Page 1

Citizen Activism: The Camera and Social Change Michael Gill, B.F.A. Studio Art with Specialization in Photography Cazenovia College, Cazenovia, NY

Figure 0.1

FA 498.01 Senior Project: Research & Development Faculty Advisor, Jen Pepper, Associate Professor of Studio Art & Design Faculty Committee Members: Dr. Warren Olin-Ammentorp, Professor of English Anita Welych, Professor of Studio Art & Design Professional Contact: Elisha Stasko, Photographer and Visiting Professor, Onondaga Community College December, 2015

Figure 0.2


Table of Contents Dedication

i

Thesis Statement

ii

Introduction

iii

I.

History of Photographic Activism – Progressive Era

1

– Farm Security Administration

3

– Civil Rights and Beyond

6

II. Photography as an Essential Communication Tool – Emotion and Human Connection

9

– Photograph as Memory and Meaning

12

III. Critical Interpretation & Mitigation of Falsity – The Photograph as Truth

14

– Photography Ethics

16

IV. Making Technological and Societal Advances – Camera Phones, Social Media, and Citizen Journalism

19

– Activism Evolution

20

V. Current Photographic Activism – The Arab Spring and Daesh

23

– #BlackLivesMatter

28

Final Remarks

32

Annotated Works Cited Bibliography

33

Image Consulted Bibliography

39

Images of BFA Solo Thesis Exhibition 4/9/16-4/15/16 “A Necessary Conversation: Voices on Body Image and Disease”

45

Addendum (Authored April 2016)

58


Gill

i

Dedication

To my family and friends; without their support I would not have been able to pursue my academic interests.

To my professors and mentors; who allowed me to carve my own path.

To those that have lost their lives making change, and those who have lost their lives as a result of the oppressors we seek to eliminate.

And,

To those determined to make positive change in the world; each small effort is a push towards the future.


Gill

ii

Thesis Activism and social justice are centerpieces of contemporary culture. With the rise of social media, photographs and videos have become popularized as tools for citizen activism and journalism. Photographs and videos, both camera based imagery, as simple tools and complex arts, are the mediums of choice for both individual, grassroots activism, particularly in creating and fostering collective identities, and organized, legacy activism and reporting, as evident in the use of citizen journalism to expose human rights atrocities.


Gill

iii

Introduction Photography has a deep-rooted history in activism, from Farm Security Administration photographer Dorothea Lange (b. 1895 d. 1965 n. American) and muckraker Jacob Riis (b. 1849 d. 1914 n. Danish-American), to Civil Rights photographer Gordon Parks (b. 1912 d. 2006 n. American) and Associated Press photographer Nick Ut (b. 1951 n. Vietnamese). This history established photography’s role as a tool for social change through activism. As the camera became more accessible, the means of sharing imagery diversified, and the popularity of citizen journalism grew, photography as activism became an option for every individual with a camera and, eventually, every individual with a smartphone. In contemporary photography we see images and video advocating for causes all around the world, most recently and prominently in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and citizen journalists reporting in the Middle East and Paris. Photography has become an essential tool for the individual to promote social change. In addition to its availability, the photograph presents itself with an undeniable strength, particularly when invoking a human connection. Socialdocumentary photographers have long relied on this strength, and contemporary activists are following through with this trend. In order to further understand the place of photography in activism, it is important to understand the ways in which individuals have encouraged social change through photographic activism. Warning: This research contains graphic images and accounts of recent tragedies.


Gill 1

I - History of Photographic Activism Poverty Reform in the Progressive Era To understand how modern photographic activism functions, one must first have a thorough understanding of the history of the subject. This history starts in a very muddled and accidental way, due to the upper-class association of early photography that was prevalent during the American and British Progressive eras, times in the mid 1800’s to 1920’s where social change and political reform were widespread. As Michelle Bogre, a contemporary writer and activist photographer notes, “most of the early photographers, particularly those in Britain, were affluent amateurs, they were … fascinated by the ‘working man’ … Whether intentional or not, they made the first ‘activist’ photographs.” Reflecting back on the works of these early photographers, it is clear to see that their images often advocated for the disadvantaged “working men” who were frequently trapped in a cycle of poverty by the upper class (Bogre 10). One example of this early activist photography is Robert Adamson and David Octavius Hill’s series of fisherfolk taken in the mid 1840’s (Figure 1.1). Adamson (b. 1821 d. 1848 n. Scottish), a chemist and photographer, and Hill (b. 1802 d. 1870 n. Scottish), a painter and arts activist, inspired by the poverty brought on in industrializing Edinburgh, Scotland, photographed the nearby fishing village of Newhaven. It is believed that their intent was to sell the prints to Edinburg society clients to benefit the fishermen by improving their boats (Bogre 10). Due to Adamson’s sudden death, and the lack of records regarding any benefit to the Figure 1.1

fishermen, one may assume that Hill was unable to produce


Gill 2 much benefit for the fishermen. Regardless, humanitarian work such as this had never been produced on such an influential scale. Another early activist photographer was John Thomson (b. 1837 d.1921 n. Scottish), who captures the essence of poverty in the report Street Life in London (Figure 1.2). Thomson’s images were paired with writings from the radical journalist Adolphe Smith (b. 1846 d. 1925 n. British), and published as a book in 1876-1877. Street Life in London stated that the “indisputable precision of this report will show real cases of London poverty, without adding or subtracting from the true lives of the poor” (Govignon 50). In publishing

Figure 1.2

Street Life in London, Thomson and Smith were contributing to the building mass of work from photographers all over Europe regarding poverty stricken citizens in the late 1800’s, the exact mass of work that would lay the foundation of photographic activism. In a similar vein of as Adamson, Hill, Thomson, and Smith in the United Kingdom is the work of the renowned photographer Jacob Riis (b. 1849 d. 1914 n. Danish-American). Riis documented the extreme poverty of industrialized New York City, particularly focusing on the poor sections of downtown Figure 1.3

Manhattan (Figure 1.3). One of these sections


Gill 3 was Mulberry Bend, a slum on Manhattan’s Lower East side which housed more than a million people in 37,000 underdeveloped tenement buildings (Bogre 27). Riis explains his motivation for his work in the preface of his highly influential 1890 book How the Other Half Lives: The belief that every man’s experience ought to be worth something to the community from which he drew it, no matter what that experience may be, so long as it was gleaned along the line of some decent, honest work, made me begin this book. (Riis) Riis’ work, which was published in How the Other Half Lives and many newspapers, was instrumental in creating public reaction to the living conditions of the poor. The work resulted in updating tenements, creating public gardens, closing police shelters, and renovating schools (Govignon 51). The work of early activist photographers like Riis, Thomson, and Hill set the foundation for photography as a tool for advocacy. They showed the world that photography had the ability to not only document and report events but also to force serious reform. Without these early 19th century activist photographers making use of the camera for social change their peers who followed may have not sought after the images they did.

