Thursday, October 28, 2010

Photography and/as network

"Digital Images, Photo-Sharing, and Our Shifting Notions of Everyday Aesthetics" by Susan Murray,
"Online Photographic Thinking" by Jason Evans, &
"The Practice of Everyday (Media) Life: From Mass Consumption to Mass Cultural Production?" by Lev Manovich

    In "Digital Images, Photo-Sharing, and Our Shifting Notions of Everyday Aesthetics" by Susan Murray, Murray begins her discussion by talking about the free popular photo-sharing website Flickr, which allows people to view thousands of images by  using groups, tags, keywords, batches, etc. Flickr has more functions than commercial photo sites. With Flickr, not only can you upload images but you can interact with tags, notes, a contact list, and groups with discussion boards. It is a social networking site that can be shared between professionals and amateurs alike. Murray basically argues about how the use of things like this allows more people to engage in “the everyday” and photography is no longer just about family portraits on holidays, but everyday objects that can be made to look interesting even by amateur photographers. This changes our relationships to the everyday.

    To make her point, Murray gives a brief history of amateur photography, which seems to have spread with the invention of Kodak’s roll film camera invention in the late 1880s which was very easy to use. This made photography more than just a “leisure/consumer activity” but a social one that was liked for its artistic qualities. of This birthed two kinds of amateurs: ones that photographed for fun and ones that considered themselves artists but not professionals (which were photographers working in a studio). Through Kodak’s advertising, amateur photography became defined as something to be used for artistic purposes and for capturing special moments of life. Snapshot photography was popularized and the division between the artistic photographers and the ones who took pictures for fun or at events.
    The next shift in popularizing photography was in the 1950s in which people were not just encouraged to take pictures of everyday life postwar, but it also could be used to make money and create an even better life, when photography magazines offered money for specific types of pictures.
    The next biggest shift in photography was the use of the digital camera. The shift was huge - by 2004, 28 billion digital photos had been made - 6 billion more than film photos made in that year. But instead of talking about the social function and aesthetics of digital photography, the issue at hand was of indexicality, as we learned a few weeks ago from the last few readings. The 1990s became “post-photographic” with digital. Some people were unsure of the uses of digital (like Don Slater in 1995 who noticed that private images were not really mainstream yet) and some people believed it would revolutionize photography (like Lev Manovich in 1995).

    Murray goes on to say that photography  has usually been talked about in regards to “history, memory, absence, and loss.” She notes, using quotes from other authors, that photography has been used to preserve a moment in time, and people like Barthes and Bazin say that photography records death or “embalms” something since the moment captured no longer exists, and that is a main aspect of photography. But the use of digital and sites like Flickr add more functions, more to do with transience than loss. The way Flickr functions is with the promise of new photos always being added, adding contacts, constantly returning to photo streams to look for new work (in which the most recent always shows up first). Old work is moved to the end of the stream, making it temporary in a sense and making the Flickr into a sort of diary for the user. However, groups tend to not tell a story but hold photos that all share some main characteristics. It has been noticed that the most popular content on Flickr revolves around this new category, called “ephemera” in this reading and mainly has to do with finding beauty in the everyday, encouraged by digital technology and social networking. The disposability of digital images and there not being a need for film allows a person to photograph whenever they want, and not just save expensive film for “special moments.” The idea that photography “embalms” a moment of death is no more, since there is already a temporary aspect of digital. The “everyday aesthetic is fleeting.” Again, this brings up the argument of indexicality and whether or not digital images can be indexical because of their temporary nature and how they can be manipulated. However, Murray does not care too much about the issue of indexicality and does not think that the “lack of the indexical” is what makes digital photos more temporary. (I’m on her side here.)  Though plenty of amateurs see how easy it is to manipulate images, that does not  necessarily make them question the truth of digital photography constantly.

