April 30, 2018
This photo is of the news report about when the Westboro Baptist Church visited my local community. I can remember walking out of my high school and seeing them standing across the street, chanting hate speech, some which felt directly targeted at me since I was struggling with my sexuality.
I remember feeling attacked and angry. The things they were saying were unhuman. You know you hear about these things on TV and read about horrible atrocities in textbooks, but to look true evil in the eye and have them shout obscenities at your face…well that is a feeling I have never experienced before. It was something completely new to the evil I watched in the JonBenet Ramsey documentary. This was the next glass shattering point in my life. There was no longer a screen to divide the evil from my comfortable viewing space.
Looking pure hate and evil in the eyes I believe has helped me better comprehend evil when it is presented in the form of a documentary medium. Whenever I am trying to understand any type of evil presented in a book or documentary, I think back to the look in the 18-year old West Baptist Church eyes when he shouted “god hates fags” and it helped me better understand the evil in front of me when watching documentary film.
Even though I discovered this album early in my college career I have still included it in the “growing up” category because this album did truly help me grow up and come into my own, authentic self that would guide me through college. Troye Sivan’s Blue Neighborhood (2015) is a raw pop album documenting Troye’s coming out process in a chronological sense. It begins with a song called “WILD” which is an upbeat song about when you first realize who you are authentically attracted to and allow the feeling to take over and act on it. This is something I related to so heavily and was able to fully relate to the emotions in the song with my own coming process. The rest of the album documents how you deal with religion and sexuality, as well as facing parents who may not be accepting, and even the feeling of being a party for the first time with others you might be attracted to. The authenticity in Sivan’s lyrical choices drew me in and helped me come to terms with my own sexuality.
My two big takeaways from this album were empowerment and the power of authenticity in all forms of media. After listening several times and becoming comfortable in my own skin, I believe this album, along with following the career of Sivan, helped me develop into an advocate for not only my own community but for other marginalized communities around me. Even today when I am feeling down or not empowered, I can listen to this album and feel a sense of inspiration to change the community around me.
I believe this empowerment comes through the authenticity of the album. When you hear Troye’s heart-wrenching lyrics about struggling with his sexuality and his religion, some may feel sad, but as someone who has gone through the same struggle, I feel empowered by the fact that someone else had the same worries and that they made it through, turning the weakness into a strength. Authenticity in whatever work you create makes the work more powerful and increases it’s effect on the world. The authenticity in documentary’s like 2017s Sky and Ground was fostered by the family recording their journey themselves. You got an authentic look at what makes up a refugee family and because so, the work was more impactful in helping people outside the crisis relate to the family. While watching you are able to see similarities in your life, such as the family’s use of social media, that allow you to form a parallel with the family and empathize with their struggle.
At least for me, authenticity brings power and power brings direct impact on the audiences or goals one is trying to reach through any sense of media. In the case of Troye Sivan, his album’s authenticity not only helped me overcome my own demons, but also empowered me to be an advocate for the marginalized in my own community.
The photo above is one painted by my grandmother Joanne Laur. She painted this archway at the Brook Green Gardens in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. As a child, I can remember staring into this picture with aw and wonderment. I had no idea it was a real place and to me seemed to represent some mystical and fictional landscaped that existed in the world. I am still trying to pin down exactly how these works have influenced me in the way that I view various works of documentary media. I think one thing that comes to mind is staging, especially how we have talked about it in class. Works like this, naturally capturing beauty without the ability to stage or alter, prove that one does not need to stage something to capture beauty, and honestly, staging beauty can have a negative effect, making the work seem artificial. I wonder though, does the same go for hurt and trauma, is it as easy to stage a painful situation over a beautiful one? I would argue that it is impossible to truly capture the emotional response from a traumatic event through staging, especially in landscapes and people. Based of the work below, the beauty comes from the untouched, unstaged, natural feel of the piece. I am still trying to pin down exactly how these works have inspired and influenced me but I do think paintings like this give me hints at what it means to evoke an emotional response, either good or bad, from those viewing an image.