The Farm Security Administration In response to the Stock Market crash of 1929, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (b. 1882 d. 1945 n. American) implemented the New Deal, which included the Farm Security Administration, or FSA. The FSA was tasked with recovering the decaying agricultural sector, and through R. G. Tugwell (b. 1891 d. 1979 n. American), the undersecretary of agriculture, Roy Stryker was hired to document the farmers impacted by the Depression. Stryker (b. 1893 d. 1975 n. American), a sociologist, hired a team of photographers to visually document the impacts of


Gill 4 the crashed economy on American farmers and citizens (Govignon 78). FSA photographers like Dorothea Lange (b. 1895 d. 1965 n. American), Walker Evans (b. 1903 d. 1975 n. American), and Gordon Parks (b. 1912 d. 2006 n. American) created images that not only documented the deplorable conditions brought on by the Depression, but also captured the emotions and humanity of those individuals hit the hardest. One of the most important images from the FSA, and arguably one of the most important images in history, is Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother. The image, taken in 1936, sparked an immediate reaction and was published throughout the United States in newspapers, books, and magazines. In response to the image, the federal government sent supplies to the group of the 2,500 pea pickers and their families in the encampment in Nipomo, California where Lange shot the image (Govignon 79). Migrant Mother went on to become the single image that embodied the work of the FSA.

Figure 1.4


Gill 5 What is most interesting about Migrant Mother is how it establishes the humanity of the sitter. Lange spoke of her approach and her connection with her sitter in a conversation with Roy Stryker: I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields and birds that the children killed. There she sat in the lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. (quoted in Govignon 79) Lange’s connection that she describes, the mutual understanding that she was there to help, is what makes Migrant Mother so powerful. This in particular, the humanity of the subject, is the primary difference between the work of Progressive era photographers and the FSA photographers. This is arguably due to a number of changes that took place between these eras, including advancing photographic technology that made it possible to photograph quicker, more natural poses, and the popularization of photojournalism following World War Ii. Another potential influence in regards to the essence of humanity common among the FSA photographers is that their images were initially taken in this way for use as propaganda; the FSA bound the photographers they hired to produce work that dignified the farmers, and supported a positive reaction to the efforts of the federal government (Bogre 35-36; Govignon 78). Despite their work being propaganda, the FSA photographers pushed the power of photography one-step further, and encouraged the humanism that would follow activist photography through to current day.


Gill 6

Civil Rights and Beyond: Advocacy Autonomy Following the FSA photographers was a period dominated by coverage of World War IIii, and while the photographs of this war, as with any other, are inherently activist, the next major stepping-stone in photographic activism was during the Civil Rights movement (1952-68). The biggest aspect of Civil Rights photography is that it brought autonomy to the sitter. With the works of the FSA photographers the voice of the sitter was often excluded. The photographer was there on assignment, not solely with the intent of advocating for the sitter being portrayed. This changes during the time of the Civil Rights movement, when photographers like Gordon Parks, an African American who started his photographic career with the FSA, advocated for himself and for Civil Rights by using his camera. Parks’ work (Figure 1.5) in particular was highly influential to the movement because of his career at Life Magazine. Parks started working as a photographer with the FSA in 1940, and then freelanced when it closed in 1943. After being picked up by Life Magazine, Parks produced a number of stories, one of which was about racial segregation in his hometown. The series, Back to Fort Scott, is a collection of portraits of African

Figure 1.5

Americans facing the reality of segregation. The importance of Parks’ work was not diminished by the fact that he was photographing from a place of oppression, which is something unseen until the Civil Rights movement. Prior to this, it was often the oppressor, or at least the privileged, who were doing


Gill 7 the advocating. While it is important for everyone, in power or not, to advocate for change, the power of photographs coming from the oppressed is an undeniable power that pushed activism photography to how we view it today. Beyond the Civil Rights movement, there are countless examples of images that advocated, including photographs from Vietnam, such as Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize winning Napalm Girl (Figure 0.1) and photographs from various human rights atrocities, which includes the recent Syrian refugee crisis and Nilufer Demir’s image of a drowned Syrian boy (Figure 0.2). While these photographs are of undeniable importance, the larger developments in photographic activism stem from technological advances that will be examined in Section IV.

Moving Forward An important distinction to make at this point is in regards to the subject of an activist photograph. As Bogre states, “the subject of a documentary photograph is never the ‘issue’; it is the person or place impacted by the issue’ (Bogre 6). In Adamson and Hill’s series, the subject is not poverty, but the hard lives in the fishing village of Newhaven. This distinction is important because the human connection is what makes activist photography so impactful; it is the subject, the “person or place impacted by the issue” that we connect with, not the issue itself. We see this emphasized in the works of the FSA photographers, who focused on portraying their sitters in a manner that elevated them to a status of power. This is furthered through the efforts of Civil Rights photographers, and particularly the work of Gordon Parks who was able to not only advocate for the movement but also for himself. The history of photographic activism is a crucial component in one’s understanding of contemporary activism and is the foundation for the argument that photography is becoming a tool for encouraging and showcasing participation in movements for social change. Moving


Gill 8 forward, it is important to address the various forms of communication, from written word and speech, to design and fine art. While these methods of communication are all important tools, photography has the unique ability to connect humans with humans, rather than humans with an abstracted notion of humanity. This is not to discount the importance of these methods of communication, but is to gain a perspective regarding photography’s role in communication. i, ii

World Wars I and II played an important role in the development of photography as a story telling device, however, the most influential developments in photographic activism took place outside of these two wars. The photographs produced during these wars often focused on documentation and war propaganda, rather than on activism. This is not to say that the images may not be interpreted as activist, simply that their intentions lay beyond the scope of this work. For this reason, I have opted to exclude thorough descriptions of their influences, with the intentions of providing a concise view of the evolution of photographic activism.


Gill 9

II - Photography as an Essential Communication Tool

Emotion and Human Connection As Torsten Kjellstrand (b. 1941 n. Swedish), a photojournalist and professor at the University of Oregon writes, “emotion is the language of documentary photography. Without it, a picture has little value, except possibly as evidence in court. Most of us look for a different kind of evidence: evidence of life and living” (Kjellstrand). The emotion that Kjellstrand’s photographs speak of is the same emotion that makes images like Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother (fig. 1.4) so powerful, and is the same power that makes photography an essential tool for communication. Kjellstrand’s words then pose a deeper question: what is it about this emotion, or evidence of life, that is so important, and what specifically makes photography best to present emotion? Shame and empathy researcher Dr. Brené Brown (American, b. 1965) offers an argument for vulnerability in relation to human emotion. Brown writes in her book, Daring Greatly: “vulnerability isn’t good or bad. It’s not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it always a light, positive experience. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable … Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” (Brown) As Brown notes, vulnerability is at the core of our emotions. Vulnerability and photography intersect in the sense that photography can depict an individual’s experience, oppression, or misfortune, creating a sense of vulnerability in the viewer. If the viewer is then able to


Gill 10 understand that they themselves could be in this situation, then they have begun to feel, to empathize, with the sitter, or subject, in the photograph. This connection, brought upon through vulnerability and emotion, is what allows photography to impact a viewer. Furthering this thought, researchers have suggested that people are more likely to donate to a charity, or in other words, be persuaded, if there is an emotional connection to an individual person. In fact, “the researchers found that if organizations want to raise money for a charitable cause, it is far better to appeal to the heart than to the head. Put another way, feelings, not analytical thinking, drive donations” (Wharton University of Pennsylvania, 2007). Emotion’s ability to persuade, and the power of emotions over facts, makes emotion the best appeal in terms of communicating. One must then ask, “if emotion is the best appeal for communication, how does photography stack up against other forms of communication such as design, fine art, and the written word?” As Deborah Small, one of the researchers working on this study notes, “the best way to [create an emotional connection] is in the form of a picture or a story, something that purely engages the emotional system” (quoted in Wharton University of Pennsylvania). Returning to Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, one can feel an intense emotional response; what is it about photography that creates this? Arguably, a number of qualities that photography possess allows it to succeed in instilling an emotional response. Photography is able to visually represent actual happenings, not through suggestion, as in drawing, painting, or other arts, but through reproducing a scene as it was in truth. Photography inherently and easily depicts the minute details that make scenes believable, including aspects of human non-verbal communication; photography presents a clean surface, uninhibited by mark making, which aids in an image’s reading.


