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Author Topic: A Nice Little Rant: White-Guy Photography  (Read 4091 times)
fike
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« on: November 06, 2013, 01:49:05 PM »
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http://petapixel.com/2013/11/06/white-guy-photography/

This article resonated with me in a lot of ways. I thought others here might find it interesting too. 

I have to say that when I hear of some other twenty-something guy with a van and $20,00 worth of camera gear heading out to do a photo project that I do mumble something to myself about trust-fund kiddies.  Some rich white people (usually men) feel like it is their manifest destiny to interpret the world for others.  The wealthy can be quite patronizing because their economic advantage seems to validate their actions.  I know that the perspective I am advancing  is oversimplified and reductive. I know that it is an unfair generalization.  But "cultural documentary photography" like we are seeing so much has a tiresome point of view...and that is coming from a white guy who takes these photos and who would be called rich by many. 

The critiques that sting the most are the ones that you take personally. I take this one personally, but not in an angry or defensive way.  I take it more as a call to rethink my perspective and to seek a new voice.  What voice that might be, I don't really know. I'll tell you when I find it.
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2013, 02:12:16 PM »
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Is often said that everything that can be photographed, has been photographed already. I thought the same goes for rants, especially in an era of blogs and web posts. But no, apparently there is a drought of subjects to rant about, hence this scrapping the bottom of the barrel for new subjects. White-guy photography?! Seriously!? Give me a break!
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« Reply #2 on: November 06, 2013, 04:02:41 PM »
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Why would you "rethink your perspective?" My belief is that your perspective (or Michael's, or Ansel's, or mine) has value specifically because it is yours - not anyone else's. Yes, fate may have brought us all into the "rich white guy" category, but so what? Our perspectives don't lose value because we are among the fortunate. They are not the only perspectives, not better than other perspectives, but they are ours!
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« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2013, 04:06:21 PM »
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Is often said that everything that can be photographed, has been photographed already. I thought the same goes for rants, especially in an era of blogs and web posts. But no, apparently there is a drought of subjects to rant about, hence this scrapping the bottom of the barrel for new subjects. White-guy photography?! Seriously!? Give me a break!

+1
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Christoph C. Feldhaim
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« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2013, 04:11:40 PM »
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Why would you "rethink your perspective?" My belief is that your perspective (or Michael's, or Ansel's, or mine) has value specifically because it is yours - not anyone else's. Yes, fate may have brought us all into the "rich white guy" category, but so what? Our perspectives don't lose value because we are among the fortunate. They are not the only perspectives, not better than other perspectives, but they are ours!

Totally +1
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Rob C
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« Reply #5 on: November 06, 2013, 04:33:57 PM »
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Rich? By whose standards?

The one obvious thing that I took from the article is something the writer proclaims time after time: he's tired.

I do agree, though, that it's a bit unpleasant to do trawls into the deprived areas of humanity - even the other photographic saint, RA, Richard A to some, didn't hestitate to roam the States shooting misfits and unfortunates - and he was a rich white cat, one using a rich white cat's portable white background system.

As unpleasant, to me, is the snapping of our own apparently homeless, even if they allow one to do it and one tips them. Actually, I despise the whole tipping ethic as being an offensive acceptance and demonstration of belief of the tippee's inferior social position. Folks should get paid what the job is worth. If I am to pay an additional 10 to 15 percent above the price of my meal via a tip, I'd feel far better simply accepting that included percentage as the listed price of the meal, and not have the moral burden on my shoulders of leaving it, the tip, under the plate. Worse those establishments that claim service is included but, magically, that somehow doesn't include tips!

We don't need Macjobs; we need real ones.

Rob C
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« Reply #6 on: November 06, 2013, 06:06:16 PM »
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I know it's a cultural thing entirely, but here tips are for good or exceptional service - something beyond the basic standard expected in the circumstances.  There's no feeling of class in it as a result, it's just a case of rewarding performance.
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Jim Pascoe
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« Reply #7 on: November 07, 2013, 04:06:26 AM »
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I too noticed the 'tired' word as significant.  When you have been doing/aware of photography for a long time there does seem to be an overuse of some styles and themes.  But you just learn to ignore what doesn't interest you.  Photography is a personal thing and is unlimited in it's scope - so just get out and shoot what moves you (not speaking to anyone in particular here).  Just as there are thousands of cliched books and paintings, so too with photography.  Everyone brings their own history and experiences into their photography and the viewer has to realise that the picture in front of them is not the only reality, but the reality as seen, or portrayed,  by the photographer.

We're all telling a story with our pictures - and it pays to remember that when looking at the work of others.

