Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Exercise Part Five - The Vertigo of Displacement - David A Bailey and Stuart Hall

The final essay for analysis is from The Photography Reader and is The Vertigo of Displacement by David A Bailey and Stuart Hall.

David A Bailey, MBE (1961 - ) is a British Afro-Caribbean curator, photographer, writer and he was Co-Director of the African and Asian Visual Artists Archive at the University of East London. Bailey was awarded a MBE in 2007 for his services to visual arts.

Stuart Hall, FBA (1932 – 2014) was a Jamaican-born cultural theorist and sociologist who lived and worked in the United Kingdom. a professor of sociology at the Open University he was well respected in the world of cultural studies.

The module asks for me to look at the following questions.

1. In one sentence, what is the central argument of this essay

2. The discussion in regard to photography is set within a larger socio-political framework. Do you feel this is justified by the evidence presented.

3. To what extent is the argument limited to Britain in the 1980s, and do you think it would be useful to refer to related movements in other countries.

4. The essay raises the question of eligibility - in this case, whether or not a photographer of black subjects should be black themselves. What are your views on this ? What are the wider implications of this issue?

Society and those who dominated it were predominantly white and the work of black photographers was not widely seen until the 1980s when black photographers due to their skin colour gave a legitimacy to their work.

Yes. The issues of black photographers is one of many similar issues where a particular socio political group are being marginalised. The group that Bailey and Hall refer to though is narrow and I was concerned that the issue they are raising is not unique to black people. They justify their argument by including a small sample of other groups, such as gay and handicapped although their sample is very small.

This essay is short and therefore deliberately confined to a small part of the world. To include movements from other parts of the world would have expanded the argument into other areas of culture. Predominately the treatment of black people in North America and Africa is at odds with the somewhat more liberal thinking in Britain. To widen the argument would be a worthwhile project especially in the light of how the world now merges multicultural groups much better than the 1980s. 35 years is a long time in cultural development.

This is probably the most interesting issue of the essay. The concept that you would photograph differently as a black person is of course a relevant discussion when the genre is documentary and the subject a black related one. It is difficult to imagine a black photographer in the Soweto riots of 1976 making images that promulgated the views of the white people of South Africa. That however is no different than the actions of a white photographer. On a wider issue I am asking myself the question of how does a blind black person, or white person know they are their native colour. On the broader issue of black people photographing black people Bailey and Hall state that it is unlikely that a single photographer cannot capture all aspects of black culture.

The essay was interesting but I found the issues dated. We acknowledge the relevance of the history and how that as recently as 1980s the world was a different place. In contemporary practice we would not be suspicious of the colour of an artist skin making them prejudice. There may be practical issues when working in some neighbourhoods of New York or Delhi where being a non white would achieve better access. This is evident with TV news gathering where foreign correspondents are often chosen for their low profile look.

While annoying to the specialist (whose demands may be extreme) there is good reason to allow photographers to cross the boundaries of their natural comfort zone and work on subjects that they know little of. This editorial control will develop new images and a world seen from a different perspective and broaden our understanding of social and political arenas that we are curious of and maybe frightened of.

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