Thursday, June 4, 2009

portraiture and 'controversies'

i thought that Michael Kimmelman's great review of the Controversies exhibit in Paris was especially thought-provoking in light of my last post and issues i've been thinking about lately in portraiture and subjecthood.  an excerpt below, from the New York Times.

"By virtue of its economy and proliferation, photography has been one of the most convenient weapons of the powerless even while it serves the powers that be. During the early 1960s, when French authorities required Algerians to have identity cards, a conscript in the French Army, Marc Garanger, was ordered to shoot their portraits. He photographed some 2,000 Algerian women, many of whom had been, until they uncovered themselves for his camera, veiled throughout their adult lives.

This was a profound violation for these women. Making the pictures turned Mr. Garanger entirely against French rule. He registered his opposition in these official portraits, through the humanity of his subjects, whose anger, which the pictures make perfectly obvious, conveyed both their oppression and resistance.

“For 24 months I never stopped, sure that one day I would be able to testify with these images,” Mr. Garanger recalled two decades later. “All of this I did with more force than the dominant military ideology of the era that surrounded me with hatred and violence.”

With more enduring effect anyway. A particularly beautiful portrait of a woman named Cherid Barkaoun, mournful but proud, large eyes kohl-rimmed, hair braided, absently clutching a scarf to her chest as if to keep hold of some sliver of privacy, reaches across half a century."     --Michael Kimmelman

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

subject echo: the power of images

i recently re-read Regarding the Pain of Others and Regarding the Torture of Others by Susan Sontag.  with the news lately, i have been thinking a lot about the cultural and political discourse around images of torture and war, and the way that our reactions to the images take on a life separate even from the referent (the act of torture) depicted within them.

much has been written about the ways in which war photography often echoes iconic religious imagery.  but i have been wondering how, in turn, the iconography of the new war and torture photography is also influencing fine art photographers today?  

no matter where you come down on the questions surrounding whether these photographs should be released (though i imagine most photographers believe that the images should be released and talked about), they inarguably seep into our individual psyches and ultimately have a profound affect on our cultural consciousness.

one example: today i was looking at photographs from a personal self-portrait project in which none of the images are explicitly politically-motivated, and saw in one of them traces of the Abu Ghraib torture photos.  perhaps i just have this on the brain, or perhaps the connections are there in a larger or sub-conscious sense.  as always, i'd love to hear your thoughts and see other connections.

above top, 2004 image of a prisoner being tortured at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, capture from a news video.

below, "Origin," from the series Bend So Not to Break by Jessica Somers.  more images, and a project statement, available at f-stop magazine.   Somers says that her self-portrait work "explores the struggle and balance between the choices one makes and the uncontrollable circumstances that intervene with these choices."  the images attached to the subject above appear to be old family photographs, but it is interesting to think of how we might interpret the final image differently if the photos depicted within it were diferent.