I was struck by a statement that was recently quoted at Conscientious concerning an ongoing photo essay on Richmond, CA by Paccarik Orue. He was photographing there when a resident, a middle aged African American woman, stopped to say, "There's nothing beautiful around here."
Photo: Paccarik Orue
Of course, one can simply dismiss that remark as reflective of the age old platitude that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," and leave it at that. Unfortunately, there's no way to respond on Conscientious and it is a statement that's very much open to considerable reflection, interpretation- and misinterpretation.
Photojournalism has a long history of making its livelihood off the trials and tribulations of brown skinned people across the world. Areas of poverty, blight, desperation, and crisis- wars, famines, revolutions and every catastrophe imaginable, both natural and man made. Haiti being perhaps the most blatant of recent examples. And I'm certainly not implying that this is what Mr. Orue is pursuing. He states that, "I'm interested in creating work that stirs emotion about my subjects and that leaves the viewer with more questions than answers." He's young and FWIW, I happen to like this essay- but would I be as intrigued by it if it wasn't for that woman's statement or because I am, in fact, aware that Richmond is a community besieged by crime, foreclosure and unemployment?
Is that Richmond resident just another example of the "uneducated" masses blind to the simple beauties of everyday life, is she just the "less fortunate" social equivalent of those making similarly bland observations about growing up in the sterile, "successful" environs of consumer obsessed suburbia? Or has everyday existence in an inner city environ reduced her to the observational level of mere survival?
Snapshots from another world are most exotic to those furthest away, and any photographer worth his salt knows that photographic beauty and the real deal are often two different beasts altogether- why so many grand scenic vistas make for such pretty (boring) picture post cards. It's difficult enough to see the wonder and uniqueness in our everyday surroundings- it's considerably more difficult when those surroundings are forever lacking in resources and sometimes fraught with danger. Maybe someday, Mr. Orue's work will not only raise questions and stir up emotions, but also offer some viable insights.