I've been a bit slow with the blog to say the least, but more because I've been concerned with lots of evening teaching, talks, classes and so on - including talks with the RPS on the history and theory of photography. I'll be starting another one in September with the RPS, so if you are interested do watch out for updates.
One of these talks was on collaboration by Anthony Luvera. Collaboration is big in Anthony's practice, as is the idea of participation. What I really like about him is how everything posed as more of a question, as something to consider, as a thought - rather as some kind of commandment written in stone. (Here's to the coming global backlash against the tyranny of Ibrahimical thinking. I'm keeping my fingers crossed)
That matters for people like me who like some distinctly uncollaborative work that relies on the grand spectacle of photography. I love the grand spectacle of photography, the visual statement that ties in to even grander biblical and archetypal narratives in which the individual is subsumed into some photographic Cecil B. de Mille epic of strain, effort, and suffering. That is at least some of the point of photography.
But another point of photography is to be better at it, to slow down, step back and think about how it operates in history, in archives, in museum, in public consciousness. And it doesn't take much slowing down to get thinking.
In his talk, Anthony pointed the way. It's important because it can make you tell better stories, it can make you go beneath the surface, and, most importantly, it can make you a better person.
It can also make you bullshit-detect when people use the word collaborative for projects which really, really aren't. Oh they so aren't...
So there. The first question posed by Anthony was...
''What is collaboration?
Who is it for?
- The people taking part?
- The artist?
- The organisation commissioning the work?
Is the artist seducing the participant for the purpose of the work.
Is the collaboration empowering, giving voice, giving confidence
What part do good intentions play?
Whose voice is being amplified ? How does the artist profit? How can the outcome be measured or described?
What is the intention of the artist? How does context affect understanding?"
That's what he asked. Then he went on to state...
"I do not undertake the work to enrich the participants - though my work has been framed in that way by organisations.
It's not about what is in the image - it is about what happens to the image?
When work is disseminated publicly, outside the group, it must be seen as a representation of identity, not a link to reality.
Good intentions can mask the inequalities between the artist and the participant.
There is an unachievable ideal. That ideal is to put power into the hands of the powerless.
You cannot underestimate the importance of real feedback."
So there are some ideas to wrestle with as we try to justify the pictures we make. Or perhaps we don't need to wrestle with them, just consider them. They are not oppositional polarities. Very little is and perhaps that non-polarised consideration takes us to a more considered, constructive, happy place.
In his own work, Luvera looked at how historically the representation of lbgtq+ has been essentially negative and regularly portrayed through reductive stereotypes
His project, Not going shopping, looked at how people use photography, how they experience their identity and how that identity is represented, in particular how that representation is ignored in museums and archives. The question then becomes how can that representation be embedded in museums and archives, how can it become a part of broader visual memory banks.
This project looked at the politics of pride, the politics of speaking out, the politics of song, the idea of of identity and photographs in the photobooth - the idea of space and the closet like nature of the photobooth.
All of this linked to anthropological and identity formation in historical images - the exoticisation through photography and how that can be questioned and redirected. And ultimately the work got bought by the city museum - so feeding back into early visits on how queer people were represented and not represented. And that is supremely neat tie back.
AN ARMY OF LOVERS CANNOT LOSE Being queer is not about a right to privacy; it is about the freedom to be public, to just be who we are. It means everyday fighting oppression; homophobia, racism, misogyny, the bigotry of religious hypocrites and our own self-hatred. (We have been carefully taught to hate ourselves.) And now of course it means fighting a virus as well, and all those homo-haters who are using AIDS to wipe us off the face of the earth. Being queer means leading a different sort of 2 life. It's not about the mainstream, profit-margins, patriotism, patriarchy or being assimilated. It's not about executive directors, privilege and elitism. It's about being on the margins, defining ourselves; it's about gender- fuck and secrets, what's beneath the belt and deep inside the heart; it's about the night. Being queer is "grass roots" because we know that everyone of us, every body, every cunt, every heart and ass and dick is a world of pleasure waiting to be explored. Everyone of us is a world of infinite possibility. We are an army because we have to be. We are an army because we are so powerful. (We have so much to fight for; we are the most precious of endangered species.) And we are an army of lovers because it is we who know what love is. Desire and lust, too. We invented them. We come out of the closet, face the rejection of society, face firing squads, just to love each other! Every time we fuck, we win. We must fight for ourselves (no one else is going to do it) and if in that process we bring greater freedom to the world at large then great. (We've given so much to that world: democracy, all the arts, the concepts of love, philosophy and the soul, to name just a few gifts from our ancient Greek Dykes, Fags.) Let's make every space a Lesbian and Gay space. Every street a part of our sexual geography. A city of yearning and then total satisfaction. A city and a country where we can be safe and free and more. We must look at our lives and see what's best in them, see what is queer and what is straight and let that straight chaff fall away! Remember there is so, so little time. And I want to be a lover of each and every one of you. Next year, we march naked.