Power and Responsibilities

Week 5 Position and Practice

Reflection on my readings and the impact on my Project.

“The Photographers Gaze” By Andre Nagel.

We are almost halfway in the semester and I can honestly say that I am only getting a handle of the course now. This weeks content had the greatest impact in my mind. It takes time for one to assimilate, internalize and synthesize information and in this week it all sort of came together. Such a shift changes you as an individual.

My mind shift occurred while reading Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright’s “Practices of looking: An Introduction to visual culture (spectatorship and power)” and specifically the section “The Subject of Modernity” (Sturken,M and Cartwright, L : p94).

It changed the way I will approach my project and me trying to find myself in a post-corporate role. I agree with the authors that to understand our role as image creators we need to understand ourselves, the subjects gazing at the image after I have taken it , the people gazing at me in the image and the context of the “field” as defined in text. I believe that doing so will improve my interpretation and understanding of my own images and and has the potential to take my documentary photography “From success to significance”.

The article impressed me as it uses philosophy and modernity as the point of departure in this introduction to visual studies.

However, what surprised me was the I had an epiphany in the realization that much of what is happening in South Africa ( a Ex-European colony), in the newly “liberated” or freed society may be explained in the following profound portion from the text. “These colonial strategies of modernization were justified by the Eurocentric belief that European practices and beliefs were objectively better (more advanced, more sanitary, more ethical , more modern) than the cultural practices and ways of knowing and living in the world that had been in place prior to colonization.” (Sturken, M and Cartwright, L : p95, p96). I believe that it is that lead to supremacist views, racism in the colonies and finally “segregation” and “Apartheid”.

To be effective I need to see how much of this is these views are in-bedded in my thoughts. I know that in certain ways I still hold some of these believes. And I am still a male….

About a year ago my best friend, who happen to be a coloured, accused me of wanting to enforce my western ethics onto Africans. My simple answer to him was, ethics are ethics… Its important to know that my dad was a liberal that grew up in a integrated society in Observarory Cape Town and we were taught to respect all people irrespective of their race, colour or creed.

A second thing I came to realise when photographing Black brides I found that I could not view them as I do white women even if they followed western traditions. Facing this realization made me change the way I look (Gaze) at these pretty woman and my photographs normalized as they started to gaze back at me differently. This activity within myself improved my photographs and I can now relate fully with the individuals. But I know I am still a work in progress.

The impact of Modernity in South Africa is also a work in progress.

Modernist thinking led to the Dutch to travel around the Cape of Good Hope finding a route to India. The early Dutch and French settlers came from a stock that fought for their convictions and had to flee to the Cape province to avoid persecution. As in the case of the early Americans they fled the imperial aspirations of European monarchy and in the case of the British settlers, poverty and injustice in England. There aspirations driven by modernist ideals and led them to create two independent republics separate from their mother countries.

Jumping ahead to the 20th Centuray, Our founders and political leaders were well educated in western philosophy, rational thinking, science and and modernist view. Dr. D.F Malan the early protagonist for “separate development in the 40’s and 50’s, was trained through the Anglo/European Tersiary education systems at Victoria College (now klnown as Stellenbosch, where he earned a Bsc in Science and mathematics, did an MA in philosophy before getting his Bth and Doctorate in Theology (Koorts,L:P23).

Malan went to the same school and College as Jannie Smuts in his youth. (Koorts,L:P29). While Malan who did some of his education in the Netherlands during the Boer war is today seen as a racist, Jan Smuts who was 4 years older and Studied Law at Cambridge, and who fought against the British during the Boer war and with the Allied armies during world war 1 and II, turned out to be a romanticist, botanist, war hero that became a peacemaker and world leader. This is a story very similar to that of Nelson Mandela whose statue today stand next to that of Jan Smuts in Trafalgar square.

This is part of a discourse happening in my mind and those gazing with me at the new South Africa. This expands my image making process. There is a “now” to be recorded. Midrand, a vibrant and a developing city, nested between the Johannesburg , the center of commerce, mining and industry, and the Tswane (formally known as Pretoria), the center of our democracy as political power, is my home. It hosts the PAN African Parliament and most of the post industrial, technology companies. I am living in a cauldron of modernity that is affecting and shaping our society, religion, culture and economic lives. An ideal opportunity for me to document!

South African Artists tend to interpret what we gaze at South Africa through “Apartheid” and “Colonization” and “White/Non white glasses” but maybe we should expand this gaze and “Modernize” it when we interpret what is happening to us in global terms.

