Another review of Susan Meiselas ...
"In History is a remarkably complex installation, a kind of spatial assemblage of materials, including far more than just the still photographs for which she is best known. The show's multiplicity of objects and approaches makes clear that Meiselas seems to have developed ever more "difficult" approaches to historical documentation as her career has progressed, in evident frustration with the apparent oversimplification (and under-amplification) of traditional documentary photographic practice. One gets the sense that she wants to sidestep and supersede the forces ("the powers that be," in her choice of phrase) that typically control and mediate public experience of faraway lives through journalism. Increasingly, Meiselas has rejected even the positivist notion of "witnessing" that defines much "concerned photography." Her work, more than any of her peers, has come to occupy a radical (as opposed to a traditionally humanist or reformist) position in the creation of storylines about peoples and historical events."But then, Roth seems to take it all back when, in the end, he asks:
"It is no great criticism to say In History exposes the conundrum at the heart of Meiselas's reflexive approach to her own image-making. Wandering through the exhibition, one can easily get lost in the consideration and re-consideration of the images, as though the politics of looking has replaced "looking" itself. What is left of the photograph when everything--subject, photographer and viewer--have all been called to question?"It seems to me that Meiselas is pushing on the typically neglected reflexivity of photography as a technology - this is a theme that you can find, for instance, in the writings of Patrick Maynard or
Murat Nemet-Nejat - precisely to show that "the photograph" has no special standing and that we ought instead to focus on how differently situated agents - "subject, photographer and viewer" - seek to use photography for diverse, often conflicting purposes. If we are more resolute in that pursuit, photography indeed can prompt us, in Roth's words, to address "deeper, hidden, more mysterious and ineffable truths that lie at their heart, at their edges and, finally, outside the frame itself." But then we are not engaging in the documentary project to which the title of the review alludes. Indeed, it seems to me that Meiselas has left that project well behind her and that what we need is a revised language in which to discuss the work she and some few others are doing.
Labels: Susan Meiselas