Photography, Power & Others

This weeks topic considers the moral and ethical questions that need to be addressed in our research and how to then implement these in order to sustain an ethical practice.
There are three main parties we need to consider when thinking about ethics within others’ and our own practice; the author, the subject and the audience. We can look at these three points in the form of an ethical triangle, where each point refers to the other. It is the relationship between each of these that is important, in an ideal world we want equal balance of power between all, but this doesn’t always work - and is that okay? As I discussed prior when exploring Steve McCurry’s portrait ‘Afghan Girl’ I stated that he, as the photographer and an older, western male, held the power over his subject who did not consent to the image being taken. Clearly there was an imbalance there, but would he have achieved such a powerful image in other circumstances?

Sally Mann’s project ‘Immediate Family’ focuses on her children and close family members, watching their developing childhood and everything this encompasses - growth, sexuality, dependence and autonomy. 

Mann’s work has been heavily criticised because of such themes; critics saw the work as exploiting and sexualising her young children, showing them naked or hurt. How can children of this age consent to these images being taken? In fact, all Mann was portraying was the journey of childhood, the highs and lows, and discoveries that every child goes through as they grow and find their own independence and self. Mann resisted publishing the work until later, when her children were old enough to understand the pictures, and she had consent from them. Certain images didn’t make the cut because they didn’t want them to be. 
Although some of the images may initially be quite frank and harsh, the negative implications of sexualising the nude children I think comes from the viewer rather than Mann herself. Children do not understand adult politics, they just like to be naked and free. Mann, as their mother is just showing them living naturally and authentically. If a viewer see’s this as sexual, this is simply their own prejudices projecting on what they are seeing. When we think back to our three main elements, this is an example where the ethical balance is uneven, where the audience can take the power and change the meaning from the authors intentions and what the subject(s) agreed too. 

Interpreting images is entirely subjective for every viewer, but can be categorised culturally and therefore known by the term ‘gazes’. So we can talk generally about how a certain group may view something. Problems occur when certain types of gazes dominate - we particularly see this with the male gaze and the western gaze. What does it mean for certain groups, cultures, or societies that see themselves almost solely through the gaze of others? It alters their perception of themselves.
We can recognise the male gaze through advertising for example, women are continually sexualised and and shown for male pleasure and this is so engrained within our society we may not even recognise it anymore. We make choices in order to match what is expected. 

“Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. (…) Thus she turns herself into an object - and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.” 
                                                                                                                                           -Berger, 1972 (47)

Reflect on the ‘triangle’ model in relation to your own practice: do you feel that there is any kind of imbalance in terms of the relationships between the three ‘corners’?

When I look at the ethical triangle model when referring to my own practice, due to the nature of my interest in people and their environments, there is clearly quite a strong relationship between me as the author and my subjects. There needs to be a level of trust there, and it is their involvement to allow me into their homes and spaces, which allows me to make the work I do. Respectfully, I want to portray my subjects as authentically as possible and although the power may lie with me as the photographer I want to share this power with my subjects in order to share exactly what they want to about themselves. I am not trying to push my perception of them, but enhance their own voice with my work. I think any imbalance may fall with the audience. I feel I have not quite found my confidence in myself and my practice and therefore have not really shared my work beyond my close circle. This is not necessarily without trying, but I have not reached platforms to push my work further. 

Think about any previous experiences out shooting: have there ever been any moments when you felt that what you were doing, or had done, was unjust or inappropriate? If so, what prompted this?

I think I particularly felt my taking of photos was inappropriate at certain times when I was travelling in SE Asia. I was very aware of my position of power as a Westerner documenting different cultures, and sometimes areas of poverty. This definitely crossed my mind when I was in Sapa, Northern Vietnam. I was trekking with a local guide and as we reached a certain check point, these little children were wandering round. I bent down to photograph them, and they immediately after held out these hand made bracelets encouraging me to buy one. I then watched as the same thing happened to another Westerner, an older male this time, and just felt this awful feeling that I was exploiting them for an image. 

What did this experience teach you about your approaches, both practically and conceptually?

I think this experience really reminded me of my position as a Westerner in a totally different continent with very different cultures. I did not want my photographs to be exploitative and highlighting how different these people may be. I realise my images to some extent will always be seen through the Western gaze as that is who I am, but it made me stop and think before taking a shot. 

  • Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing. Penguin Books, London
  • Public Delivery (2021). Why was Sally Mann’s Immediate Family so controversial?  Available at: (Accessed: 14 April 2021).
  • Widewalls (2021). 5 Most Important Themes in the Photography of Sally Mann. Available at: (Accessed: 14 April 2021).

Nature & Culture

When we try to define ‘nature’ we automatically think of the landscape - rolling hills, forests, rivers and seas, or we think of all the species of animals and plants, which are all great examples of nature but they don’t actually define it. 

I would define nature as the natural occurrences that happen without human interaction. 

We tend to think of ourselves as opposite to nature - but why do we separate ourselves from the animal kingdom which we are ultimately part of? We have evolved further, but only by our own standards. I think when we oppose human nature from the natural world we are referring to things that are ‘man made’. As a species we have created things that are harmful to nature, and we have learnt that we are the reasons behind the natural downfall like global warming and climate change. Yet ultimately we are part of nature, it is the secondary things we have created that oppose it really.

Jo Spence’s collaboration with Terry Dennett titled ‘Remodelling Photo History: Industrialisation 1981-82’ shows two images side by side of naked figures in the landscape. The work is a feminist statement about the patriarchal cultural and societal structures at a time where concerns for the planet were just heating up and the diptych plays to the common representations of nature. Her image, on the left, shows herself naked lying in the grass, she is beautiful lying in a beautiful landscape. She is seen through the male gaze, romanticised and there for his pleasure. She blends so elegantly into the natural scene, being a part of nature. Dennett’s image on the right is harsher, straight to the point. He stands there, his powerful stance filling the foreground of the frame and mirroring the electricity pylons in the background. Man and industrialisation as one. 