    Murray also explores the idea of  being able to comment on photos on sites like Flickr. Such a large community of uses, and subcommunities within that make it difficult to distinguish professional from amateur on comments. She says “the hierarchical relationship between hobbyist, serious amateur, and professional does not really exist on these sites.” however, “good” photos are rewarded for composition, color, lighting, etc. The “ideal” flickr photo is influenced by the Flickr blog where work is posted. But photos taken with a camera phone can be just as valuable as those taken with a high-end SLR - for abstractness, simplicity, etc. in fact, many images are well-liked for their “low-end” look. There is space for “perfect and imperfect” images, though it must be taken into account that there is degradation of image quality that comes with digital when images are scaled down.(The fact that images of all kinds on Flickr can be found valuable in some way is similar to the kinds of photos taken with film cameras in the 1950s for events and enjoyment.. not all those images may have been "perfect" by everyone's standards but a blurry picture of grandma at a birthday party could be valued once she is gone..)

    Overall, Murray makes a main point at the end when she says that  digital has not created revolution with a “loss of authenticity” as predicted, but has changed the way people interact with photography.

    “Online Photographic Thinking” by Jason Evans opens up with how he is “under whelmed” by the lack of advantage taken of the internet and its possibilities by photographers. The most striking thing he says in the first few pages, to me, is “If an audience is what you prefer (as opposed to a physical thing like a book or a show as the testimony to your photographic talent), then the Internet is for you.” But he does say that it is not for everyone.

    When it comes to digital vs. analog, Evans sees it as “two sides of the same coin,” which I totally agree with. He goes on to say that photography is full of mechanical revolutions, and digital is just the most recent of those. And to say that no images can possibly work well on the internet would be a lie considering the outrageous number of porn sites on the web the year before this essay was written, according to Evans (and I would imagine by now that the number has gone even higher a few years later).

    Evans then describes a variety of websites with photography projects that  make him enjoy photography online. But he does not mean to say that only the internet should be used for photography or that someone should choose either analog or digital, but they can even be combined.

by Christophe Agou from

by Kevin Beck, from


    Included in this reading are a few letters written in response to him. One writer, Amir Zaki, responded saying that more professionals do not make use of the internet as much because it is not time yet and these kinds of things happen slowly. With the internet, failure and rejection is not really at stake, and in that case, it may not always be taken seriously.  There is not as much structure on the internet as in “real life,” for lack of better terms. Nicholas Grider replies by saying that the internet distribution of photos will not replace the current art market because the art market thrives off of selling the artist; with the internet, viewers see the work but have little connection to the artist. The audience does not know where to look or what name to remember. David Weiner says, “Without much ef-fort I can go from the temporality of TheDailyNice to Evans’s portfolio site and make a connection from there to “this guy also shot Radiohead,” and from there all kinds of context can be added in. The “risk” of this is that Jason Evans no longer really controls the context and I’m free to make all kinds of associations that may or may not be productive to appreciating his work.” I feel like this can also be applied to all the sites Evans mentioned that he liked; in all those sites, the authors of the site and even the photographs have no control over context anymore and anyone can make any kind of assumptions they want, some of which may never have been intended. On, a gallery showcases a man posing with a different girlfriend in a different picture - and there are many pictures. What kind of assumption can we make about this man? Not everyone thinks it's a good idea to have one significant other after another after another...

from, and yes, I did have to make a screencapture of this to get it..

    In The Practice of Everyday (Media) Life: FromMass Consumption to Mass Cultural Production?”, Lev Manovich says that a new universe has been created due to the web and the ability to share things on it. Media has become social media. This is related to the term “web 2.0” and there are 2 relevant points he wants to make about this term and how it relates to social media: 1. There was a slow shift in the 2000s of more people accessing content produced by nonprofessionals instead of professionals and (but that does not mean the web only consisted of amateurs making and accessing content) 2. The internet shifted from being a publishing medium in the 1990s to a communication one in the 2000s. (what constitutes “communication” is discussion through comments, posts, ratings , reviews, photos, videos, etc - all “user generated content.”)

    He then goes on to talk about how much content is created by taking from professional content already existing, for example, anime music videos. (As much as I loved anime in my pre-teen years and even a little while after, I can’t find it in me to post one of these as an example. They made me cringe even when I was 14.) This is somehow related to the fact that the objects people in society use are mass-produced and are often “remixed”/customized/mixed and matched with various parts from different sources, like clothing (very rarely does someone wear every piece of clothing from one designer shown in one outfit in a fashion show). Digital products and web interfaces are often designed with the intention of the user customizing them. Websites like MySpace, Flickr, Livejournal, Facebook, etc. were designed to accommodate the explosion of user-generated content and to let it all be “remixed.”

