Position on Representation
I find that one of the more helpful things to do when approaching a new topic is to lay down some definitions and break down a concept into its key components. Photography is a powerful medium as it is often perceived as evidence in certain publication methods portraying an individual or community through photography and representing them to an audience brings up the potential for the abuse of power and the misconstruing of information. To determine whether or not the photography taking place is ethical in nature, it is important not to jump to quick conclusions but analyse all the information provided. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states five key components of Political representation, these components are my current basis on which to consider when coming to a conclusion on where a picture would lie on some scale of morality; who is representing the subject, who is being represented, what is being represented, where is it being represented, and what is being omitted.
Leigh Daynes, a director of advocacy campaigns in the UK, wrote that ‘the public are telling us they are saturated with suffering, that we are charming or disarming them into acts of compassion, and that we are abusing their emotions.’ This statement makes me wonder, what is the best approach to convey suffering and inspire action in the saturated electronic age while avoiding controversy. It may have been said that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but in the era of callout culture having your ideas shut down before you even get your foot in the proverbial door is generally not a good outcome. Instead, it’s a good idea to provide your audience with the sense that agency lies in the subject, to gain their attention and potentially inspire action. In the example of a disaster victim, a story which demands action, it is important not simply to capture their affliction but also the potential of the communities and individuals to shape their future, with your help and support of course. My project is not intended to inspire action on such a large scale but despite this I still find it important to give my subjects control over how they’re presented in project works, I believe it creates a stronger connection between the subject and the audience and gives me more leniency in the variety of subjects I’m willing to photograph without feeling exploitive. I don’t believe this is necessary in all work, but it is a personal preference of mine.
Who is representing a subject is a point of representation I’ve always struggled with. Initially, I was a strong believer that everyone should be granted a platform but over the last few years I’ve seen a lot of vulnerable exploited by companies and organisations because they appear to be trustworthy has made me really reconsider the balance of representation in individual’s lives and contemplate weather or not systems should be in place to enhance the variety of perspectives provided to individuals. Colin Pantall stated that ‘the world is a multi-faceted place and multiple voices need to be heard’ – this quote honestly kind of made the issue of having the ‘white-male’ perspective dominate the photography scene make sense. The issue isn’t that the western perspective is being shared, but that is the dominating and alienating the perspectives of other groups. Instead of maintaining the western strangle on representation the world we should be creating platforms to allow less privileged communities to share their own position and tell their own stories. This benefits everyone involved, as it encourages individuals to do new things, rather than covering what we’ve already seen before. Tackling issues closer to home is likely to provide a more in depth understanding and lead to more impactful projects. In coming to this realisation I’ve made the decision to make my own project more personal, weaving the opinions of others on labels with my own experiences through the years with labels and how my opinion has changed over time due to these experiences.
Too often we forget one of the most important aspects when producing and releasing a creative work, risk. Producing art is unpredictable and difficult, when it is done wrong, weather on purpose or by circumstance, it can make risk seem like the enemy and make the safe option seem much more attractive. But when it is done right, when the balance between respectful representation and creative aspirations is found, it is beautiful, memorable, special, and powerful. A world devoid of such creations is bland and an artistic landscape full of copiers and imitators is not much better, these colourful larger than life experiences become part of who we are as people and it is crucial to continue creating them, regardless of the risk. It is everything, and it all comes from one thing, that one little spark of inspiration.
“Mediocrity is what fearful people will always settle for. Again, think of a pointless painting, one bad dot cannot ruin the painting, you fix it and you move on. However, if people are afraid to take risks with bright and bold colours, then the entire work will be very dull and very bland. If you want to discover, inspired ideas you simply have to accept, that you will have to encounter more than a few that don’t make the grade.” – Michael Eisner