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Education and Inspiration Last Updated: Mar 24th, 2014 - 11:01:35

Photography and Its Many Labels
By Hans Durrer
Mar 24, 2014

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Right: Picture from "Sudafrikas Kuste" copyright Jorn Vanhofen

In an interview with Spiegel Online, photographer Jorn Vanhofen described himself as a political landscape photographer whose goal it is to create ambiguous images for he wants to force the observer to not only consume the photographs but to really read them.

Pretty ambitious, isn't it? And not very probable that he will achieve his goal for the ones who spend time with photographs usually do with them as they deem fit, regardless of what the photographer's intention is.

  But first things first: In my view, all images are ambiguous. In other words, ambiguousness needn't be created because it is already there. More precisely: images are neither ambiguous nor not ambigous, they simply are. It is our reading of photographs that may result in ambiguousness. Just think of the Russian proverb He lies like an eye-witness.
  Vanhofen's goal was to show the political, cultural, social life after Apartheid. The problem with this seems obvious for it is characteristic of photography that it cannot show something as abstract as politics, culture or society. Even more problematic is of course to photograph "a political landscape" for there is no such thing.
Next Left: Whisper of the Wind. Entry by Dave Brosha

There's also, I learn, astronomy photography (how does one photograph astronomy? I wonder). Well, I guess it is probably best to show you an example of what some people have decided to call astronomy photography. It is a truly beautiful shot and one of the entries for the competition entitled "astronomy photographer of the year 2010," held at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

There's another category I did not know existed: crime photography. In 2009, The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, an educational charity based at Kings College London, organised a photographic competition, sponsored by the Wates Foundation, which asked for visual answers to the question "What is Crime?"

  Here's what The Independent penned:
  "Rather than traditional images of criminality and justice, such as prison bars or policemen, the competition organizers asked for photographs that would "stimulate thinking about harm, injustice and crime". The exhibition contains a series of powerful images in three categories  - Environment, Finance and Violence - all of which ask the viewer to recalibrate their sense of what is, or isn't, criminal. Open to anyone, the competition attracted participation from a range of amateur and professional photographers" (The Independent, 4 June 2009).

Although I find many of the labels that people come up with helpful, I think them also problematic for they attempt to give direction to my seeing.

  The simple fact is that photographs trigger emotions, how and why this is we do not, and probably cannot, know. It is however not the image that defines how it will be perceived, it is what we bring to it. For, as the Talmud says, We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.

  2014 copyright Hans Durrer / Soundscapes

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