COLLABORATING WITH THE STATUS QUO

I don’t like fundamentalism. Categorical thought leaves no room for expansion or discovery, it’s limiting, a fallback position for just not thinking.

Problem is, I fundamentally can’t stand fundamentalism, and that means I am a fundamentalist. Fuck me!

In my favour, though, I’m aware of that tendency in myself and do my darndest to mitigate it. I try to always remind myself that there’s more than one side to everything, to every life. And I remind myself, too, that humans are not the great logical beings we think we are; we are ruled by our emotions. And we’re pretty much emotional wrecks, aren’t we? So there’s that.

I’m less forgiving/sympathetic, though, when it comes to the fundamental political proclivities of certain human beings. Take, for instance, anti-vaxxers, neoliberals and their ilk. (You know the type I’m referring to.) I get that they are, like all of us, ruled by emotion, but their fundamental belief is detrimental to others, their selfishness is a menace to society. But there’s no point in arguing or trying to change their minds, is there?

So I’m torn. On the one hand I accept this crazy, imperfect world as it is, accept that we’re all just human (all too human). On the other hand there are certain issues, politics, approaches (call it what you will) that I believe are worth standing up and fighting for (however that fight might manifest itself, however fruitless that fight may be).

And I admit that some of the stuff I feel the need to fight for is pretty trivial. (One of my ambitions is to care less about the stupid stuff. I’m working on it, cut me some slack, will ya!)

One of those stupid things (oh how I wish I cared less) has to do with photography . . .

The photography I’m seeing (and here I’m talking about “serious” photographers’ work) . . . the photography I’m seeing seems to mostly feature two approaches. Broadly speaking:

  • You’ve got folks who are interested in photographing and contextualizing the social and political aspects of the times. (Here is a link to an in-depth look at what I consider political photography.)
  • On the other hand you’ve got folks whose images seem to imply nothing much has changed. I see these kinds of images as being akin to pictorialism. (Encyclop√¶dia Britannica describes pictorialism as: an approach to photography that emphasizes beauty of subject matter, tonality, and composition rather than the documentation of reality.)

I get why people might want to carry on (photographically speaking) as though everything is normal. There’s a certain solace in photographing the familiar, in finding comfort in the standard beauty. In these fucked up times we need to find relief however we can; people are feeling fragile and doing whatever they need to do to remain sane.

Far be it from me to suggest that what you are photographing (whatever that may be) is wrong. As far as I’m concerned you can photograph whatever you want, however you want. But if you put your work out for consideration . . . I’ll consider it.

Further to this, our changed circumstances must surely mean we should spend some time thinking about which of our “core” beliefs might be reconsidered and modified, and which core beliefs are immutable.

And I’m doing that . . . spending some time considering and reconsidering where I stand and how I should live. I’ve learned (or maybe: realized) a few things over the last couple of months. Nothing like a systemic shakeup to, well . . . shake things up.

One of the things I’ve learned is to be more charitable when it comes to pictorial photography. I now understand (but still question) the reasons some photographers embrace pictorialism.

At the same time, my core belief that pictorialism is really just collaborating with the status quo remains unshaken.

Given all that’s going on in the world these days this beef might seem inconsequential. But how we frame the (our) world has consequences, large and small.

Yes, the ordinary and mundane must be a part of how we see the world. But by seeing only that, by excluding the larger context, the resulting photographs become a form of acceptance.

And I for one can’t and won’t accept that.

Every word has consequences. Every silence, too.
– Jean-Paul Sartre

Two possible images, work in progress.

Author: Tony Fouhse

Tony is an Ottawa-based photographer.