Grain destined for export stacked on Madras beaches (February 1877) I've started writing a series of posts on photography on World...
Tuesday, 6 October 2015
What have they got that I ain't got?
Oh dear, those last few posts (this one and this one) did exhaust me and I feel my courage is sapped a little. I think I need an operation, so I will take a break from this stressful topic and return to more basic photographic subjects for a while.
Perhaps somebody else would like to pursue this. Do be my guest.
But thank you for the support expressed by various people in various ways including Katya Anokhina, Joerg Colberg, Annakarin Quinto, Qianna Mestrich, Stan Banos, Jim Mortram, Lina Pallota, Lewis Bush, David Fathi, David Campbell, Delphine Bedel, Susan Bright, Andrea Copetti, Dayanita Singh, Sohrab Hura, Hester Keijser, Wasma Mansour, ICP, Duckrabbit and John Macpherson, @WomeninPhoto, and Alessia Glaviano.
(Actually that's quite a few people in positions of real, not imaginary power, in photography. It's quite an initial statement that says actually, no, your career won't be harmed by talking about this. )
In this piece for Duckrabbit, John Macpherson says that it is essential to at least try to do something. He mentions this initiative written up by John Edwin Mason at the University of Virginia.
He also says that 'If we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem.' I'm not sure that's entirely true, but what I do think is that very often we (that is people involved in photography) are more part of the problem than we imagine.
Photography is global, it works on social media, it operates on basic perceptions. When somebody clicks a like on Facebook, or retweets something, it sends a message - for me, it counts as support (hence the names mentioned above). Pathetic I know, but that is how social media works.
When somebody sees a photographer standing with a museum director or a magazine editor or a gallery owner, people assume they are best buddies. When they see people are friends on Facebook or they retweet each other, it does the same thing. That has an effect on their perceptions of how the world operates, the power structures within it, and the relationships that connect those power structures. It might not be an accurate perception but it is one that is difficult to get away from. I should know better, but it affects me in exactly that way.
And the problem is that people use that to their advantage. They build reputations based around social media. It creates an image that we believe in. We have a responsibility for who we appear with, who we like, who we say is great. And to a certain extent, if we say somebody is great and they're not, we have a responsibility for what they do that isn't great. That was made abundantly clear to me over the summer (hence this series of posts) by somebody who it had also been made abundantly clear to.
The problem is there is a like button on Facebook, it's all geared towards positivity. But what happens when you want to withdraw that like. It's difficult to do. I'm doing it now.
In these posts there are two things going on. One thing revolves around sexually infused communication on a global scale; a kind of sex spamming. A fair few people are urging me to name the person behind this.
My favourite urger is the anonymous one who posts comments on this blog saying 'name names'. Oh, the irony is too much.
But keeping things polite, you must be fucking joking. I'm not going to name names on this blog. There are hundreds of women who have experienced this man's approaches. There are plenty of institutions and festivals and workshops and magazines who have direct experience of what goes on. I will happily evade responsibility on this one.
The problem goes beyond him though. The problem is nobody feels able to talk about it. Photography is not an environment where the problem is recognised or where people want to recognise it. It is not addressed. I'm talking about the problem on this blog, which is some kind of a thing I guess. But am I addressing it? No.
The problem is addressed in other places however. Why is it that when I worked in Further Education, hugely vulnerable and unworldly 16-year-old Somali girls usually felt able to complain when somebody sexually harassed them. They weren't afraid for their education or their exams or repurcussions. But in photography, highly educated, secure women don't feel able to. Maybe it's because in FE there is a structure, there are people who will listen, because there are basic codes of conduct and also because a lot of women work in FE who are committed to addressing this problem.
But in photography?
Nope. Barely a tinkle. So the first thing that needs to be done is to help make that environment more receptive to complaints, more open to listening to people, more open to helping people say that they have had a problem. That's a really difficult thing to do
One person who did do it was Katya Anokhina, a Russian photographer. She put her experiences down on Facebook. You can read them here.
Maybe if more women did the same, it might help overcome the sense of powerlessness.
Or maybe not. I will come back to this, but over and out for a while.
Here's some inspirational music.