Jim
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Robert Roaldi
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« Reply #8 on: November 07, 2013, 06:41:15 AM »
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Cultural expression does seem to come in waves. Weren't there suddenly a lot of US-based novels a few years back written about or from the point of view of the down-at-heel homeless? I seem to remember reading an article about it, the trend may even have had a name. If I read one more novel of angst about a middle-aged college professor who has an affair with a graduate student that ends badly, well, I'll do what I did with the last one, not finish it. I'd like to read a novel in which the two of them have a roaring bloody good time then part company amicably, all the richer for the experience; I bet that happens too. I'd like to read about about a divorce where both parties are so happy and relieved that it's over that their lives improve a thousand-fold afterward.

There may be so many photo projects out there of the type described in the rant that they risk becoming clichés. I know there's a small cottage industry photographing what's happening to Detroit, and yet I have not tired of looking at them yet. Maybe there are so many people doing this kind of work because there's a lot of that decay around, and maybe it's important to know that. Maybe the practitioners aren't always as original as critics would like. Maybe there's a new way to approach it, or maybe making urban decay hipster art is a tricky thing to do, and a lot of people fail at it. But a lot of people fail at a lot of things, or maybe it's just that you can always find a critic that will call any project a failure. Frankly, I don't know enough about it to make a general judgement. It seems to me that you can only judge each project on its own merits. And no matter how good it is, or how much you like it, there will be someone who feels differently.
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« Reply #9 on: November 07, 2013, 07:29:58 AM »
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Whoa....

The Petapixel piece is....ridiculous.  How about if I write something critical of Latino photographers spending too much time 'self-indulgently' documenting Latino culture? How would that strike you?

“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.”
― Lao Tzu
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fike
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« Reply #10 on: November 07, 2013, 09:08:58 AM »
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Of course, this is nothing new, but it can be done well or done poorly. Here is an example that I think represents doing cultural studies of marginalized people with care and sensitivity.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Let_Us_Now_Praise_Famous_Men

I agree that photographing homeless folks is of dubious value and ethics, particularly when you tip them for the "privilege."  The same thing goes for westerners behaving similarly in aboriginal regions throughout the world. 

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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #11 on: November 07, 2013, 10:02:49 AM »
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... I agree that photographing homeless folks is of dubious value and ethics...

Should we rather pretend they do not exist? Or shall we assume that those homeless guys we saw in person once or twice in our life are somehow an exception, that homelessness is not a huge, widespread stain on our affluent civilization?

If someone wouldn't photograph them, how else would we know? Maybe we should organize weekend safaris or walking tours instead, through parts of our cities we otherwise would not dare (or bother) to visit?

P.S. For those interested in phenomenal photography and youth homelessness, Netflix is airing the third season of The Killing, a dark, dark crime drama, situated in Seattle. One of the best crime series on TV, in my humble opinion. Did I mention the photography is phenomenal? And that it is dark? Both in terms of the story and scene lighting, with incredibly blocked shadows and dark (again) negative space.




« Last Edit: November 07, 2013, 10:09:38 AM by Slobodan Blagojevic » Logged

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Christoph C. Feldhaim
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« Reply #12 on: November 07, 2013, 10:07:26 AM »
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Should we rather pretend they do not exist? Or shall we assume that those homeless guys we saw in person once or twice in our life are somehow an exception, that homelessness is not a huge, widespread stain on our affluent civilization?

If someone wouldn't photograph them, how else would we know? Maybe we should organize weekend safaris or walking tours instead, through parts of our cities we otherwise would not dare (or bother) to visit?

Sometimes there is just a thin line between documentary and poverty porn.
I believe the attitude of the involved persons - photographer and subject -
both play a role.
In my opinion the question is not so much ~if to shoot, but ~how.

Cheers
~Chris
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Rob C
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« Reply #13 on: November 07, 2013, 10:37:02 AM »
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Should we rather pretend they do not exist? Or shall we assume that those homeless guys we saw in person once or twice in our life are somehow an exception, that homelessness is not a huge, widespread stain on our affluent civilization?

If someone wouldn't photograph them, how else would we know? Maybe we should organize weekend safaris or walking tours instead, through parts of our cities we otherwise would not dare (or bother) to visit?

P.S. For those interested in phenomenal photography and youth homelessness, Netflix is airing the third season of The Killing, a dark, dark crime drama, situated in Seattle. One of the best crime series on TV, in my humble opinion. Did I mention the photography is phenomenal? And that it is dark? Both in terms of the story and scene lighting, with incredibly blocked shadows and dark (again) negative space.




But Slobodan, they have always existed and everybody knows that. Just walk in any city and if you take your eyes off the swaying ass in front of you all is revealed in the doorways and under the ramps to the car parks. (Revelations not of the swingin’ ass, but of the poverty and personal decay.)

And neither can I accept a general sense of pity for those guys. A lot seem to have found themselves there because of themselves; we have some similar expat drifters out here, and they all seem to find the dough for beer after beer, which is possibly why they are in the shit in the first place.

Rob C

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fike
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« Reply #14 on: November 07, 2013, 10:37:24 AM »
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Should we rather pretend they do not exist? Or shall we assume that those homeless guys we saw in person once or twice in our life are somehow an exception, that homelessness is not a huge, widespread stain on our affluent civilization?

