting those texts that are too personal for the public into the photographic image. The result is a corrupted portrait of the broken self, a metaphor for the shattered identity’ (Daniel Regan, 2015)

Defining mental health will continue to be dynamic and fluid and will grow and change as context and cultural influences change. These statements interact directly with the line of thought and questioning here. They provide an opening and understanding to the ideas of what mental health is, to explore the means by which photographers might capture the essence of that in photographs.

Daniel Regan (2015) from Fragmentary
Dmitri Gerasimov (2011) Head in the Package
Edward Honaker (2015) from Book II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thing is immediately apparent in much of this practice. A sense of invisibility, or of retreating from the world; both visually and physically.

Rather than acting as portraits, they are transformed into metaphors. One can easily feel the sense of suffocation, of panic, anxiety and claustrophobia providing our first look at photographs bringing attention to the daily struggles of people with mental illness. Similarly, Michal Macků developed his own artistic technique to best tell stories through his photography. Calling it ‘gellage’ he moves the gelatinous emulsion around on film negatives and alters their appearance in dramatic ways. In these images, the subject seemingly rips himself apart, not unlike the feelings that depression and anxiety can bring.

Michal Macků (1990) from Gellage
However, with panic, anxiety and claustrophobia also comes despair, depression and the feeling of being alone.

The darkness which surrounds Alex Bland’s man in a box in Fragile (2015) shows an abyss that one can be pushed into and feared, or, find a sense of comfort for escape. As Goldie (2010, p.36) points out, we are essentially social beings and mental health can be socially created and socially destroyed. In which case, the push into an abyss can be confirmed as a social behaviour or result thereof. It is important to note, that mental illnesses can easily stem from forced social hardships, behaviours, abuse which we should all be mindful of when interacting with other people. A similarly metaphorical approach is to be found Liz Osban‘s practice, a photographer who went through depression and used her images to show this. She secluded herself into unfamiliarity and deserted spaces that were blue and gloomy. She beautifully shows mental illness in her works which evoke a sense of empathy from an audience, immediately relating back to creating an understanding space for the normalization of mental illness in public.

Gabriel Isak (2015) The Farewell Prelude
‘The dormant bodies create a sense of melancholy serenity, matched by scenery that is fixed, purgatorial. Wind-swept hair, paper planes, birds in flight and floating balloons act as an unsettling precedent for figurative journeys: the animation, it would seem, is projected outwards by the thoughts, fears and hopes of the individual, left unresolved and trapped within their sedentary vignettes’ (Aesthetica, 2015)

Goffman argues that the stigma of mental illness, is usually considered to be an undesirable attribute in terms of social normality. But what is social normality when it comes to mental illness? It is understanding that mental illness is an invisible threat that surrounds us all and to be more accepting when it comes to opening up about the struggles of life. Liz Osbert‘s project Dualities goes a long way in terms of normalising this by exploring people in their homes living their ordinary lives. She shows the different moods associated with daily routines. It provides insight on ways that mental illness can have different effects in different ways. It is not always a continuous moment or feeling, but rather a series of good and bad days. The everyday aspect of ordinary people helps normalize societies views of mental illness.

Liz Osbert (2014-2018) from Dualities
‘It opens the door for more artists to make work about their personal experiences and share it with a wider audience. Since photography is a relatively democratic and accessible medium, now it means that there are greater opportunities for people to explore photography as a medium to process, document, and conceptualise inner states in a therapeutic manner’ (Regan in Campbell, 2019)

Society can be a cruel place for mental illnesses and healthy lifestyles. Sean Mundy‘s Nescience illustrates a dead body amidst hurrying strangers. No one taking a glance or slightly curious with the scene before them. Everyone is so caught up in their own path that they forget to notice when someone is in dire need of help. The stigma and discrimination faced by people with a mental illness is widespread and offers a key public health challenge to stereotypical society views. (Goldie, 2010, p.215). Photography offers us an important gateway to challenge and change these stigmas.

Further Resources
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‘Real’ Beauty or Picture Perfect?

Human Bodies not Human Beings

By Abigail Emm (22nd December 2019)
‘A society where feminine beauty is defined not by the human self on genuine intellectual and sentimental grounds, but by a computer software on the grounds of economic interest, is more dead than alive. It is a society of human bodies, not human beings’ (Naskar, 2017)
Harper’s Bazaar (November, 2013)
Vogue (August, 2019)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we really consider the all too ubiquitous digital retouching / altering of models’ appearances, such as the removal of blemishes and changing of body shapes, we must also think about whether this is merely to aid the sale of an item, or promote a beauty ‘standard’. Or both? In our image world, these types of images are more easy to come across than ever, with a combination of social media, magazines, billboards and advertisements, the exposure to these types of representations of ‘woman’ are nearly inescapable.

Does this create unattainable expectations for bodies / create a market for products and services that could aid an individual to get closer to a so called feminine ‘ideal’. What is the morality of retouching models? How does it effect those who view these images? Is this ‘ideal’ a myth in itself?

