Environmental resistance: Art and change
Reflecting on the Essay By Conhar Scott contained in a chapter within Photographers and Research.
Within the context of discussing research and how it aids photographers, Scott defines himself “as a photographer interested in documenting Industrial Pollution. He describes how he progressively developed a method of working in order to situate his photographs within a cultural context where the photographs contribute to an advocacy process which eventually enabled him to be instrumental in instigating environmental remediation alongside the environmental science community and activist.
I can associate my current attempts in my project with Schott’s first attempt. He illustrates that while his intentions was good, “he did not photograph the mine with an clearly defined ethical stance towards the subject matter” and “conducted no protest”, ” appealed to no-one” and only had ” a flawed objectivity” without a “coherent understanding” (Simmons and Read, 2016 pp 230-234 )
He then described how he had partially gained success as an individual collaborating with a activist organisation but finally discovered his method when he fully immersed himself within the task and identifying collaborated with all the stakeholders involved and structuring his team in a way that he could provide a service that focuses and aligns with their mission and fits within their needs.This obviously require significant research by him and his team to know and understand the context of his work, the audience they need to focus on which informs the the photographs, the way they are presented and the languages it needed to use to present the case for advocacy. The research also informed them on how his team need to structured and how they will engage with the collective of activist with the passion for the cause.
This is a very proactive approach. The essay does not seem that indicate that he was asked to be commissioned but rather sought to proactively engage with the parties and pitched to participate in their en devours.
This essay is a beacon of light in the way I think about how I need to consider engaging with activist groups.
This essay reminds me of the about AFRAPIX, a collective consisting 40 activist full-time and part-time photographers, who committed them self in resistance photography to find ways of getting there photographs seen. All with the main purpose of affecting change.
However, there is an alternative point of view. Photographers like David Goldblatt, Nina Berman, and Stuart Franklin this type of as breaching the ethics of their role as photographers. Their approach is different and no less effective. However, documentary photography is more than photojournalism. Franklin believe It’s the documentary photographer’s “interest in capturing a living record of extraordinary people, places and stories that emerge from creative treatment of actualities (Franklin, 2014, p. 9). Not the actualities.
David took a dispassionate approach and focused on the human factor on all perspectives of the problem. He warned that we should not confuse our role as photographers and politics, (Politics can be replaced with activism). He aimed at informing the whole picture through collaborating with all the parties some times identifying other parties that endured hardships. He made no judgement and allow his viewers to look at themselves in the context of the situation. He collaborated and engaged with Afrapix, the mine owners, the apartheid Government, the Afrikaners, the black communities and while it can be debated whether his work was less influential than those of the Afrapix collective his work is fully acknowledged. For more context read my Introduction to my project proposal (Nagel, 2019)
David’s work remains relevant even after the actual “goal” of the activists were achieved and was honored both within South Africa and Internationally with various prestigious awards. After the end of Apartheid, Afrapix lost it’s purpose and was dissolved. Some of the Afrapix photographers started up an alternative collective called South Light which he joined in 1993. (Sahistory.org.za, 2019).
Both David and Brassaii delivered commissioned work that would have been curated by them and their editors but photographed more broadly. Brassaiis personal project “Paris at Night ” was published in 1933, which was done in collaboration with writer Paul Morand way. In 1934 He tried to publish a second book “The pleasures of Paris” which he photographed during the same time. This book was rejected by his publishers being “too seedy”, which he initially self published. He officially published a improved version of the book, “The Secret Paris ” an apt title, many years later in 1973, when the publishers were more ready to accept it. It is possibly the most honest view of a part of Paris in the 30’s and the fall of the society. It is not his work as journalist that is fondly remembered. In a way he these two monumental works works is a major part of his collection that made them immortalized him as a photographer (Visual-arts-cork.com, 2019) .
So in conclusion, even if one is an activist that involve yourself with the actualities or an independent photographer, influential documentary photography will require vast amounts of research and personal involvement to gain knowledge about the subject or increasing creating a collective that is contextual and knowledgeable collaborators to focus properly on the issues at hand and adding to your team specialists that can assist you. Your success may depend in collaborating with writers, activists, scientists, translators, art directors and publishers. It seems that it is rare that a documentary photographer can merely hang around and meaningfully document and self publish a highly important issue.
Simmons, M. and Read, S. (2016). Photographers and Research. Focal Press.
Sahistory.org.za. (2019). David Goldblatt | South African History Online. [online] Available at: https://www.sahistory.org.za/people/david-goldblatt [Accessed 1 Oct. 2019].
Visual-arts-cork.com. (2019). Brassai: Photographer of Paris Night Life. [online] Available at: http://visual-arts-cork.com/photography/brassai.htm [Accessed 10 Oct. 2019].
Nagel, A. (2019). Introduction to my Project Proposal. [online] André Nagel’s Critical Research Journal. Available at: https://ancrj.blog/2019/08/26/introduction-to-my-project-proposal/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2019].
Franklin, S., 2014. The documentary Impulse. s.l.:PHAIDON