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Friday, 20 May 2011

random conversations #2: Why don't people like Salgado?

J:  So why isn't Salgado considered a documentary photographer when somebody like Jim Goldberg is?

Me: Well I like him.

J: But why don't other people like him?

Me: I think it's because his pictures were always regarded as too beautiful and people could write against him. He became a photographic superstar who was too considerate of light and shade and brought quasi-religious imagery into his work. And he's not a "proper" documentary photographer because of that. On top of that,he was too big and too successful. People envied him. Maybe. To be honest I don't know. I know you can read all about him and people say he denied his subjects agency - first by fitting into a photojournalistic/concerned genre and second by shooting in black and white. Or there's no context for his work and it stands in aesthetic isolation, but I always thought the his pictures, especially his Brazil ones, were contextualised by Salgado's economic and political groundings.

J: But lots of people do that and they are still considered serious photographers. Why is Jim Goldberg so often referred to, as just one example, but not Salgado. Why isn't Jim Goldberg exploitative or out-of-context?

Me: Because he uses the subjects own words and his pictures are, much as I love them, a bit ugly?

J: Is that all though?

Me: A different discourse attaches itself to Goldberg

J: What kind of discourse?

Me: A discourse of sobriety - it's a film thing. If you talk about documentary, people use a discourse of sobriety. If you talk about musicals, they use a discourse of entertainment. You get generic discourses too - India movies have a discourse of love, German films a discourse of guilt, Korean films a discourse of revenge, American films a discourse of violence and English films the class discourse. But in photography, documentary has a discourse of sobriety; so when you talk about it you have to be sober and serious. I think Salgado might have be too beautiful for that discourse. His pictures don't fit the discourse of the genre, the discourse won't change - therefore Salgado doesn't fit the genre.

J: So where does he belong - in art? What's the discourse of art photography?

Me: The discourse of art photography is a discourse of pretension and deceit on the whole, which is wholely counter to the discourse of creativity - creativity doesn't have a discourse. Salgado doesn't belong in the discourse of sobriety. He belongs in documentary. But it's not Salgado who's wrong, it's the discourse.

J: So why don't you change the discourse?

1 comment:

hels said...

When I was studying Human Rights and living with my best friend studying Photography with an aim to becoming a fetish and fashion photographer, I took her to see Salgado exhibit. Her reaction to the images was:

"Well the composition, technique - they're perfect, but the content... I just don't get it."

Irrelevant story I know, but your post reminded me of it. First time poster, hi. Great piece, I have always wondered to what extent the lavish attention to execution in his chosen style of portrayal has a strong effect on the perception of credibility. Out of everyone I've ever known who was interested enough in Photography to know who Salgado is I've never known anyone to explain why they don't think much of him.