Monday, February 24, 2020

Photography and Politics

Russian Girl in the Arpatskaya, Moscow
Olympus OM2n, 100-300mm f4 Tokina lens, Fujichrome 100 RDP

Edward Steichen, one of the all-time great photographers, said near the end of his long and distinguished career, "The function of photography is to explain man to man and each man to himself. That is no mean function."
Documentary photography is about human beings and their doings. One cannot delve very far at all into the doings of human beings without running up against politics and religion, because they are two of the principal motivators of human action. It is disingenuous to think that photography can be divorced from these two great motivators.

From earliest times, most of the great photographers have been people who have had a point of view and have used photography to express it. In fact, it would be safe to say that is often the reason they are regarded as great photographers. Their points of view have invariably been molded by politics and/or religion (or the lack of it, which is a religion of its own).

We must recognize and respect the power of political ideas in the work of other photographers, even if we do not ourselves espouse those beliefs. I might find that another photographer and I are political opposites. But if he has a definite point of view and uses his photography to present it effectively, I must respect that and attempt to do as well in advancing my own point of view.

We may proclaim ourselves apolitical and may deeply wish to be so, yet, we cannot escape politics. It is integral to all human endeavor, photography not excepted. Instead of being contentious and flaming every one whose beliefs vary a hair's breadth from our own, let's use our cameras to express our own points of view about what's right and what's wrong, and what is valuable. Democracy thrives in the free marketplace of ideas, and truth will ultimately prevail even though it may be willfully held down.

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