Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The PDN White Album

A year or so ago, I sent a "Letter to the Editor" of PDN (which they published) observing how little things had changed in the 35 years I have been involved in photography. More specifically, it was commenting on their "Major Movers and Shakers of Photography" issue- in which the major curators, editors, gallery owners, and publishers featured were all (with the possible exception of one Asian female)... white. OK, OK, one can't possibly pin PDN with the blame for lack of minority representation in the upper echelon of the photographic universe. Agreed.

Then I get my hands on the PDN May 2009 Photo Annual and check out their 24 (not a half dozen, or ten, or a baker's dozen at that- but 24!) judges, each and every one- white, white and white! I know it can't possibly be something as absurdly ridiculous as the now trite mantra of- "I just don't see race." It's what year, what century, what presidency? Just how is it that to this day, people of color are still not represented anywhere near proportionately in these creative command positions?

One major reason (the major reason?) is blatantly obvious- the economics of the photo world stratosphere. I've complained previously about the high cost of photography, and it's not just me whining about not being able to get the new stuff I want and desire. I'll be happy to keep shooting with my 1995 state of the art 35mm equipment till I die. But if I can't afford what's considered "necessary" equipment in this day and age- how are young adults of the "inner city" ever going to? I know some of you out there take considerable time and effort to tutor inner city kids in basic photo classes. And god bless each and every one- seriously. But what happens to those who catch the bug and want to go beyond playing with a camera, and take it up a notch in a serious life long manner? How are they to afford it- thousands in equipment and education?

I still remember (the one year I could afford art school) the look of shock one day on the faces of the kids from the Upper East Side when a certain faction of the class complained they couldn't complete their assignments in what seemed a reasonable amount of time- because we had to work P/T jobs (during daylight hours)! God bless William Eggleston, love his stuff to death- but how well would his name be known if he had had to work for a living?

The other reasons for such obvious exclusion are even more nefarious and depressing, ranging from out an out indifference to blatant passive racism. Regardless, I still don't know what possible, plausible excuse could exist for an all white jury from a publication of such influence. Such accountability is certainly not a priority concern, to PDN or the overwhelming majority of its readers- seems I'm the only one bitchin'. In all fairness, I applaud PDN's support of a program such as Creative Visions on their home page, but... I'm talking about the major leagues here! There's not too many people like a Benjamin Chesterton out there willing to take a proactive stance in empowering indigenous people to document and photograph their own environments and situations- and to honestly testify to the veritable absence of color behind the desks that make the decisions on the images we see published, exalted and propagated in the photographic big leagues each and every damn day.

11 comments:

mikepeters said...

Really, how is pdn any different than any other mass market publication. They heap platitudes on the stars, and those with the money to obtain an educational pedigree and afford the time and money to invest in shooting, equipment, and promotion. It's a stacked deck, not only against people of color, but people who did not hit the lucky sperm jackpot and be born into a wealthy family. Yes, where would Eggleston be if he had to earn a living and came from a poor or even middle class family?

petebrook said...

Here, here Stan!

I am not always in support of your complaints but, on this one, I don't think anyone can query your observation on 24 white judges. It is "Passive racism".

Unfortunately, the other commenter here is right. PDN is no different to other corporate enterprises and inequalities still trickle through our institutions, particularly our private institutions which compose most of the photo-world-stratosphere.

I do feel though the web is offering the chance to break down many economic restraints. Photographers from minority groups should be seeing a slightly less steep slope these days. Although, I could contradict myself directly and note the stats on web access ... but, i guess progress shifts along in small increments.

Regardless, PDN are not absolved from their lack of tact or responsibility here.

Mark Page said...

Is that not a judge on the front cover? sorry my mistake it's a "gritty subject"

Benjamin said...

Mike's comment is priceless ... we'll follow this up on the duckrabbit blog, when I've calmed down.

Stan B. said...

Thanks folks, more tomorrow... Mark- I'm sure the Annual staff is laughing along with me right now!

david bram said...

Also, would Cartier-Bresson have captured the decisive moment if his parents did not leave him heaps of money so he could sit around waiting for shit to happen?

Stan B. said...

Well, at least Henri also helped found Magnum, instead of just lyin' around getting incoherently sloshed on his trust fund between photos...

ann! d. said...

WOAH.

I have been saying the same thing for about six years now.

THANK YOU.

Say it again. Say it louder.

Joe said...

Love the post Stan. I know may not be in exactly the same vein, but I'm a freelance photographer here in Atlanta, and I am also African American. I'm fresh out of photograph school, I've been assisting regularly with various photographers here in town, and also shooting a fair bit. But, I have yet to see a professional minority photographer here in ATLANTA. I think your article brought up some interesting facts, but I'm wondering if it's a lack of a minority presence or if it's a lack of recognition for great minority photographers.

Anyway, thanks again.

Stan B. said...

Hey, Joe! Thanks for writing. Quite frankly, I'm not a part of the professional photographic scene. There is no doubt that there are equally qualified people of color that would have been been fit to serve on that jury- a simple inquiry forwarded to En Foco would have supplied a long list. And there's no doubt that we are underrepresented in this medium simply due to its high cost.

Round about thirty years ago in NYC, you would have found one black (photo) gallery owner- Alex Harsley of the 4th St Photo Gallery. I don't know of any others today...

You've done well to come this far, keep shooting and stay strong!

Amanda said...

PDN has not responded to the accusations of passive racism, so it is hard to say whether it is an oversight on their part, or something more sinister. It appears more to be a symptom of the culture.

Amanda
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