Saturday, November 8, 2008

Note On A Saturday

Of course it's exploitative. Although many believe it to be true, exploiting something, or someone, isn't always a bad thing.- I. N. Galbraith, 11/8/08

Got this interesting note, above, in response to Q + A With Myself Again and it really made me think. No conclusions, but I liked where it was going. Photographers always seem to be ready to defend themselves against the accusation of exploitation. What if it isn't really such a bad thing? What if an artist embraces it?

You'll be graded on participation. Any thoughts? Who is embracing it these days? Roger Ballen? Shelby Lee Adams? Les Krims? Witkin? What does it really mean to exploit something...and is it always bad?

7 comments:

Caleb Cole said...

I find it interesting that exploit in verb form has a dual meaning, both positive and negative (exploit your talents vs. exploiting cheap labor)--- then as a noun means "a notable or heroic act." I'm not really sure where that comes into play, but in the most reductive sense to exploit *is* to make productive use of something, and since I don't really believe in the existence of an objectively good or bad outcome, whether or not a work of art is negatively exploitative is something that is always up for debate and can likely be seen either way, depending on the viewer.

tony fouhse said...

Yeah, I get that whole "exploitation" thing a lot with the work I'm doing with crack addicts.

The other day I was shooting some addicts on the street and a businessman (who, I guess, knew my work) came over and said, in a totally hostile way-"What you're doing is obscene, it's not art. You're exploiting these people". There were three addicts standing beside me, people I'd shot 5 or 6 times over the past year; so I asked the businessman- "Why don't you ask these people if they think they're being exploited?"

The dude sputtered and walked off. I giggled. I kinda like pissing people off.

Anyway, if you ask me, exploitation in photography (or any form of expression, really) is a given.

I'm a totally non-censorship kind of guy. I believe that photographers take photographs. Let the critics and academics and public make of it what they will. If you ask me the most important thing is to do something. Of course, as soon as you do something you'll be criticized.

As Homer Simpson sez- "Trying is the first step to failure".

Mel Trittin said...

Having just had the opportunity to spend some very pleasurable time with Jen Davis (Nan Goldin, Eleanor Carucci and Nicholas Nixon could certainly be further examples) two questions could be asked. Is she exploiting herself? Is she exploiting the viewer? Ok, third question. Is all visual art (or representation in any form, for that matter) exploitative?

max s. gerber said...

in terms of exploitation i think it's vitally important to look at what else is going on with the pictures. that is, there are photos that are perhaps purely exploitative and maybe voyeuristic, and then there are those that might be considered exploitative but are also _empathetic_ of the subject.

like tony said, we're all professional photographers, we make our living with pictures, and are always conscious not only of the commercial aspect of such a thing but also of how each picture we make fits into our overall body of work and how it shapes the direction of our careers and our lives. so by that argument we're always - in some way - exploiting subjects for our own purposes.

however i feel there's a difference between doing this with the sole intent and idea of using that subject (or the resulting picture) simply as a way to further ourselves, and the idea of trying to be honest and compassionate and empathetic with the subject at the same time. i don't think that these two things have to be mutually exclusive.

we deal with people. we need other people's cooperation to make pictures. i think it's fair to assume we have a responsibility to these people. it's not a responsibility to do things that flatter them, but it's a responsibility to be honest and upfront with them, and do the best we can to represent them with empathy and humanity.

colin pantall said...

Exploitative, no, exhibitionis in some way - obviously. It's picture based work and you're showing it. But that doesn't make it exploitative. Your work is a visual portrayal of a struggle for understanding through representation of being. And as a social and communicative creature, you want to share that with people. I remember somebody saying that your work is a form of advocacy, and though that might be gilding the lily a little, in many ways it is right. You want to share your experiences with the world, show how your son lives, how you live with him, hopefully give a glimmer of understanding both to yourself and others.

Is that exploitative - no. Is it exhibitionist, certainly but only in the sense that you are a social and sharing kind of person. The alternative is to stay isolated and remote, hide yourself from the outside world, your son, your family, and ultimately yourself. Which would be a really bad idea.

It's photography - it's not that important. Why do we have such self-importance (see the magnum blog on photojournalism) that we see our work as either salvation-making or hellfire-damning. Why do we do that for photography and not poetry for example?

Sirfenn said...

I had a similar experience to Tony while working on a personal project on Golf Caddies. I was working with a large publisher who wanted to take the project in a "kitschy" direction which I felt was a detour from my intent. My goal was to honor and capture a long-standing, admirable tradition, as opposed to "exploit" or demean these hard working "laborers" who were earning a living.

Maybe there are some answers in the discussion of Marketing/Sales vs. expression, and certainly the intent of the people/vehicle delivering the imagery.

Timothy Archibald said...

Thanks for writing. You all get A+!
In writing this, I was not really thinking directly about my work, but about work in general and the concept of exploitation.

Tony, I like your project on Crack addicts, and it does seem these people appreciate you. I'd say most people would/could accuse you of exploitation...mostly because the subjects are very different from you. That often leads to accusations of exploitation...like with Shelby Lee Adams, Ballen, Etc. In my case, hey...you are exploiting your own kid!?!? Is it worse or better? I don't really have an answer. But I do think I'm exploiting the relationship: taking the struggles of the relationship with my son and making it public. Why not keep it private? Oh...I guess because the sharing is when it starts to make sense and seem like its getting somewhere.