    Manovich then discusses communication through media and how oftentimes, factual content, opinion, and conversation often can’t be clearly separated,” for example, in blogs: with so much reblogged content and discussion in comments, the original thing posted may eventually be forgotten. The interesting thing about the conversations is that anyone can take part in them at anytime from all over the world and theoretically the conversation could never end. And some kind of media can also be replied to with another - for example, video replies to videos on YouTube.

    The exchange of “tokens” in conversation is important as well - giving “facebook gifts” and things of that nature to signify an interest in someone. Gift-giving and the “exchange of tokens” is an aspect of all cultures and this social media culture is no exception. But the meaning behind the token may not always be clear.

    He then asks the question, “can professional art survive the extreme democratization of media production and access?” but it may be a silly question since modern art has never before been as successful as it is now. All over the world more and more spaces are being used to showcase contemporary art.

     I can completely relate to this whole communication thing via sites like Flickr, but I would have to say that the readings for this week left me with this huge impression of digital social media and digital photos and videos and websites are so temporary that they make you forget the past and everything posted in the past... I would have to disagree in this case. Just this week my friend Jennifer Avello went back on her Flickr and tagged a photo she took of me in fall 2008 for studio I - her first photo taken in a studio setting. I looked at the photo and remembered the whole experience and my learning of lighting in photography since then and related it to myself right now... and with the mention of Livejournal in these readings, I suddenly felt like going back to my journal from when I was 13, then 14 and just entering high school (somehow I remembered the password) and I completely had this super vivid flashback of the past (one I didn't really want to have, but it makes my point)... so I can't say that all this user generated content is all that fleeting and disposable, but I guess not everyone is like me and would choose to go backwards every now and then and look at "old stuff."

     All of these readings made me really feel like some people (like these writers) analyze all this stuff way too seriously. But it did make me really think about the evolution of websites and interaction on the web from when I first started using it till now. I actually use it less now for communication than I did when I first got online, but I think that might not be the case for everyone. I use facebook just like "everybody else," but I can stand to be away from the internet long enough to interact with art and people in the physical.

     Evans feels like the internet should be taken more advantage of by photographers. Professional photographers, that is. But I also agree with the response that it is not time for it yet. I share my fine art photography online in order to get it seen, but somewhere down the line, I would like it to be in books, in galleries, purchased by people, etc. and the "lack of structure" on the internet may be very harmful for people who want their work taken seriously. What if the internet was around when Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa? I do not think he would be all that flattered by all the parodies and manipulations one can find just by typing "Mona Lisa" into Google and pulling up all the images.

     Also, when Evans says "If an audience is what you prefer, then the Internet is for you," I feel like that is exactly what people have in mind when using I once was sort of active on that site and I am pretty sure that literally thousands of images are uploaded every hour, and even tens of thousands per day, if not more. So much of it is work appropriated from other work (like wallpapers using other peoples' photos, other peoples' photoshop brushes, etc.) Among the VAST sea of artists and works of art on the site, not that many gain an audience, but the ones that do certainly get very LARGE ones.. similar to flickr. This site definitely changes the way we interact with photos and art in general because you can really get stuck here looking at everything for HOURS, and no matter how much "crappy" art and pictures you look at, you just can't seem to pull yourself away and you just sit at your computer and don't even talk to anyone during the whole time you're there. Maybe I'm just speaking from my past experience, but I don't think these kinds of sites help advance photography in any way or help people get "real" "good" interaction with art because oftentimes you're not even posting anything, just browsing... and browsing... and browsing. And when people actually do receive comments on their work, those are kind of like "tokens" of encouragement for the artist to keep posting work.

     Manovich asks, “can professional art survive the extreme democratization of media production and access?” and I would have to say that this "extreme democratization of media production and access" does help in some cases. As we learned from Joanna for her artist presentation, Lauren Simonutti was rejected by the Edelman gallery but kept posting on her blog and on her Flickr and eventually she was contacted by that very gallery because her work finally reached their standards and they most likely saw it on the places she was posting it.