Gill 11 Photography, being in possession of these qualities, is able to prompt emotional response. This is not to say that other forms of communication such as writing, fine arts, or design are not able to do this, but that photography is able to do so in a way that is unrestricted by the qualities of these other mediums, in particular photography has a few advantages over each type. In terms of material based fine arts such as drawing, painting, and sculpture, the viewer must tackle the various qualities of each medium that abstract the image from the truth. This may manifest as marks, formal qualities of materials, or even as intentional abstractions on the part of the artist. For design and other traditionally functional arts (e.g. graphic design, illustration, etc.), the story of an individual is told through the interpretation of the artist; the authorship of the story may be removed from the subjectiii. In terms of the written word, photography has the advantage that it is easily read, and is definitive in its description of a scene. John Steinbeck, renowned novelist and Nobel Prize winner, sums this up in saying, “as for the picture – I hate cameras. They are so much more sure than I am about everything” (Steinbeck). In terms of emotion and human connection, photography is not only based in it, but the most equipped form of communication to depict it. For these reasons, photographs have become the choice to communicate the human story, and as the research shows, are most effective in doing so. In summation of photography and emotion, the practical example in photography to incite change is that photographs are easier to understand and are less convoluted than other communication forms; they also lead to a deeper emotional connection, and because of this photographs should be used for communication because they will capture a viewer’s attention faster and deeper, resulting in a greater chance that the viewer may do something regarding the subject of the image.


Gill 12

Photograph as Memory and Meaning Further evidence of photography’s power as a communication tool can be found in the intersections of photography, memory, and meaning. From a broad perspective the intersection of these themes manifests in two scales, macro and micro, macro being collective memory, documentation, and journalism, and micro being personal documentation, photographs, and mementos. Both the macro and micro uses of photography influence and dictate our trust in photography. For example, one can see the macro usage of photography through the examination of photographic history. As detailed in Section 1, photography has been instrumental in documenting the passage of time. As one reads documentary photographs, they are able to extract not only details, but also emotions from time. This has been essential in establishing a collective memory in regards to history and present day. However, photography, and our connection to it, is far more prominent in our personal, day-to-day uses of it. This is exemplified on the micro level through family photographs, vacation photographs, and the experiential sharing of photographs. The use of photography on a personal level carries a number of implications, the largest being that we must trust a photograph to be truthful, accurate, and encompassing if we choose it as the medium in which we represent moments in our lives. For example, rarely would one see a wedding painter, sculptor, writer, or illustrator, but there is an abundance of wedding photographers. We use photography to communicate weddings, travels, and day-to-day life for the same reasons we use photography to communicate atrocities, news, and events: emotional connection and authenticity. Particularly interesting, is the level to which we will believe photographs.


Gill 13 In fact, people are so inclined to believe a photograph that if you show them a photograph of something, for example a book, they will interpret the picture to be solely what the picture contains. Simply put, their reaction to a photograph of a book is, “That is a book;” contrary to this, if shown a painting of a book people will interpret it as a painting of a book. Andy Grundberg (b. 1947 n. American), a former photography critic for the New York Times, references this notion of interpretation saying, “As a result of their naturalism and apparent effortlessness, they have the capacity to lull us into believing that they are evidence of an impartial, uninflected sort. Nothing could be further from the truth” (qtd. in Barrett). This difference between photography and other mediums is crucial because it exemplifies the degree to which the photograph has become ingrained in our existence, and particularly our communication; the photograph is what it depicts, rather than being representative of what it depicts. In existing as its subject, rather than as a representation of its subject, photography holds a distinct advantage over other mediums, which will inescapably be read through the context of their creation. In regards to communication, this eliminates a potential barrier to the truthiness, or believability, of a photograph. This also brings up a larger discussion regarding the choices the photographer makes, the ethics of photography, and whether or not a photograph is inherently true. iii

One may argue that photography also has the ability to remove authorship from the subject, which is true. However, as we will discover later, photography is extremely influential when placed in the hands of the subject.


Gill 14

III – Critical Interpretation & Mitigation of Falsehood The Photograph as Truth As Grundberg notes, photographs have the ability to lull us into believing that they are truthful. The falsity in photography becomes apparent when one examines the roll of the photographer. Terry Barrett (b. 1945 n. American), an art critic and professor of art education at University of North Texas, writes: When looking at photographs, we tend to think of them as “innocent” that is, as bare facts, as direct surrogates of reality, as substitutes for real things, as direct reflections. But there is no such thing as an innocent eye. We cannot see the world and at the same time ignore our prior experience in and knowledge of the world. (Barrett) Barrett’s notion that “there is no such thing as an innocent eye” is an important element in the interpretation of photographs, and must be considered as one interprets a photograph. In expansion of this thought, one must consider a number of things about the photographer. What did the photographer include or exclude? Does the photographer have a bias in this situation? How much does the photographer know about the subject? What sociological lenses distort the photographer’s interpretation? Additionally, one must consider the prevalence of image manipulation, and whether or not the photographer was inclined to edit the picture before publishing it. One example of an image being misinterpreted, or perceived as fake, is an image by Saudi Arabian photographer Abdel Aziz Al-Atibi (Figure 3.1). The image, as disseminated on the Internet, is said to portray a Syrian boy lying between his parent’s graves. After learning about the misinterpretation of his image, Al-Atibi told journalists at Beirut.com that the image was part of a conceptual series, saying, "I'm a photographer and I try to talk about the suffering that is


Gill 15 happening in society, it's my hobby and my exaggeration is intended to deliver my idea." After initially discovering how the image had spread, Al-Atibi shared a number of photographs (Figure 3.2) on his Instagram to provide some context, and proof that the image was staged. The image was actually of his nephew, Ibrahim, lying between two false graves, constructed for the image (Dalal). Al-Atibi’s image is proof that context, especially in regards to what the photograph does or does not include, plays a crucial role in

Figure 3.1

the image’s interpretation. Even though Al-Atibi’s images are an extreme example of this, it is important to understand that this confusion, based on lack of context, carries through to images produced following journalistic standards.

Figure 3.2


Gill 16 In addition to a single photograph not being able to provide thorough context, image manipulation is now a harsh reality that photography must face. This issue is so rampant that even Pulitzer Prize winners have altered images. Narciso Contreras (b. 1975 n. Mexican), a Pulitzer Prizing winning photojournalist for the Associate Press, was fired in 2014 after admitting that he removed a camera from an image of a Syrian rebel using Photoshop (Figure 3.3) (Associated Press). The prevalence of image manipulation, and an image’s ability to exclude information based on the choices of a photographer, pose many questions regarding whether or not a photograph is true. Fortunately, there are a number of ethical guidelines that are enforced in Figure 3.3

publications that keep these things in check,

and questions regarding a photographer’s bias are mitigated through acts of self-advocacy.

