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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.


Bandia said...

Very interesting post. Thanks Colin. I agree. I think that the educational structures, lets say in this case, universities in Western countries, "temples of wisdom" as they were created, they reproduce the power structures of the system where they belong, that is part of their mission. My view is that they contribute to make the powerful more powerful and the weak, weaker. Educational system is not anymore a tool to provide opportunities and make our societies more equal and peaceful (Keynesianism is death /or maybe we are living its peak of degeneration). The access to high education is relatively easy and here lies the model of the free market applied to it. Anybody can play the game but once in it, opportunities are not the same and they depend on privilege. Free market reproducing the Christian Western values of success-failure, good-bad. Although luckily still professionals working in this system who still want to make of universities those agents of change to contribute to a better society. But sadly they are minority. Nevertheless, another world is possible and better things might come because we learn from mistakes, sometimes.....

Continuing with the idea of opportunities and privilege but applied to social media, seems that we see again a democratization of the structure. Social media allows you to create content and message and spread it, anybody can do it. Free market. But inequality. ( see Rousseau on the origins of inequality ). I agree with what you say, these old power structures are being reproduced in a new frame which is more open and horizontal. And the frame is being reabsorbed by them. Therefore, there lies a contradiction and a big lie. It is a dressed up tyranny that has not been enough analyzed from theoretical points of view because we are experiencing it in the present moment and it is continuously changing.

We have to break the chain

colin pantall said...

Wow. Thanks Bandia. Yes. I'll have a think about that.

But the thing is we believe in it so easily. That's why it works so well.

Lua said...

Yes ¡ agree, we believe in it easily because it is directed towards the most basic instincts that we have. and that is what keeps it working. and like this, the field is ready to introduce all sorts of messages.

colin pantall said...

I don't know about you, Lua. But I believe in everything constantly.

For example, if I see people are friends on Facebook, I make the mistake of translating that to real life. Even when I know the opposite is true. It's strange how that works.

Anonymous said...

If you take a look at what happened with Jian Ghomeshi over the past year, you may find a model for how to go about taking these predators down. If you don't know, Ghomeshi was a radio host and maybe THE major personality and face of the national broadcaster:


That was the first newspaper piece about it when it first broke. The guy putting the story together was Jesse Brown, host of the (amazing) podcast canadaland. Here's one of his podcasts reflecting on what happened with someone who witnessed some of the harassment:


If these issues are on your mind right now, I thought you might be interested in taking a look at this case.