April 30, 2018
My mother was never a big fan of collecting art. She didn’t really ever buy any fancy decorations or unnecessary table centerpieces for our house. Mostly out house was full of family photographs and my dad’s Harley Davidson memorabilia. However, we did have a few paintings hanging around our house, all paintings that my grandmother had done. Her favorite subjects were flowers, archways, and of course, her grandchildren. I never realized how having these pieces hanging around our house had impacted the way I view art, documentary work, and photography until this class forced me to dig a bit deeper into the things that have impacted the way i think and work. I realized something, however, that my grandmother in her portraits, did not typically paint us, her grandchildren, posed and smiling for the camera or brush. Instead, while we weren’t paying attention, she captured candid photographs of us doing everyday things and then turned these photographs into paintings. The one above is a painting of me teaching my brother to read. The one directly below is of my sister “playing” the piano. What my grandmother did in these photos was to capture the pure innocence of a child. The world around them seems at peace, nothing can go wrong, they do not know what evils lurk in this world. These paintings reflect how I felt as a child and bring me back to a time before I saw the JonBenet Ramsey piece I mentioned in the earlier post. My main take-away from this influence is an understanding of what is meant by the word “innocence” from a personal point of view and has helped me uncover what I define as innocence as I see it being used to portray children in works of documentary media
Before the Flood really got me to start thinking about how I perceive the art of documentary. To be honest at the time I didn’t even really think about it as me questioning the truth or work of documentarians but after watching it abroad in class with my glaciology professor who pointed out several inaccuracies throughout the film, it got me thinking. Let me start off by staying that I did really enjoy this piece and think that it accomplished what it was trying to do. It was trying to show the mass media the effects of climate change through the voice of a prominent and attractive celebrity to garner pro-environment support during the Trump-Pruitt-Zinke era; however, in scenes such as Leo’s visit to an ice sheet, the amount of ice melted as a direct result of climate change is exaggerated, a fact explained to us by our very liberal and very pro-environment climatologist professor. I won’t get into the nitty gritty details about the exact inaccuracies, but regardless the truth was exaggerated…however, it was done so (maybe intentionally, maybe not) in a way that got people angry and motivated to combat climate change. So this left me with the question of is it okay to stretch the truth if it is promoting a noble cause?
On a similar note, in class last week we discussed whether or not we thought it was okay to stage a photo if it was something that really happened or if it was being done for “good”? I wanted to use this portfolio as an opportunity to discuss my thoughts on this matter using this documentary as an example. When I learned about the discrepancy I was a bit uncomfortable at first but then admittedly I was okay with it because the documentary was working toward a good cause and fighting toward preserving the planet; however, I believe this thought process is a slippery slope. It is hard to say that this is ethical or okay to do just because it aligns with my personal beliefs and political views. I honestly do not really have a solid answer to the “is staging okay?” question and to be fair I do not think one exists…but to me it seems obvious if staging a photo or video can save lives (which lives are definitely affected by climate change) then I am in favor of it.
Playing devils advocate, for something like this documentary above, it is hard to measure the impact it actually has. Will this documentary inspire Trump to take on climate change as him primary objective? Probably not. Will it insight some sort of massive protest that will make Congress act? It certainly has not yet..in fact people’s outrage over Trump election seems to done more in terms of motivating people (i.e. the climate and science marches across the globe). How do we measure the impact that this work has? Especially if we are using a measure of impact so say whether or not a documentary work is ethical or allowed to be staged? Sadly, all of this is bringing me back to the end of Humanitarian Photography where ultimately the argument leans into the idea that no documentary work is ethical or free of issue. I think though it is less important to try and find an exact measurement of impact or standard of ethics. I believe that the first step in achieving a more ethical and impact documentary piece is to start by educating people to tell their own stories. The power of storytelling, especially when its your own, is unmatched and allowed for it to be constructed the way the person wants it and without bias…however, this is only if they are truly educated on the impact the work could have and the ways in which it is distributed. In sum, I submit that instead of culminating a work that documents an ethical standard for documentary work, we should focus on educating people to their own stories and understand the impact that their work can have.
When asked to dig way way back, to the first piece of documentary media that has an impact on me was a documentary about the death of Jonbenet Ramsey. I remember waking up late at night (which was probably like 8pm since I was so little) and spying on my parents watching TV. I thought I would be slick and stay up past my bedtime and watch TV. They were watching a documentary about the death of Jonbenet. At the time I recently became the older brother to a sister, that combined with the sheer evil behind her murder, struck a chord that still gives me chills as I write this entry. I am still trying to narrow down exactly why this struck such a chord yet I was not as perturbed by the images on the front of our textbook for class. Both show innocence but the ones of the children on the textbook explicitly show the aftermath of mutilation. The documentary I watched showed only smiling photos of the young girl and home videos. I think that one reason I was more disturbed by Jonbenet’s documentary was because I was reminded of the home videos of my family and the smiling photos of my sister. It all seemed so real and a more relatable evil than King Leopold’s regime. I want to continue unpacking this as I go throughout the course and unravel why this photo and the documentary has impacted me so much.
