Between The Eyes, Essays on Photography and Politics, (2005) by David Levi Strauss, New York: Aperture. ISBN: 978-1-59711-214-7.
Strauss looks at how politics has influenced art taking examples of the Vietnam war, San Salvador, The Gulf war, Rwanda, 911, etc.
Journalists working for the largest news media outlets in America operate under the institutional myth of objectivity in journalism. Sociologist Herbert J. Gans, in his study of how the national news media portray America, registers surprise at the extent to which professional journalists believe their product to be “outside ideology”. Journalists and editors…associated ideology with extremism and defined their own motivations tautologically, to exclude ideology. One top editor (for either Newsweek or Time) told Gans that the primary task in story selection is “to tell the readers this is what we think is important, and hope they’ll feel the same way, but our aim isn’t ideological.” Gans recognizes the delusion in such remarks. ” The exclusion of conscious values implies the exclusion of conscious ideology, but the ways in which journalists reject ideology and deal with it when it appears provide further insight into workings of objectivity – and an understanding of how unconscious values, and thereby unconscious ideology, enter into news judgement.” (p.15, Strauss, 2005).
Another way of enhancing the illusion of objectivity (and suppressing the subjective function) of photographs is to present them as more or less anonymous. While writers are at least sometimes given bylines, photo credits – if they appear at all – are nearly invisible. No one took these pictures. Or Newsweek took them. No one decided what and when. No one died making them……”The facts we see depend on where we are placed and the habits of our eyes. said Walter Lippmann. How does an individual photographer’s point of view affect the news photographs he or she makes? Does that point of view change over time? How is it affected by experience, including the experience of taking war photographs? How is the point of view of the photographer obscured in photographs appearing in a “news context”? What is the relation between the individual photographer and the mechanism through which his or her photographs are manufactured into “news”?…..In his book Literature and Propaganda, A.P. Folks writes: “If we refer to the nineteenth century as the Age of Ideology, then it seems even more appropriate to regard the present century as the Age of Propaganda. Twentieth century propaganda…is world wide and all pervasive.” (p.17, Strauss, 2005).
Jacques Ellul’s book Propaganda, originally published in French in 1962 was the first comprehensive treatment of modern propaganda as a pervasive force in contemporary life. Ellul recognised propaganda not as a “sinister invention of the military cast,” or of a few evil men, but as “the expression of modern society as a whole.” Rather than picturing the propagandee as innocent victims and prey “pushed into evil ways by the propagandist,” Ellul says the propagendee “provokes the psychological action of propaganda, and not merely lends himself to it, but even derives satisfaction from it. Without this previous, implicit consent, without this need for propaganda experienced by practically every citizen of the technological age, propaganda could not have spread.” Ellul’s analysis takes propaganda not as an isolated historical technique, but as an inevitable arising from a technological society: “Mass production without widespread identical views as to what the necessities of life are.” It was the rapid rise and tremendous sophistication of product advertising and publicity that ushered in the new Age of Propaganda. (p.18-19, Strauss, 2005).
Every photograph is an act amid a complex structure of choices. These choices, which extend beyond the time of the photograph, influence the photograph before during and after its instant. Reading photographs in context is a participation in this complex. (p33, Strauss, 2005).
People believe what they see in photographs. The imagination is thought to be yoked to the material world, to “reality” in a quite different way than with painting. (p.53, Strauss, 2005).
What goes between the eyes is often concealed beforehand – veiled or masked in order to better slip between worlds. According to the ancients, the pineal gland, located right between the eyes, is the seat of the soul, acting as a link between the visible and invisible worlds. But the eyes must rely on the evidence of appearances, that which is revealed by light…..Photography is light-writing, the language of images. Less abstract than written or spoken language, it selects images from existing world of appearances and arranges them in patterns. The camera-eye doesn’t think, it recognises. It shows us what we already know, but doesn’t know that we know. Its syntax is less constrained than its grammar, so the way images are put together is important. (p.110, Strauss, 2005).
“Colours is the expression and suffering of light” / ” Colours are the deeds / suffering of the light.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1772.
In Rio Branco’s images colours become characters, with their own histories, attributes and roles to play. They move around one another like the capoeiristas, in that kind of fighting that is also a dance. (p.110, Strauss, 2005).
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