 ...And now I'd like to apologize for my very opinionated reflection - sorry!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Into the Digital" by Fred Ritchin, "The Meaning of Photography" by Jorge Ribalta, and "Analog to Digital" by Corey Dzenko


     In "Into the Digital" by Fred Ritchin, Ritchin begins by saying that photography has always reflected the society and people that use it, and it is always changing. Currently, according to him, the photography we have always known is “both ending and enlarging” due to its identical “doppelganger” inside of it - the digital.

    The use of computers (especially in digital media) changes everything, especially when the computer appears to be smarter than the human at times. Digital media is created by machines that simulate and represent reality with parts and components that even are named after reality (like “mouse” and “paint” programs). Though the digital simulates analog, it will be more transformative than anything analog of the past. This is because anything digital is really data that can be made into something else. A digital photograph can show things that may have never even happened. I know we’re all sick of Jeff Wall, but take his flooded grave, for example.

With digital media, it can always be experienced in a new way and will never be the same to two people. It differs from analog in the way that the data in digital can always be changed and abstracted and the copy and the original will be of the same quality; analog “ages and rots” over time. An analog photograph of a photograph will never hold up quality wise, but a digital copy of a digital photo will.

    Ritchin uses several examples to illustrate digital vs. analog. One of my favorites is creation of the world - God made the world in 7 days, and in order, like analog. He did not start on day, rest on day 7, and go back to day 2. But in the digital world, that is exactly how things can work. Pixels can be constantly rearranged; it is no longer an imprint of “visible reality.” Perhaps we could say that this means it is no longer real anymore once it has been reconstituted. According to cultural theorist Paul Virilio (as far back as 1984), “the observer has no immediate contact with observed reality.” But photography has always been changing since its invention. Still, it has always been thought of as a credible source of evidence, but with the radical changes in the digital, it is question whether or not it should retain that status of being credible.

    The digital photograph is compared to the automobile. (Analog photography could be compared to a horse-drawn carriage.) The automobile gave society more control and created a new way of experiencing reality, just like digital photography. With this kind of photography, we experience life through a screen instead of as-is. (Think cell phone cameras and how people are constantly using them.)

     According to Ritchin, the “real” is just an interpretation of what actually exists. We see photographs of staged events, advertisements for products that make the product look better than it really is, and so on, but we rarely see the actual thing for what it is. He illustrates his point with the “most photographed barn in America” from the novel White Noise by Don DeLillo. The barn is so swamped with signs and people that all that is ever seen is pictures of the barn and the people photographing it, but no one ever sees the real thing anymore.

    I would have to say that not even my own work can refute this claim; all I can think of is work that backs up his ideas. Even in photojournalism, we are not really seeing the entire event, but just a segment of what the photographer thought was important. I thought about what Ritchin said about products, and how the products always look better in the photograph, thanks to manipulation. So here is a MAC makeup ad.

We all know no one really looks like this, and that this makeup will never look this good on anyone no matter how good at applying makeup you are, because it looks this perfect thanks to digital enhancing.

     In "The Meaning of Photography," Jorge Ribalta argues William J. Mitchell’s belief that photography is dead and is replaced by the post-photographic era.

     According to this reading, we’ve arrived in this area because of the emergence of digital technology and photographic processes replacing analog cameras, processes, and materials, and the discontinuation of materials used, which has forced some photographers to utilize analog and digital together as a sort of hybrid. (Think scanning film and printing digitally.) Digital photography is also very accessible to amateurs, making it easier for them to make many, many pictures with fewer limitations.

    This new era is described as something that has reappeared disembodied from traditional photography. Ribalta says “photography dies but the photographic is born.“ This makes me think of a phoenix rising from the ashes, because the rise of this new way of making pictures can also be considered a triumph. Though traditional photography may not be used by as many people as before, photographic PRACTICES still continue in a way where images are still captured and made into tangible prints, they are just not the same as they used to be. Digital photography imitates analog. Photoshop imitates the darkroom. He says “after Photoshop, realism is an effect.” Thus, photography has lost realism and without it, becomes “irrelevant” because it has lost its “historical mission” to change society in some way. (Pictures of real things in society and the world are valid for critique because they are documents; pictures that are manipulated may not really be documents anymore.) so we need to find a new way to have this photography be socially relevant, and find a new way of critiquing the “renegotiations of realism.” We have to overcome the “false opposition” between the photographic past (documenting) and the fake. Ribalta calls this “molecular realism.”

