Talking about photography, I don’t think there’s an elephant in the room. There is a group of elephants in the room, with different sizes and ages. Stan Banos just pointed one out and asked “When will we finally see people of color not only in front of the lens serving as ample, year round subject matter, but also as: photographers, judges, editors, gallery owners, workshop presenters and festival organizers in some representative proportion beyond mere tokenism?” I’d be incredibly happy if I had a good answer, but, alas, I don’t, and unless I’m missing something (always possible) I don’t think anyone else has one, either. Such questions are, should we say, inconvenient, but that’s what makes it a good question: The elephant will not disappear if we ignore it, so we might as well make an effort to deal with it. We owe it to ourselves, if when we use the phrase “the photographic community” we truly embrace the meaning of the word “community”. (more)
As I said I don’t have a good answer, but I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I could be very mistaken, but I do think that in terms of photography Stan’s question, as elaborate as it already is, does not even encompass the true extent of the problem. I absolutely agree that we do need to see more “photographers, judges, editors, gallery owners, workshop presenters and festival organizers” who are not white. But we also need to realize that people who are not white tend to be portrayed in photography in ways that for the most part cement inequality.
The makers of the duckrabbit blog could probably explain this much better than I can. You only need to head over to that blog and look at many of the topics raised there to see what I mean when I talked about how we still have a huge problem with how non-white people are portrayed photographically, at least in the Western media.
Of course, one could now argue that this problem is due to the fact that most of the photographs we see are produced by white (mostly male - another dimension) people. But I can’t escape the feeling that for us to find ways to approach Stan’s question we need to expand the focus. Let’s face it, Stan’s question is not new, and we have been unable to come up with an answer so far. That’s why I think that when we talk about representation we need to talk about all types of representation. And visual representation plays a huge part.
The tokenism that Stan mentioned can be found in many areas. Just think of advertizing in the US. Advertizing, when presenting groups of people, always manages to show a mix of skin colours that, let’s face it, we are not so familiar with from real life. In principle, this is great: Advertizing - the great equalizer. But - and this is a big but - we all know that ads basically present us a big, fat lie. We all know very well that what we see in advertizing is not true. Nobody believes that, for example, using some toothpaste will do what the ad says it does. That is what makes the use of those perfect groups of people in ads so insidious.
Advertizing is a particularly tricky case because it uses tokenism in the most shameless way. Tokenism is bad enough, but there are many ways race is being treated that are even worse. Just watch the so-called “local news” and have a close look at their stories about crime…
I do think that for us to make progress with the question Stan asked we need to not only look at tokenism in the actual representation of photographers, gallerists, etc., we also need to deal with tokenism like the one we find in advertizing, and we need to deal with the many ways race is dealt with in front of the camera. Of course, this has to go hand in hand with more direct efforts, many of which are mentioned in this post over at dvafoto, for example.
I also think we might want to slightly rephrase Stan’s original question. How about the following: “What can we do so that will we finally see people of color not only in front of the lens serving as ample, year round subject matter, but also as: photographers, judges, editors, gallery owners, workshop presenters and festival organizers in some representative proportion beyond mere tokenism?”
As I said, I don’t think I have a good answer. But I want to propose to expand what we’re looking at, to realize that race enters photography in many different ways, and there might be very strong connections between them. It’s important to tackle all those different aspects.
Regardless of whether I’m right or wrong here, one thing is certain, though: Unless we try, this elephant is not going to go away.