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transaction and are always the product of the negotiation between the intentions of the photographer and subject. Bakhtin’s analysis of speech, as being always specific to whom the utterance came from and to whom it was directed, is a useful paradigm for understanding the picturing of people, the politics of which is explicitly articulated in the specific works that I will examine in Part 2. Part 2: No Distance Left To Run - Complicity As Criticality My parents’ generation all remember where they were when JFK was shot. I suppose for my generation it was the morning (Eastern Standard Time) when history (if it ever had really ended) began again. The sky over Manhattan may have been bright and crisp on the 11th of September 2001 but in London it was raining. No-one had turned up for the press preview for Boris Mikhailov’s show at Saatchi’s old Boundary Road space so it was clear that the private view that evening would be a washout and not because of the rain. The black-Prada-clad girls staffing the gallery had said that a plane had flown into a building so I’d found a telly with CNN in the little pub down the road and I was holed-up there for a few hours with a bunch of cabbies who were convinced that the world was ending. As I left to walk back to the gallery, I wondered whether I should invite them over to see the show (because art chat with black cab drivers is almost always worth it) but then I decided that Boris Mikhailov probably wouldn’t cheer them up. One visitor to the exhibition was overcome by the bleakly historical weight of the moment and simply screamed continuously one long, loud, monotone, guttural scream that seamed to last all evening but probably didn’t. I don’t know what was going through his mind as his vocal chords were shredding themselves but I imagined that he was acting in desperate, hopeless protest at the rest of us sipping champagne in front of pictures of destitute Ukrainians whilst burning bankers were throwing themselves out of a skyscraper on the other side of the world. I would have liked to have spoken with him and 

Bakhtin, M. M. (1930) The Dialogic Imagination. Texas: Univ. of Texas Press. pp. 272-274

Above: Boris Mikhailov, Case History (1997/98), c-print, courtesy Galerie Barbara Weiss and the artist

asked him what he made of Mikhailov’s ‘Case History’ photographs but you can’t talk to a guy who’s screaming. I guessed that he would not have liked them and that he might have felt the work to be repulsively exploitative. But it seems to me that it is in Mikhailov’s explicitly exploitative process that both the value and the ethicality of this work lies. The photographer’s methods are not hidden here. The sums of money (that we would consider to be paltry) that he pays his impoverished subjects are likely to mean a great deal to them and are perhaps why they appear so jolly whilst degrading themselves for his camera. The smiles on their faces as they get their manky tits out for Mikhailov’s lens make it impossible for us to be unaware of the presence of the photographer and the nature of the transaction that is occurring. The transparency of this exchange makes explicit the socio-economic inequity of the situation. This work is often criticised by photojournalists working in more conventional ways because it has no claims to objectivity. But Mikhailov avoids the pretence of detached accuracy in order to foreground the actual mechanics of bearing witness. Faced with their broad grins to camera as the subjects of the photographs show us their decrepit cocks, our voyeuristic role here is impossible to ignore and the economic and political reality of their situation

Stimulus Respond - Binary  
Stimulus Respond - Binary  

The Binary issue of Stimulus Respond, November 2010.