i-am-youThe traditional forms of documentary photography which signal direct engagement with subjects have become ridden with the cliche of sentimentality and confused by issues of truth and authenticity. It now appears as a form of emotional manipulation of the ‘other’ which ignore the corrupting power structures inherent in the medium itself.

To survive documentary practices, investigate the gallery space and in the production for art, through activist or other contexts, negotiates, in most eloquent terms, the value systems of fat media, rich in content motifs. However the art markets primary focus is on the artist. The weight of a thousand years of western art history and a market stretching to 100 billion dollars annually bear down on this. Under this pressure the structures of the industry act solely as a foil inverting the document to excite the promotion of the ‘self’ as artist and pull work away from any attempt at direct contact within critical context.

There is still a space for the document, by virtue of the binding relationship with and examination of truth values, and its recognition of time within the context of society and human memory. Or to translate that statement into practise, To maintain our humanity, which is a matter of survival, we must oppose inequality. In the words of Gordon Parks,

“What you force me to be is what you are. For I am you, staring back from the mirror of poverty and despair, of revolt and freedom. Look at me and know that to destroy me is to destroy yourself.”

gordon-parksBut within both power structures, of commercial lean digital media and the rich fat mediums of artistic production, there exists no motivation for a pathway which seeks actual political change, as this would necessitate structural changes in both epistemes. So what is seen of documentary work operating in this context, cannot be read except as a gesture to placate and to contain, and by virtue of its rarity, becomes compromised as exotic.

I look towards a new discursive space where reality image constructs replace photo-agency packaging and committed engagement replaces the self serving consumption of the ’Artist’s Vision’. I presume to wait a long time.

"Gordon Parks was one of the seminal figures of twentieth century photography. 
A humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice, he left behind a body
of work that documents many of the most important aspects of American culture
from the early 1940s up until his death in 2006, with a focus on race relations,
poverty, civil rights, and urban life."



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