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Thread: Opinions about exploitation

  1. #81
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    Opinions about exploitation

    "First off - you need to do better research. The photo you are referring to of the Viet Cong prisoner being assasinated was taken by Eddie Adams. And secondly, I fail to see how you can compare this to Witkin's photos. The VC execution photo was news, it was something that was recorded while it happened (it was also filmed by a crew working for NBC). Witkin's photos are pure construct's for his own purposes, whatever they may be. These thing's are definitely NOT comparable."

    I didn't mean to re-open any can of worms surrounding that picture--and you're right, i know nothing about the story behind it besides what you just wrote. It simply seemed like a convenient example of how sense of authenticity influences our perception of pictures.

    It's true that witkin's pictures are staged, but that's not the same thing as "completely fake." staged photography is a tradition dating back to the mid 19th century, and part of its power has always come from the tennuous relationship between what's real and what's constructed. This is one of the reasons its practitioners have turned to photography instead of painting--because of the various implications, however naive, that photography carries.

    Still, my answer to the original question, "would it make a difference if witkin used fake bodies," is that I don't know, but that for reasons I've given, I suspect it might. And again, these reasons are are not tied to the ethical questions raised by the work. And again, saying so is not a dennial that these ethical questions exist or that they're important.

  2. #82

    Opinions about exploitation

    It is a pain for me to read all this philosopy about photography, motives, etc. I am going to work in the darkroom instead of reading all this.

    I do want to say I know a number of museums and collections are putting away Witkin's work
    which means he is selling more than anyone who has commented here, as far as I can tell.

    I met Witkin at a lecture at Southern Illinois University, when their photography program was much stronger, and found him very likeable. His explanations about alot of his photography, his props and his directions were very intersting. It must be remembered when he was doing this photography and where he was located. I think that has much to do with it. I can't see me doing what he does, for example, not where I live!

    Of far more interest to me is the fact he used a Rolleiflex from the 30's and when he could no longer get it restored to working order, he searched around and around until he had another one from the same time period that gave him the exact same results for his 16X16 enlargements. No book or publication I have seen reproduces Witkin's photographs as beautifully printed as were his exhibition photographs.

    I am attempting to discuss this from a photographic standpoint only. I am not attempting to dump any "philosophy" on his motives or actions.

  3. #83

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    Opinions about exploitation

    "would it make a difference if witkin used fake bodies,"?

    Once again, this answer is easy and fundamental. It would make all the difference in the world. We would not be having this debate about his ethics because they would not be questionable. If Witkin is such a great artist, why can't he make the necessary articels to stage his scenes?

    Ask yourself this. Do we bombard the coast of France and kill hundreds of actors to make a movie about Saving Private Ryan? Do we murder and incinerate hundreds of innocent people to make a movie called Schindler's List? Do we need that to feel the emotion invoked by the ashes coming from the chimney? Obviously Not. At least I didn't. Are you saying in order to be authentically powerful we have to create a real war for the audience?

    Is a faked or staged war less powerful than the real thing? You bet it is. If you think you need the real thing to experience the power of it, then brother, sign yourself up. You will not be disappointed.

    In my unschooled opinion, the art in Private Ryan or Schindler's List was conveying the power of the event via an entirely contrived means. Witkin and any of his ilk would be far more reputable if they entirely contrived their images. But he has made his choice. Why are others compelled to justify his choice?

  4. #84
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    Opinions about exploitation

    I believe the question about using fake bodies presumed that it would make an ethical difference.
    The question was whether it would make a difference in the artistic statement of the work.
    The tradition of staged photography has always included a mix of the real and the contrived, and it's my sense that the particular mix of real and contrived has a lot to do with what the artist is up to.

