Photographic Whining?

I just read this about Lewis Baltz’s San Quentin Point series at anotherphotoblog:

Some more Lewis Baltz photographs from his San Quentin point project. I like these pictures, much like all the other New Topographic ones. I think a major problem with them is that they protest all this pollution and development but pose no solution to what the percived [sic] problem is. They amount to photographic whining.

Is it the role of the photographer to solve or correct the problems and injustices they document? In most, if not all cases, ecologists, sociologists, economists, etc. have already identified the problem and purposed solutions. The photographer’s role then is to bring the issue to the attention to the public with hope that the images will move those in power to act.

That was the case with Lewis Hine and child labor, Dorthea Lange and starving migrant workers, Subhanker Banerjee and ANWR.

In the case of Baltz and Adams, their photographs could not deter developers or put an end to illegal and irresponsible dumping. That is not the fault of their work, but the misplaced priorities of the general population. The photographs still serve as a document, even if they weren’t able to affect change—much like Elliott Porter’s photographs of Glen Canyon. It is sometimes difficult to not be a defeatist—and to simply give up while asking, “what is the point?” For me, however, it is the beauty of those documents that serves as inspiration to continue working.


About Richard Boutwell

I am an emerging photographer originally from the Hi-Desert of Southern California, and relocated to Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 2002 for an intensive apprenticeship with the photographers Michael A. Smith and Paula Chamlee. I now live in Philadelphia, and concentrate on my own projects and writing.
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