Thursday, September 22, 2011

Photography from every angle (Part 2) An afternoon at la MEP, Paris (Maison européenne de la photographie)

Continuing from my previous post where I was telling you about my afternoon at La MEP in Paris… In fact when I went to la MEP my main objective was to visit Jane Evelyn Atwood show and I initially though that it was all I would be talking about on this blog… But I’m happy I let the rest surprises me.
So let’s focus on the 2 exhibitions I mentioned earlier, Jane Evelyn Atwood and l’ombre de la guerre (The shadow of War) and the questions they raised about photography, art and photojournalism or maybe should I say the art of photojournalism. A shame that I didn’t get to go to Perpignan, Visa pour l’image by the way...

The links between photography, art and photojournalism have been the subject of many debates and discussions. We've discussed them again and again among our photo lover friends and photo community contacts.
Can photojournalism be considered as a part of the photography art scene?
Does art pervert photojournalism? Does photojournalism pervert visual arts?
When should a photographic approach be considered artistic? A single image? A conceptual body of work? A narrative? Can there be a narrative in art?
If making art is talking about one’s self and expressing personal feelings, what about photography which is telling someone else’s story?  Because Art is personal and subjective it cannot be associated with photojournalism or documentary photography which should be objective, right? Photojournalism and documentary images are for magazines not for galleries and museum walls, etc...

The list of questions is long and the debates endless... and dare I say pointless? Why? Because there are as many answers, disagreements, arguments to these questions as there are photographs, photographers, stories, artists, artworks to prove each point. Photojournalism and photography are part of an inseparable history, part of the same family and their lines have kept crossing and mixing for as long as the medium has existed and way before photography was even considered an Art. 

I also believe the question of the objectivity of photography (even when called photojournalism) doesn’t really make sense. Photography is never objective, there is always an inevitable human interpretation to what we see, to the way we consciously or subconsciously decide to see it and therefore photograph it. I came across this sentence in Robert Adams' essay Beauty in photography:
'The job of the photographer is not to catalogue indisputable fact but to try to be coherent about intuition and hope. This is not to say that he is unconcerned with the truth.'

I like that definition as I guess it summarizes it all. Anyway I don't really intend to enter any philosophical debate about what art is and what objectivity in photography is. I'm only interested in seeing photography, in whatever style or practice we define it.
Photography is photography and talent can be found in every discipline. Talent but also aesthetic, composition, the search for beauty, emotion, feelings, questions and answers. And for me as long as an image or a story create one of these, I don't see why it shouldn't deserve the same attention and an equal consideration. 

Jane Evelyn Atwood (1976-2010)
Jane Evelyn Atwood is clearly an incredible artist (or should I just say photographer!) and I dare anyone to stay indifferent in front of her exhibition at la MEP. Dedicated to her engaged work investigating and denouncing serious social matters over the years, the tension and emotions of her images and stories are strong. From a series about blind children, Haiti, victims of land mines or the last days of a patient with AIDS to women in prisons, she shows a dark side of Humanity with power and compassion. Maybe every single image is not a model of composition and beauty in a strict sense, maybe sometimes the subjects become more important than the single image, but her photography touches the heart without concession. She makes us feel the pain, the misery, the fight of the forgotten as if we were meeting them. She makes us face our own reality and our role. She proves to us that photography can help change the world. Through photography she fights for what she believes in and proves that this is also what the power of photography is: believing that photography can show the world to help change it. 

Jane Evelyn Atwood, The Blind
Jane Evelyn Atwood, The Blind
Jane Evelyn Atwood, Land mines
Jane Evelyn Atwood, Land mines
Jane Evelyn Atwood, Women in Prison
Jane Evelyn Atwood, Women in Prison
 More on Jane Evelyn Atwood:

L’ombre de la guerre, Shadow of War (an homage to Tim Hetherington)

Another floor up and you get to the last exhibition of the day dedicated to war photography from the Spanish civil war to 2007. The Spanish civil war, because it is recognized as the starting point of modern photojournalism, and 2007 to get enough distance from current war news.
So in 90 images, most of them we’ve all seen before, the show takes us through modern History. Our History, a history of conflicts around the world. It’s the photo album of our times. Each photographic cliché becomes a symbol. More than the symbol of a war, it’s the symbol of a time, the symbol of the evolution of the world, of the relationships between the people, a step in History. Each photo is printed in large format and accompanied with a descriptive text explaining the context of the shot. Each photo is of course from a different photographer – a photographer who has captured an iconic moment of truth without losing his own photographic approach, with his own sensibility, with his own perspective.
It’s a strange feeling to stare at History as if reading an open book about the world. Each image sends us back to our weak human condition. But what else does it say about us? Are we making it what? better or worse?
Anyway a very interesting show, a true reflection on the world and on photography and what it takes for an image to become a symbol… I just regret that after Atwood’s exhibition I was already too tired and so overwhelmed to once again get deeper into Human misery…

Robert Capa, Débarquement, Omaha Beach (Colleville-sur-Mer), 6 juin 1944
LARRY BURROWS, South of the DMZ, Vietnam, 1966
© Jean Gaumy, IRAN, Tehran, 1986
Veiled women practice shooting on the outskirts of the city.
James Natchwey, Survivor of Hutu death camp, Rwanda, 1994.
Paolo Pellegrin. Lebanon, August 2006. 
Moments after an Israeli air strike destroyed buildings in Dahieh
Tim Hetherington. 2007, an exhausted American soldier in a bunker, Afghanistan
 La MEP:

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