Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Prompts - Responding to and writing about images "Socio-economics".

This is one of the more complex aspects of photographs that you should aim to address when making sense of them and being that bit more complex increases the chances of you attaining higher grades.

Ways to address this are numerous...

One of the first things you should look at is the relationship between the photographer and the people/situation that they are photographing. Look at all of the clues you have and make a judgement on what you know of the photographer about their socio-economic status or background. Then look at who is being photographed and again make a judgement of their socio-economic status and then look to see if there is a difference and ask yourself if this is relevant or significant?

It may be useful to identify and compare your own socio-economic status and make connections with either the subject or the photographer themselves?

As an example if you look at the work of Joni Sternbach here think about what you know of Surfing already and look at the visual clues in the images.

Think about your own ideas and own life experiences, living conditions and financial status. Are the people in the images the same or similar to you - what things do you share with the people? The very basic questions you should look at, might include questions such as...

Are the people Western or Non-Western?
Are they poor?
Are they comfortable (Financially)?
Are they wealthy?
Are they working class, under-class, middle class or upper-class?

Whatever assumptions you make, you then need to discuss in your work what leads you to believe these assumptions - the visual clues?

Then ask yourself does the photographer share the same lifestyle or values as the people in the images and does this then affect your feelings towards the photographers work or not - does it matter?

In many instances, photography because of the nature of it ... cost/access to equipment and resources is conducted by people that are predominantly middle-class. One of the defining features of being middle class is to be in control of your life to some extent, having excess capital (money) that allows you to be involved in activities such as photography and travel. You might want to discuss how photographers interact and relate to different people from differing socio-economic backgrounds? Looking at the image/s your writing about - how are they are shot and used, are there any observations you can make with regards to whether you feel the subjects in the images are being exploited? Or does the photographer go about their work with a sense of empathy, making the images in such a way that they imbue their subjects with dignity?

Returning to the Joni Sternbach images, with only a few minutes of researching on-line we can establish a number of facts about Sternbach's work ...

1. She is a white middle class American. Things that connote that she is so include the fact that she has a degree and an MA, she makes a comfortable living through making art photographs, which allows her to travel all around the world pursuing this career.

2. The people she photographs for the most part are similarly white middle-class Americans, Australians and English. How do we know they're middle class even though they're almost without clothes on the edge of a beach? Surfing is for the most part a middle-class past time, the surfboards for instance are expensive luxury goods. All of the people in the images look fit and healthy and they live near the beach and again that is a reasonably good indication of wealth combined with all of the other factors.

You therefore have to look at the images used in your research and ask these types of questions and offer responses to them by way of trying to establish what the images are really about. You only need a few lines (As above in italics) or a paragraph that demonstrates that you've considered this aspect of the images in your image analysis.

If that doesn't make sense - what about this...

One way of approaching it is to look at who is being photographed and who the photographer is. Look at the subjects and ascertain what their socio-economic background/status is… Are they from a certain background e.g. Under-class, working class, middle class, upper-middle class or upper-class? Look at the visual clues that might suggest the people’s status. Read the articles that you’ve researched and get some sense if this is an important aspect of the images. Explain how you might have arrived at this assumption or fact.

Then ascertain the photographers background and status, does he/she share their status in anyway, historically did the photographer come from a similar background? Are they the same nationality or ethnicity? Do you think this matters or through your research can you ascertain whether this does matter?

The relationship between the photographer and their subject potentially matters a lot as it may mean the images are shot with a bias? Are the images supportive, derogatory, neutral or condescending explain how and why?

Is it possible for a rich western, middle class white photographers to take images of ethnic, third world, indigenous people and do so in a neutral non-colonial manner? Similar issues can be discussed in terms of men taking pictures of Women, Women taking pictures of men. ­

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