Photography Ethics In order to mitigate the sense of falsehood that photographs can carry, many organizations, including The Associated Press, The New York Times, and the National Press Photographers Association have set forth a number of guidelines that photographers must follow to maintain that their photographs present the truth. The World Press Photo Academy


Gill 17 reviewed these guidelines and published them in a consensus in a 2014 report; the World Press Photo Academy reports the following: 1. The alteration of images—where alteration means the digital addition or subtraction of elements—is forbidden. 2. The ban on alteration is often cast in terms of not deceiving or misleading readers/viewers. 3. The only generally permitted alteration is retouching or the use of the cloning tool to eliminate dust on camera sensors or scratches on scanned negatives/prints. 4. Some media organizations additionally permit the blurring of faces or other forms of identification (e.g. vehicle registrations), where this is either required by the law or judged by the organizations to be necessary. 5. Any images that are altered for illustrative purposes must be credited and/or captioned as “photo-illustrations”, or with a similar term. 6. Adjustments made by image-processing software (e.g. limited cropping, dodging and burning, toning, color adjustment, conversion to grayscale) are acceptable so long as they are deemed “minor/normal/ subtle/moderate”, while “excessive use” is not acceptable. 7. Those “minor/normal/subtle/moderate” adjustments are regularly justified by reference to “traditional darkroom practices”, or to not violating the “emotional truthfulness” of an image, and are considered necessary in order to make clear and accurate reproduction possible. 8. Photos cannot be staged, posed or re-enacted. (Dr. Campbell) These guidelines are adhered to by professionals, and by all journalistic publications when they publish work, including work produced by amateurs. In doing so, these professionals and publications are able to provide readers and viewers with an understanding that the image is as truthful as possible. The remaining falsity of the photograph is that of the photographer’s interpretation, as Barrett discussed in writing about the innocent eye. In regards to photographic activism, this falsity is countered when photographs are produced by people documenting their own communities, or when photographers are fully invested in portraying a truthful image of a community. One can see the power of self-advocacy, or photographs from communities about that specific community, through the work of Gordon Parks, as mentioned earlier. This work, and the work of other citizens/photographers as detailed later in Section V, begins to deconstruct the notion that photographs are influenced by the photographer’s prior experience by


Gill 18 demonstrating that a photographer’s experience is, in regards to a self-advocate, the exact experience needed to tell a story, and in regards to a photojournalist, restricted by the ethical standards to journalism to the point where they are likely to be telling a truth. Moving forward, it is important to note that a photograph is subject to some restrictions, including not always fully contextualizing its subject matter, and being an act of choice on the photographer’s part. All photographs must be read through this understanding, but alone, these qualities do not render the photograph as untruthful, or in any way inherently biased. This is an essential understanding in regards to the use of a photograph to advocate, because without the premise of truth advocacy would be without its foundations.


Gill 19

IV – Making Technological and Societal Advances As mentioned in Section III, the truthfulness of a photograph is always at question, and one major axis in this questioning is the presence of the photographer. In capturing a scene, the photographer has full control of what is displayed, but also unconsciously influences the content of the image based on their knowledge and pre-conceptions of the subject. However, this is mitigated when images are produced by the subject, or by photographers that share the same hardships, or have the same concerns as the subject. This has been made possible by technological advances, specifically camera phones and social media, and the rise of citizen journalism.

Camera Phones, Social Media and Citizen Journalism Originally introduced in 2000 in Japan as a feature in the J-Phone, the camera phone quickly took off and became an important and popular feature in cell phones (Hill). This evolved into the smartphone, which Oxford Dictionaries defines as, “a mobile phone that performs many of the functions of a computer, typically having a touchscreen interface, Internet access, and an operating system capable of running downloaded applications” (Oxford University Press). The prevalence of the smartphone has encouraged a steady growth in photographs taken on mobile devices. This trend has grown so large that even National Geographic predicted that by the end of 2015, 50% of images produced would come from smartphones (qtd. in Vartanian). These predictions prove Chase Jarvis, a popular photographer and proponent of mobile imagery, correct in saying that “the best camera is the one that’s with you” (Jarvis). In addition to the prevalence of the camera phone, or the camera that is always with you, smartphones have been integrated with social media since their inception. This has allowed for a massive and seamless dissemination of imagery from a scene, through the phone, and onto the


Gill 20 web. In fact, in 2013 Facebook reported that users have uploaded 250 billion photos, and continue to upload 350 million photos a dayiv (Smith). This integration has become an essential tool, especially to visual communicators, and this is evident in the way that organizations and even journalists deliver updates. Perhaps more prevalent however, is the way in which these technological advances have enabled individuals to share stories and compel audiences through sharing images online. This trend, known as citizen journalism, has provided an upheaval of the mass media system and altered the ways in which we discover the world. In relation to activism, citizen journalism has been at the core of a number of causes, most recently the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The value in citizen journalism is often overlooked by legacy media, or newspapers and broadcast companies. Citizen journalism, or even a more broadly defined participatory media, is crucial in the sense that it provides an understanding of honesty because the producers of the images and stories are embedded in the situations, causes, and cultures they are capturing. The honesty of participatory media and citizen journalism mitigates notions of falsehood, while also providing a more direct and human view of a subject. This up close and personal view helps to establish an empathetic connection from the viewer to the subject and this makes these types of images potentially more powerful than images produced from the viewpoint of a bystander or legacy journalist.

Activism Evolution Having established the history of photographic activism, analyzed the qualities that make a photograph an essential communication tool, and considered the interpretation of the photograph as a truth, particularly in relation to citizen journalism, one can examine the role of photography in inciting change, in regards to the evolution of activism. Continuing from the


Gill 21 Civil Rights era, one finds that social movements take on new tactics, particularly in the way they engage the public. Additionally, photography’s role in these movements conforms to new structures of dissemination as technology advances and image distribution becomes more and more widespread. Kevin DeLuca (American), a communications researcher and environmental activist, writes about the changing tactics in social movements in his book, Image Politics, saying: For a variety of reasons, the new social movements do not focus on the distribution of material goods, the expansion of institutional political rights, and security, but rather thematize personal and collective identity, contest social norms, challenge the logic governing the system, and, in sum, deconstruct the established naming of the world. (DeLuca 25) In relation to photography, one can see this shift from systematic and structure change to ideological change through the history of photographic activism outlined in Section I. For example, the work of photographers like Adamson and Hill in the Progressive Era may have been produced with the intentions of distributing material goods to assist the poor fisherfolk. Similarly, the work of Jacob Riis called for the expansion of institutional political rights through labor unions. The work of Farms Security Administration photographers like Dorothea Lange encouraged the distribution of material goods to support those effected by the Depression. One can begin to see the change during the Civil Rights movement as photographers and activists were calling for the institution of political rights while also creating a collective identity, contesting social norms, and challenging the logic behind oppression. We see activism existing now almost entirely online on social media, reflecting DeLuca’s notion that social movements focus on collective identity. In relation to activism, the photograph plays an essential role, even the most essential role, in effectively communicating


Gill 22 empathy and truth to the viewer, all while being the most equipped medium to be distributed to an incredibly large audience through the use of social media. One can see examples of this, and examine the positive effects of photographic activism simply by looking to the small and largescale examples one sees when turning on the news, reading an article on their phone, or following a hashtag on social media. iv

Current trends imply that this number has grown, however Facebook has not released a new report regarding image uploads since 2013.


