The Ethics of Aesthetics

Comments posted as my response to the weareoca blog post

After 68 previous replies it is almost certain that I won’t come up with anything that hasn’t already been said. Jose’s original post concentrated on reactions to the projects by the two photographers in purely photographic terms; are they aesthetically satisfying as pure photographic works? I find a couple of reactions from later respondents particularly relevant here. Marmalade (Jan 2012) said ‘the very fact Oxfam has commissioned Chaskielberg would suggest that new tactics are indeed necessary to ‘cajole’ us in to action’, and Philoca (Feb 2016) said ‘The images that NGOs use however serve a very different purpose to images from photojournalism or documentary photography.‘ These two comments sum up my issue with the original post, that treating these as pure art doesn’t work anyway. To different degrees both Chaskielberg and Rankin have manipulated their subjects and locations to tell the story they wanted to tell, and both lose a lot in naturalness as a result (Chaskielberg loses more than Rankin but so what?). Given the purpose for which they were intended though surely any discussion of aesthetic responses to these works is irrelevant if they produced the result that Oxfam wanted?

In both projects the subjects were involved in the staging, so it seems a fair assumption that they were largely in agreement with what the photographer intended. Jo Harrison (Jan 2012) said that Oxfam’s photographic policy must ‘depict hope, dignity, and a realisation that change can happen’. That both works were produced for Oxfam makes it possible to differentiate them on those grounds. Rather than Jose’s coments about a connection in Rankin’s work that is missing in Chaskielberg, the real differentiator is surely which one had more effect on Oxfam’s fund raising?

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