Positions and Practice – Rethinking Photographers

This week the roles, perceptions and ethics surrounding photographers. Beginning with the way movies portrait photographers on screen, often related to consumption, sexual fantasies, voyeurs or serial killers. In cinema, often these dark characters are more exciting to add in a movie than a regular and serious photographer. As a movie, it caused more interest and impact in the audience and, as a result, sells more. Photography is the UK is not seeing very seriously, but more like a “hobby”, someone that enjoys taking picture as a past time. I have the feeling that there is still the attitude “get a real job” towards the business. These representations don’t help, as they are asserting the role as a photographer as unstable and unprofessional. My favourite movie about a photographer is the documentary “Finding Vivian Mayer”. It describes how efficient and consistent she was when producing her work, while combining with her job as a career. This is a photographer that is serious about her work and inspire with her talent and effort towards her photography.

On the other hand, the way the cameras are advertised always have an impact on how the general public perceives photographers. They are often described as miracle machines that produces the best images, completely denying the operator. I still sometimes get the comment praising the camera for the good picture, my role as a photographer is completely inexistent. The smartphones are more intelligent than ever, the cameras on the are improving in every edition, so therefore we are surrounded daily by mundane images with no content, as Barthes said, “A message without a code”.  The Iphone 6 campaign “Shot on Iphone” tries to generalise the use of images, in a similar way that was done with the “Family man” exhibition.


Hipstamatic App

As a consequence of this, there has been a collective movement to return to the past, with the use of Apps such as Instagram, Hipstamatic, that use filters imitating analogue cameras, together with retro movements of Lomography and the subculture of film: #filmisnotdead. At this point I have and haven’t embraced technology completely. I use both, and I transform images into analogue depending on the project. This nostalgia for the past and the hauntological effect, as described by Derrida as a utopian past still lurking in the present.

Related to the smartphone technology, as nowadays most of us own one smartphone, the User Generated Content appeared as a substitute to traditional photojournalism. For the media is has its financially vantages, are they are all sent for free, while a professional photojournalist would charge for the photos. The content and quality differ, as they are often out of focus and detail, almost impressionistic, and there is a question of reliability, and it would be dangerous if they would be the only source available in photojournalism. There is a great quantity of fake news in the media, and they are all UGC.

Al Musayyib mass grave

Al Musayyib, 27 May 2003

A group of photographers working in Iraq decided to reunite their work, as they felt they were under represented in the western media. So, they began working on “Photojournalists On War: The Untold Stories From Iraq in 2008” in order to get these pictures out to the public. The problem here is also political, as they describe the government that is funding the war doesn’t want to see the consequences of war and, as a result, the media is not reflecting what is happening. As described by Michael Kamber “They look like sports pictures to me. It looks like a quarterback limping off the field, being helped by his buddy,” he says. “It’s not what these wars look like.”


Damon Winter – “A Grunt’s life”

As a result of the UGC, photojournalists are starting to change their work towards a more conceptual fine-art approach. Such as Damon Winter and his project “A Grunt’s life”, portraying the soldier’s day-to-day life in Afghanistan. He caused controversy not by choosing an iPhone as the tool for this project, but by using the App Hipstamatic to stylise the photos. As a result, he could compose in square format and deliver all the images in the same style. He claims that “No content was added, obscured or altered”, following the photojournalism ethics, and saying that it would be naive to think that aesthetics is not important in photography: as he is a storyteller and not a machine. Some would say the phone and app would be doing his job, but he claims that every image contains the fundamentals: “composition, information, moment, emotion and connection”. And, to finish, reinforcing that there is no such thing as a magic tool to create the images. The Iphone was actually chosen for its discretion and it suited the environment he was working in.




Reading of “Eugenics Without Borders”


Reading this piece of writing was very informative to me, and it gave me ideas towards my project and the way I will develop it. It was very informative the historical use of Photography.

The notions of Physiognomy, as a way to access physical personalities by their appearance, Phrenology, as a theory to determine the character and personality by analysing the shape of the head, and Eugenics, as a movement aimed at improving the genetic composition of the human race. As at the time, with the influence of Darwin’s theory of evolution, Social Darwinism was a popular theory in which it is rule by the “Survival of the fittest”.  In WW1, many scientists supported the theory, but in WW2 it became heavily criticised as Nazi’s used it to support the extermination of entire races.

Photo-syntheses was used by Galton (1822-1911) was an eugenicist a mean to document and create visual archetypes and it would equate political prisioners to antisocial psychopaths and it would justify ethnical cleansing.  The photos were used to analyse faces, and the more ape like, would be linked to our ancestors. Balut wanted to arrive at a sociological truth and use photo-syntheses as a statistical statement, an aberration that does not “exist in real world”.

Many photographers parodied the methods in photography projects, such as:

Krzysztof Pruszkowski

Parodied their methods to counteract their aims, he called it “monopose”: multiple exposures opposed to a single one.

Nancy Burson

Joining art and technology, such as in a project recording aging “The aging machine”.

Gerhard Lang, Thomas Ruff

Bruno Presani

Produced a mix of photos of sculptures and portraits, overlapping them. Evoking the mestico, mixture of races that are present in the Brazilian culture. The new, and the old, and the migration to societies.

Adriana Calatayud, Juan Urrios

All these photographers used to record physical appearances in different ways, using graphic design, technology etc.

As I am willing to work with portraits as well, this reading gave me ideas on how to make my images more expressive, and how to transform them to represent more of the cultural, societal moment and what it represents to me and my art. I find it really interesting the combination of faces by Urrios, make I can create a case study on how I relate to social events and how to I feel about them, what they represent to me. This way, I will have to create a way to use the appropriate signs to transmit it to the viewer.

As I am in between two cultures, I have to consider how this would fall on each culture and decide on a theme. As it was mentioned on the article, the painting of Gertruid Stein, painted after the sitting, from an old memory, more related to the unconscious, along with Rembrandt’s paintings that were refused by the sitters, as they could not recognise themselves.

The study of faces by Renato Roque was also very interesting, as he used technology to produce the images, the project named Matrix Mirrors studied the way our brains memorizes faces and what distinguish us from others, and what unite us.

(Positions and Practice)









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