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Seeing and Doubting

March 6, 2009

This week, every time I started to post, I’d open my blog and see the previous post with those reclining youngsters piled -up in their Amero-Euro privilege, with colorful sleeping bags and bean bags, and their luscious white skin and carefree gestures. I would immediately get blocked and think, I love those kids, I hate those kids.

I searched for an antidote to white leisure and found Jonathan Torgovnik’s powerful, somber, sincere, important pictures currently on display, and soon to be a book, at the Aperture Gallery in NYC.

Jonathan Torgovnik's Unintended Consequences

Jonathan Torgovnik's Intended Consequences

This is a devastating series about the victims and children of the rapes that took place during the Rwandan genocide of fifteen years ago. My problem with these pictures is that they are so beautiful. The black flesh is even more radiant and luscious than the Martine Fougeron image of the colorful sleep-over. The patterned clothes of the Rwandan survivors celebrate life every bit as much as Fougeron’s youngsters celebrate pleasure. Torgovnik’s mothers and children are bathed in what could be (and maybe is) studio light. They remind me of Phil Borges’ cloying portraits of Tibetans and other endangered peoples. They are all umbrella lit and hand painted as if they were slightly distorted illustrations of some big-eyed fantasy.

Phil Borges in Africa

Phil Borges in Africa

So, what is my problem? Do people of desperate circumstances have to look and be miserable? They can appear every bit as beautiful as a Vogue model, which coincidently usually look miserable, too.

I went to Colin Finlay’s show at the Hallmark Museum of Contemporary Photography. Now this is photojournalism of a more traditional stripe. Colin’s people really do look miserable.

Colin Finlay from Testify

Colin Finlay from Testify

There is often a text accompanying contemporary photojournalism exhibits stating how the photographer doesn’t expect to change the way things are. He is just documenting it. In this show, Finlay says that a gallery patron once handed him a check for thousands of dollars to try to help the people in his pictures. Well, if Colin can get several thousand dollars in the right helping hands, it might be better than helping this immediate person in need. It proves that a gallery can be a productive venue for helping people, not only its artists and owners.

So, what is my problem? My problem is me. I tell myself to stop doubting the artistic intentions of a Phil Borges, who probably is a most wonderful human being and has helped more people than most. I remind myself to swallow the envy of Colin Finlay’s choreographed chaos. He is attempting to document a “dance of death” equal to Sebastiao Salgado’s many painful, audience manipulating masterpieces. I try to open up to the impact of Jonathan Torgovnik’s sincere and penetrating families staring back at me. I choose to allow him whatever subtle fashion photography illusion he is exercising. All these artists are loaded with knock-out pictures, buckets of talent, and personal integrity. These adventurous documentarians, as well as up-and-comer artist Martine Fougeron, are great examples of what a thinking eye can see.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2009 6:22 am

    reading and understanding — nice quick attempt to tease apart the undercurrents, motivations and connections in pictures of people from Africa. I’d like to hear your take on Pieter Hugo and of course, Robert Lyons. Peace


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