November 17, 2010

"Dark Side of the Lens"

When I first started this blog I wrote a few posts about what different people do with photography, how they use it, and why. Those were inspired by social scientists and anthropologists who have looked into the social meanings and uses of photography--Pierre Bourdieu, Jay Ruby, Elizabeth Edwards, among others. Some of those posts looked at the lives of particular professional photographers, like Ralph Gibson (or Gary Winogrand), others looked at forgotten images, and there were one or two about family portraits. There were also some posts about photography and tourism (which is one of my favorite longstanding themes--I have tons of photographs of tourists taking pictures): One about Joshua Tree, CA; one from Coba, Mexico; another about how images are used to sell the idea of places in tourism; and also one that speaks to the uses of cameras at zoos.

Jay Ruby's 1981 essay "Seeing Through Pictures: The Anthropology of Photography" is one of my favorites. He writes, "As an anthropologist I am less interested in a critical analysis of "important" photographs than in the everyday use of photography by ordinary people. To paraphrase a Bertold Brecht poem, I don't care which Emperor built the Great Wall of China. I want to know where the bricklayers went the night they finished the construction." Exactly. As someone who started off in the art world before gravitating to anthropology, I can attest to the fact that galleries and art markets are often focused on "important" images--and that whole world of trends, money, and placing value on particular images would be an anthropological study in and of itself. But I'm also really interested in the ways in which people in general--not just Richard Avedon (or insert the latest young photographic genius)--use photography in daily life. Since we're flooded with imagery, we might as well look at how and why different people actually engage with it--from those who use iPhone cameras all the way to people who are addicted to getting (and maybe even USING) the newest overpriced Leica.

Anyway, all that is to set up the following video, which is a pretty interesting piece. It's dedicated to explaining how one person uses photography, and why--all in a very polished, narrative, cohesive media presentation. Check it out:

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