Tuesday, March 4, 2008

portraits that tell a story

last week i got totally sucked in reading a New York Times article about Margaret B. Jones, the author of the brand new memoir Love and Consequences. the House & Home section article summarized Margaret Jones's story of growing up as a mixed white and Native American foster child in a large African American family in South Central Los Angeles—how she inevitably ended up in a gang dealing drugs, watching her brothers get shot, only to lift herself up into state college and a lovely 4 bedroom home in an up-and-coming ghetto of Eugene, OR.

i thought about posting one of the photographs that accompanied the article...i think because i had stared at the slideshow so intently and had thought a lot about the different lives and childhoods Margaret Jones and her daughter Rya (who Jones described as "the first white baby I ever saw") had experienced. Rya looked so blonde and girly, wearing skirts and loving fairytale canopies while breeding pitbulls and loving the gang members in her extended family... the contradictions grabbed me, and i felt that they were illustrated in the family photo. ultimately, i reminded myself that Subjectify is more of an artsy blog than a showcase for editorial photojournalism. plus, hadn't i already posted a critique of the construction of identity in the NYT's house/home/real estate portraiture?

today, i read the follow-up article in the Times breaking the story that the entire memoir was made up, and that Jones's real name is Margaret Seltzer who in their words "is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles...with her biological family." Seltzer had completely duped Scribner, Riverhead, and the New York Times. how was she caught? her older sister saw the above photograph accompanying Thursday's newspaper article and called the publisher to break the news. by contrast, here's the author photo that accompanied today's exposé:

reading the original article i did not doubt Jones's story at all; i was enthralled by it. but i definitely stared at those pictures in the slideshow for a long time, trying to make sense of it.

(update: Conscientious gave his take on editorial photography vs. portraiture—pointing out that editorial work troubles the photographer-subject-viewer triangle by adding in the expectations of the entity commissioning the photograph to illustrate the story they want to tell. it's a great point; thanks Joerg.)

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