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PRIVATE 28 | an Ethical Question

PRIVATE 28, an Ethical Question
PRIVATE 28, an Ethical Question (photo cover: Paolo Pellegrin)


Photography – before being viewed as a creative appliance – should be considered for its use as a communication medium; photography from a linguistic, cultural and sociological point of view has its own inherent characteristics.

For over a century and a half, the photographic image was regarded for its capability of being technically reproducible. Throughout the century of scientific advance and industrialization the chemical process at the base of the photographic image had acquired consistency and uniformity. Photographs have immediately been perceived as genuine; they were believed to be capable of faithfully reproduced the world since the photographic object was the result of a technical process as opposed to painted images seen as subjective, ambiguous and imprecise.

At present, the steady advance in technology – explicitly in digital imagery – is obliging us to hold a far more vigilant and critical attitude towards photography. This medium is going through a profound transformation that disrupts certainties so far acquired.

We will need to learn to separate facts from fiction; we will need to be capable of reading through tomorrow’s flood of digital visual information.

The advance in computer technology has made it possible to alter the way we produce images, the photographs we obtain have the same characteristics as those done with a chemical/optical procedure. With the appropriate software we can easily change a backdrop, shift people around and rebuild or manipulate a face and a body there as altering photography’s original meaning: that of reproducing reality.

These are digital manipulations; in the past, photomontages were obtained intervening mechanically on the surface of the negative that was physically altered and therefore carried the signs of such an operation. Today this manipulation is done digitally altering pixels stored in the memory card of a computer; the signs the maker made on the surface of the photograph are simply undetectable.

In such a new context those of us who rely on photography for their studies in history, visual sociology etc. must come to terms with, understand and learn to read, this new language. One that opens up the discussion on a whole new set of questions.

Furthermore, daily life is dominated by television; such a relentlessly constant visual offensive has produced a real crisis within photojournalism.

The journalist-photographer used to be some sort of a lone traveler one that assumed the role of witness to war, a person used to sound out society risking his life in the process of doing so; humanity was always identified and clearly apparent in the photograph as the sole protagonist.

The most compelling photojournalism was capable of bringing together technical rigor and courageous inquiry, often providing an astonishing piece of investigative journalism; at times the basis of entire history chapters.

Today’s approach towards this kind of photography is completely different.

In the age of total communication, of a hyper-consumption of television sequences, photojournalism is – at best – a difficult alternative, a noble way of suggesting us to set aside a quiet moment to think. It seems that what once was an ethically objective and austere photography is being muddled by the continuous global media unrest.

Today the traveling photographer observes the ever so changing people and things around him though seems to be increasingly more often interested in portraying himself. The photographer – with his pictures – ends up describing his own impressions, problems and difficulties; his aspiration is to enter triumphantly into a gallery and be greeted by applauding art critics.

We are dealing with a photography that is becoming increasingly more biased; both overwhelmed by the photographer’s own subjective perception and heavily conditioned by the parody of mainstream media in constant demand for new stories. Always more often we are introduced to photographers who favor the esthetic and sensational component in their pictures, people who prefer to not be engaged.

This is not the case for the eight talented photographers whose work is present in private. The selected images, with their individual style, at times assisted by visual references, demonstrate a common appreciation of the reportage as a genre. They all possess a sincere – and frankly infrequent – ethical sense.

The photographer’s bios make it apparent that every one of them aspires to work in the field, their reportages are a clear illustration of the interest they all have in sociological investigation. They all use their camera as an analytical tool, a means of researching the social, political and environmental realities surrounding them. Photographers willing to address affairs that lay just below the surface. Keen on giving their contribution to the resolution of problems, both tiny and bulky events that have failed to win – for time or convenience – the attention of mainstream media.

Being the result of such a conscientious intent, the pictures are overflowing with feelings, emotion and soul. In most cases, these photographs do not simply illustrate an event, a particular reality (emarginated people, shattered lives that mirror society’s misery or injustice that take place in front the most blank indifference) they are capable of becoming intensely objective and evocative fragments. The pictures sequence has a musical quality; the rhythm accelerates, pauses and fades away.

In these pages we are not shown a low end “commerce of emotions.”

The photographs here resemble literary prose, at times poetry that particular style that is capable of bringing the onlooker closer to the world and to its unsettled problems.

(by Bernardo Valli)

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