A study by Kleemans et al (2016) on the impact of manipulated / perfected Instagram images on young women, concluded that indeed, manipulated images were more favourably viewed than their un-manipulated counterparts. Interestingly, the participants in the study also struggled to detect when the model’s body had been slimmed down. This causes concern, as this lack of awareness might suggest that there is a culture of doctored images as ‘reality’, and that young women may start comparing their body to these fictitious myths.

from Kleemans et al (2016)
‘Exposure to manipulated Instagram photos directly led to lower body image’ (Kleemans et al, 2016)

Bingham (2015) writing in The Telegraph reported that 90% of teenage girls ‘digitally enhance’ photographs of themselves before posting them online (Bingham, 2015). I believe this statistic wouldn’t be as high if this ubiquitous (but all to often hidden) use of retouching was lessened. In allowing young women to see other women with thier true blemishes and larger stomachs and thighs, a healthier body image will be developed, as the pull to change their bodies to resemble the (published) ‘myth’ of the model is made more realistic.

‘Retouching or otherwise altering pictures, to make them appear thinner, for example, has become the “new normal” for young people’
(Bingham, 2015)

This is clearly a dangerous game, particularly if young woman perceive these doctored images as ‘reality’, and as a result start comparing their body to fictitious ones, which can lead to the development of poor self-esteem and eating disorders. As Sarah Marsh (2019) proposes, ‘There has been a dramatic rise in hospital admissions for potentially life-threatening eating disorders in the last year, prompting concern from experts about a growing crisis of young people experiencing anorexia and bulimia’ (Marsh, 2019).

Is this directly related to a ‘myth’ of an ‘ideal’ woman / an ‘ideal’ body?
Dove (2006) Evolution

In 2006, Dove created an advert that depicted a woman preparing for a photoshoot, and subsequently being heavily photoshopped; with her neck lengthened and her eyes enlarged. Whilst this advertisement was praised for highlighting how drastically retouching can change appearances, it was also condemned, due to the company using it as a marketing tool. Dove were also selling ‘Intensive Firming Cream’ at the time (Traister, 2005) which aimed to improve the appearance of cellulite. This created a contradiction in what the company were saying vs thier simultaneous financiaal gain, which, when it came down to it, was still profiting from telling women that they needed to change their bodies.

Companies are slowly starting to alter their models less, which is shown through multiple fashion retailers such as H&M and Missguided halting their use of this practice. This encourages people who are concerned about the ethics of retouching to shop at these stores also. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, more companies need to join these retailers on their body-positive advertisements to make a larger impact

Missguided (2017) Make Your Mark
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Conflicts and Contexts? A Brief Consideration

War as Entertainment. War as change?

By Louis Izard (14th Decemeber 2019)
‘Wars are now also living room sights and sounds’ (Sontag, 2004, p.16)
Roland Emmerich (2013) White House Down
David O. Russell (2003) Three Kings
Oliver Stone (1987) Platoon
‘The shock of photographed atrocities wears off with repeated viewings’ (Sontag, 1977, p.20)

It is clear that certain representations of war and suffering have become all too commonplace, particlularly in the images we see (both now and then) of the difference between coverage of the the Vietnam war (1955- 1975) and Iraq war (2003 – 2011) and they way they have been appropriated for entertainment alone.

Does this make us less or more involved? Does the power of the cinema dilute this? or are we merely living in a simulacra? Where does the photograph fit in?

In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag (2004) looks into the way we view war and suffering. She proposes two central ideas on how war photography / imagery can affect a population. The first is through the media, in which mass distribution of these images of suffering cause public outrage and demand for change. While the other idea looks at the gradual erosion of compassion after repeatedly viewing these images. Essentially, she argues that ‘Such images just make us a little less able to feel, to have our conscience pricked’ (Sontag, 2004, p.94).

Steve McCurry (1991) Camels and Oil Fire, Kuwait
‘I really don’t think that a picture of an atrocity should be a good picture, a beautiful picture, a well-composed picture… It should be casually composed, hastily framed, only competently printed’ (Sischy in Lewis, 2003)

In contrast, the Vietnam war was widely photographed, and the images captured are certainly graphic to our modern eyes. This is due to the display of real and uncensored depictions of suffering from both sides, in so many different contexts.

Consider the photographs included in the music video for Buffalo Springfield (1966) For What It’s Worth below.

Iraq was considerably different. As Kenneth Jareke (2014) points out ‘It was one picture after another of a sunset with camels and a tank…If I don’t take pictures like these, people like my mom will think war is what they see in movies’ (Jarecke in Deghett, 2014).

Consider the film trailer for David O. Russell (2003) Three Kings below.

representations from Vietnam are more likely to depict the violence inflicted on others, whilst images of Iraq are mostly of tanks, guns and US soldiers – a particularly Western / American view of the world perhaps?
Nick Ut / AP (1972) The Terror of War / ‘Napalm Girl’
‘Baudrillard pointed out that the [Iraq] war was conducted as a media spectacle. Rehearsed as a wargame or simulation, it was then enacted for the viewing public as a simulation: as a news event, with its paraphernalia of embedded journalists and missile’s-eye-view video cameras, it was a videogame. The real violence was thoroughly overwritten by electronic narrative: by simulation’ (Poole, 2007)
Rick Merron /AP (1965) Vietnam War
Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Getty Images (2011) Iraq War

 

 

 

 

 

 

So today, in our image world, and the age of the (uncensored) internet – what is the role of Citizen Journalism? As Sontag (2004) notes, ‘The less polished pictures are… [more they are] welcomed as possessing a special kind of authenticity’ (2004, p,24). Here is New York (2004) was one of the largest collaborative projects undertaken to archive the events of 9/11 but also as a celebration of a vibrant city overcoming trauma.