  5. #85

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    Ya got me on that one paulr. Why its necessary to use real body parts for the sake of an artistic statement is way over my head. I hear Iraq and Afghanastan are good sources for them these days. Don't know if they make the same statement as those from Mexico. Does it make a difference on how they are parted from the body? Or is more to do with how the body died? I can see the where some would prize a head decapitated by an auto accident as opposed to one take off by an RPG round. How about one taken off by a 44 Magnum pistol, you know, Dirty Harry style? "Excuse me, but I'm makin' an artist statement here!! You have no right to censor me!!"

  6. #86
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    Why someone would do it is really a question for Witkin (or someone else who uses pictures of dead people to make art ... there's actually some precedent going back to the 1840s).
    Whether or not it's ethical was the original question posted (and my point has been that it's not the same question). Overriding opinion in this small goup seems to be "no."
    Whether or not it makes a difference in the effect of the final work was the later question. If I understand your point, you said it doesn't. Personally, I'm not so sure.

  7. #87

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    Opinions about exploitation

    Sorry to go back to this, but:

    paulr - "I do know that for myself, the power of robert capa's photograph of the soldier at the moment of being shot was diminished when I learned it had been staged."

    You do need to re-examine the history of Adams photo, especially since you appear to really find the story behind photos interesting. By all accounts, it was not staged - the general was shooting a man that was identified as a known Viet Cong captain, who had immediately been involved in shooting both Vietnamese and American soldiers and civilians. Perhaps learning the correct story about this photo will undo the diminished feeling you have for that photo.

    By the way, it appears you are confusing the Adams photo of the VC captain's execution with the claims made by some of the "Moment of Death" photo that Capa made of a Spanish soldier was faked.

  8. #88
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    Opinions about exploitation

    I mustn't have been clear ... yes, it's capa's moment of death photo that's faked. i learned this from a friend who worked at the magnum archives ... they showed her the contact sheet with all the alternate takes!
    As far as the adams photo, I didn't mean to suggest that it was faked--just asking hypothetically if its impact would be reduced if it had been faked and we discovered this later. I used it as an example only because it had been brought up earlier in the thread.

  9. #89

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    Opinions about exploitation

    "The Kiss" -

    OK - so Witkin takes the classic concept of embracing lovers and reinterprets it with severed heads. It's a long distance from the Brancusi sculture in exectution, but I see it, and if the names are the same, then there may have even been a connection.

    And instead of the usual male/female lovers, Witkin uses the 2 halfs of a bisected (read "sawed in half") head from one individual. I guess that makes this image the first auto-homoerotic necrophilia photo.

    "Witkin takes this device of the symmetrical embrace in a couple of different directions: first, toward the macabre, opening up questions about intimacy and death--is such a perfect match even possible among the living?"

    Sure, without going into any special-effect derived trickery as Jorge suggested above, simply use identical twins. They could still have their heads intact with their bodies. And they could even be living. Maybe that would be too mundane - not enough shock value - after all, they could still be alive. Although, twins kissing in an embrace could be seen as both homoerotic and incestuous - there's got to be some good old shock value in that.

    "The poem forlornly points out that no kiss between live lovers could ever be so perfect or so immortal."

    Well if there was ever a medium that completely excels at making instances in time immortal, that would be photography. Every photograph does that. Just the mere act of snapping the shutter makes any kiss immortal. No need to snap the necks of dead people.

    "Another questoin: is such perfect intimacy only possible with yourself? Such perfect symmetry most likely is."

    Again, try some twins. If sure there are a few porn films out there using this motif.

    "This opens up the second direction that the photograph points, which is toward the long tradition in literature and art of contemplating the "other." [...] In it's own horrible way, Witkin paints a more optimistic picture of such an encounter."

    Exactly how is this "more optimistic"?

    "Esthetically, there's the symetry, of course. The two heads form a heart shape. the flesh and arteries and sinews errupting from the necks resemble roots, which puts this image esthetically in the family of traditional still life, which is one that Witkin has explored a great deal. "

    Sure, this is obvious. The only thing that makes it stand out is the severed, bisected heads of a once living human being.

