I was commissioned to write this a few years ago for the Central European House of Photography in Bratislava (and thank you to all the photo...
Friday, 27 February 2015
We Always Lie to Strangers
from Antone Dolezal and Lara Shipley's Spook Light Chronicles Vol 3 ( We Always Lie to Strangers)
Petapixel posted more detailed complaints on the World Press Photo Winning series on Charleroi yesterday. In the Petapixel account, the series is accused of manipulating the audience through rather imaginative captioning and indeed editing. The complaints centre on the role of Big Phil - he's presented by Troilo as a man hiding in a doorway in his home in an area ridden with crime. But then the mayor says he lives in a nice house and is the life and soul of the party. Well, he would say that wouldn't he. Who know's, maybe both accounts are 'true'.
So as well as technical manipulation in WPP - which I think is really quite clear and simple as far as it goes - there is now the question of false representation and truth.
Take me out and throw me in the River Tiber in a sack with a mad dog and a lobster now (When in Rome and all that). Whenever philosophical mumblings about truth in photography come up, you know you are in for a rough ride of circular arguments, contradictions and a special photographic perspective.
I manage to get by in the rest of my life without worrying too much about truth. This morning, I look out of the window and see the sun shining on Solsbury Hill and somehow don't worry that the weather will change and it will be pissing down with rain later. It doesn't stop the direct joyfulness of the experience from being direct and real. When I have my dinner tonight, I enjoy it and don't worry too much about whether it is really a fish - or even why I am eating a meal that has been done before. I still enjoy it. Truth doesn't come into it. It could if I was of a certain bent. But it doesn't.
And actually truth doesn't come into photography either. It's the wrong word to use. Maybe misrepresentation, bias, propaganda, dishonesty, venality, corruption, denial would be better? Or maybe not? Who knows? Not me.
One of the things I've written this week is a book review of the final volume of Dolezal and Shipley's Spook Light Chronicles for Photo Eye (read a review of the first volume here). This is a fictional narrative that uses text, pictures and the archive to examine the phenomenon of the Spook Light in this Missouri/Kansas/Oklahoma corner of the Ozarks.
I really, really like the series. More than that, I enjoy the series and the way each volume builds on the previous one to create a whole. The first volume looks at the phenomenon of the spook light, the second volume looks at the industry built around it, and the final volume goes beyond the actuality of the spook light to look at what it is like to live in the Ozarks.
Nothing is ever pinned down. Things are left open and unexplained and we are never quite sure where we stand. Stories are told and loosely attached to images that have different levels of the theatrical about them. But we are left with a feeling of what it might be to live in the Ozarks and the way of thinking that exists in a place where history, myth, religion and the land merge into one. It's a documentary in other words - one that hits all of Bill Nichols documentary (film) modes mixing happily together but in a manner that does not have the 'this is true?' question at its heart.
The other writing I've done is a feature on Lina Hashim (who is my other favourite of the month and beyond) for the BJP. Her work (see this post on Unlawful Meetings here) examines her identity and how it is affected through the rules that are imposed on her through community interpretations of Islam, She fuses photography, religion and the way in which photography is made, disseminated and read within that same community.
Some of the time she is a Sophie Calle, sometimes she's a Kohei Yoshiyuki, sometimes she's a Wendy Ewald. She flits here and she flits there between the mixed up messages and the confusion of ideas that are part of her everyday life. And she wants to know where these ideas (why wear hijab, why can't you photograph a face, why is unmarried sex forbidden when so many young muslims do it, why do people pretend it doesn't exist, how can a suicide bomber be a martyr, why is there a market for their photographs, where does all this stuff come from!) originate. It's independent thinking that questions why so many people don't have an independent thought process (or pretend they don't).
The methods push the boundaries and involve a large amount of subterfuge, but that is central to the work and the way it examines where images and ideas come from, and why they are so readily accepted. At the same time, Hashim is quite brutal in her quest for what is not 'true' and it probably doesn't make comfortable reading for lots of people - the stupid, the cruel, the apologetic and the racist for example. But that doesn't stop her. Again, at the heart of her projects there is a huge sense of documentary. Not a documentary of 'truth', but a documentary of belief and where it comes from. And embedded in that work are the beliefs of those who believe. Which makes for a really nice symmetry.
Both Dolezal and Shipley's work, nor that of Hashim is 'true', but it does represent in the most considered and honest of ways the worlds of which they are part. And they help me to understand those worlds and know, in a small way, what it is like to be in those worlds.