    I had a hard time understanding the next part of this reading, seriously, but I think that Ribalta is trying to say that the work of Jo Spence reinvents the documentary and is this molecular realism. She documented her battle with breast cancer. Though the post photographic era and the easy access amateurs have to learning and experimentation may make photography into an “art commodity” for some people, Spence’s work art is not just another object, another art piece lumped into all the rest just because she experimented and learned it on her own.

Ribalta says that the future of photography needs a “radicalized institutional critique.” He sort of lost me towards the end of this reading, but I believe he is trying to say that “post-liberal” public spaces may possibly emerge to host this new kind of photographic practice that will still allow viewers to critique it as an art form and for it to still be socially relevant to us.

    In “Analog to Digital: The Indexical Function of Photographic Images,” Corey Dzenko says that digital photography “accelerates and enlarges” traditional photography in the way that the railway did not introduce transportation into society, but accelerated and enlarged it. Digital photography functions in this way because it allows for more convenient editing than analog, but it raises the question of whether it represents reality as well as analog (supposedly) does.

    The idea of a photograph as index to reality that made a photo into a document of something is the entire process of light bouncing off the subject and hitting the film, the developing process, etc. In the digital process with a digital camera, scanning film, or projection of images onto a screen, nothing is recorded onto film but instead an image is turned into data. Because there is no physical connection between a subject and a digital camera, digital images “function as pure iconicity.” This created some arguments.

    Because digital editing makes it easier to create an image of something that does not even really exist, the reliability of a photograph as a document or evidence of some sort is questioned for some people. Still, digital photographs still function like analog, because in reality, the connection between an analog photo and reality has ALWAYS been questioned, so there really is not much change with the shift to digital, argues Dzenko.

    Dzenko uses Ken Goldberg’s Telegarden to make his point.

This work was an internet project using digital photography, in which people could take care of a physical garden online. It had a robotic arm that was controlled by users on the internet to water, plant seeds, etc. and people could even chat and interact with each other. 10,000 registered users and 100,000 visitors really shows viewers’/users’ belief in the connection between an image and what is real. This shows that just because an image is made digitally does not mean it loses its indexical nature. Dzenko also uses this example to illustrate this: a photograph in a newspaper is not really any more believable than an internet version of the article and photo. To go one step further, many images in newspapers are captured with a digital camera anyways which eliminated one time consuming step of developing film. Basically, digital images still function the same way as analog ones, especially because digital technology imitates analog. Digital images still resemble analog ones, and usually, some part of the subject in a digital image was still in front of the camera when the image was taken.

For example, as in Kerry Skarbakka’s Stairs from the series “The Struggle to Right Oneself,“ Skarbakka takes multiple images of himself falling (using mountain climbing gear for safety) and uses digital manipulation to edit out the gear. This image ended up on (which I LOVE, by the way) in 2008 and viewers were convinced of the image’s truthfulness, and though this image was seen as something digital on a website, it was also seen as something that represented something that happened in reality.

Basically, Dzenko claims that there is nothing to fear about digital photography; it is still photography, just a new way of doing it and the truthfulness of an image will always be questioned, whether analog or not. I completely agree with this because even with film, the photographer still chooses what to photograph, and how, the framing, cropping during image taking and printing, etc.

I’m not sure if I am pushing the limit to which I can defend him here by using my own work, but I am going to try.

