Should Photographers Depict Reality, Or Try to Change It?
by David Bacon
Can photographers be participants in the social events they document? Eighty years ago the question would have seemed irrelevant in the political upsurges of the 1930s, in both Mexico and the United States. Many photographers were political activists, and saw their work intimately connected to workers strikes, political revolution or the movements for indigenous rights.
Today what was an obvious link is often viewed as a dangerous conflict of interest. Politics compromise art. Photographers must be objective and neutral, or at least stand at a distance from the reality they record on film or the compact flash card.
Now a book and a recent exhibition have provided both images and the narrative experiences of photographers that should reopen this debate. This Light of Ours, Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement, was published recently by the University Press of Mississippi, and the exhibition, Photography in Mexico, ran at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art last year. (more…)