“Photography knows how to authenticate its misrepresentations”. MASON COOLEY, City Aphorisms
The visual representation in an image can mean different things to different cultures, at different times. This makes it particularly hard, as a photographer, to understand the reactions to your images, by anyone who may see them, when you are taking them. Yet it vitally important to represent people, places any subject in a way that is recognisable and the audience will relate to.
In 1955 the exhibition ‘Family of Man’ opened. It subsequently went on to be seen by 9 million people, making the most successful photography exhibition of all time. The exhibition consisted of 503 photographs, by a number of photographers at all levels, depicting the human race. At the time it opened it was considered ground breaking, however, by the 60’s they change in societies behavior towards race and genders, meant people took offence to the ‘categorization’ of the images.1
This is an excellent example of how social influence can change someone’s view and understanding of a subject.
Today we are inundated with images from every form of media; we see everything the world has to offer. What is shown in these images effect us personally, and we form our own opinion. We are also influenced by the opinions of the society and people around us. Whilst the media is trying to get us to relate to their representations of society, they can also take it a step too far and cause offensive. This is a big issue that all photographers face, how far can they push a stereotype before it becomes offensive.
“… Within conceptual approach it is not the objec.ve presence of the image that is at stake, but rather the force field within which it generates meaning.
We are invited to consider not only the text, it’s produc.on and its reading, but also take account of the social rela.ons within which meaning is produced and operates.”1
One example of people taking offence to a seemingly innocent image is the vogue cover featuring LeBron James and Gisele
Bündchen. The image taken by Annie Leibovitz was taken to represent a story in the magazine about the best bodies. It uses James, a world know sports star, and Bündchen a well know super model as examples. The cover caused controversy as many claimed it to perpetuate stereotypes of black men. That James is conveyed in a ‘King Kong’ type pose holding a ‘damsel in distress’. He is shown in an aggressive manor and this is a negative representation of a black man. Others claim he is channeling his persona on the basketball court and he is an aggressive player, it has nothing to do with his skin. The implications of this image is different for different people, personally I don’t find anything wrong with it, I feel it shows a sports man displaying his passion for his sport. However, having looked at the arguments, I can see how the negative connotations could occur.
Another Vogue cover that caused controversy was the cover of Vogue Homme. The image depicts a man
holding a women, however, the controversy occurred due to the man hand being positioned around the women’s throat. The image was deemed inappropriate and to advertise violence towards women. The embrace is also very passionate, which is deemed to over sexualize women, increased by the fact this image appears on the Vogue for men. While I understand where these comments are coming from, I don’t really see an issue with the image. The woman doesn’t look distressed and I feel it looks more like she is in control of the situation.
Both of these Vogue covers show how easy it is to create controversy and cause offence, due to over looking what the connotations and representations in an image could be. While I feel, as a photographer, it is important to consider these things, I also feel it is very hard to consider everything that may be read into an image. It is hard to put yourself in everyone, who may see your images’ shoes, and consider their opinion.
“The concept of objectification has special relevance to photography. In one sense photography inadvertently objectifies people by turning them into something to be looked at.” 2
1Liz Wells – Photography: a critical introduction. pg. 34
2 Liz Wells – Photography: a critical introduction pg. 221 (cited: Solomon-Godeau 1991)