Photography as Activism; A Review

Photography as Activism; Images for Social Change

Author: Michelle Bogre


Brett Abbot wrote an essay titled ‘Engaged Observers’ in which he defined documentary photography in loose terms to refer to a variety of practices that can be applied to landscape photography, architectural documentation, portrait photography, street photography, ethnographic studies and more. In ‘Photography as Activism’ by Michelle Bogre, documentary photography is examined by looking at philosophical and historical themes to help define the complexities found within activist photography. She seeks to differentiate between activist and non activist photography and helps the viewer to understand clearly how activist photography can be subtle and persuasive or confrontational. The most successfully defined identification of documentary photography, for me, comes from Beaumont Newhall, he understood that documentary photography is an approach to the photograph, not the photograph itself. This enables the style of documentary photography to be applied to photographic work without identifying as a documentary/activist photographer. Activist photography is considered to be a filter into how the photographer views the world around him/her, whilst also being an act into social change. The idea that it is better to be involved in the process of change despite there sometimes being no result.

Girlgaze; A Review

#Girlgaze: Photography, fourth wave feminism & social media advocacy

Author: Ruxandra Looft


Spoiler Alert: This is my gaze…

Ruxandra Looft writes an essay in regards to the fourth wave feminist movement #girlgaze. She introduces the project first; telling us that the founder Amanda de Cadenet created the girlgaze project in response to her struggle in the photography industry as a woman. De Cadenet was always pushed to remain in front of the camera lens as a model. However, becoming the youngest female photographer to shoot a cover for Vogue and quickly becoming an advocate for female empowerment within the industry, she states ‘this was a glass ceiling. I’ve put a little dent in it but where are all the other girls?’ The project seeks to support woman internationally, who would like to successfully work in an industry that throughout history has typically favoured men behind the lens. Looft explores the advantages of the girlgaze project and the success of the hashtag on social media platforms. The virtual gallery is created through thousands of women captioning their photographic work with the viral hashtag ‘#girlgaze’. The ease of technology, combined with De Cadenet’s celebrity status, allowed the movement to increase with a mass following, sponsorship and mainstream media attention. Ruxandra Looft discusses the disadvantages of the project by stating ‘I argue, however, that we should be wary of any one single person holding such a prominent and dominant role within a community that brands itself as a collective representing disparate and diverse populations.’ Whilst the project celebrates the work of females throughout the world, the photographs that are posted to the Instagram platform are decided by a panel of judges. This idea of hierarchy and one person founding, campaigning and projecting her own individual views onto the narratives of girlgaze colludes with the mission that the movement is fighting for.

Notes to self; A Review

Notes to self; The Visual Culture of Selfies in the Age of Social Media

Author: Derek Conrad Murray

In Notes to self: the visual culture of selfies in the age of social media, Derek Conrad Murray writes about his interest in the ‘selfie’ and how it has impacted on post-feminist culture. Originating in 2002, on an online forum, the term selfie is used to describe the act of taking a photograph of oneself. In this text, Murray explores how ‘selfie’ culture has become compulsive. Selfies are taken in there thousands on a range of devices such as; smart phones, tablets, laptops and digital and film based cameras. This enables an increased level of human interaction through social media, especially when coupled with text based communications. Murray brings our attention to how young woman are being unfairly focused on for engaging in this particular wave of self-portraiture. Although woman are said to make up more than half of the U.S social media population, the act of selfie taking for these woman has received judgement, sarcasm and derision. With some claiming that the self expressive ritual is only for those woman with a poor outlook on their lives and who have a low self-esteem. A point of contradiction; ‘The production of the self takes centre stage, but also a contradictory mix of vulgarity and radicalism; one where a young girl will post a sexually provocative self-portrait and then defiantly follow-up with an impassioned written diatribe about rape and the abuses of women.’ Murray argues however, that instead of titillation, this particular gesture is not meant for the male gaze and should not be ridiculed. Rather, this act is designed to empower and embrace femininity by celebrating history and campaigning to reject unhealthy beauty standards instead of upholding them.

Pandora’s Camera: A Review

Pandora’s Camera; Photography after Photography (The mystery of the missing nipple)
Author: Joan Fontcuberta

Spoiler Alert: Digital surgery is a lie.

The use of image manipulation is discussed by Joan Fontcuberta in ‘The mystery of the missing nipple’. The text’s accessibility allows the reader to follow the excerpt through topics of photoshopping celebrities and the use of digital retouching in photojournalism.
The text begins by exploring the use of photoshop on commercial photographs. Keira Knightley has formerly posed for film promotional posters and company advertising campaigns where her breasts have been digitally altered to appear larger. Fontcuberta discusses how instances such as these are now seen as normal due to our ability to become more focused upon the image than the real thing, it is taken for granted and has become a default post-production process. Continuing on to discuss the use of theses processes through photojournalism; Fontcuberta verifies the complication of the distinction between intent and moral issues by drawing our attention to photographer Brian Walski. In 2003, Walski who was a staff photographer at the Los Angeles Times; had a photograph published of a British soldier on the outskirts of Basra, pointing his gun at a group of Iraqis. Walski later admitted that he had digitally combined two photographs to create more drama within the composition. Having done this, the photograph displayed civilians in the background of the photograph that appeared twice. The editors at the Los Angeles Times saw this as an ethical issue that discredited the authenticity of journalism. However, the readily available techniques of digital manipulation enables editors to also photoshop images without being held immediately accountable. ‘The hypocrisy in all this is that editors rend their garments and wave codes of ethics in the air when these things are done by photographers, but are perfectly happy to permit and justify them when they coincide with the institutional or corporate interests of their papers.’

Rebranding Photography; A Review

Changing places: The rebranding of photography as Contemporary Art.
Author: Alexandra Moschovi

Spoiler Alert: Photography IS Art

Alexandra Moschovi discusses within this excerpt the reasons and ideas behind the exclusion of and prejudice against photography from the rest of the art world and how those views have been refashioned through the emergence of photography as contemporary art. She starts by explaining that major Art galleries such as the Tate Gallery would prefer to collect an array of artists rather than photographs. This is evidenced with a quote taken from a published interview; in which the then director of the Tate Gallery Alan Bowness states rather retrogressively that unless the artists were to use photography as an immediate and natural extension of their usual practices, their photographs wouldn’t be collected.
A further point made, focuses upon the concept of ‘Monopoly Rent’. The justified ‘Monopoly price’ for a specific commodity that is based upon varying criteria. Reproducible, widely available, easily distributed and marketable are some of the qualities that a photograph hold, which are said to erase any given Monopoly advantages. Photographs are seen to be particularly commonplace, easily created due to a wide array of photographic technologies, and the elitist community of artists and galleries couldn’t place the value within photography when copies of the same photograph belong to more than one museum.
Photography has now been rebranded as a form of contemporary art. All lens-based Media is now sectioned under the same thematic as it has become a more affordable and available art form.