...

No.  But if you are not critical of your own motivation for photographing people and the affect of the photographs on them, you risk being exploitive of the homeless, or the impoverished, or tribal/aboriginal people.
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Christoph C. Feldhaim
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« Reply #15 on: November 07, 2013, 10:44:10 AM »
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What many people don't know is the rate of severe psychic disorders amongst homeless people.
Chronic schizophrenia (around 7% with 10% lifetime prevalence) , clinical depression (over 30 %),
Alcoholism. Of course they have their own responsibility, but many simply were overstrained with their fates.
There is totally no reason to look down on these people.
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #16 on: November 07, 2013, 11:04:38 AM »
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But Slobodan, they have always existed and everybody knows that...

... I agree with much he says, violently disagree with some he says...

And exactly how is it that "everybody knows" that? That is exactly the part I am disputing. Without seeing it in photographs, TV, movies?

If you are not well travelled, you chances of seeing it in person are slim. And remember, in contrast to the two of us, most Americans have never ventured beyond their county (no, not 'country,' but indeed 'county' and even city). Here, in Chicago, in the areas of the city I (and my daughter) walk around, you will definitely not see it. A few panhandlers, perhaps, but even that is a rare sight, quickly removed by the police. In the areas they congregate, I do not dare to go, especially not with with my daughter. So, how would she know about it? Even in our little suburban middle-class haven, 40 miles outside of Chicago, there was only one guy, whose existence, tolerated for years by the city, served to perpetuate the illusion that it is an isolated case. So, my daughter is growing up seeing exactly one (1) real-life case. And to make things worse, he was the type you like to believe is the norm, rather than exception: he appeared to have chosen that life deliberately, probably due to border-case mental issues.

So, once again, how is she going to know the true story of homelessness in America? Which is far, far, from the self-imposed or deserved as you choose to believe.
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« Reply #17 on: November 07, 2013, 12:43:21 PM »
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If you are not well travelled, you chances of seeing it in person are slim. And remember, in contrast to the two of us, most Americans have never ventured beyond their county (no, not 'country,' but indeed 'county' and even city).

Really? I know that's the conventional wisdom, but I don't think it's very accurate these days. I have 8 employees. Every one of them has spent significant time in other countries. Four of us even lived in other countries for at least several years, including my 3 years in Tokyo. We work for a school district in a medium sized town in New Mexico, not noted for being on the cutting edge of cosmopolitan culture or wealth...

We also have a whole tent camp of homeless people that are sanctioned by our city government. I've interacted with some of them, and they all had obvious mental issues (The homeless people I mean, the city government people appear to have possible mental issues of their own, but maybe not as obvious).

There's a public park across from my house where for the last several months, one of the homeless men has come nearly every day to yell religious pronouncements at the top of his lungs. He dresses as a woman. No way I'm taking photos of that guy.
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #18 on: November 07, 2013, 01:45:32 PM »
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(Rich) white-guy pacifiers: homeless are crazy and unemployed are lazy.
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Rob C
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« Reply #19 on: November 07, 2013, 02:58:44 PM »
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And exactly how is it that "everybody knows" that? That is exactly the part I am disputing. Without seeing it in photographs, TV, movies?

If you are not well travelled, you chances of seeing it in person are slim. And remember, in contrast to the two of us, most Americans have never ventured beyond their county (no, not 'country,' but indeed 'county' and even city). Here, in Chicago, in the areas of the city I (and my daughter) walk around, you will definitely not see it. A few panhandlers, perhaps, but even that is a rare sight, quickly removed by the police. In the areas they congregate, I do not dare to go, especially not with with my daughter. So, how would she know about it? Even in our little suburban middle-class haven, 40 miles outside of Chicago, there was only one guy, whose existence, tolerated for years by the city, served to perpetuate the illusion that it is an isolated case. So, my daughter is growing up seeing exactly one (1) real-life case. And to make things worse, he was the type you like to believe is the norm, rather than exception: he appeared to have chosen that life deliberately, probably due to border-case mental issues.

So, once again, how is she going to know the true story of homelessness in America? Which is far, far, from the self-imposed or deserved as you choose to believe.



Never been to the Windy City, but every city in Britain that I've seen has and always seems to have had its share of bums and drifters. They are in the city centres in droves at night, and it's quite scary coming out of a restaurant and finding them sitting up against the wall, bottle or can in hand, watching you look for your car or a cab. Mallorca is no different, and I'd keep out of Palma at night, too.

I can obviously point to zones where these guys don't exist; there weren't any where I lived, either, but they still existed all over the city centre, five miles away; that's where folks beg and there's human traffic to hit on - there are no pickings in the suburbs, only cops and dodgy pet Alsatians and Labradors... I suppose Chi is just the same, and 40 miles is the distance between Glasgow and Edinburgh, our two big cities! Your local sense of scale is something very else.

;-)

Rob C
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