Exploitation lies at the root of every interaction between a photographer and a human subject, and every photographer worth a damn knows this. It is unavoidable, it is intrinsic to the very act taking pictures, and the most sophisticated photographers work their understanding of it into their practice, in various subtle ways. I've watched dozens of them at work, and each has a different method: Some bond with their subjects, some boss them around, some flirt and seduce, some ignore, some distract, and some just watch. But with the best of them you can see something in their eyes, and in their work, that proves their trustworthiness and creates a kind of complicity. Jill Greenberg is decidedly not one of the best, but her clumsiness inadvertently reveals a fundamental truth: Taking a picture is a deep and ethically complex thing to do, and everyone who engages in it is compromised, right from the start.
I don't mean this as a condemnation of photography. On the contrary, I love the medium, and it fascinates me endlessly, precisely because it's so freighted with the problem of power and responsibility. It is born in a bed of plunder and abuse; but in the right hands it can end in beauty, and how we get from one to the other is as profound a grace as any art can manifest.
TODAY IN SLATE
More Than Scottish Pride
What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture
Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You
Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows
Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?
The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.
Happy Constitution Day!
Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.