Exercise 3.1

For this exercise we are asked to read the essay by Fred Ritchin entitled ‘Toward a Hyperphotography’ (from his 2008 book ‘After Photography’) and look for visual examples of “cubist” photographs. Ritchin defines images that have a contradictory “double image” as cubist – they show that reality has no single truth. (Ritchin, 2008: 147) The example Ritchin uses for this is two images taken from opposite angles of the U.S. invasion of Haiti in 1994. The first shows soldiers laying on the ground in front of a helicopter, their guns raised to their eyes resting on their back packs. The image suggests that the soldiers are ready for engagement – the second image shows a number of photographers in front of the soldiers capturing the scene and causes us to question the validity of the first picture, as Ritchin observes, it is only the photographers who are doing any shooting. I would agree with Ritchin that by viewing the second image, the viewer questions what they are seeing, but, the scene seems less remarkable to me – all it shows is the reality of how news is constructed.

A much more shocking example of “unmasking photo opportunities, cubistically” are these images, again from Haiti, of a dead teenage girl Fabienne Cherisma, shot by police for looting in January 2010 in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake a few days before.

Similarly to the example given by Ritchin, the bottom image lays bear the reality of photojournalism but makes the viewer uncomfortable – personally, I feel complicit in the violence of the scene that allows Fabienne Cherisma to be violated for a second time by the scrum of photographers looking for the most aesthetically appealing angle to create the most powerful image. Peter Brook, on his blog ‘Prison Photography’, makes the argument that if an image such as this fuels public awareness, and therefore aid to help the immediate future of Haiti, then perhaps this positive effect can negate accusations of media exploitation. Unable to explain this phenomena, he makes this interesting observation:

“I wouldn’t call this the magic or power of photography, I’d call it the mysterious perversion of photography…the history of photojournalism is replete with globally-recognised subjects whose visage was appropriated without their knowledge and/or consent. There’s no model release form in war and disaster.” (Brook, 2010)

In his essay Ritchin makes some historically interesting observations about the nature of photojournalism, the problems attached to it and the possible future. Now over 10 years old, these ideas are interesting in an historic sense as the way news is disseminated in 2020, and particularly the impact of social media has transformed this, has changed significantly. At first Ritchin’s assertion that images can be contradictory (a cubist “double image”) and that reality has no single truth seems perfectly obvious and an accepted point of view to me. His solution that a “multiperspectival strategy would help devalue spin” is a noble idea but seems naive today. Rather than allowing multiple viewpoints to be shown of a single event and therefore allowing the viewer to disseminate this information and reach their personal understanding, modern digital media seems to promote a more polarised and definite reading of events. The loss of nuance and subtlety can perhaps be partly explained by the sheer amount of news that is available – something that is overwhelming – it is difficult to know what to trust, what to believe, or even, what is important. Faced with this it seems obvious that events are simplified – otherwise the reader would not have the time to digest everything. The transition from old to new media is complex and still in the early stages of evolution, I would like to believe that the eventual outcome could be a positive one, as Ritchin does, but the more I see complex information simplified and distorted with opinions presented as facts the less confident I become.

Bibliography:

Brook, P. (2010) Fabienne Cherisma. Prison Photography. Availble at: https://prisonphotography.org/2010/01/27/fabienne-cherisma/ (accessed 27th May 2020)

Carroll, R. (2010) Haiti earthquake: he had not picked her up since she was a toddler. Last week he carried her home. The Guardian, 26th January 2010. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jan/26/haiti-earthquake-shooting-girl-story (accessed 27th May 2020)

The Reel Foto. (2013) Fabienne Cherisma: a picture of a dead Haitian girl surrounded by photographers. Available at: http://reelfoto.blogspot.com/2013/05/fabienne-cherisma-picture-of-dead.html (accessed 27th May 2020)

Morris, E. (2010) Thought experiment #2. The New York Times, January 12th 2010. Available at: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/thought-experiment-2/ (accessed 27th May 2020)

Ritchin, F. (2009) Toward a Hyperphotography in: After photography. New York: W.W. Norton and Company Ltd. pp. 140-161

Ritchin, F. (2014) Lecture. Fred Ritchin. Bending the Frame. C/O Berlin. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=541UY8jgkxU (accessed 23rd May 2020)

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