Independent Reflection Week 6 – Power and Politics

This week is titled a ‘Sea of Images’ but for me a number of strands are coming together and they all lead to power and politics. Perhaps ideology is there somewhere too. It is where the webinar this week is supposed to end up ‘Week 6 Webinar: Power Corrupts, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely’ so I have arrived at where the course was planning to take me at this point. Photographing something is a power play, is political and can never be neutral. Discuss.

Let’s start with the National Geographic from this weeks reading. ‘Not only has it reflected a quintessentially American view of the world throughout our century; it has also created and refined a persuasive and pervasive photographic aesthetic.’ … ‘it tends to verge on the rhapsodic, depicting foreign lands and cultures as exotic and alluring’…. ‘the photography of the National Geographic produces a pictorial iconography that tends to reduce experience to a simple, common denominator.’ (Grundberg, Aperture)

More from the source article by Grundberg in the New York Times. ‘for which the National Geographic was once slightly notorious: dark-skinned, bare-breasted women, in their customary dress, looking at the camera without any awareness of their impending status as spectacles for adolescent Western eyes.’ …. ‘National Geographic represent the apotheosis of the picturesque. That is, they embody many of the same conventions of color and form as plein-air painting. They aim to please the eye, not to rattle it. As a result of their naturalism and apparent effortlessness, they have the capacity to lull us into believing that they are evidence of an impartial, uninflected sort. Nothing could be further from the truth.’ (Grundberg, 1988).

I buy all of this. I can express it a number of ways.

  • The National Geographic is a celebration of a successful economic and social system.
  • The National Geographic is an imperial magazine feeding the privileged masses’ in America their sense of superiority to the rest of the ‘other’ or primitive world.
  • The National Geographic is politically motivated and all about the preservation of a corrupt system.

Edward Said expresses a version in this way by suggesting an ‘imperial perspective, that way of looking at a distant foreign reality by subordinating it in one’s gaze, constructing its history from one’s own point of view, seeing its people as subjects whose fate can be decided by what distant administrators think is best for them.’  (Said, 2003).

Ideologies gain power by consent or force. Once in power those ideologies will then praise and advertise the positives of their achievements. As Winston Churchill wrote at the height of his power ‘History will be kind to me for I intend to write it. ‘ (Goodreads). Capitalist, communist, socialist and all other ‘ist’s’ have used photography through history to tell their story of events.

The National Geographic is like a family photo album for the American people and people who believe in that construct of organising society. Many of us will not have seen the ‘war photo that no one would publish’ of a charred soldier in a tank in the Iraq war. (The Atlantic, 2014). In a civilised society it is not an image that will get support from the democratic voting population to spend more of their tax money to make more of this happen. Similarly very few people put the bad things that happen in their lives in the family photo album? For younger readers replace photoalbum with Facebook or Instagram.

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/08/the-war-photo-no-one-would-publish/375762/

There is a trap to fall in to when considering the power of photography in magazines such as The National Geographic. It is true that this is a misrepresentation of the real world of ‘other’ who may in fact be suffering as a result of the existence of the American Imperial system. They may also be superior in many ways to the American system. The trap is to then go therefore socialism or communism is a better answer. Socialists and communists do use this line of analysis to offer their cause. They do not do so with the images of the failed efforts on their part to create a fairer and more equitable society that feeds and keeps healthy the maximum number of people on the planet. There are no shortage of skeletons in their cupboard too.

All human beings are in a battle for power. Power over ones own time, power over those around us to protect them, power for our society over ‘their’ society. With human beings being designed the way they are there is little chance of escape from these grabs for power. Photography is a very effective tool to put across your ideological viewpoint and as part of your process to grab power for you.

The Photographic Daily Theme suggests ‘all photography is political. Because all photography takes place in a social and cultural context and is, even if unintended, a form of suggestive manipulation’……’Politics, per definition, is the art or science of influencing people’s beliefs on a civic or individual level. That’s what photography in essence is about: conveying a certain interpretation of a reproduced reality that we take for real.’

The phrase ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ appears to be so true throughout history. As the trend is undeniable it appears to be a human flaw that has, so far, been impossible to eradicate.

The other interesting provocation from this weeks reading is consideration of the iconic image of Che Guevara. ‘ Jesus Christ, Madonna, Princess Diana have all had their picture adapted and inserted under Che’s familiar red star beret, and framed by the same shaggy locks, in a subversive format pioneered by irreverent manipulators of the Mona Lisa.’ (Guardian, 2006).

https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Che_Guevara accessed March 7th, 2020

If anyone has a revolutionary cause then this is an image often used to attach to that cause. However, the icon is quite different from the reality. ‘Most of those who sport the Che Guevara logo today forget that he was the Osama bin Laden of his time. He believed the US to be the principal menace in the world, and he thought it was the duty of revolutionaries to encompass its destruction.’ (Guardian, 2006).