Gill 23

V – Current Photographic Activism Propelled by the history, power, and popularity of photography, activists are utilizing cameras as tools to communicate about issues, advocate for solutions, and activate audiences to participate in creating a better world. Contemporary examples of this present themselves in two categories, individual activism that creates and fosters a collective identity, and organized activism which often focuses on exposing human rights atrocities. The most prevalent and contemporary example of photographic use in individual activism is the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Additionally, we can see examples of organized activism in the reportage of human rights atrocities including the Arab Spring and the al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham, or Daeshv attacks. In examining these causes, one finds that photography is the medium of choice for inciting reaction, discussion, and change.

Arab Spring and Daesh Perhaps the most prevalent example of the power of citizen journalism, and particularly the use of photography within that, is the documentation, communication, and advocacy that arose at the beginning of the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring is an ongoing conflict and revolution in the Arab world, which initially began in Tunisia on December 18th 2010 following the selfimmolation of Mohamed Bouazizi. During the height of the Arab Spring, activists took to their cell phones and social media to highlight the atrocities they witnessed, and the protests they participated in.


Gill 24 In a 2011 article posted on The Guardian, Riyaad Minty, head of Sharek’svi social media, said, “Now our main stories are driven by images captured by citizens on the street, it's no longer just a supporting

Figure 5.1

image. In most cases, citizens capture the breaking news moments first. The Arab Spring was really the tipping point when it all came together� (Batty). An image (Figure 5.1) by Peter Macdiarmid, a photojournalist, captures an individual recording a protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. A similar image (Figure 5.2) captures Libyans gathering around the body of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi; most onlookers are recording the scene on their phones. These images Figure 5.2

feature some of the protests, while

also demonstrating the prevalence of cellphone usage to photograph or record events during the Arab Spring. Beyond these images, citizens participating in the Arab Spring protests produced a wide range of content advocating for themselves and their cause. Many of the images coming from the Arab Spring were, and still are, stills from videos produced by civilians. As the Guardian


Gill 25 reports, these civilian produced images were then distributed by legacy media sources. To explain an example of this, BBC Arabic editor in chief, Faris Couri, told the Guardian, “On the rare occasion journalists got access to Syria, they were accompanied by the authorities, so the unrestricted user content balanced the coverage. During the last year it became the norm, people realised [sic] the situation demands this and it's impossible to rely on professionals� (Batty). One image (Figure 5.3) that exemplifies the qualities many of these

Figure 5.3

videos and photographs have is an image grab from a video that allegedly shows Syrian security forces beating up handcuffed and blindfolded detained men. The image presents a situation that, in the eyes of Syrians and other Arabs would incite a sense of vulnerability, and therefore empathy, in the viewer. Images like this work so well because they are able to illicit a response from the viewer, whether that response is a donation, an empathetic understanding, or a new follower in a movement and collective identity. In discussing the Arab Spring, it is important to note that it is still developing today, particularly in Syria, and as an unintended result of the unrest brought through these protests, extremist groups such as Daesh have been able to perpetrate acts of terrorism. The most recent actions of Daesh, on November 13th, 2015, took the lives of at least 129 people in Paris. The way the news of this attack broke perfectly demonstrates the ways in which photography can advocate.


Gill 26 As the attacks began, victims took to their phones to document what was happening. Videos, stills, and audio were posted online, and in response people began offering their homes for survivors to take shelter in, funds were started, and donations were encouraged throughout the western world. The following images are from the recent attacks in Paris and include sparks from a car as bullets careen off the hood, a guitarist fleeing from the stage in the Bataclan Theatre, and the aftermath of the attack in the Bataclan Theatre (warning: graphic-content ahead).

Figure 5.4

Figure 5.5


Gill 27

Figure 5.6


Gill 28 These images, despite their current sensitivity, perfectly exemplify the power of photography, and the value of a citizen’s viewpoint. Arguably, without these images, their power, and their rapid dissemination, the citizens of Paris would not have received the support, material or otherwise, that they have. This is apparent, because just a day before the attacks on Paris a similar attack by Daesh in Beirut, Lebanon killed 43 people, but received little press until after the Paris attacks. Even after the Paris attacks, few images produced by citizens have made it to mainstream media, resulting in an arguably lesser response from the public (Barnard).

#BlackLivesMatter Originally founded by three black community members, the #BlackLivesMatter movement was a response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman who, in 2012, was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The movement was founded as a way to discuss racism and inequality, and quickly gathered national attention. In 2014, following the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, both of whom were unarmed black men killed by law enforcement, the #BlackLivesMatter movement gained resurgence and began to grow into the major trend we see today (Cullors, Tometi and Garza; GarcĂ­a, Zulfacar Sharif).


Gill 29 After gaining more movement #BlackLivesMatter quickly became a visual story through the inclusion of various imagery, including images of individuals standing in solidarity for the victims of racism and police brutality. Images from Tokyo (Figure

Figure 5.7

5.7), Paris, Germany and other countries began emerging on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. These images helped to demonstrate that these issues were not to be ignored, and that people all around the world supported the efforts of activists in the United States. Through demonstrating their support the individuals sharing these images began to foster a collective identity, furthering the purpose and reach of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Beyond the images of support, individuals also took, and are still taking, to their cameras to record evidence of the very racism and brutality that #BlackLivesMatter is fighting against. These images, against all others, prove why photography is so powerful to the individual. The most prominent example of this is the videovii of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of a New York Police Department officer, on July 17th, 2014. Figure 5.8, a still from the video, shows Garner, in a chokehold moments before his death.


Gill 30

Figure 5.8 Images and videos of police brutality have continued to surface through the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which has arguably encouraged the use of photographs and video as a tool to not only hold oppressors accountable for their actions, but also as a tool to prompt involvement in the movement. In reflecting on the qualities of the photograph that make it an essential tool for communication, one finds that images of police brutality, in the case of #BlackLivesMatter, exemplify the qualities of the photograph that instill vulnerability, and therefore empathy, in the viewer. In addition to this, the rawness and timeliness of this video, and of photographs that are of a similar nature, have added to the credibility of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The images present events as they happened, which leaves no room for post-production editing, or falsification of the image through other means. Additionally, in being presented from the viewpoint of the oppressed, these images mitigate notions of misperception.


