Grain destined for export stacked on Madras beaches (February 1877) I've started writing a series of posts on photography on World...
Friday, 20 March 2009
How Not to Photograph: The Zig Zag
picture: Colin Pantall - from the series: Er, something or other about the child sex industry in Sapa, will this do?
Following on from the Everything Matters approach of the previous post is The Zig-Zag where Everything Matters but you can be damn sure the photographer isn't going to show you what that everything is. This happens a lot in documentary and editorial photography where the captions tell the story but the pictures don't. It's for followers of the work of people like Smith and Richards and Nachtwey, the hardcore mongers of misery and guts who did always capture exactly what story was about, with maybe a little bit more on the side.
The wannabe photographer of misery and guts wants to let the world know about the violence, the abuse, the drugs, the corruption and the downright injustice of it all, but unfortunately they are not up to the job, they simply don't have the obsession, the pictures or the vision of a Smith, Richards or Nachtwey. And why should they? Not everyone, thank god, is suited to getting those kind of pictures. Or has enough money to do it because the rewards are not going to be too great, if there are any at all. Who wants to see that miserable stuff?
So instead of showing us the story through images, the photographer zigzags us through a series of miscaptioned side issues, that are a touch easier to shoot and indirectly touch on the story they are supposed to be looking at.
On a more domestic level, Nan Goldin got away with showing us pictures of herself looking accusingly at Brian from her bed, but she could do that because she had the other pictures to put those glancing blows into a powerful context. Pictures of people looking mournfully out of windows, street scenes of people looking vaguely menacing or moody landscapes of semi-derelict buildings tell us nothing.
Jens Liebchen did a book about it - read about Stereotypes of War here.