I posted a comment in response to the article in defense of the Thai prostitute photograph and my anger at the fact that the authors spoke about the photograph in very demeaning and patronizing ways without even revealing the photograph or properly contextualizing their relationship with the photographer. I wrote a long comment which was later redacted and edited. I shall leave below my comment.
My concern was not with respect to the jury or the awardwinners, but to this article and how they treated that photographer. Also, the fact that it was then removed from foto8 was even more troubling.
I leave below the comment i’d originally left. It includes lots of typing/spelling errors but I wish not to edit it as I would have liked it to have stood: it’s emotional testimony to the rawness of my feelings.
Here is my comment which was removed from the website:
Please excuse my long and emotional comment to follow. I respect the WPP, the judges and the decision of the awards completely. this is also not meant to be a personal argument with photographers, only the comments addressed above in the essay. Please take them for what they mean! Not an attack on the jury but on the language that the others above have used to discuss the Thai Prostitute photograph, a photograph that they haven’t even offered for the reader to see. Please ignore my comment if you wish.
*The camera relieves us of the burden of memory. It surveys us like God, and it surveys for us. Yet no other god has been so cynical, for the camera records in order to forget." —John Berger
We are bruised by spared space and the lift of light, a tongued tunnel of shadow lip-lit, and the hanging of a boot, moth rain and the curl of steel beneath breathed-upon moisture, the arch of the wearied ribs of a roof and the calf of a window’s muscle, the knotted knuckles of twined flower-fingers poured out of themselves from a glass and the uncarefully set dime: the spare and dare of things.
I’ve read the thoughtful and lucid essay about but still, I cannot help but feel an anquish of pain as to the language that’s offered the reader and the rendering of what constitutes the importance of a photograph. Last month, I was a vocal defendent of the WPP choices and winners (some of whom are friends, many of whom are photographers who I admire and respect, as photographers and people, a great deal). However, I stunned by the paragraph, the solipsistic language and the myopic understanding of the photograph regarding the Thai prostitute. More critically, I am aghast that in the discussion of a photograph, and by extention the work of that photographer, that the authors have chosen (rather pornographically) to not show the image. I respect the author’s (or jury’s) decision to decline the photograph for consideration for the award and yet they double back upon themselves by arguing for its “illegitimacy” by using such patronizing nomenclature like “The image is carefully lit and composed with consideration normally reserved for fashion photographs, making it appealing and seductive and for this reason extremely unsettling. If we feel beguiled by it then we are somehow implicated in the act. The jury called for answers. Who was the women in the picture? What was the relationship of the photographer to the girl? Did the photographer have her full consent. Can a vulnerable women operating in the environment of a brothel even give or deny consent? Did money change hands? Did it matter? Ultimately the photograph was eliminated from the competition…”
There is much to write about with regard to the author’s understanding and argumentation against the image, but let me be frank. I am familiar with the photograph in question and I am familiar with the series/essay of which the photograph is a part. This particular photograph is 1 photograph in a series about a Thai prostitute, which was accomplished during a project that was organized and taught by some of the finest living photographers on the planet, including WPP award winners. More importantly, the criticism and implacation made by the above authors that that particular photographer was exploitive, that the entire process and essay was inherently exploitive (read “Can a vulnerable women operating in the environment of a brothel even give or deny consent?..”) is itself a disqualification of the integrity of the language used to deny or reject the story. Moreover, the language of “The image is carefully lit and composed with consideration normally reserved for fashion photographs, making it appealing and seductive” is ENTIRELY about the author’s relationship to the photograph. I personally have an entirely different perpsective, viscerally, intellectually, emotionally and photographically to that specific image. Rather than seductive (light, please remember, is a seduction of our souls, our lives, our broken, disconsolate lives), the image is in fact the opposite: a tunneling of questioning. Are implication in this image is critical, for we as photographers have still not often delt with our own culpability and procurement of others. We dandy about, we scourge and suck upon moments in order to speak upon them, for it is within our speaking that we are convinced (for good and ill) that somehow we can understand. That specific moment is a totem image, for it comes within the framework of the essay, each of which calls into question the life that this prostitute navigates, her relationship to those around her (the hotels, the streets, the friends, the johns, etc) and that their lives are, sadly and unfortunately, “sustained” because of a larger system of exploitation, a part of which photography too has a culpability.
I wouldnt disagree at all that the continued photographing of women, children, men, people, around whom we have as a profession and as a culture we have sustained our careful judgment and concern, is itself not a healing or an excavation but a perpetuation. There is legitimacy and concern that i think the authors touch upon that is critical to our discussion of the use and reasons of our work. However, this standard does not apply simply to the sex trade but to the entirety of this vanquishing life. We suck upon others and their lives and the scented broken moments for we, right or wrong, achingly or deludedly, believe that the story, the singing out against the dark, the untrapping of the trap-door of life, will allow for a richer and deeper and more compassionate understanding of this, our passing life.
That the authors above have chosen to reduce that photograph into a contraption of their own discomfort without fulling vetting the life of the essay behind the story is a discomforting proposition. What constitutes exploitation? This is a singular and critical question that each of us, writer and photographer alike, need to square off with and one of which every photographer i know of integrity struggles with.
For the record, let me say this: I know the work. I know the photographer and that the above authors have called into question the integrity of the work (without even eluciding the entire essay or showing the images) is itself a perfidious tact. How can an organization like WPP ring their wrists about the work of a photographer and use such dismissive language and not even share with the readership the image or the series of images they “eliminated.”
to question an image, to struggle with what constitutes exploitation in photography is a critical and important responsibility for each and everyone of us. To, however, patronizingly, dismiss a photograph/photographer and not even have the integrity to share the image with the readership is itself a purposefully pretentious act, an act of judgment-upon-high. I might have felt more comfortable had the authors simply decided not to discuss out of hand the rejection of that photograph.
The call for introspection and analysis requires, a priori, the attempt to understand one’s own behavior and language. I question the author’s reflections about that image and the choice of words and their orientation in an otherwise balanced essay.
“Unlike any other visual image, a photograph is not a rendering, an imitation or an interpretation of its subject, but actually a trace of it.”—John Berger
08 Mar 2008 17:03