Gill 31 #BlackLivesMatter represents the beginning of a trend in photographic activism in which photography is utilized as the go-to tool for individuals to advocate for themselves, their identities, and their cultures. The use of photography in #BlackLivesMatter is similar to the use of photography by legacy media, journalists, and longstanding non-profits, but with the distinction that it is produced from the perspective of the oppressed and their supporters. This, like the images of the Arab Spring, and Daesh’s attack on Paris, present notions of vulnerability and empathy, in a photographic package that is able to be interpreted wide and far. This exemplifies why photography is the medium of choice for both widespread and small-scale. v

Daesh refers to the self-proclaimed Islamic State, an extremist militant group currently based in Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East. Daesh is an abbreviation of the Arabic name for the group, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. (In translating from Arabophonic to Anglophonic languages an ae sound is replaced with i sounds, hence the differing abbreviation.) This group has undergone a number of etymological changes over the past few years, which have included the current names ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham), ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and IS (The Islamic State). For the scope of this paper, I will use the name and abbreviation Daesh, as it accurately reflects the group’s title, while also maintaining that the group should not be referred to as The Islamic State, despite the recent adoption of this term by the group itself, as well as the Associate Press and the New York Times. This is to insure that we not perpetuate the vilification of Islam, as to refer to the group as The Islamic State implies that it is the officiating body of all Muslims, which would imply Islam is a violent religion; this could not be further from the truth. In addition to this the abbreviation of the full title is preferred in the Arabic publications, as abbreviations are uncommon and potentially insulting in the Eastern world, and Daesh also sounds similar to the Arabic word Daes which refers to someone who sows discord. This offers the media a chance to strike back, tactfully, at the group. vi Sharek is Al Jazeera’s online catalog of user submitted videos. Essentially, it is a citizen journalism centered Youtube for the Middle East. vii http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2014/dec/04/i-cant-breathe-eric-garnerchokehold-death-video


Gill 32

Final Remarks One can conclude, from the images of the Arab Spring, the Daesh attack on Paris, and #BlackLivesMatter that advocacy and activism through photography are at the forefront of how we engage the world and foster social change. Through an extensive history of documentary photographers, photojournalists, and visual self-advocates, photography has been deeply rooted in our storytelling, advocating, and educating traditions; this history primed contemporary photographers in using their cameras to promote positive social change. This readiness, combined with the emotive power, potential simplistic reading, and ease of use of photography, interpreted through an inherent lens of trust and truthfulness, allows photographers, activists, and journalists to use the camera as a tool for social change. Furthermore, the already powerful camera has been made significantly more influential by being placed in the hands of the citizens with the technological advances surrounding the smartphone and social media, which together have encouraged trends of citizen journalism like one sees in the examples from the Arab Spring, the Daesh attack on Paris, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. In summary, one finds that the photograph and the video are the most accepted, expected, powerful, and inherently connective mediums for not only individual, grassroots activism, but also legacy activism and advocating through journalistic reporting.


Gill 33

Annotated Bibliography Associated Press. AP severs ties with photographer who altered work. 22 January 2014. Web. 18 November 2015.

The Associated Press’s article regarding Narciso Contreras provides information regarding his manipulation and the actions the Associated Press took regarding his doctoring of his image.

Barnard, Anne. Beirut, Also the Site of Deadly Attacks, Feels Forgotten. 15 November 2015. Web. 30 November 2015.

Barnard’s article provides information regarding the coverage of the attacks on Beirut. While it focuses more on the prevalence of violence, it suggests and provides some information regarding western media’s response to the events.

Barrett, Terry. Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images. 5th Edition. New York: McGraw Hill, 2012. Print.

Barrett’s writings provide a description of the basis on which one must interpret photographs. Barrett’s writings also provide an insight into the potential photographs have to present a false narrative. This is an essential background in the refutation of photographs as a construction of the photographer.


Gill 34 Batty, David. “Arab spring leads surge in events captured on cameraphones.” 29 December 2011. Web. 16 November 2015.

Batty’s writings demonstrate the prevalence of citizen journalism during the Arab Spring. The individuals he interviews in writing this article help to provide a firsthand account of the value of these images.

Bogre, Michelle. Photography as Activism: Images for Social Change. Burlington: Focal Press, 2012. Print.

Bogre’s book details the history of photographic activism, and provides a number of accounts regarding photography’s role in activism culture looking into the future. Additionally, Bogre provides a number of resources for photographers looking to pursue this type of work.

Brown, Brené. Daring greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books, 2012. Proquest. Web. 22 November 2015.

Brown’s discussion of vulnerability presents the reader with one potential interpretation of photography’s impact on viewers, in regards to empathy. Understanding this provides a basis on which photography can incite change.

Dr. Campbell, David. “The Integrity of The Image: Current practices and accepted standards relating to the manipulation of still images in photojournalism and documentary


Gill 35 photography.” Amsterdam: World Press Photo Academy, 2014. Web. 20 November 2015.

Dr. Campbell’s research compiles and reports on the practices of photojournalistic publishers, which is crucial in understanding the community that produces images that advocate, as they are often associated with journalistic publications.

Cullors, Patrisse, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza. “A HerStory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.” n.d. Web. 16 November 2015.

The #BlackLivesMatter Movement website provides a rich and detailed history of the movement, and its advances since the original inception by Cullors, Tometi, and Garza.

Dalal, Myriam. “This Viral Photo Purporting to Show an Orphaned Syrian Boy Isn't What You Think It is.” 17 January 2014. Web. 8 November 2015.

Dalal’s article provides a brief history and interpretation of the dissemination of Abdel Aziz Al-Atibi’s image. Dalal also provides an accurate translation of the caption, which was originally in Arabic.

DeLuca, Kevin Michael. Image Politics: The New Rhetoric of Environmental Activism. New York: The Guilford Press, 1999. Print.


Gill 36 DeLuca’s writings help to shed a light on the changing qualities of social movements, and the activism that supports these movements.

García, Jennifer Jee-Lyn, and Mienah Zulfacar Sharif. "Black Lives Matter: A Commentary on Racism and Public Health." American Journal of Public Health 105.8 (2015): E27-30. ProQuest. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

The writings of García and Sharif grant further insight into the creation and power behind the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.

Govignon, Brigitte, ed. The Abrams Encyclopedia of Photography. Trans. Graham Edwards, et al. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 2004. Print.

Govignon details the history and uses of photography through her writing. This becomes an important basis when partnered with Michelle Bogre’s writings on the history of photographic activism.

Hill, Simon. “From J-Phone to Lumia 1020: A complete history of the camera phone.” 11 August 2013. Web. 15 November 2015.

Simon’s article provides a history of the camera phone and is particularly important in understanding how this new device took off.


Gill 37 Jarvis, Chase. The Best Camera Is the One That's with You: IPhone Photography. Berkeley: New Riders, 2010. Print.

Jarvis’s quote helps to contextualize the power of the camera phone, due to its constant proximity to the user.

Kjellstrand, Torsten. "Honest Emotion." Nieman Reports 52.2 (1998): 47. Proquest. 18 October 2015.

Kjellstrand captures the importance and impact of photography through his illustrative discussion of emotion in the Nieman Reports.

Oxford University Press. “Smartphone: definition of smartphone in Oxford dictionary (American English) (US).” 2015. Web. 15 November 2015.

Oxford provides a definition on which one can understand the capabilities of the smartphone.

Riis, Jacob A. How the Other Half Lives. Ed. Sam Bass Warner, Jr. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1970. Print.

Riis’s How the Other Half Lives continues to be an essential element of photojournalism and photographic activism history. Its impact is undeniable and exemplifies the power of photography as a tool for social change.


Gill 38 Smith, Cooper. “Facebook Users Are Uploading 350 Million New Photos Each Day.” 18 September 2013. Web. 15 November 2015.

Smith’s writings give us an insight as to how prevalent cellphone imagery has become, and how quickly those images are turned around to the web.

Steinbeck, John. John Steinbeck: A Life in Letters. Ed. Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1989. Print.

Steinbeck’s fluency as a writer has him often described as a writer that can paint a detailed picture for his reader. His concession to photography proves powerful and pertinent in regards to the relation between photography and the written word.

Vartanian, Hrag. “How Many Photos Do Americans Take a Year?” 21 March 2012. Web. 30 November 2015.