April 10, 2018
After presenting this piece to the class I was challenged to think a little bit harder about the lasting effects of the image on my everyday life and how I view documentary work., as well as the world. What I have come to realize is that this experience of watching the TV broadcast, was the moment where my innocence glass was shattered. After this moment, I learned about the true evil that exists within the world and from this point on, I became terrified of strangers in public.
To this day the image still terrifies me. It bothers me much more than say the photos of the decapitated children photographed during King Leopold’s rule over the Congo. This image does not depict anything gory or graphic, it is solely a picture of innocence. The picture causes the viewer to have to imagine for themselves the horrors of what happened rather than just blatantly show it. I think what this narrows down to is we as humans, or at least me, can trace feelings of distain toward human rights violations to a violation of the innocent. Whether its children of the refugee crisis or a photo of a murdered child, when I see an image of destroyed innocence it reminds me of that first time I saw the image and how my own perceptions of the world changed forever.
April 30, 2018
I had one final thought I wanted to add about this piece. The story of Ramsey’s murder was one that caught the attention of Americans across the country. People were following this story as they would any fictional crime drama, watching as the police jumped from suspect to suspect and from story to story. The way that it was presented to world was in a way similar of any good crime documentary and in a way that looking back now makes me extremely uncomfortable. The death of this innocent girl was commercialized by networks across the country–treating her story more like an episode of CSI, rather than respecting her and the family.
This example speaks multitudes about the commercialization of violence and human rights. By recognizing this commercialization, it has had a sobering effect one me. An initial reaction of disgust at the networks and distributors involved in the commercialization, has now led me to think about the ways in which we are commercializing other human rights violations. The cover of Humanitarian Photography, I believe is a perfect example of this. The shock value of the two children on the front cover works to draw in the attention of people walking by the book, making the children not only subject to human rights violations over a hundred years ago, but also in book stores across America. To sum it up, I believe that the commercialization of a human rights issue is in most cases a violation of human rights itself. I do, however, question whether or not the commercialization is ethical if its being used to raise funds and awareness for those in need. The answer to this question I do not have and I am unsure if I will truly ever have an answer to it.
The year is 2018, a time when I now receive push notifications about documenting human rights straight to my Apple watch. What a time to be alive! But seriously, the ways in which technology has revolutionized the way we create documentary media is astounding. When an article titled “The 15-year-old documenting Eastern Ghouta massacre with selfie videos” popped up on my watch the other day I immediately clicked “save” and pulled out my computer to read the piece. I was shocked. I was shocked by SO many pieces of it that I thought it necessary to unpack it here.
Firstly, in the era where anyone can be a documentarian, asking those who document to consider the ethics behind what they film can be difficult. With a tap and click, a photo or video can go viral with little thought going into the effect(s) that it may have. This case is special however, the documentarian is also the documented. The ease of Selfies (technically a forward facing camera) allows more people an easier way to tell their stories how they want them. The boy, named Muhammed Najem, uses social media to post selfies documenting the atrocities taking place Syria’s Eastern Ghouta–one of the most violent regions involved in the Syrian conflict. Ghouta not only posts videos of himself and his surroundings, but he interviews other children as well. Unlike the photos we discussed in class of the emaciated and tortured Congolese children of the during King Leopold’s rule, these children are framing their own stories and own hardships for the world to see.
Secondly, I want to talk about “a call to action” and the responsibility of those who see images on social media. Honestly, when I see a video like Najem’s who specifically calls on those watching to act through his accusation that “we are killed by your silence”, I am not sure what to do or what action to take. I do think however, that spreading the word and being active on social media is a way of combating the violence. Social media is great at exposing the truth, we see it everyday with celebrities, affairs, other things people want to hide. Social media makes it easier to shed light on things that bad people want to hide. When the light is shone on these issues, it puts more pressure on those who have the power to act. A 20-year old mechanic from Oklahoma might not be able to make a direct contribution to the Syrian crisis, but if every mechanic in Oklahoma or in the United States shares this atrocity and their friends on various social media platforms see it…think of the change that can be had. Social media allows of the creation of grassroots campaigns that can be picked up by those with greater power and can spur the enactment of change.
