These are trying times. Many people have been pushed into a corner, or at least desperate straits, by neoliberalism (culture) and Covid-19 (nature). Not to mention the general stress of their lives since birth.

A cornered animal is a dangerous animal. A screaming, kicking, biting animal. This includes human beings. Paradoxically many animals (us included) have an almost unlimited capacity for suffering.

But right now, folks are in a fighting mood. Push has come to shove. And every push by the hard done by will be met by an even harder pushback by the powers that be.

One of the battlefields in this war is Cancel Culture.

I’m not going to explain or rationalize Cancel Culture here. There are many broad generalizations and lots of hair splitting about what Cancel Culture is. You will, if you’re interested, do your own research, your own soul-searching, arrive at your own interpretation.

One thing is certain, though . . . the fight is on and something’s gotta give. Both sides (let’s agree for now to this binary term, even though it’s more complicated and splintered than that) . . . both sides will pull out all the stops. And that inevitably leads to a certain amount of categorical thought and overreaction.

Thing is, polite discourse won’t get you very far: big change can only come from passionate overreaction. Because of this there’s bound to be some collateral damage. Once in a while the wrong statue will be pulled down, sometimes a not so guilty party will be swept up (and away) by overblown rhetoric. Occasionally, the finger will be pointed at an innocent bystander.

And that totally sucks if you are the one unfairly maligned. But in some situations, collateral damage is inevitable. The pendulum of politics and culture only passes by the sweet spot of balance for a short while as it swings from from one extreme to the other. Contrary to popular opinion, nature doesn’t do balance very well; evolution only comes from turmoil.

These are revolutionary times. At least in some sectors, some countries. And revolution is a messy business. Shit will get broken. So be it. I’m for it.

But . . .

I’ve been shaking my head recently at some photoland social media storms (or are they tempests in a teacup?).

This is, I believe, related to Cancel Culture. Andrew Molitor puts it well when he says: Cancel Culture is the ambient set of attitudes that supports and enables social media mobbing.

Let me get this straight: I have no problem with calling people out, though I typically do that under the radar, person to person. In other words: not performative. And fighting back is a good thing. When it comes to photo-culture at large I do my fighting on a public basis. 

I’ve been on record for, like, ever as a person who salutes people who are actively working to challenge/change the status quo. Conversely, if you are content with the status quo, well . . . you suck. 

And, yes, there is much room for improvement and deeper perspective, more empathy, when it comes to how I comport myself. I make mistakes. Don’t you?

Okay . . .

Lately, probably because of the Zeitgeist, I’ve been seeing some overly righteous indignation on my photoland social media feeds. (note: my photoland media feeds are not comprehensive.) And I can’t help but notice that these mostly come from white men. They are outraged! at the racism extant in the history and certain current practices of photoland.

I’m all for examining the structural racism and classism that plagues much of photography. Some of the issues they raise should be aired and discussed. But their take on these things seems to be based on bias rather than perspective, reasoned discourse is missing. Their criticism boils down to: I don’t like it and if you like it, or have a different interpretation, there’s something wrong with you . . . and you’re probably a racist.

Conversely, almost everything I read from people in the BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ communities that pertains to representation in photography is more balanced and believable. They have more skin in the game, their lived experience informs their perspective.

Now, I’m not suggesting that white cisgendered people should just shut up. We need to ally with and stand beside the communities who have the most to fight for. We should be prepared to give up our privileged position, be willing to make way.

Of course we should be outraged. But when outrage outweighs perspective what you end up with is fundamentalism.

The way forward must be fuelled by revolutionary passion, and that passion can be quiet and/or loud. But if the revolution (or whatever it is that’s happening now) . . . if the revolution is to be successful, reason must play as big a part as passion.

Author: Tony Fouhse

Tony is an Ottawa-based photographer.