Wednesday, September 30, 2009

'change we can believe in'

This week I went along to the World Press Photo Exhibition. I wasn't surprised to see that 95% of the images were of death, war and children being subjected to both of the former elements of the societies they live in.

What did I expect? So rarely is good news headlines. In fact usually good news is relegated to the back of Woman's Day in the 'Thanks a Bunch' section where a good samaritan is nominated, and a bunch of flowers and some chocolates are couriered to them.

Whoop de ruddy woo. I saw 'celebrations' of people in the exhibition, but was it a celebration? And what are we as humanity celebrating by paying our $2 to walk in and add yet another level of desensitisation and 'it makes you think you know...'?

Because in reality, the 5% of photos that were happy, full of life were merely entertaining us by portarying different cultures in (usually an) Eastern civilised country wearing native dress and donning toothy smiles. Oh, and the history making moments in which Barack Obama was elected president and promised a change we can believe in.

Ironic, sad, futile that this 'change' that you, me and every Miss World contestant hopes, prays and wishes for was documented and exhibited amongst photos of grief and destruction. A mother of two who had been shot by gangs in South America and lay on the dusty main street with children looking on from a combi van.

A buried Chinese man, dead in rubble after the devastating earthquake that killed thousands, head the only part of his body uncovered. And photographed.

From memory the only faces I was familiar with were those of Barack Obama and Dennis Hopper (a big deal in France apparently). Every other face was either one that stared through you with a reflection of the photographer in their eyes, or stared at nothing while a scene was unfurling around them and they had either accepted that this was their life, knew no other life, or had deemed their own life worthless.

What I genuinely feel torn over is how I feel about photographers in this sense. On Radio Live once, and I forget the listener's name who rang in to speak to Marcus Lush, but he made an excellent point when finally fed up with people accusing photographers of being 'vultures'.

Basically, he said that something in a photographer is different when it comes to moments. He joked that he didn't know whether it was a switch they were born with in their brains, or a chemical imbalance: because, he admitted, it is awful to have your first instinct as 'quick, grab the camera'. They know it, but that is simply the way they are.

Wonderful or heartbreaking- whatever moments we come across, most of us decide one of a few options. We watch in horror/pleasure. We turn away. We become a part of it. We help those who need help.

But a photographer, a born photographer, will do their utmost to record such moments, exhaust every option to make damn sure it's on film. They remain...a voyeur if you will, of what is unfurling. For posterity, to inform society, to shape history. Their 'job' as they see it, is not to interfere. They're job is to remain outside the bubble and simply ensure that the actions within that bubble are passed from their cameras into the hands of those that tell us the day's news, or write tomorrow's history books.

I want to end on a happy, not intense, thought-provoking aspect of the exhibition that has made me smile. Anthony Amato, the cutest Artistic Director ever, conducting the orchestra at 319 the Bowery on Second street.

A face I am now familiar with because of the exhibition is old time opera theatre cutie, New Yorker Anthony Amato, who had kept his legendary 'shabby' Amato Opera going since opening the doors in 1948. Sadly the passing of his wife, (whom he had been married to when they opened their doors 61 years ago) in 2000 meant he has struggled in recent years. Every season they put on 6 operas, and they'd offer low prices so that it was affordable and accessible for anyone to go to the Opera. How amazing is that! It was a smaller orchestra than usual but I suppose over time it developed a cult following, particularly as it gained a reputation for nurturing up and coming singers.

It's characters like Tony Amato that continually help to make the everyday lives of people lucky enough to be living in a safe part of the world. I'm not saying I want to turn a blind eye to the atrocities of war, and of people who are less fortunate, absolutely not. Ignorance may be bliss, but to proudly mix adages here, it probably breeds comtempt as well.

What I resent I suppose is the lack of recognition that people in our backyards get beyond Jim Mora's Mucking In and getting a telegram from the Queen once you hit 100 years of age. Not everyone will get 15 minutes of fame Andy Warhol, and looking at the awe-inspiring photos in the World Press exhibition, some that do will go down in history without a name, a title, or a home.

Is this a can of worms? Is there a change on the horizon we can believe in?

Until next time,


No comments:

Post a Comment

Think this is a dram worth recommending?