The title of this post comes from NBC’s weekly coverage of the American opioid epidemic (https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/americas-heroin-epidemic). The crisis has led to the release of several photos of people of all ages who have overdosed on opioids. This release of photos has produced a firestorm of ethical and critical debate over the exposure of those in the photos. Here is a photo of two grandparents, seemingly dead from opioid use, with their young grandson in the back seat released by the police office/department who was initially called to the scene. I have also included a screenshot of the original Facebook post.
This has just elevated my questions as to is the exploitation of one subject worth fostering support and “help” for an entire community? And how do we measure how big of an effect that the exploitation actually had?
Feb 26, 2018
I thought about why this image left such a lasting impact on me. A few year ago one of my childhood best friends died of an opioid overdose. Seeing this image made me immediately think of Chelsea and the pain she must have been going through before her death. She hid her addiction from everyone very well, so well that unfortunately no one was able to help her in time. I think this experience speaks volumes about what images resonate with viewers and how people view an image may differ based on the amount of sympathy/empathy they are able to possess toward a subject. Images of drug addiction, for many reasons, are way more impactful for me than images of tragedies I have never experienced. Not to say that I am not moved to take action by refugee photos or upset by the photos of the Congolese during Leopold’s regime, but when I see an image of something I can relate too because of personal experience or trauma it touches a deeper note for me…one that almost makes me feel a bit frozen and unable to take action.
In much of the work we have read so far we have focused solely on the violation of human rights. Photographer, Annie Tritt (website here: http://www.annietritt.com/transcending-self/), has taken a new approach to documenting the lives of queer people. Usually characterized by abuse, illness, and death, Annie paints the lives of transgender youth in a power and uplifting way–inspiring the subjects of the images themselves, as well as the people who view the images. Check out this mini-documentary that Huffington Post made on Annie and her project titled Transcendingself
Annie Tritt is a photographer with a knack for capturing people's authentic selves. She started the Transcending Self project to share photos and stories of transgender and nonbinary youth, but wanted to make it more interactive. So she created the Transcendingself Facebook Page that’s now turned into a powerful community of support for trans people.
The reading about Capa’s work during the Spanish Civil War reminded me of this post. I appreciate documentarians who work to retell the stories of those who have their stories told against their wishes or told in a way that has created untrue stereotypes. As Capa worked to paint the lives of soldiers and militia members in a new light, as people with unique and diverse interests, not just as weapons of mass destruction, Annie Tritt is redefining what it means to be a transgender youth.
I have also thought a bit more about why this caught my attention. As someone who identifies as gay, I empathize with having your story told in an incorrect or misrepresented fashion. Growing up, the majority of LGBTQ stories I saw or documentaries I knew up only focused on the AIDS epidemic…so much so that when I came out as gay my Mom started crying because she was under the impression that everyone was gay contracts aids. I wish that I saw more LGBTQ stories told in a positive light, and maybe if I had I would have come out as gay a lot earlier in life.
My first encounter with the study of ethics was in my senior yeah of high school. I could lie and say that ethics was a field of which I have always been intrigued and made it a priority to study in high school…but I won’t. Truth be told I was looking for an easy online class that would allow me to have early dismissal; however, the impact that “easy” class would leave on me was something that I could have never imagined. I can remember being asked by the online professor to write a statement on the first day in response to the question “is the study of ethics worthwhile or a waste of time?” I of course was like “yes…obviously it is important to making the best decision possible.” But as the class progressed I began to question what “best” actually means? Do we make decisions based on morality? Does that make it the best option? But then I started to question what is actually the most moral?” Long story short…I left the class more confused and frustrated than ever. This confusion and lack of understanding of the purpose of ethics has inspired me to pursue an answer to the above question–a question that I am aware I may never find an answer. This is a drive that pursued me to take this course and find an application for the study. I do believe that in the case of human rights, the study of ethics is highly valuable and I look forward to further exploring the subject throughout the course.
Feb 26, 2018
I still do not have my answer to the question above. One of the most interesting ethical dilemmas that has arisen for is the fact that it is so easy to be a documentarian in today’s technological world. No longer does one have to study at a university or the art, history, and ethics behind documentary media. Anyone able to work a smartphone has the ability to document, post, and produce viral attention. I think that this feat will revolutionize the way we look at documentary media and the ethics behind it. I am questioning the purpose of theorize about what is right and what is wrong if that message won’t reach the majority of people. Academic’s can debate back and forth from their ivory tower, yet per my post about the 15-year old boy documenting the crisis in Syria, what is the point of this debate if a large amount of people can be documentarians but never have access to the academic debate afforded to the privileged.