Politeness versus Photography

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by bjorke, Mar 18, 2007.

  1. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Here is a little rant by one of the world's best photographers about why politics is a necessary part of photographic discussion (and, imo, why "politeness police" are the natural enemy of anyone who thinks pictures should embody ideas)

    Full interview here.

    For the record, he's talking about Large-Format Landscape photography.

    [​IMG]
    Simon Norfolk, Ascension Island, South Atlantic.
    "The BBC World Service Atlantic Relay Station at English Bay."
     
  2. clogz

    clogz Subscriber

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    Bjorke,
    Thanks for posting this very interesting interview. The Dutch painter Armando coined the phrase "guilty landscapes" for those historical and historic places.

    Hans
     
  3. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    An interesting person in a way, and an interesting photographic approach, but I feel the interview is total BS. Simon Norfolk may in his own mind be a radical artist protesting against man's inhumanity to man, but there is a total disconnect between this presumed intention and his actual images. I think a statement early in the interview is revealing, where he says he was "astounded" to discover that numbers of modern British roads are based on Roman roads. Every 5-year-old child knows this! SN seems to be playing a variation on the age-old "misunderstood artist" shtick, where if you don't get his message, you are fascist/stupid/blind/shallow/wilfully burying your head in the sand.

    Regards,

    David
     
  4. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    David you call him less knowledgeable than a five-year-old but don't in the least address or back up your assertion that there's a disconnect between his statements and pictures. Personally I've long been an admirer of them, at least back to when we was working with Growbag in 2000/2001, and the photos he had in the Photographer's Gallery in London for the 2003 Citibank Prize were also excellent. Here's a jpeg of one:

    [​IMG]
    Simon Norfolk: Balloon Seller, Kabul

    More to the point, do you disagree that the political biases/background of any artist are inescapable? Even if they are the banal politics of conformity?

    kb

    BTW, Norfolk was born not in the UK but in Nigeria, where, iirc, there are no Roman roads.
     
  5. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Fascinating. By coincidence I'm just re-reading Eco's Travels in Hyperreality which addresses similar questions about signs, reality and simulated reality. Thanks very much for drawing our attention to this -- which also illustrates a major shortcoming about a picture being worth 1000 words. These pictures are intriguing anyway, but they need their 1000 words as well for the full effect.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  6. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    My feeling regarding the disconnect is, I think, well illustrated by the picture you post. SN may think this is a passionately political picture, but we need a caption before we can understand anything about it and a considerably longer explanation before we can discern any political standpoint. The information which the picture alone supplies is merely that here was some kind of building which has suffered severe damage (fire? bombardment? termites?) caused by an indeterminate agent (we can't even tell whether human, meteorological or other) and that there is a person standing next to the ruined building (totally unclear whether he has any association with it or not) selling balloons - we are aware of the general incongruity of balloons/celebration on the one hand and ruined building, suffering and loss on the other but we cannot gather any specific information, indeed the distant emotionally cool arm's length dispassionate view camera approach mitigates against this. In short, the viewer of this picture has very liitle impression of what has happened, why it has happened, and why (if at all) he/she should care about this. Consider if you will how this contrasts with the "normal" photojournalistic approach, where the reporter would establish the relationship between the person and wrecked building by visual means - for example, if the balloon seller were much larger in the frame and were holding a fire-damaged object, this would establish his relationship to the building as his former home. If the relationship were of a different kind, this too could be established by visual means.

    Second question: Do I think all artists and art works are political, either by accident or design, by omission or commission? Yes, in the sense that all artworks either invite the viewer to broaden his/her horizons and view things in a new way OR massage and confirm the viewer's preconceptions and prejudices.

    Regards,

    David
     
  7. eddym

    eddym Member

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    I have to agree with David about the posted photo. It tells me nothing about his politics, nor about anything else, including the picture itself, really. It does not make me wonder what his politics are, nor does it make me care whether he even has any.
     
  8. clay

    clay Subscriber

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    You need a rap, you need a pose. Then take some pictures. Voila.
     
  9. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Member

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    i don't care if he has a political statement or not, maybe some artists should learn to keep their opinions to themselves, art should not be an excuse to force an opinion

    these are mediocre images trying to be more than they are, his symbolism is not always self evident, if the works need many words to explain them then they are not entirely successful
     
  10. jstraw

    jstraw Member

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    I think the images are very good. They say what they say (to me). To make them say what he wants them to say, he must bloviate. I ignore bloviation...for the most part. What's in the image? I read news stories and I read captions on news photos. If he wants to be a journalist, he should be one. As I said, these are very good images. They're ironic. I like irony. Photography is a visual medium and the journey from irony to exposition requires specific, non-visual information...either that I know and bring to the image or that comes with...but is external to...the image.

