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Positions and Practice (PHO710) - Photography, Power and Others

In photography, there is the exposure triangle which is a great visual learning tool to teach the technicalities of how aperture, ISO and shutter speed affect one another. What is less commonly know however is the ethics triangle. This is a triangle of power between the author, subject and audience. This helps to show the balance of power between the three points.

In my practice, I believe the Author, Subject and Audience are all equal within the ‘triangle.’ I always ensure that my human subjects are content during a shoot and ensure they’re happy with the images produced before they’re released to the audience. The audience have an equal power to reject or to not interact or look at my images.

A great example would be to look at the works of Sally Mann. Her images of her children have been and are still criticised as being exploitative and of sexualising her children. Mann has explained however, that these images are documenting the processes of her children growing up and the journey of discovery that one makes as a child, the freedom and authenticity of childhood. Images of her naked children happily playing as children should, cuts and injuries that are a part of being a child make people uncomfortable, (myself included with some of the images). But is this simply not just people projecting their own insecurities on to her work?

Mann waited 10 years after the last image had been taken before publishing her book. This was to allow the children to understand the images and have their input in what they did or didn't want publishing. Its reported that Mann's daughter Virginia disputed an image of her urinating and so that was not included in the book. By doing this, Mann shifted the balance of power from the author to the subject also. Although there are many critics of Mann's works, they have the right to not view these images so their power remains equal to the authors.

Sally Mann – Black Eye, photographic negative 1991, printed 1992, from Immediate Family


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