    "The image raises the question: is it possible for something to be both horrible and beautiful? I believe so. "

    I agree - there are many examples of this, in both painting and photography. See O'Keef'es cow skulls.

    Stravinsky - first off - music is an allegory, an allusion, greated either with traditional instruments, or with what has been called the "Art of Noise" - the use of non-musical sounds arranged to create music. Any barbarism in Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" is only alluded to. It is telling a story through a musical soundscape. Stravinsky (to the best of my knowledge) did not go out and stage or even attend a scarifice. NO actual barbarism was committed in the creation of his work. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

    This is where your quote's relevence falls apart. Witkin did commit acts of barbarism - Stravinsky did not. And I hope you will not argue that Stravinsky's work would have been stronger, if his compsition, had actually been composed at a sacrifice.

    "Stravinski gives the barbaric rite a musical form that is powerful and convincing but does not lie: it does not dodge the horror."

    But Stravinsky did lie - he did not commit any acts of barbarism. He fooled you into thinking you were hearing one. Witkin did commit acts of barbarism.

    "And I believe it is more horrible because it is beautiful, and that it feels more "true" because of this. "

    Well, I think that this is an opinion with which you will find that most people will disagree with. And on it's face, I don't believe that statment is true. And let me point out that I'm not saying this because of some deep rooted religious beliefs. I'm actually an athiest, but I do believe that we own the dead some respect in how we treat them.

    It is this "horrible" aspect that most people find at fault with Witkin's work. There are many horrible things that we could stage, but we chose not to. Where does one draw the line. I'm sure you will not say that there is no line. Otherwise, that opens up many other avenues such as snuff films/photos or child pornography, or a combination of the two. We as society, have agreed, at least through the legal system, that we will not allow these things.

    And if it is merely artistic quality or intent that should make these things acceptable, then I don't beleive that is a sufficient guideline. Would Jeffrey Dahmer have been in the right, if he had gone to Mexico, and made haut cuisine of his victems? He would have had the artistic intent.

    Do you know if Witkin has designated which photographer will get the honor of taking his body out of the country and using it to make still lifes? It seems like would be the ultimate way for him to pass on his good fortune in having gained so much recognition from these photos. And certainly, it would give recognition to others that doubt that he was merely a sensationalistic photographer by allowing his remains to be treated in a manner similar to his dead subjects.

    Sorry paulr, but ultimately, I still find Witkin's photos mere titillation - and at the expense of some deceased human beings.

  10. #90
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    Kirk,
    you've given a lot of reasons why you don't find that photograph effective, why you don't find it ethically defensible, and why you don't find my personal/philophical responses to it to resonate with yours. I completely respect these points of view. Although I don't see how they can lead to the conclusion that his work is mere titllation (which is not only a dismissal, but an odd dismissal of something that you consider to be barbaric).

    I expounded on the things I saw in his work to illustrate that there's a lot of stuff going on--allegory, still life, art-historical reference, parody, and formalism. You can still say, "yeah, but so what, I still hate it and I still think it's wrong." Perfectly fair opinions, but not ones that logically lead to there being nothing there but titillation.

    You don't need to convince me that Witkin has crossed ethical lines. I never once defended him on those grounds. We all may draw the line that shouldn't be crossed in different places--but I'm in complete agreement with you that there are lines. Personally, I'm not as outraged as some by the use of cadavers, especially since I don't know the circumstances. But I fully respect that many people disagree vehemently. And I have a lot of problems with his use of animals (who are alive, and who, unlike the human models, did not give consent). Cruelty tends to bother me more than offending people's beliefs.

    These ethical questions might well stop me from supporting his work, if I were ever in a position to do so, and they might well stop me from liking Witkin as a person, but they're not capable of blinding me to the esthetic exploration that his work has achieved. Which is another way of saying that, whether I like the work or not, whether I'm offended by the work or not, I can't help but recognize that there is something of substance there.

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