Monday, October 7, 2013

Drive-By Street Photography

 To view essay click HERE...

 ...I had a problem to solve. How do I show what I see while driving around,
without missing the moment by parking the car and getting out?  --Alex Garcia

Pro photographer Alex Garcia has shot an essay (only a part of which is presently shown) on a long neglected and under served community in Chicago. From what I gather, it had to be done within a very restricted time frame. To meet that time frame and the dangers inherent in said assignment (which I address in the comments section there-in) Mr. Garcia went to the extraordinary and unorthodox lengths of photographing from a moving vehicle with a tethered hidden camera- drive by photography at its most literal. While his innovative 'solution' to the assignment is indeed ingenious- one can't help but feel a tad (ie- A Lot!) queasy about the ethics and methodology employed.

Mr. Garcia argues that some good has already resulted from his work, that more is certain to follow, and that the balance of his work will show a more intimate portrayal of the community. I certainly hope that is the case, because the initial phase of this project, if anything, seems to highlight, exploit and perpetuate the plethora of negative imagery and stereotypes long out there. That is not to deny that Mr. Garcia includes some neutral or positive images as well, but I couldn't shake the feeling that ultimately I would be treated to the image of Ronnie Reagan's welfare queen cruising about in her pink Caddie convertible, wind in her bonnet as she made her rounds casually collecting her welfare checks.

Yes, you can view real life images such as Mr. Garcia's in any inner city you choose- no argument there. But one of the main responsibilities and rewards of in depth photojournalism is to provide analysis and understanding that goes beyond perfunctory, everyday images, and to give voice to those not heard- part one of his body of work does neither. And so, I suppose, we must wait to see the remainder of this work (as well as its social aftermath) to see how it redeems itself and fulfills its stated mission.

I'm sure his initial photos would receive considerable kudos from some street photography advocates for his innovative 'candid' approach- curiously, Mr. Garcia repeatedly asserts there is a long, respected tradition of this kind of photography* in photojournalism. Really? I don't recall Mr. Riis, or Smith, Davidson or Ms. Mark employing such methods. I'm also quite sure that there are many street photo advocates that would say this represents the complete antithesis of that particular genre.

Some will forever say the end justifies the means, but then- some will even profess that it is quite OK for a conflict photographer that documents the suffering and evils of war to actually profit form those that perpetuate and profit from that suffering! To be sure none of us are without sin, but sometimes (ie- all the time) it does serve to question one's motives, how one approaches and arrives at the work they produce, and how that work will be ultimately perceived, interpreted and used...

*For the possible exception of Evans, none of the photographers listed went to the all out deception engaged in by Mr. Garcia. And I think it's no stretch to say that Bruce Davidson would positively vomit at the very thought, and that even Mr. Evans did not practice his particular 'skullduggery' in one particular neighborhood with one class of people.

5 comments:

colin pantall said...

Riis gave an interview which goes thus

“The beauty of looking into these places without actually being present there is that the excursionist is spared the vulgar sounds and odious scents and repulsive exhibitions attendant upon such a personal examination.”

Stan B. said...

Yeah, one has to think that a good part of the problem concerning this community (and so many, many others like it) is that someone observes it from afar, some faction of government (if pressured enough) eventually throws money at it without the needed hands on oversight, and then some other faction eventually complains about the insanity of "throwing money" at problems. And so the vicious cycle of isolation is perpetuated anew...

Sam D. said...

"Mr. Garcia repeatedly asserts there is a long, respected tradition of this kind of photography* in photojournalism. Really? I don't recall Mr. Riis, or Smith, Davidson or Ms. Mark employing such methods."

Walker Evans did.

Not the first or last 'big name' to do so either.

Stan B. said...

Follow the asterisk, Sam! Follow the asterisk...

Eric Rose said...

When shit becomes valuable the poor will be born without assholes.