Look what I opened the shades to see this morning!
Mouse over the image to see my reaction.
I also woke to find: 1.) a couple of great new comments on the "Camera Industry Peaked" post (check out the latest Featured Comments, especially the one from Steve Jacob followed by a serendipitous counterpoint from Barry Reid); 2.) that the Cubbies won Game 2 (Chicago, dry a tear, you rock and all is not yet lost); 3.) that there are two days of Nikon rebates happening on Nikon's three most desirable DSLRs, the D500, D750, and D810 ($500 off on the latter); and 4.) that Steve McCurry is vowing to do anything he can to help Sharbat Gula after her recent arrest in Pakistan.
I'm not saying I know what to think about any of this. The leaves aren't even off the trees yet, and I still need more autumn; we did sound a bit too much like a bunch of old GBGs (grumpy beardy guys) when waxing pessimistic about the state of photography; and the Cubs can't win the World Series, as it's a known Sign of the Apocalypse, not that there haven't been plenty of those recently. I rented a Nikon not long ago, the D7200, and a) was extremely impressed by it and b) decisively concluded I would most likely never again buy a DSLR. (That's just me, of course—your mileage may well vary.)
Finally, the whole notion of the fate of the subjects of famous pictures just vexes me. I have no idea what to think. As a person, Sharbat Gula of course deserves our concern. At the same time, allowing the subjects of famous pictures to become political symbols is at best arbitrary. We don't own our own image, and in some cases our image doesn't really stand for us. What are we to make of the fact that Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother became an overweight middle-class grandmother allegedly annoyed by the fact that she had never been paid for her famous picture? You can't argue that Lange was being exploitative, either, because Dorothea was working for the government and wasn't allowed to keep the rights to her own work—by law, work-for-hire for the U.S. government belongs to the American people. She never earned anything from Migrant Mother either, except indirectly. The "original print," insofar as there is one, is (or was—perhaps it's been removed for safekeeping and to prevent theft) in a bank of filing cabinets in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.
At the same time, the subjects of many photographs not only have a past, they have a future, too, and the future constantly changes the past. Meaning is never completely fixed or stable.
I'm reminded of a commercial photographer I once worked for. One of his signature images, prominently displayed at the local lab, was of a goldfish in boldly-lit blue-colored water with a vivid swirl of green. But when I went to work for him, I learned that the green swirl was colored oil and that the shoot had killed the poor fish—the disused aquarium sat neglected in a corner of the studio, the water half-evaporated, its glass sides caked with a goo of oil, algae, and mold. So is the picture a celebration of the vitality and beauty of the fish? What is our relationship to the subjects of our pictures? What about our duty?
Every photograph of life contains a little death, and every shining moment portends an indeterminate, inscrutable future. The meaning of that is chaotic and uncategorizable, a jumble and a mystery.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Terry Letton: "Sharbat is not alone in her fate. She is but one of many refugees who are in the same predicament. They have no way of capturing the world's attention, unlike her. We can only hope that whatever response comes from this is not only to help her, but also the rest."