    Some journalists are frustrated artists and apparently, some artists are frustrated journalists.
     
  11. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    Well some guy named Ansel used his photos to push a political agenda. Would he have taken the exact same photos without that agenda?
     
  12. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Thanks for the link... I found more of his work here.

    His work is very strong, quite beautiful, and as others have said full of irony. Particularly, the Afghanistan work and the Iraq work, and some of the Bosnian work. I'm not sure it needs as much explaining as he offers on his website.

    We really are a creative and destructive lot, it seems, and his photographs hit the nail on the head.
     
  13. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Ray,

    Not that many words. And with the words in place, the images are vastly more powerful than without. What is the problem with that?

    Cheers,

    R.
     
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  15. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Nick,

    Sierra Club? Political? Surely not!

    (Some people hate to admit that anything is political unless it says VOTE DEMOCRAT or VOTE REPUBLICAN on it).

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  16. Michael W

    Michael W Member

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    Or to put it another way - are the photos interesting enough that I'm interested in hearing the thoughts behind them. In this case, yes.

    As to whether all art should be political, well I hate the idea of anyone being told what they should be doing. However it does remind me of the work that Christian Boltanski entered in the 1993 Venice biennale. He reproduced all the images from the catalogue of the 1938 biennale. Most of the works were paintings that were decorative, or pure art. Nothing at all referred to the events that were happening in Europe at that time. If the only document we had of that time was the catalogue, then you would probably think that Europe was a peaceful & happy place, not on the brink of war. I suppose the question that leads to is - why wasn't thyere work commenting on the political situation? I don't know, probably a lot to do with the curators of the event as well as what the artists thought they were permitted to do. Still an interesting thing to think about.
     
  17. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    I'd be half inclined to reverse your question: are the thoughts interesting enough that I'm interested in seeing the photos behind them: again yes. This is multimedia.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  18. Michael W

    Michael W Member

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  19. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    I too discovered the same website as Suzanne, in particular this:
    http://www.simonnorfolk.com/pop.html
    Would anyone care to comment on the Normandy series, which to me seem for all the world like average seascapes with not the faintest connotation (ironic, semiotic, oblique, whatever) of the D-day landings and the liberation of Europe? Cannot help but think this is a guy who talks a good picture!
     
  20. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    Plus the camp photos.
     
  21. photomc

    photomc Member

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    Interesting to say the least. I wonder if we do not find the commentary because we have so many images thrown at us every day - an overload from the world wide web? A part of the US generation that grew up with images from the FSA photographers, and the the Life photogs - landmark work IMHO - Gene Smith, Capa, Lange, Evans, etc. From the depression, WWII up to the Vietnam war we were given images each week that (I know I could not wait for the next issue) are now considered some of the best. But with the delay of a week (and not every issue carried a Great!! photograph) we had time to consider the photograph as well as the story.

    Then there are the other 2 Adams, Robert Adams and Shelby Lee Adams both of whom, IMO, have produce work with either direct or indirect political thoughts. Our own Sam Portera has given us some of the more recent work to consider with the Katrina aftermath. Yet I feel that these fine works get less consideration, because it is just another flash on the screen vs something we actually pick up in our own hands. Let's face it, how many sites have a 'photo of the week' which is actually a collection of good work that speeds their way around the world for a couple of days and then becomes lost in cyberspace.
     
  22. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    More political BS. Just what the world needs, another screaming idiot with an agenda. His photos are excellent but I could care less about his political position or "message".
     
  23. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Lee,

    Every act is a political act -- including the denial that a given act is political.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  24. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    My politics is that of the denial of politics.
     
  25. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Simon Norfolk
    The thing that pisses me off about so much modern art is that it carries no politics – it has nothing that it wants to say about the world. Without that passion, that political drive, to a piece of work – and I mean politics here very broadly – how can you ever really evaluate it? At the end of the day, I don't think my politics are very popular right now, but what I would like to hear is what are your politics? Because if you're not going to tell me, how can we ever possibly have an argument about whether you're a clever person, your work is great, your work is crap, your art is profound, your art is trivial...?

    Stalin and Hitler might have approved of Simon Norfolk -- if his politics agreed with theirs. Photographs can have lyrical, historical, sensuous, political, and many other values. For most people, family portraits and snapshots are the most treasured. Evaluating photographs by one limited standard may be appropriate in limited circumstances. These circumstances shouldn't be imposed on the rest of us. Fortunately, we can usually ignore them. Photograpy at its best, like the other arts, can be an end unto itself, not a means to lesser ends.
     
  26. mark

    mark Member

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    Seems to me, he has the view of a horse with blinders on. There is so much more to the world than politics; so much more to artistic expression.

    What Jim Said.
     
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