Putting it in the words of a Non-white South African:

“As we stand atop the political ruins of the
Afrikaner nationalist project and, staring at the
horizon, see in rough outline what looks like
the makings of an African nationalist wreck,
we might think there is nothing worth excavating
from these ruins. But, as Lindie Koorts shows in
this fascinating biography of D.F. Malan, there
is much that South Africans, still have to learn
about their collective past. She has produced
a book that shows how one can go about
writing a history that is understanding but not
apologetic, sympathetic but not justificatory.
Malan was not an evil man. He certainly
meant to do right by poor whites and to
achieve Afrikaner unity. But, and this is perhaps
the most important lesson to take from this
captivating book, Malan could not see beyond
his narrow community interests. That, ultimately,
was the greatest irony of Malan’s life.’
– Jacob Dlamini, author of Native Nostalgia
and Categories of Persons (edited with
Megan Jones) (Koorts, L:Afterword)

You may well ask why I reflect on this… It’s the incoherent “separate” and asynchronous way that the positive and negative sides of modernity has hit the different groups of people in South Africa and the collision of thoughts and discourses, that is reflected in my field of gaze and interest me. The introduction opened my eyes to see this in practical terms. And I now have the urge to develop this understanding my Gaze and the Field in my practice as a documentary photographer.

This discourse will form the basis of my oral presentation and as Paul suggested I need to verbalize it concisely and slice the effort into workable realistic chunks of work. Truly a challenge as my mind races towards a accomplishing a huge body of work that will probably take the rest of my lifetime to achieve.

Reflections on Ethical Discussions:

The Fisher Cohort started our discussion around the abuse and misinterpretation of a photograph by UKIP for political purposes. It was as far as I am concerned the best discussion so far.

I could see how the debate raged internally within each one of the participants, specifically Bekkie. I was not new to the debate and added my 10 cents worth which was well received.

My mind started to wander to ethics at a different level. I came to realize and acknowledge my personal responsibility as a photographer for the pictures I take and the story I tell. But this responsibility include the assignments we undertake to do and to whom and for what purpose we deliver their images to. We no longer can use the Nuremberg excuse. Issues that was discussed was copyright and publishing rights, codes of conduct and ethical standards. I also added that as photographers we need to take responsibility for our own business and make sure that the Law reflect our ethics by lobbying an fighting for justice and appropriate use of our works. This include social media and news and media agencies that can only be governed by Law.

The aforementioned discussion and the Alan Kurdi video brings to bear a need for a deeper analysis regarding ethics.

It chalenged me to reflect on other aspects of ethics such as our purpose to take a photograph, i.e the reason for our gaze as a photographer. Was the journalist taking the picture to make money? Or is the purpose fame and honour such as a pulitzer prize, Or commercial, merely wishing to produce shock for some agency to get legal tender to live. What responsibility and ethics was applied by not publishing it in certain countries and alternatively, which of the photographs was actually published? And lastly, the impact it has on us sitting in an environment of calm and peace viewing the horror of what is happening in the world desensitizing us to the truth out there.

For me the shock was the quality of the child’s clothes. He does not represent poor down trodden unwanted members of our society, but present modern, well loved and a well cared child, rejected by our society. I must declare that I too have become desensitized to the horror of famine, war and injustice in Africa. How did we react to the horor of the Ethopian Kids migrating in Africa.

The death of Alan Kurdi had a desired outcome and opened the door hearts of many countries to the Syrian refugees and their plight. Does the end justify the means?

It then brings into play the ethics of censorship. With reference to my in discussion on censorship in the Article in week 4 about of citizen journalism in the Boston marathon attack and the linked impact assessment where the American authorities wanted to switch of the cell service to reduce the impact of the story to the general public.I was also prevented from watching McCullen in South Africa. Was it a regional block or a censored video as it include black on black violence.

Just a general note. The group is mostly in agreement and unfortunately we are not really getting to debate differences of opinion. I see Paul raised some questions that could produce this outcome but unfortunately my time was up. In future I will see that if the opportunity arises that I will add an alternative perspective to the discussion and see if it produces a deeper outcome. In my opinion the group and myself has not broken the politeness barrier yet.

STRURKEN, Marita and CARTWRIGHT, Lisa. ca. 2001. “Practices of looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture.”

KOORTS, Lindie. ca. 2014. “DF Malan and the Rise of Afrikaner Nationalism”

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