Many who see in Che Guevara the embodiment of idealised revolutionary activity would be horrified if their daughter were to date him or their son were to spend most of his time with him or those like him?

Also fascinating reading this week about the phenomenon of Instagram or as Wolfgang Tillmans refers to it in the latest Aperture Magazine ‘a “terror of images” in our online social networks.’ I could write a lot more on this subject as it is central to why photography is important and the good and bad it can do. As time is limited I need to go and do some work on my project now so sadly must save more on this until another time.

References

Grundberg, A. Crisis of the real; writings on photography since 1974 (Decoding National Geographic). Aperture

Grundberg, A. PHOTOGRAPHY VIEW; A Quintessentially American View of the World. New York Times, September 18, 1988.

Said, E. Blind Imperial Arrogance. Los Angeles Times. JULY 20, 2003.

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/08/the-war-photo-no-one-would-publish/375762/ accessed 7th March, 2020.

The Politics of Photography. https://the.me/the-politics-of-photography/ accessed 7th March, 2020.

Gott, R. Poster Boy. The Guardian 2006. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2006/jun/03/art.art accessed March 7th, 2020.

Tillmans, W. Spirituality is Solidarity. Aperture, 237. Autumn 2019.

Goodreads. Churchill. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/4611-history-will-be-kind-to-me-for-i-intend-to accessed March

Categories: Coursework IC, Informing Contexts, Positions and Practice

LEN

I am a Photographer. As well as taking many photographs I am currently studying for an MA in Photography at Falmouth University. I will direct my attention through the lens of my camera for the next couple of years and see what shows up. I see a photograph as a little bit of magic capturing a moment in time. If successful it surprises and engages your emotions. It tells a story about the wonders of being alive or tells us what we need to change to make it a better world to live in. That is enough for me to get going and then like walking a 1000 miles, which I did across the UK in 2010, or walking 200 miles across Cyprus, which I did in November last year, it is one step at a time.

I was a writer. The title of my unpublished book was ‘You Would Have Done The Same.' It is about a successful guy in love with his wife who lets her die when he discovers her in the process of committing suicide. The title gives a clue as to what I think you would have done. The book is 200 pages long. I found it cathartic to write it but after two years of work and reviewing with agents decided it probably needed another 2000 hours to get the whole book up to the standard of some of the pages. Writing is great but it is a lot of sitting down so I decided to get out and walk, play tennis, play bridge, go birding, watch football at Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and Valencia and anywhere else if I can, meditate, cook and eat. I was a writer who has so far failed to become an author.
I was a young man who loved Mathematics and thoroughly enjoyed getting a BSc at Liverpool University. While there I went often to Anfield and the Philharmonic Hall. I was all set on doing a PhD until I went for interview practice at BP and got seduced by the excitement of an International business career. BP was a great adventure building trading teams and businesses in London, Antwerp, Cleveland Ohio and Singapore. Fabulous people and some great challenges and also very hard work, constant jet lag and lots of fun along the way. I married Karen, my stunning wife, and had the most amazing time with her and our three boys Alex, Tom and Dan. She has multiple sclerosis and we have taken on many challenges together but somehow keep creating a new normal against the horrors thrown our way. She is the love of my life.

After BP I decided to coach senior executives and quickly realized I had a lot to learn
about what makes people tick. I had a fantastic 18 months on the International Programme of the Cleveland Gestalt Institute. A great faculty and a
wonderful group of people on the programme. We studied and worked in Dingle, Singapore, Holland, Cape Town and
Lisbon. This also got me interested in the way we think and make decisions so I studied for an MSc in Psychology atUniversity College London in 2010. The
Masters was in Cognitive and Decision Sciences and I found it fascinating what
we do know but also how much we don’t know about how we think and make
decisions.

I loved coaching and making a difference. I got a number of people to hear themselves, remove some of their own chains and free up the way they thought about the world. I remain fascinated by how people react to and engage with the world. My Masters thesis was why do two people given the same information make different decisions? Put simply, it is because each of us are unique in the way we are constructed.

Since returning from Singapore I found English winters tough so moved to Spain where I now live. The people are lovely, the scenery amazing, food delicious and the sun shines all the time. Almost.

All of these experiences will feed in to my time now as a Photographer. Three motivations I am lucky to have are enthusiasm, curiosity and a continuous interest in learning. All the time I look forward to meeting old friends and making new friends and experiencing this wonderful life together.