manifesto of transparency

(to be read with dramatic pauses to emphasize the words while the reader’s internal metronome is set at slow and deliberate)

In these dark times of polarizing politics, transparency is a welcome state of existence in the countenance of expression, interactions and intent. As a photographer documenting the details of human discourse, my subjectivity is my open-faced challenge that I intend not to disguise nor hide with unabashed smugness under the impossible moniker of objectivity. I will waste no energy futilely countering and re-countering my positioning. I simply Am the voice of my being with all its experiences. The energies of my work will not be directed toward denying my subjectivity when there are more important issues requiring attention. This begins with the necessity of recognizing the overarching need not to dismiss the political power of the lone individual. Apathy is dead. Everybody counts in this journey of our collective existence. And, in this arena of political awakening, the art of documentary must embody a transparency of personally reflected decency – a code of ethics that demands a universal recognition of equality for all.

As a narrator of images, I am responsible for their framing and the silence intoned in the adjacent immeasurable spaces. Yes, also for these “projected off-frame” statements.[1] My chronicles of the world must uphold the human condition with sensitivity. It IS my obligation.

This visceral state, plugged into the age-old tradition of storytelling, will not downplay the visual dramatization or over-dramatization of my subjects or their voice. How I narrate is to tell a story from what I know of the world. I do not profess I am without bias. However, I may Not be a voyeur.[2] My photographic depiction of people is a visual epitaph to who those individuals were through my eyes in that moment, on that day, in that place. It is my duty to present them in the most transparent light of my positioning coupled with theirs. I will undoubtedly pass a subjective filter on any person or object crossing my lens. This is not my objective. The story must be told. It must be told with collaboration, care, and caution to the details whether dark or light. Judgement must be abolished. It has no place in the voice of the documentarian. This is not to deny the sensibilities of the artist as narrator and witness to the world’s stories. The artist must protest. The artist must point to any parameters of injustice, of inequality.[3] In this space, the photographer as artist brings to light the unsaid, unearthing the lost voice through their visual knowledge. They paint the story as a multilayered universal metaphor of what it is to be human. It can be fragmented, suggestive or implied.[4], [5]It can lead an episodic existence. Even if ambiguity may reign in the visual form, the context of an image cannot be misinterpreted and therefore, must Always be married closely to the poetic penmanship of language. They are symbiotically dependent on one another – these words and images. They sculpt an eternal journey of Outsiders noting details. Without a doubt, I am truly an Outsider to every journey but my own.                   

 

 

I claim my subjectivity! "...in documentary’s purported struggle for objectivity.”[6]

 

Rather than hiding behind my situational birth and life circumstances as a means to disclaim my work for having a bias, I claim my middleclass university educated white female quinquagenarian perspective. I do not wish to get tangled in a Sisyphean discourse of the level or the gradations of subjectivity in my work. Rather than spending time discussing the impact of my view based on my “personal stats”, I will herein include these outward summations of my positioning in bold text next to all bodies of my work. However, this does not mean my positionality claims ultimate truth or that I am hiding behind it as a disclaimer. It is simply meant to note a starting point perspective. I wholeheartedly agree with Linda Alcoff’s statement:

“I, too, would reject reductionist theories of justification and essential accounts of what it means to have a location. To say that location bears on meaning and truth is not the same as saying that location determines meaning and truth. And location is not a fixed essence absolutely authorizing one’s speech…”[7]

 

And, by running wildly with my claims of subjectivity, I am, by no means trying to refute or absolve myself of responsibility in my photographic choices. This is meant to segue the intent of transparency in my approach to documentary and to assist in “deconstruct(ing) my discourse”.[8] Nor is this meant to be all about me simply because I am declaring my subjectivity.

“But the photographic image…cannot be simply a transparency of something that happened. It is always the image that someone chose; to photograph is to frame, and to frame is to exclude.” [9]

 

Transparency is the goal.

