October 7, 2009


Everything that we use to investigate, catalog, record, document, analyze, and describe the world ends up—in some way or another—shaping the final product. Whether we are talking about language, digital voice recorders, cameras, or archaeological flotation machines. Everything reduces the complexity of the world and gives us only a sample of reality. Photographs, despite their clarity and power, are simple and highly limited reproductions/reflections of dynamic process and experiences. Photographs really look nothing like three-dimensional situations that they are copies of. A photograph is a fragmentary moment that is created within a series of choices and editorial decisions by a photographer: lens choice, angle, exposure, framing, depth of field, shutter speed, and so on. The same goes for the concepts that we use to explain and talk about the realities we live in: power, gender, agency, discourse, structure, practice, and so on.

So what now? Is the answer that we should find way to work within the limits of our analytical tools? Should we accept the fact that a photograph is little more than a shadow of reality, but also use it for what it CAN tell us about the world around us? Should we realize that words like "gender" are often heavily constrained by present meanings, but still use them anyway? The other option is to ditch these tools altogether. But, what does that mean? Should a photographer who is frustrated with the limits of his/her medium simply ditch the camera? Or should they find ways to acknowledge and work within the explanatory, analytical, and documentary limits of the equipment at hand?

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