Building on your research in the first exercise, make a list of groups that you feel are ‘ kept from view’. This goes further than identifying those who may ‘othered’, it requires you to look for those who are ignored.
Suffering as a result of their circumstances:
Children at home in poverty
Women in societies which impose restrictions on their movement and dress
People managing prescription medication dependency
Modern slavery victims
Domestic abuse victims
Those in poor mental health
These ‘groups’ may not exhibit any outward sign of their predicament; to the casual observer they may appear quite unremarkable. But it is perhaps that very appearance of normality which contributes to the ease with which they are ‘kept from view’.
This is literally the case for people held in prison, who cannot easily appeal to or expect recognition from the wider public, relying instead on the system itself (and a limited scrutiny from independent prison visitors) to ensure their well-being. Those inmates classed as vulnerable by the prison or self declared (under rule 43) recede further into invisibility.
These groups are easier to ignore because they are uncomfortable to contemplate. Some may be thought to be deserving of their fate, making it even easier to push them from the mind.
One reason why they remain hidden is the difficulty anyone, such as a photographer, would experience in trying to gain access to them. Their continued concealment is in the interest of those who would hide them, making them unlikely to agree to any exposure.
But I don’t think that’s the only, or even the main reason for their concealment. After all, photographers have managed to penetrate far more secure and forbidden areas to take photographs. Where do most photographs appear? It seems to be on social media if the stats are to be believed and I have no reason not to. There’s precious little investigative photography on social though; mainly we expect to find this in the news media. So why are groups such as those above mostly ‘hidden’ in news exposure terms? I think this is because mainstream news – the television networks and print – is a manufactured product. It would be easy to think of news as a public service, an altruistic effort by well meaning individuals to the benefit of the populace.
But most of the information flow comes from intensely commercial businesses which try, with varying success, to temper the need for revenue with journalistic values. Where the news comes from can profoundly influence what the news is. If our views, our ‘selves’ are shaped by photographs then the news organisations enjoy considerable power to influence our personal ideologies.
The extent of this influence might be difficult to measure but I am reminded of an old psychological experiment here. A number of volunteers were shown a film (yes, that old) of two cars involved in an accident. They were asked to estimate the speed of the car which caused it at the point of collision. Divided into several groups after seeing the film, each volunteer was asked the group’s question:
Group 1: How fast was the red car moving when it bumped into the blue car?
Group 2: How fast was the red car moving when it hit the blue car?
Group 3: How fast etc etc when it smashed into…
The more powerful the descriptor, the higher the estimated speed. Although this was a simplistic, non-controlled experiment the outcome seems to offer an insight into how we perceive events – we can be quantifiably influenced by the way that photographs are presented to us.
With newspapers, it seems that people tend to read the publication which mostly reinforces their prejudices. I am a hand-wringing pinko liberal so I favour the Guardian. This, to the Express reader, shows that I am deeply unpatriotic and disloyal. But I wonder about the extent to which our respective ideological viewpoints have been moulded by media and how much we have personally filtered out the stuff which doesn’t match our world view.
This bit from the course book baffles me:
Victor Burgin aimed to demonstrate a commonality between where the camera
was pointed and a view of what the camera was pointed at…
Is it about the difference between where and what I wonder? I can see there would be a clear connection between where the camera is pointed, its field of view, and what it is pointed at. What it is pointed at is where it is pointed. Sometimes in order to understand something I’m struggling with I try to invert it – can I think of a circumstance where what the camera is pointed at is NOT where it is pointed? Say the camera is pointed at a car, but the car is not what is seen?
I must be taking this too literally. I do tend to do that. Perhaps the key is in the word view? As if the decision to point the camera at a certain spot within a scene is connected to the resultant view (as in the viewers perception)? I don’t know what part of Burgin’s work examines this because the course book just references Bull.
OK I’ve found it now I think, or at least something in which he addresses the matter in detail in “Art, Common Sense and Photography”
He’s quite assertive right from the off:
Manipulation is of the essence of photography; photography would not exist without it.
In photography certain physical materials are technically handled so that meanings are produced
In this way, Burgin maintains, every photograph is the result of a political act, even the picture produced purely for ‘aesthetic contemplation’ because the maker has deliberately excluded all other content. He goes on to say that our personal ‘world view’ is itself political because we consider it ‘normal’ and common-sense. Which leads me neatly on to Exercise 3…