Postdocumentary Photography

Ine Gevers – Postdocumentary Photography, Art and Ethics

Gevers, I. (s.d.) Postdocumentary Photography, Art and Ethics. Directed by Gevers, I. (s.l.): (s.n.).

This isn’t always the easiest read; I felt at times she could do with expanding on some of the themes she mentioned as they were rather rushed through. I have reread what she has written regarding Alain Badiou twice now and am still no nearer to understanding her (or his) point.

The main thrust of her argument, at least in the initial pages, is that art – and in particular documentary photography – became too concerned with the artist’s vision for the work, and not enough with the subject of the work. Aesthetics had become corrupted in the sense that what initially began as a search for truth morphed into an abstract concern with expression. Gevers cites the corruptive effect of the various ways in which the S-21 photographs from Cambodia have been presented, ways that almost completely removed the subjects themselves from viewers’ responses.

At least part of her argument is that in order to provoke the viewer into active engagement, simple photography is not always enough. She describes different approaches adopted by artists to move away from simple depiction, using techniques that encourage the viewer to question what it is they see and how they respond. Some of her Gevers’ discussion on Badiou is in regard to his view that ethics as a subject is largely meaningless, in the sense that the ethics that we (as viewers) bring to the act of seeing a work are too generic to be of any use. He calls for art that forces the viewer to question their own beliefs and feelings as a response to the specific work and not just as a rote by-the-numbers answer. Gevers compares this call for ‘forcing’ art with Roland Barthes’ idea of the punctum; something in the work that triggers a specific response in an individual viewer.

In order to embed an ethical approach into art it is necessary to allow the subject some say in the work. A collaborative approach is necessary, not just in the way that the work is produced but also in how it is to be seen. In addition an ethical truth may be better described and elucidated with smaller themes, to move away from the grand narrative that has been the mainstay of documentary photography for the past hundred years and more. I watched a panel discussion from the Tate last week in which Anthony Luvera spoke about exactly this kind of approach. Not just in how the work is created but also in terms of the entire relationship between artist and subjects. Areas to be addressed beforehand include consent, ownership, agency and a clear idea of how the work is likely to affect the subjects after the project is complete.

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