I documented my church from summer 2009 to winter 2009, and I captured digitally, but I didn’t stage anything. The people I know were still in front of my lens. I didn’t remove anything out of the frame or direct anyone or pose anyone. I utilized light that was available to me, no matter how crappy it was. I worked with it. Yes, I shot digitally. I processed my images digitally (without manipulation, just exposure and color correction in some cases) and I printed digitally. Does that make my work totally invalid and NOT photography? Why does photography have to be film based? Isn’t a photograph essentially an image made with a camera on paper? My camera is digital, but it still is a camera. It still works like a camera, with a lens, apertures, and shutter speeds. I would have to argue against the supposed “lack of physical connection” between a digital photograph’s subject and image. Does not light still have to hit the sensor of my camera? I don’t own a $3000 digital camera and $8000 lens with amazing quality glass to make work that I love and display it as photography just to have some photography snobs say it isn’t photography because I didn’t use film. I can still make GIANT prints with the images from the camera I have - it can compete with film anytime. Sometimes it’s an issue of practicality - we don’t all have money to buy film and process it and THEN print it. Some of us have the finances to make a one-time investment in a camera and a memory card and be done with it. Furthermore, my eyesight sucks so I can’t look through a tiny as heck viewfinder to make images, I literally need a large live view LCD screen on my camera to even see what I am doing when I take pictures and to examine the sharpness when I’m done taking them. I apologize if this sounds like a vent, but this is my view, and it drives me mad when people say photography is dead because digital cameras are in use. Who cares if it’s accessible to many more people? You still need skill, understanding, knowledge and a vision to make a great image. If I gave my full frame sensor, 21 megapixel Canon 5D Mark II to any of my roommates that have zero understanding of how a camera works and don’t have the eye for photography, they wouldn’t be able to do very much with it. My advanced color teacher last semester thought I shot a portrait with a 4x5 view camera and it was actually done with my first, older digital SLR. And she’s not ignorant - she shoots with a view camera for her own work. So to me, camera type doesn’t matter if you know how to make good pictures.
     I also am not against digital manipulation whatsoever. Though I did documentary photography for a semester, I am primarily a fine artist, and to me, the means to an end are irrelevant as long as the end is what you intended it to be and you like it and are proud of it. I believe the digital age has indeed accelerated photography and I am incredibly thankful for it, because without it, I might not be doing what I love. I struggled a lot with film photography - not being able to even see what the heck I was doing in a color darkroom, wasting countless sheets of paper trying to get a correct exposure and color balance, the unpredictability of what will happen to your film during development, and of course, my eyesight. I'm not knocking film - to each their own. If I shot with film I might not have gotten the opportunities I have - my work is on the door of a church building here in Chicago and if I couldn't keep up with the quick demands of the person who commissioned me to do it, I might have lost out if I used the slower process of film and might have been passed over for someone else who could have got it done faster. If you love film, go for it. But it's not for me and I would prefer to not be looked down upon because of it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

"Isn't this the most civil of claims?" by Ariella Azoulay and "Picturing violence: aesthetics and the anxiety of critique" by Mark Reindhart

(Please excuse the shadow... I don't have a scanner, I have to take photos of my visuals.)

      In Isn't this the most civil of claims? by Ariella Azoulay, the Testimony project by Gillian Laub is discussed. The main photograph described is an Arab woman fully clothed walking into the water at an Israeli beach. Azoulay notes that this project, as well as Laub's previous project of photos of her family, are similar in the way that peoples' identities in these pictures are formed by the "objects and attributes surrounding them," for example, the clothes and kerchief on the woman's head in the beach picture.

     It seems that an important part of Laub's work is how viewers can "get to know" her subjects by reading context clues without making a very simplified judgment: looking at physical identifiers in the picture, and getting information from other pictures in that project. Yet the connection made between viewer and subject will still be "imaginary" according to Azoulay, but even so, Laub's subjects usually address the camera.... except for the Arab woman. In this image the woman’s back is to the camera, and she is holding the hand of a young child. Everyone else in the photo (which are children), whose race/culture/etc is not certain, seems to be looking at the woman pass through. Azoulay says that Laub’s work gets at the difference between people that transcends “class, identity or belonging” (p. 99). In Testimony, Laub often photographs people with a serious difference from many others - people who have come close to death to the point of it being visible on their bodies. In Laub’s work, viewers can see the existential question of “why am I here?” being addressed, which bypasses religious, racial, cultural, etc. borders. Laub also plays off of the similarity of pairs of people she photographs - physical similarities in which it is easy to miss the difference between the people who seem so perfectly matched at first.

