Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Comment on McGinley Analysis – Race And My Own Work


In response to the McGinley paper, Trav raises the question of race in my own work here. I figured it was worth addressing this in another post (though I replied to the thread there as well.)

Trav:

Sebastian raises perhaps the best point: McGinley isn’t trying to speak on behalf of anyone but himself. It seems a little unfair to target him on this (and yes, I realize you are writing more on the subject and will probably include more artists). However, your opinion of his work is valid, as anyone is entitled to their own opinion.

As a small side note, to kind of see where you were coming from, I decided to look at your work, as an artist’s work speaks on their behalf and their nature (or so I gathered from this essay). I expected to see a wide range of diversity among the subjects pictured in your work, but the bulk of them contain mostly white people. If you are concerned about this issue, I hope you are attacking it and not just pointing someone out without looking inward. Then again, I suppose that’s not all of your work, and it’s just a selection that you wanted to post.

Response:

Thanks for the comment Trav. First I have to point out that my intention was not to focus on a specific issue using Ryan’s work as an example, but instead to delve deeper into why his work in particular made me feel uncomfortable. So while I may explore other people’s work in the future (in fact, I’m sure I will), this essay isn’t about crusading for or against any particular thing.

In fact, as Jorg mentioned to me in email, even if there was a “token black person” or something similar in the work there would still be disturbing feelings of being sold a lifestyle (spectacle, etc).

However, since you mention my work, I guess I’ve got to address this – I understand the interest in context, but sometimes it does border on ad hominem discussion. I hope I can use it to add something instead of get off topic.

My art work (commercial work is always somewhat separate, and I don’t include McGinley’s advertising work in my analysis) does not deal with the idea of an idealized lifestyle. While I wouldn’t call any of it documentary, it is shot in a very different manner, without budget, models, or permission. The bulk of my photographic work (I’d say Gray Days, Israel By Land, and Being Inside) is shot like this. There is some racial diversity, but it was not the point of the project, and simply reflects my immediate surroundings – for better or worse. I’m totally open to people’s interpretations of what that means (perhaps it is true that many of the people in the pictures are white, but it is not a choice. No one was cast.) In Israel in particular I was amazed both at the diversity within the jewish and arab population, but also felt out of place without a wider diversity such as I’m used to in savannah or nyc. Regardless, and with understanding that I can only show my subjective viewpoint, there is no intentional “perfect world” being presented. [My first rolls were simply of my family and significant other at the time (hispanic if you are nitpicking) like many young photographers exploring the medium. ]

With Bad News, of the 137 or so people photographed, there were a few people of various backgrounds – it pretty much ran the gamut – but people were not cast in a common sense of the word – anyone who showed up for the open call was photographed. So perhaps it says something about who responds to open calls for people willing to participate in an art project run by a SCAD student, but I’m not sure much more can be read into it in that category – and I think it would be heading in the wrong direction. Details was selected more from the people who I was close to at the time, but I can’t see any serious complaints there, in fact in examining social aspects it almost seems too Target style perfect (one asian, one hispanic, one black/native american, two gay, one red head, etc.) But again, it really wasn’t about presenting anything idealized.

In fact, I think the only area where anything is relatively homogenized is in the commercial work – and no surprise there. With no control over the casting (I’m just not that big yet, haha), I’m not sure how much credit or blame I can claim, but I can try and explain how I feel about some of the projects. Haus’ Wonderland is fluff, pure and simple. I’m glad they chose at least one minority model, but I can’t say much of a statement in any direction is trying to be made by the work. In Barking Irons, I think the intention was to give an inner city 1850s NYC feel, complete with the immigrants in that particular neighborhood at the time… but of course in their young hip looking modern equivalents. Not particularly ground shattering, but I guess an excuse to have so many redheads. I’ve always felt that Mary’s Republic was sort of dystopian, so although I’m not sure about the ethnicity of some of the models, any perceived lack might just tie into that strange conformist future feeling.

As for the LARPers, you work with what you’ve got. Make your own conclusions, haha.

Hope that helps address some of your concerns. It’s certainly a complex issue. I think if I was casting something for my idealized vision of the world, it would be a lot more colorful than McGinley’s work, but I’m also not really interested in pursuing that with my stuff. I’ve skipped over a lot that I’ve done, but I don’t think any of it is similar thematically to what he does.

There are plenty of people who photograph within their social circiles and even more that photograph in areas that are no where near as diverse as McGinley’s home – but it’s the presentation of the population of his photos as some kind of ideal that causes me to question the work. Does that make sense?

As a side note, in the appropraited work, future of photography for example, one could very well ask why that particular selection was interviewed at a photography education conferance.

posted by Ian Aleksander Adams at 1:46 am  

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