19 October 2007

The Photo that threw me off

Photography has always been a fascinating art and a great expression that can go beyond the boundaries of verbs. Some photos as just eternally beautiful (like this one) and they teach us constantly about ourselves and the world round us. transmitting the message of beauty would be one of many goals of photography. This is a photo of a photographer. It is the cover picture of a photo book or a coffee table book as known among designers, where the photographer is preparing herself for the shot.
This is a horrible photo....!!! (ps)
I almost fell off my chair.I want to go and get lost in the desert and never come back again. Looking at this picture and reading the "reviews" wrote on the web site of Amazon dot com, I almost fainted.. hen the comments…!!

Lalla Mira, please help... Jjawi , some fasukh ( insense) or anything.

I just… please have a look.

(my apologies to your eyes... i just wanted to share)


Lalla Mira said...

I heard thou call, so I rushed to thee...

Seriously, what's the problem? You like this picture way too much? Or you actually don't, and can't understand the positive comments about it on Amazon?

I need to understand your point first, before I bring in my equipments and incenses.

bouba said...

thank you for your help. i appreciate your sensitive omnipresence.

The composition was just too much to take. i hate the blatant commodification of indigenous people. and the fact that it just passed for a great picture is wrong. the Masai woman looked vulnerable and defeated. i do not like photos of this kind and we have tons of them in morocco.
this is where all the colonial folkloric pictures came from.
thank you again.
msellmin ...!!

Lalla Mira said...

Only recently have I posted a comment somewhere, expressing how I dislike that tourists take us Moroccans for granted when taking pictures in Morocco. Take the local market for instance. You're there, just like usual, shopping for some tomatoes for your evening soup, and all of sudden you hear a click, get blind by a flash, stay surprised for a few seconds, and before you think about looking around to find an explanation for what just happened, the tourists are gone far away. And let me tell you, they do it on purpose, it's not like they wanted to take a picture of the tomato next to you. It's you, and the fact that you are a 'normal' citizen, shopping just like you'd normally do for the most common of items -a vegetable- that's "exotic" to them; or else, I don't see why take pictures like that. And they 'run away' because they are afraid you'd ask them for money, because in their mind's eye, we all are just waiting for tourists to take pictures of us to jump on the occasion and ask for money.

But for the ladies in the picture above, I have no idea how these photographs are taken. I don't know if I should feel grateful because it's eye opening about how people truly live in other countries, or feel like I do when tourists take pictures of us in the local market without our permission. If these indigenous people were used for a couple of pennies in order to take pictures that would make millions for their photographers, then of course I am against it.

Jerba Mate.. said...

Wow, you are right bouba, we need all the help with words we can get. Two, maybe three things that strike me. First that the photographer appears to be touching the woman, it appears to be a unilateral move, one made towards a child, or a doll even. A loving move, perhaps, it reflects the forceful love of former missionaries that left no room for refusal (in other words the receiver of the love has not choice, they cannot refuse the love, it is forced upon) The objectification is astounding. It is as if the photographer is saying, "look at this strange and wonderful thing i found, isn't it wonderful? aren't i wonderful for finding it, loving it, and bringing you pictures of it?" Its disgusting. Yes, its painful, but important to see and critique, thanks for sharing B

bouba said...

@ Lalla Mira, Thank you for your comment and your help in understanding this issue. i am glad there are people, like you who understand how annoying it is to steal people’s images and run away. I see it all the time. I understand if it happens in Jamma Lafna for instance where some people pose for tourist pictures in their costumes made especially for that purpose ( although not initially).
I am sure the woman in the picture ( the photographer) is not interested in how people live in the real sense of the word. she is interested in the photos she is taking and how they relate to that area of the world. ( Edward Said has a lot to say about this but I am not going there right now).
Yes indigenous peoples are overtly exploited for nothing and therefore their culture is poorly translated into little pictures and shwiyya after that things are easy to sell. Folklorization at its best. Linda Tuhiwai Smith, a cultural anthropology critic, calls it cultural genocide.

@yerba, thanks for the comment.
“"look at this strange and wonderful thing i found, isn't it wonderful?”
is exactly what I tried to say. Right there. thank you..
Rendering people things and reifying their identities and their cultures is what through me really off.
Imagine it is the other way round: the Masai woman is the photographer and the other woman is being prepared for the photo. (!)

squindia said...

these are all good things to think about. in some ways the photo also disgusts me, but i agree that we cannot know the photographer's relationship or intention. This is why photos are so powerful, because they detail a small frame of a large large world. This can be a good and bad thing. I guess it's just important to always remember that. I always ask people before I snap and find that doing this usually brings so much more reward than a photo. I also feel very strongly that snapping photos not change or impede an environment that I am part of, which some may argue makes me an inferior photographer but if so then I am fine with that. Sometimes the camera needs to be packed away. And often times I force myself to examine why exactly I want to snap a particular photo. objectifying, exoticizing, minimizing...all dangerous things.
Thanks bouba. you never fail to make me think hard ;-)

bouba said...

than you for your comment.
great point about the photographers intentions... all relates to the kknowledge we have about people outside our socio-economic acquaintances. the person in the photo is a photographer herself. she is setting the woman up for a shot. there is anther photographer who took this picture and i am glad he or she did.
you are a great photographer i remember the awards. i have proof.
the photos you take are photos of a witness. you have an eye that does not alter the the real image. you do not go to people and ask them to pose for you. you just take what ever is in there and share it from beautiful angles.

eatbees said...

Bouba, I think you hit the nail on the head in your reaction to this photo. It's strange that she would be proud of it and use it as the cover for her book, the statement of what she is about. It reminds me of Leni Riefenstahl, the filmmaker-propagandist-admirer of Hitler, who later in life photographed in Africa with a similar approach. The way this photographer touches the woman with just the tips of her fingers, as if that exotic thing she found is also somehow dirty... it makes me cringe.

Lalla Mira's reaction is food for thought. When I carry my camera in the U.S., I like to hold it to my eye and wave around until something interesting happens. I'm usually looking for some accidental combination of architecture and human movement. In Morocco I would have preferred to work the same way, only a) people there aren't nearly as exhibitionist as we are in the West, b) they aren't used to their fellow Moroccans wandering around taking "art pictures" as I do, so they don't know what that's about, and c) there is the whole colonial objectification/exploitation issue we're discussing here, since most people taking pictures are exotic-seeking tourists.

There were surely times that I took advantage, but no more or no differently than I would in any American town. To try to avoid this, I would usually stick to photographing people I knew or while walking with friends. Or at least I would make it obvious that I was taking pictures, and give people a chance to react. Anyway, what interests me are shapes and colors. If I was taking a picture next to Lalla Mira in the market, it would most likely be of the tomato, not of her! Here is proof. As poetic revenge, I invite her or any Moroccan to come to the U.S. and take pictures of "exotic" high school students, factory workers, and people sitting in the cafe.

The issue of the blond girl in the Rif who was mistaken for a missing European raises another question. What happens when even "innocent" pictures are torn from their context? I think this is one thing that concerns Moroccans when having their pictures taken by strangers. What will happen to the image once it travels where it is going, and what will be the unforseen consequences? Who will see it, and what assumptions will they bring? My best friend refused to be photographed with a cigarette in his hand, in case his family might see. As a strong advocate of transparency, I lean toward the idea of everyone taking pictures of everyone, so that faraway places will lose their exoticism, and strangers will begin to seem like next-door neighbors. But I know this is idealistic or even false.