Micheal Shulan (2004) (ed.) from Here is New York
‘What was captured by these photographs — captured with every conceivable kind of apparatus, from Leicas and digital Nikons to homemade pinhole cameras and little plastic gizmos that schoolchildren wear on their wrists — is truly astonishing: not only grief, and shock, and courage, but a beauty that is at once infernal and profoundly uplifting. The pictures speak both to the horror of what happened on 9.11 (and is still happening), and to the way it can and must be countered by us all. They speak not with one voice, but with one purpose, saying that to make sense of this terrifying new phase in our history we must break down the barriers that divide us’ (Shulan, 2004)

 

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Doug Rickard’s ‘Pictures’?

America according to doug Rickard 

By Emily Jane Scott (13th December 2019)
‘(Photography) promises a view of the world, but it gives us a flattened object in which wrecked reminders of the world are logged’ (Elkins, 2011, p.17)
Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture

Doug Rickard produced his series A New American Picture, by utilising the vast visual archive of Google Street View. He iimportantly reminds us to challenge preconceptions about what photography, or ‘photographies’ can be, especially when it comes to digital imagery. Rickard spent an extensive amount of time (2009-2011) exploring stereotypically ‘subordinate’ urban neighbourhoods and rural areas across the USA, from the comfort of his own computer desk. He would then photograph the composition on his computer screen with a digital SLR. Whilst many photographers aim for the most transparent process possible, Rickard includes blurred faces, pixelated distortion and warped perspective which reveal the digital origin of his photographs.

Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
Perhaps Rickard’s process reflects the beginning of an age where human beings are reduced to data, constantly being observed, being monitored?

Yet, paradoxically, Rickard returns humanity to this data by picking out individual stories and adding them to the overarching and ongoing narrative of the American working class. The sense of distance provided by Rickard’s multi-layered technique adds weight to the images- reminding us of how distant we might be from these people and places; both on a geographical, cultural and socio-economic level. And so, Rickard is no more of a visual appropriator than any more ‘traditional’ photographer: he is simply photographing from within a digitally reconstructed environment, as opposed to the world outside. The images included in A New American Picture only became photographs (dare we say ‘art’?) once they were selected, framed, curated, contextualised and published by Rickard.

‘Doug Rickard… is interested in the American content and its haunting, visceral power. “I was interested in photographing America in the same context, with the same poetry and power, that has been done in the past” (in Appleyard, 2011)
Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
Rickard’s work blurs the lines between technology and reality, the image and the world around us. His practice challenges our view of what photography is, and could be in this new, digital age.

Although Rickard is drawing from a collection of images which have already been ‘taken’, His practice, to me, cannot be considered to be a ‘pure’ form of artistic appropriation (despite appropriation being a completely valid way of producing powerful work, which can eloquently distil a cultural mood). The original mages within Google Street View are not, in my opinion, photographs. They were objectively, methodically collected by a vehicle-mounted camera driven down every street; they have no nature of subjective selection.

Rickard is no more a visual hunter-gatherer than any photographer. he is simply photographing from within a digitally reconstructed environment, as opposed to the world outside which is, itself, layered with constructed imagery.

Szarkowski’s (1966) discussion of photography focuses on the idea of selection. A photographer chooses what to include within a frame, and what to leave out. It is impossible for the ‘photographer’ to be truly objective, as a truly objective image is not a photograph, it is only visual data. so where does that leave Rickard, or indeed, his source material? A New American Picture only became subjective photographs once they were selected, framed, curated, contextualised. One might even liken his work to that of a ‘readymade’ sculptor; he turns something completely banal and utilitarian into a different practice merely through recontextualization. But yet paradoxically, despite its source material, we should still frame this practice in the tradition of Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Paul Graham – or even Edward Hopper, as an equally visual / critical and subjective commentary on the state of thier own America.

Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
‘Any doubts as to the artistic – rather than ethical or conceptual – merits of this new way of working were definitively settled by Rickard’s pictures. It was William Eggleston who coined the phrase “photographing democratically” but Rickard has used Google’s indiscriminate omniscience to radically extend this enterprise – technologically, politically and aesthetically’ (Dyer, 2012)

The idea of photography as an accurate representation of the real world is mythological. Whether it be an artist’s concept, a news story, a memory, an advertisement, an illustration or investigation, all photographs feed into a false narrative of some kind. Yet, Rickards photographs are aesthetically pleasing, insightful, emotive and harrowing. The sense of distance provided by his multi-layered technique adds weight to the images, reminding one of how distant we really might be from these people and places, on geographical, cultural and socio-economic levels.

Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
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