Varatanian’s article further contextualizes the quantity and prevalence of images, while also providing a look at where those photos come from and go to.

Wharton University of Pennsylvania. “To Increase Charitable Donations, Appeal to the Heart — Not the Head.” 27 June 2007. Web. 22 October 2012

This research published by Wharton University demonstrates that emotion and empathy are the key to inciting action within a reader/viewer. In relation to photography, this exemplifies why photographs are often used when pursuing audience activation.


Gill 39

Images Consulted Bibliography Figure 0.1 Ut, Huynh Cong "Nick" (American, b. 1951) Phan Thi Kim Phuc (center) flees from the scene where South Vietnamese planes have mistakenly dropped napalm June 8, 1972 Photograph, gelatin silver print 16 x 19 7/8 in. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Source: ArtSTOR provided by Will Michels Download Size: 1024 x 766 Figure 0.2 Demir, Nilufer (Turkish, b. 1986) September 2nd, 2015 Photograph, digital Source: Vice Media provided by Nilüfer Demir/DHA Download Size: 795 x 1200 Figure 1.1 Adamson, Robert (Scottish, b. 1821 d. 1848.) ; Hill, Octavius (Scottish, b. 1802 d. 1870) Linton, His Boat & His Bairns June, 1845 Photograph, salted paper print 19.3 x 14.2 cm. George Eastman House Source: ArtSTOR Download Size: 763 x 1024


Gill 40 Figure 1.2 Thomson, John (Scottish, b. 1837 d.1921) The ‘Crawlers’ 1876 – 1877 Photograph, woodburytype 11.5 x 8.7 cm. George Eastman House Source: ArtSTOR Download Size: 760 x 1024 Figure 1.3 Riis, Jacob (Danish-American, b. 1849 d. 1914) Lodgers in a Crowded Bayard Street Tenement 1889, printed 1946 Photograph, gelatin silver print 8 1/8 in. x 9 3/4 in. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Source: ArtSTOR Download Size: 1024 x 820 Figure 1.4 Lange, Dorothea (American, b. 1895 d. 1965) Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California 1936 Photograph, gelatin silver print 22.1 x 17.7 cm. George Eastman House, reproduction; Library of Congress Source: ArtSTOR Download Size: 833 x 1024 Figure 1.5 Parks, Gordon (American, b. 1912 d. 2006)


Gill 41 Untitled, Chicago, Illinois 1950 Photograph, gelatin silver print Source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston, provided by The Gordon Parks Foundation Download Size: 1760 x 1320 Figure 3.1 Al-Atibi, Abdel Aziz (Saudi, b. 1990) Untitled, captioned: “some kids might feel that their dead parents' bodies are more affectionate to them than the people they're living with.” 2014 Photograph, digital Source: Instagram, https://instagram.com/a.b.d/ Download Size: 598 x 598 Figure 3.2 Al-Atibi, Abdel Aziz (Saudi, b. 1990) Untitled 2014 Photograph, digital Source: Instagram, https://instagram.com/a.b.d/ Download Size: 598 x 598 Figure 3.3 Contreras, Narciso (Mexican, b. 1975) Untitled 2014 Photograph, digital Source: Associated Press Download Size: 634 x 856


Gill 42 Figure 5.1 Macdiarmid, Peter Untitled, captioned: “A youth uses a camera phone to capture the aftermath of a teargas volley fired by police on protesters near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt.” 2011 Photograph, digital Source: Getty Images Download Size: 620 x 372 Figure 5.2 Lopez, Jean-Baptiste Untitled, caption: “Libyans gather around the body of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi at the hospital in the city of Misrata” 2011 Photograph, digital Source: SIPA/Rex Features Download Size: 700 x 464 Figure 5.3 Untitled, caption: “An image grab taken from a YouTube video allegedly shows Syrian security forces beating up handcuffed and blindfolded detained men near the central city of Hom” 2011 Photograph, digital Source: AFP/Getty Images Download Size: 1225 x 1193 Figure 5.4 Patrick Zachman Untitled, caption: “Shoot-out: Sparks fly as bullets from the terrorists' machine guns ricochet off the bonnet of a parked car during a shootout with police near the Bataclan which was caught on camera.” 2015


Gill 43 Photograph, digital Source: DailyMail Download Size: 962 x 539 Figure 5.5 Untitled, caption: “One of the guitarists then turns and flees the stage (far left), while a second guitarist stays motionless (right), seemingly unable to register what's occurring before him.” 2015 Photograph, digital Source: DailyMail Download Size: 962 x 748 Figure 5.6 Untitled, caption: “A photograph of the theatre hall reveals the bloody horror that unfolded when terrorists opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers at The Eagles of Death Metal rock concert on Friday night.” 2015 Photograph, digital Source: DailyMail/Mirrorpix Download Size: 962 x 1058 Figure 5.7 Moodley, Nayalan Untitled 2014 Photograph, digital Source: Twitter, @DarcNoodles Download Size: 600 x 400 Figure 5.8 Orta, Ramsey (Video author) Untitled


Gill 44 2014 Video, digital Source: Mother Jones, Youtube Download Size: 640 x 360


Gill 45

Images of BFA Solo Thesis Exhibition

BFA Thesis Exhibition Michael Gill “A Necessary Conversation: Voices on Body Image and Disease” Solo Exhibition th April 9 , 2016 – April 15th, 2016 Art Gallery in Reisman Hall Cazenovia College Cazenovia, NY


Gill 46 Jackie McClenthan was born and raised in Syracuse, NY where she currently lives. Jackie has two siblings, and a large extended family. She values family, fitness, and her dog Harley. When she was 11 years old Jackie began loosing the hair on her head, and has been bald since that time. Jackie suffers from Alopecia, an autoimmune disease that destroys hair follicles. The initial impacts of the disease took Jackie by surprise, “When I first started noticing my hair falling out it really took a toll on my body image,” Jackie said, “I got super self conscious, gained weight, and wasn’t trying too hard to focus on my appearance because I was so upset about loosing my hair. I didn’t think I was pretty enough.” As Jackie began to accept Alopecia, she turned the negative impacts she faced around. “I realized that this was a part of me, and I began to embrace it,” Jackie said, “I didn’t need hair to make me feel beautiful, and I didn’t need hair to prove to anyone that I was beautiful. It allowed me to blossom and gain the self confidence that I needed.” Having come full circle, Jackie is now comfortable with alopecia and in retrospect notes the important role alopecia played in her development, saying, “it’s important to know that disease can have just as much of positive impact on your body image as it can have negative. It all comes down to what you think beauty is.” Jackie hopes to use her story to exemplify the power of the individual in defining what beauty is. “I think it’s important to show that beauty standards are independent, they don’t come from society,” Jackie said, “sharing my story is crucial because it shows that you don’t have to look like what society thinks you should look like to have a positive body image.”