 

To make my documentation of stories more open beyond my stated ‘claims’ of subjectivity, I lay my most inner positioning bare through ‘bio mapping’ or ‘emotional mapping’. This is a process of wearing a lie detector attached to my fingers that measure my physiological arousal based on my sweat levels or my ‘Galvanic Skin Response’ when walking through spaces.[10] Rather than plotting this against place as subject, I would apply it to my reaction to the person being photographed. This idea came out of the notion that one is an insider in ‘domestic ethnography’.[11] However, truthfully, the personal positioning within the familial dynamics, the consanguinity, are not always visible to the viewer.

“Harris consistently reminds us of resonances and overlappings of…family secrets, and shifting alliances narrated and performed – within and across families.” [12]

 

Therefore, with each image, whether involving personal family or otherwise, I would also include my emotional set point next to the title and my personal statistics of subjectivity.   

Aesthetics are my prerogative!

 

There is a need to upheave and unhinge the truth ‘visnomer’ of the documentary aesthetic. Why would I want to follow the visual codes of someone else’s ‘truth’ because it lacks aesthetics and therefore, seemingly considered as closer to the truth according to who? Life is not a simplistic black and white fairytale where beauty is good and ugly is bad or truth is ugly and beauty is a lie. Viewers beware. There is grey. Viewers beware. There is always information missing from the photographic frame. “Caveat Spectator”.

Why would I want to not frame an image that jumps out at me and that I see as highlighted in a certain way in the space of the world around me? Is this not my unique perspective? Why would I want to limit myself to a style that is apparently textbook documentary – the messier the more true? I protest. The poetic is memorable. The dramatization of a story is impressed upon the memory of the viewer.[13] A documentary is as much my truth of perception as it is about my subjects whom I have interpreted and shared with the viewer.

 

 

All images must be accompanied by a verbal explanation.

 

‘Untitled’ is a cop-out. It shirks responsibility by the photographer. As one pairs wine with food, I expect language to enhance the visual experience for the viewer. It may bring clarity if not intertextual richness to the story being told. Silence has a poetic cadence in the genre of the moving image. This is not the case in the life of a still photograph. There can be silence in an image, in the room where it hangs, in the book where it rests but not in its interpretation. An image has a voice in the form of context. Context cannot be misconstrued. It is a story that is part of a greater dialogue.   

“While the image, any image is an invitation to look, the caption, more often than not, insists on the difficulty of doing just that.”[14]

Hark to Sensitivity! [15]

 

Sensitivity is my third eye in the documentary narrative. It guides my intuition. It is the basis of my journalistic creed that helps me unearth the shadows of madness in the truth.

The backbone of my sensitivity is collaboration with my subjects. The more polyphonous subject participation is in my work, the less I fall prey to summation without the facts and the closer I am to understanding a story. However, I am still the editor.

Footnotes

 

[1] Blake Fitzpatrick, Splitting the Choir: The Moving Images of Donigan Cumming (Ottawa: The Canadian Film Institute, 2011), 42.

[2] This raises the “to what degree of Insider positionality” debate…or, how much truth is compromised by an Outsider perspective? What happens if there aren’t any ‘Insiders’ willing to document a story?

 

[3] Zanele Muholi’s work “Faces and Phases”- which points to the escalation of murders and hate crimes directed toward black lesbian women in South Africa.

 

[4] Martha Rosler, “The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems (1974-75)” – the use of space where there is a human presence without humans present…also, can be interpreted as referring to the lonely emptiness of endless drinking sprees.

[5] Melanie Friend’s “Border Country” also paints a mise-en-scene without people actually present.

 

[6] Stella Bruzzi, New Challenges for Documentary (Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press, 2005), 419.

 

[7] Linda Alcoff, The Problem of Speaking for Others, in Cultural Critique, No. 20 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991-1992), 16.

 

[8] Ibid., 8.

 

[9] Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 46.

 

[10] www.biomapping.net

 

[11] LaToya Ruby Frazier’s “The Notion of Family” (2008) – is an example of a photographer documenting her family.

 

[12] Michael Reptov, Domestic Ethnography and the Construction of the “Other” Self in The Subject of Documentary (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 227.

 

[13] Richard Mosse “The Enclave”– hauntingly beautiful and surreal depictions of a fantastic landscape that had been an area of human conflict for years…

[14] Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, 45.

[15] Nicholas Nixon’s “People with AIDS” – a sensitive depiction of gay men dying of aids

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© 2020 Tara Hakim