Moving Beyond Violence & Despair / Toward Hope & Restoration:
Cleveland Photographers Respond
Projection always hides a feeling you don't want to look at. If you examine any negative trait you insist is present in another person, you will find that same trait hiding in yourself. The more you deny this trait, the more strongly you will have to project it.
—Dr. Deepak Chopra
“When it comes to photographs, we are all deconstructionists now. After thirty years of Derrida, Foucault, and Baudrillard, anyone can confidently (if incorrectly) proclaim that photographs lie, manipulate, oppress; that they are ‘fictive constructs’ and ‘discourses of power;’ that they reveal only their own prejudices, not objective reality; that they express privilege, never truth. Yet more and more, it is upon these presumably meretricious, morally stained documents that we rely—not just to bring us news of the world, but to form our ethical and political consciousness and even, sometimes, to determine our actions.”
— Susie Linfield
From the article “Capture the Moment: On the Uses and Misuses of Photojournalism,”
Boston Review (April/May 2001)
As popular as he is, I confess I don’t read Chopra. I have only a cursory familiarity with his thoughts and writing; I stumbled across the reference above while thinking about the phrase “Moving Beyond Violence and Despair.” (I was asked to curate an exhibition of contemporary photography with a Cleveland, Ohio-centric focus to address the theme). What caught my eye—my sustained attention—in Chopra’s passage was the word “projection,” a term I am much more accustomed to thinking about relative to my usual reading fare of photo-literature, photographic criticism, visual perception, and art history. In example, and admittedly in my own unfashionable way, I was quick to reflect upon John Szarkowski’s exhibition and catalogue Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960, held at The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1978. Often criticized through our post-modern era for overly reductive simplicity, the interpretive strategies of thinking about the photographic image as a mirror of self, or as a window unto the world (and every permutation in-between), I find useful here.
Historically predisposed, or perhaps handicapped depending on one’s point of view, the first images I draw upon when I think of “projection” are similar to the illustration here in reference to the development of linear perspective from the Renaissance forward—a mathematically correct system by which the 3-dimensional world is rendered onto a 2-dimensional surface.
This arduously acquired skill of spatial interpretation—our western preoccupation with this rational order of space as “correct,” as “picture perfect,” or as things should be—is built into our cameras through centuries of scientific, artistic, and technological advancement. We don’t have to think about it or do the math. (That’s not necessarily a good thing). As photographers and presenters, what we often think about, and hopefully take responsibility for, is how we gather, create, and “project” information to the viewer. And perhaps the exhibition “Moving Beyond Violence and Despair” will raise questions about the actions we take, or don’t take, in response to the image as perceived. Frances Richard writes in “The Thin Artifact: On Photography and Suffering” which appeared in the December 13, 2010 edition of The Nation: “The question is how we do this. How to look into a flat smear of ink or emulsion? In his book-length essay Camera Lucida (1981), in which he discusses the notion of the punctum, [Roland] Barthes speaks of his desire to ‘turn the photograph over, to enter into the paper's depth, to reach its other side.’ This is just what a photograph can't allow. How, then, to comprehend the thin artifact, especially when it shows people we'll never know under duress? Is it always right to look? Is it ever all right to turn away? What do we learn, and can such lessons translate beyond passive beholding into political or existential acts?”
In reference to the state of photojournalism at the time and the decline of picture magazines during the 1950s, Szarkowski wrote in his above-mentioned catalogue, “Good photographers had long since known—whether or not they admitted it to their editors—that most issues of importance cannot be photographed.” Today, I think I understand what he meant. When it comes to the ideal of moving beyond violence and despair toward hope and restoration, I rather favor the work of looking within ourselves, through the “depth,” to reach that “other side”—and that is a process that the photographers included in this exhibition seek to explore and share.
“Loli Kantor” from the series Precious Objects (2011)
31” x 17 “ inkjet print with scanned hand-written text on washi
Text reads: "This is my mother's handwritten letter, dated April 21, 1946. My mother Lola Kantor, died in childbirth with me. This is the only handwritten piece by my mother that I own."
If I accept Chopra’s message, then every person in my life who has ever ruffled my feathers has the potential to serve as a truthful mirror, a reflection of self deeper than appearance—or perhaps a window unto self. What do I do with this information? It stands to reason that what I do is a measure of how I interpret the image in the mirror—or the window—as the case may be. No matter the root of violence and despair—be it hatred, fear, loneliness, abuse, difference, greed, scarcity of material and resources, self-loathing—the precious movement toward hope and restoration begins as an inside job.