14 April 2013

What Counts as Success? That Depends ...

“The photographs really didn’t have any of the effect that I had hoped they would. . . . I was hoping to prevent the war. And of course, there was no reaction. The war started, 100,000 to 200,000 people were killed on all sides and several million more became refugees." ~ Ron Haviv

One lesson of Rebecca Solnit's book Hope in the Dark comes in the form of a warning: do not prejudge success or failure. I have explored this theme here and here before. This post on Ron Haviv's work at Lens is a terrific reminder of the incredibly important, unintended, unforeseen impact photography can have.  It also is a reminder that the moralization of photography is a mistake - after all, one of Haviv's images (lifted above) plays a central role in Susan Sontag's despairing stance in Regarding the Pain of Others.  The photographs, on their own, cannot have the sorts of impact Haviv wants, they can only do so when they are taken up and used for this or that purpose by people engaged in political practices or occupying institutions. And that transforms Haviv's ethical predicaments (whether to snap these pictures despite being forbidden to do so, whether to testify in court) into a political problem.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Stan B. said...

I suppose it was personal and ideological letdowns such as the above that led Mr. Haviv down the road of cynicism to the point that he now defends the use of his work by "defense" industries.

14 April, 2013 12:29  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Stan, Thanks for the reminder. I had completely forgotten the issues I discussed in this post:

http://politicstheoryphotography.blogspot.com/2012/05/antiwar-photography-or-arms-industry.html

14 April, 2013 22:19  

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