Landscape as a genre can call on a few different themes; traditional landscapes - beautiful sea or mountain scapes for example, industrial landscapes - looking at the human made development areas within the landscape and then the sublime - dramatic and beautiful which can overlap either of the other two. 

Edward Burtynsky’s industrial landscapes are a fine example of this. They comment on pollution and the lengths we go as humans to get what we want, but looking at the damage this causes the to the world we live. The subject matter is harsh and powerful, the scenes he captures are not traditionally beautiful but that doesn’t mean they are not dramatically alluring. The man made patterns in the landscape express their own kind of beauty, yet with sinister and sobering undertones. 

As stated at the beginning, my initial response to the word nature was to separate the natural occurring world from human intervention. To an extent I still believe this to be the case but I think this is problematic because we start to disassociate ourselves  from being a part of nature. 

Location and place features very strongly in my practice, a lot of my work is about the environments of my subjects and how the space reflects and is a part of them. Although this may mean their houses or studios, it can also mean the natural landscape too. Anywhere my subjects feel connected too, that is what I enjoy showing in my work. 

My work doesn’t have a direct link to the topic of human consumption, but this is a topic that links to everything we do. We as a species are greedy, we have taken exactly what we want for so long, and it is only when we start to see the serious effects of these actions that we realise what we have done. My work is about telling individual stories, and no matter who we are, we have played a part in this. One project that I have started and yet to progress further with is looking at those who choose to live off grid, these people are actively making better choices for themselves and the planet. 

  • Edward Burtysky (2021) Photographs: Mines . Available at: (Accessed: 25th March 2021).
  • Museo Reina Sofía (2021) Jo Spence Terry Dennett - Remodelling Photo History (The History Lesson) Available at: (Accessed: 25th March 2021).

Audiences & Institutions

For this weeks topic, we were first asked to think about what aspect or style of photography that we can’t stand and would therefore put in and banish away to the photography room 101. 

I decided that I would put the studio photography based companies.. like Venture.

I don’t know if it’s controversial or not, but I find portraits like these so cold and empty, and don’t understand the popularity. The plain backdrops gives me no sense of personality between each family/group captured, I personally am interested in space and environment which makes me very biased to this sort of set up - but it feels empty and clinical to me and lacking a sort of originality between subjects. 

Audiences and Institutions refers to the places and the way we share our work as photographers.
Over time photography has evolved so much with new technology, and so the audiences and institutions connected to the subject have changed rather a lot too. Photography and cameras now are so intwined in our modern culture that we no longer see cameras advertised in main stream media anymore - they don’t need to be advertised like they used to because the vast majority of us already own a camera of some sort. 
The digital age of photography has created questions about what constitutes a photographer as ‘professional’. What is it that separates the amateurs from the experts? Initially we think that it is about finances, if your main income is from taking photos does that make you a professional - or is it the skills you have in the area. Ultimately it is a mix of both of these that I consider make up a professional. However, there are loopholes. Just because someone doesn’t financially gain from their photographs, that doesn’t take away how skilfully shot, or ‘good’ they may be. Furthermore, Vivian Maier is a perfect example of this. She worked throughout her life as a nanny, she took photos as a personal hobby. These photos however, never saw the light of day until they were discovered after her passing. Maier did not work professionally in the modern sense, but we look at these clever shots and cannot doubt that they are superb images. The stamp of professionalism on them however has been placed there by us as viewers, we can presume this was not her intent as she was shooting. 

Logically this classes Maier’s practice as ‘amateur’, although we know this is not true it proves that the difference between amateur and professional is not black and white. 

I have always struggled with where I stand on this spectrum as a photographer. Throughout university and certainly after I graduated they told me I was a professional now, my degree a part of that title. Yet my failure to then secure a job AS a photographer or work freelance then made me doubt myself and my abilities. My skills are still there behind the images I take, and I know I am more than an amateur, but I sometimes struggle to class myself as a professional because I worry I cannot prove this - and how will people believe me? A lot of these feelings comes down to my own self doubt which I am trying to break down. 

Although I have worked traditionally with film photography before and want to continue to, my practice is majoritively digital. I am more confident using the latter, so in a way this has definitely shaped my practice. I have had my work displayed in different galleries and exhibitions, but they are not frequent. I mainly show my work online, on my website or on my social media. Any time my work has been shown physically it has fitted to a certain theme, except during the one solo exhibition I had at Craft village. A part from the exhibitions which would have attracted a whole range of audiences, my main audience is those who follow my photography social page - a mix but I would say mainly people I know. This limits to how far my work can reach. 

I want photography to be my work, I think my struggle lies with finding a commercial side to bring the money in.  I am interested in documentary and don’t have a passion for shooting weddings, or photojournalism or other standard commercial practices - but realistically this is how photographers make their money which then allows them to make work on their personal projects alongside. Ideally I would like to work for a magazine, shooting interesting stories, but it is not common for photographers to be a hired part of the team now - they tend to be freelance. I therefore need to build my confidence in working as a freelance photographer, where I could then sell my projects to magazines in order to generate an income. 

Although I find myself somewhere in between ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ I know what I am capable of. I need to have more faith in myself, push my boundaries, challenge myself and get over the fear of it all in order to overcome it. I want to be a professional photographer, and I think my biggest hurdle is making myself believe it so that others do too. 

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