Offensive Imagery

In my assignment 3 review, my tutor David mentioned how he was a little surprised that I’d missed out the controversy over Martin Parr and the reissued Gian Butturini book when writing about Parr’s work in an earlier post. I must admit I had heard something about this story but had forgotten it at the time. In any case I was responding to the course exercise request to put down my thoughts about his work.

David’s suggestion that I look at Ben Chesterton’s duckrabbit Twitter feed turned out to be way too hard. I don’t do Twitter and found it really hard to find anything relevant without reading the whole thing from beginning to end. Life’s too short for this (and the same goes for social media in general) so I have gone to other sources for the whole story. Mercedes Baptiste Halliday began the campaign to highlight the overt racist imagery in Butturini’s book, and in particular wanted to know what Martin Parr was doing associating himself with this book. Over a year later and with help from Ben Chesterton in highlighting her campaign, Parr has been forced to apologise and has resigned from the Bristol Photo Festival. The image in question – juxtaposing an elderly black woman with a gorilla in a cage – is so obviously racist that it is hard to see how Parr could not have noticed this.

Also in recent months another situation has come up where the Magnum agency has been called out for including images of child prostitutes by American photographer David Alan Harvey. Magnum have now remove Harvey’s work from their archive pending an investigation. Subsequently it emerges that Harvey is also under investigation for sexual harassment.

Photography has a long history of problematic images; what may (and only may) have been socially acceptable a hundred years ago can now seem totally offensive. This isn’t the case here though, as Butturini’s book originated in the 1960s and Harvey’s photographs are from 1980s. That is much too recent for any offensive reading to be just out down to ‘different times’. The Magnum/Harvey case is still being investigated so it remains to be seen how this will pan out, but the fallout for Martin Parr has been significant. I don’t like the idea of ‘no platforming’ at all as I don’t think we learn anything by just shutting down anything we don’t like. But that’s not to say there aren’t issues here in both cases that need to be addressed.


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