Tal and Moran - barely 18 year old girls serving in the military

Guy and Ranit

    Laub also has her subjects write about themselves , which helps to “suspend the political context of the project” and instead, helps viewers to just think about the subject in the photograph. It seeks to draw attention away from the fact that Israeli Jews are occupying Palestinian land. However it is hard to ignore all the political references in every picture. Despite Laub trying to portray suffering on both sides of the conflict, the power struggle is still evident… yet Laub is not trying to show a cycle of “violence and revenge.” At the same time, the suffering portrayed in the pictures is not supposed to be universal either. But viewers still usually end up dividing the subjects into “sides” even if Laub is intending to show just similarities and differences. The subjects themselves even seldom talk about the “sides” in a negative way that is expected of them.

     In Mark Reindhart’s Picturing violence: aesthetics and the anxiety of critique, the very beginning opens with the sad reality that photographs of suffering usually do not move viewers to truly care or take action, despite the frequent aim of photographers to evoke those things. Still, it is not always easy to forget the images once we’ve seen them, especially because they are seen so frequently in media. But reaction is often based on personal conviction, political views, where the viewer is located, the things the viewer uses to identify themselves, etc.  Viewers may see the suffering  as depicted in an exaggerated way, or may be displeased with the graphic nature of a photograph and see it as exploitation. The uneasy emotions are evoked because of the nature of the issues in the photos - they are serious. So when something doesn’t seem right in a picture, the concern s justified. The problem of something not seeming right is when the suffering is aestheticized in a picture. This seems like disrespecting the subject.

    One problem addressed is the reluctance of the media to show certain images despite them being available. Some pictures are kept out of the public eye because of the way they threaten the popularity of war. This was proven with the Abu Ghraib prison pictures from 2004 in which Iraqi prisoners are being tortured  by Americans. These photos even upset people who supported the war. The images as opposed to the stories released first are what caused the anger from people.

Still, whether the pictures were shown or not would probably not have helped the victims. And the media’s decision to withhold some of those pictures was not to preserve dignity of victims but to preserve the moral code of what is acceptable to show in public. The Washington Post, for example, said the excessive nudity was not acceptable.  Any nude pictures had genitals censored, yet faces were not, which did not do much to prevent humiliation. On the flip side, however, for Americans it is a whole other story. Identities are not even supposed to be revealed in any picture of someone suffering (for example, dead soldiers, which is prohibited and any photos, if taken, are not to be shown in media).

As for aestheticization, the issue here is when photography transforms suffering into a striking picture. This was addressed as far back as 1934 by Walter Benjamin in his essay “The Author as Producer.” According to him, even “abject poverty” is transformed into “an object of enjoyment.” Susan Sontag, in her essay “On Photography” notes that anything we may feel for the subject in these kinds of pictures is immediately “neutralized” by the way photography aestheticizes.

     What is aestheticization? Reindhart uses some various philosophers’ ideas to explain it. The “aesthetic attitude” is basically paying attention to something because of the way it looks, sounds, or feels. It is the kind of attention we would pay to a beautiful still life painting. Yet we turn that kind of attention to an image of tragedy. If the camera is turned toward a human in their time of pain in order to produce a picture nice to look at by focusing on the formal aspects of the situation, the responsibility viewers have towards that situation is removed and the photography does a disservice to tragedy and suffering in the world. But we have to ask ourselves which photographs function like this and if it is ALL photography of suffering.

     According to critics, Reindhart says, the aesthetic attitude is a problem with pictures by photographers such as James Nachtwey  and Sebastiao Salgado.  The beauty of their pictures is what makes them fail to arouse a caring attitude about the situations taking place in them. It redirects viewers’ attention to the formal and aesthetic qualities of the picture from the suffering of humans viewers should be paying attention to.

     But Reindhart argues that, despite how beautiful some pictures may be, it is still impossible to ignore the circumstance and suffering in them. Particularly this image of Sudan by James Nachtwey, according to Reindhart.

     Intention must be noted as well; Nachtwey makes it clear he is an anti-war photographer and wants his photos to be calls to action.