Gill 47


Gill 48

“You don’t have to look like what society thinks you should look like to have a positive body image.” - Jackie


Gill 49 Jessica Prible, a current Cazenovia College student studying Human Services, is interested in becoming a social worker for chronically ill children. Her interest in this field comes from her own experience with illness and disease. Jessica has faced a number of gastroenterological conditions, including Crohn’s Disease and C-DIFF, a bacterial infection, that have effected her weight and appearance. “As a girl, and a college student, everyone is always concerned about their weight and how they look,” Jessica said, “with being sick you can’t really do anything about it. When I’m having a really sick day, I feel self conscious. It’s hard to have a positive body image when you feel this way.” The difficulty of maintaining an image has been difficult for her. “Not being able to control something that can impact the way others see you is really difficult,” Jessica said, “some people take how you look very seriously. This is hard when you’re not comfortable in your own skin.” To maintain some control over her image, Jessica maintains a healthy diet and exercise regimen when her health permits. “I want to make sure I’m doing the best for me,” Jessica said, “there’s things you can’t change, but you should do what makes you feel good.” Recently Jessica has had to wear a face mask to prevent possible infection as a safety precaution. During this time, she faced criticisms from peers and became frustrated with how others don’t understand the full story. “There’s a lot beneath the skin,” Jessica said, “certain diseases are invisible, so be sure to give everyone a fair chance.” While Jessica’s story is very much still developing, she feels it is important to share her story to encourage a positive body image among others. “You really need to look at yourself in a positive way” Jessica said, “there’s only one of you – learn to love yourself.”


Gill 50


Gill 51

“No matter what you’re going through, you really have to look on the positive side. There’s only one of you - learn to love yourself.” - Jessica


Gill 52 Patricia Talamo, a Cazenovia College student majoring in Photography, grew up in Oswego, NY. Patricia is interested in the creative arts, martial arts, and adventure. Patricia has vitiligo, which causes her skin to permanently loose pigment in blotches. In Patricia’s case, these blotches appear randomly around the body, and progress asymmetrically. Patricia’s story starts in middle school, where she began to fully notice the pressures on body image that she faced. “It affected me pretty hard at first,” Patricia said, “that combined with having anxiety and depression gave me a weird feeling.” Battling through the societal pressures, Patricia eventually grew to have a more positive body image. By the time she was in college, Patricia was more comfortable with herself. “I decided that I liked the way I look. But when I found out I had vitiligo, it was this jarring thing,” Patricia said, “at first I didn’t know what it was, I just had spots all over me. My mind went to the worst place, I thought I must have some sort of infection or have something really wrong with me.” From there, Patricia became self conscious, recalling thinking, “if other people saw these, what would they think about them? Would they make judgments?” As she began to reveal her condition to others, she received a lot of pushback. “People undermined me. I was told ‘you’re not black, so it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if your skin de-pigments,’” Patricia said, “that made me second guess myself in a lot of ways, I asked myself whether or not I had the right to be upset about this.” This pushback even came from her own friends, of this Patricia said, “A lot of the people who said this were my friends, and people who I knew had their own self image issues, but yet they tried to undermine mine.” Although the uncertainty of vitiligo places pressure on Patricia, she finds comfort in her condition and her body image through the support of her boyfriend, and others with vitiligo she has met online. “If he sees a new spot, he’ll kiss it and call it cute,” Patricia laughingly said of her boyfriend, “coming to love it myself, through the online communities has helped. Everyone is so positive, and looks at themselves as beautiful. It’s helpful to see others with vitiligo who can look at themselves in the mirror and say they are 100% beautiful no matter what standards they see outside themselves.” Patricia also finds comfort in the martial arts. “In the martial arts appearances don’t really matter,” Patricia said, “if you look at people while they’re doing martial arts, they are completely involved and don’t care about the exterior. It’s just the genuine feeling of not caring what you look like or what anyone thinks you look like, because you’re doing something phenomenal.” Patricia, through sharing her story, stresses the importance of empathy, saying, “you don’t always know what someone is going through. If someone is having a problem with their body image you should reassure them before you shut them down.”


Gill 53


Gill 54

“You don’t always know what someone is going through. If someone is having a problem with their body image you should reassure them before you shut them down.” - Patricia


Gill 55

Exhibition Checklist Left A Necessary Conversation: Voices on Body Image and Disease Patricia, 2016 Series, digital inkjet prints 1. Patricia - Studio, Upper-left, 18” x 24” 2. Patricia - Environmental, Lower-left, 12” x 16” 3. Patricia - Submitted, Lower-right, 12” x 16” – Photograph by Patricia Talamo Center A Necessary Conversation: Voices on Body Image and Disease Jackie, 2016 Series, digital inkjet prints 1. Jackie - Studio, Upper-left, 18” x 24” 2. Jackie - Environmental, Lower-left, 12” x 16” 3. Jackie - Submitted, Lower-right, 12” x 16” – Photograph by Jackie McClenthan and Karen Russo Right A Necessary Conversation: Voices on Body Image and Disease Jessica, 2016 Series, digital inkjet prints 1. Jessica - Studio, Upper-left, 18” x 24” 2. Jessica - Environmental, Lower-left, 12” x 16” 3. Jessica - Submitted, Lower-right, 12” x 16” – Photograph by Jessica Prible & Dillon Olivieri


Gill 56


Gill 57


Gill 58

Addendum Following the completion of this body of research I was tasked with creating an exhibition that tied into the notion that individuals can advocate for themselves. Having had an initial interest in photo journalistic work I wanted to avoid creating a series about myself. Being left with the option of creating work about someone or something else left me at odds with a large portion of this research, in the sense that I was telling a story that I could never understand as wholly as someone who has lived it. In response to this I searched for a project that allowed for a deep level of collaboration. The project that resulted allowed me to grow as a photographer, both in the photojournalistic practice and in a way that I hadn’t considered before. Through being less traditionally objective with the story, I feel I was able to allow the subjects to tell their stories through me. Through discussing my work with my committee members I have noticed a lack of seriousness in the final images. I feel that this is partly because of the distanced, ‘subjects tell the story’ approach that I took. Currently, I am uncertain which approach I prefer, however I do not think that they are mutually exclusive. Reflecting on the exhibition now, I find myself asking “Is it my place as the photographer to push a more traumatic, striking, or dramatic story?” Beyond my own experiences through the exhibition I am proud of the fact that I was able to allow my subjects to grow as well. Each subject felt positively about the final images and said that they grew through the project. Jackie, who was my initial inspiration for the project posted this on Facebook following the opening reception: “This night meant so much more to me than I could ever put into words. I've been waiting for the perfect time for me to transition into public without my hair, scarves or hats, and this photography experience has allowed me to do so.” Additionally, Jessica wrote:


Gill 59 “With the semester I had dealing with all of my health problems, being apart of this journey with you really made it more bearable and brought everything into positive light.” Through the exhibition I was also able to raise funds and awareness for Ophelia’s Place, a local non-profit that focuses on helping individuals with body positivity and related diseases. Looking forward I am wondering whether or not image making is where I want to focus my efforts. I have accepted a position with AmeriCorps and I will be doing various jobs with non-profits through that position. Through my four years at Cazenovia I feel as though I have grown the most as a leader and a communicator, and would like to pursue graduate studies focusing on non-profit management, peace building, or public policy, all places where these skills will be highly applicable. I think it is safe to say that I will not give up image making, and I ideally would like to use photography to create social change, but I am not certain that the aspect of photography will be my main focus.

Citizen Activism: the Camera and Social Change  

Activism and social justice are centerpieces of contemporary culture. With the rise of social media, photographs and videos have become popu...

Citizen Activism: the Camera and Social Change  

Activism and social justice are centerpieces of contemporary culture. With the rise of social media, photographs and videos have become popu...

Advertisement