     In this reading, Allan Sekula says something that really was striking: “Documentary photography has amassed mountains of evidence. And yet… the genre has simultaneously contributed much to spectacle, to retinal excitation, to voyeurism, to terror, envy and nostalgia, and only a little to the critical understanding of the social world.” Benjamin says that we rely on a caption to make the meaning of the photo, and Sontag says “Moralists who love photographs always hope that words will save the picture.” Personally, I could not think these three things could be more true. Though I become emotional viewing pictures of suffering (I nearly cried and had to say a quick prayer when Googling the Nachtwey image from Sudan), they still tell me few concrete details about the situation there at hand and a caption would indeed have helped me gain a better understanding. Yes, a person is obviously suffering and starving in the Nachtwey photo. But to learn why, I clearly need to do research. The fact that we need text could be the “source of anxiety,” according to Reindhart.

     This brings us to the events of September 11th, 2001. The mass amounts of photographs taken questioned just what the limits were in regards to photographs of tragedy. Mayor Rudy Giuliani had to put a ban on photographing at the site. Thomas Ruff commented on this with some images in his jpeg series, for example, jpeg ny02, which is actually a photograph by someone else. (I could not find jpeg ny01 appropriated by Patrick Sison.)

     Reindhart comments that Ruff is aestheticizing suffering here by literally using it as a subject of a photo that must be looked at for its formal qualities due to the intentional pixelating. Reindhart remarks that a picture of suffering could not “simply be without aesthetic qualities,” which is basically what the Ruff appropriation seems to be saying.

     Now the distinction must be made between beauty and aesthetic. A photograph can have aesthetic qualities and be very striking without being beautiful; many pictures of suffering are not beautiful. And by making a picture of suffering beautiful, it may encourage being passive towards the suffering and we may disregard any initial “moral response” we may have had. Reindhart quotes Arthur Danto as going as far as saying that we may delight in suffering if it is beautified.

This is particularly questionable when thinking about Shimon Attie’s Steinstrasse 22.

     Attie collected photos from the 1920s and 30s of Berlin’s prewar Jewish area, Scheunenviertel, and in 1992 and 1993, projected them at night onto the buildings and addresses his found photos were originally taken, and photographed the process. Though the projections were haunting and uncomfortable, commenting on the population no longer existing there, the images produced of the process are beautiful. But clearly, this work being beautiful does not diminish the tragedy of the genocide of Jewish people nor does it take away their dignity. Furthermore, there is no way of knowing if the people in Attie's found photos actually suffered.

     What can we expect a photograph of suffering to do?  What does it ask of the viewer? According to Sontag, a photograph cannot explain, just acknowledge, and that is not enough for her. But according to philosopher Stanley Cavell, acknowledging is just what  we need to do when viewing those kinds of photos, and to avoid it is refusing to relate to those people. Apparently, “photographs fail morally and politically when what they invite from a responsive viewer is something less than acknowledgment.” According to this reading, Nachtwey’s Sudan image fails in this way because of the way the giver of hydration salts is cut out of the frame; this makes viewers feel like they are helping just by viewing the picture. It may cause us to feel upset, but does not cause us to see our relationship to the subject; it is “a failure of acknowledgment.”

According to Reindhart, Alan Schechter’s It’s the Real Thing - Self Portrait at Buchenwald does a great job of acknowledging suffering in photography. As a Jewish person himself, he digitally places his own picture into a famous photo of the liberation of Buchenwald by Margaret Bourke-White. While he makes a connection between his own heritage and the people in the original photo, himself appearing well-fed while drinking a soda that does not nourish the body (yet it looks “alive” by being in color) next to people who are very malnourished also distances himself from the people, perhaps mirroring the same thing we do when looking at photographs of suffering. We may briefly identify, but soon realize our distance from the situation.

I obviously had a hard time connecting these two readings. Here is where I explain my diagram. According to the Reindhart article, there are 3 ways pictures of suffering can function: in an aesthetic way, a beautiful way, and an acknowledging way. There seems to be a "moral scale" of pictures generating little moral responsibility to great moral responsibility, and the 3 functions all fall on that scale, with acknowledging pictures evoking the greatest moral response. I took the most prominent artists mentioned in this reading and attempted to place them in each of the 3 functions along the moral scale. Some fall in between/into more than one category, and I attempted to place Laub's work as functioning in all 3 ways because that is how I see her work and how I think Reindhart might see it as well. Her photography is interesting and striking, often quite beautiful, and still acknowledges the suffering and causes viewers to do the same, especially because of the text - the writings her subjects did for the pictures.