Qamar Jan,18, an Afghan refugee from Peshawar poses at the Ali Medical clinic in Islamabad, June 14, 2007. © Paula Bronstein

In my last post, I suggested the repetition of subject matter in photography is inevitable.

Equally, I’d like to stress that our constant exposure to (predominantly web-based) imagery may likely result in more frequent associations and recall (partial, total, overlapping) between photographers and their works.

Here, I’d like to argue that the gravity of some photography – or rather the gravity of the story it bears witness to – means that ultimately the name of the photographer is inconsequential.

MOTIF, MEME, PERSISTENT THEME

In my last post, I also challenged the notion of plagiarism and inserted the notion of ‘meme’. I was hasty. I used the term ‘meme‘ because meme evolution within host populations can occur without any awareness of said host population; I wanted to infer that repetition, mimicry, copying, mirroring mustn’t always be accorded a conscious origin. Conscious origin is precedent, is ownership, is lawsuit. And I want to live in a world where not everything is subject to ownership and contest.

That said, I want to back-track on the term ‘meme’. Meme is more appropriate for discussing larger shifts, whereas I am really discussing trends. Instead of ‘meme’ I’d prefer to use the term ‘persistent theme’.

FINE ART vs PHOTOJOURNALISM

In Burdeny’s work, the use of a persistent theme (including the minutiae of another artists’ motifs, style) just looks bad. Simply, Burdeny is a prat, but if you want to get uppity you’d argue he has debased artistic notions of respect, brevity and creative integrity.

In the light of Burdeny’s antics (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6), any number criticisms are understandable BUT would anyone level criticisms at photographers in journalism repeating the work of others if it that work pertained to a story that perhaps has not been told enough?

Memona Karachi. 20 years old. Over 30 operations. Attacked by a boy on her way to school. © Izabella Demavlys

ACID ATTACKS: A CRUDE CRIME OF MODERN TIMES

Shouldn’t ‘persistent themes’ in the photography of journalism be judged on different criteria?

Joerg’s post on Izabella Demavlys today recalled the work of Paula Bronstein, Q. Sakamaki, Diego Ibarra, Katherine Kiviat and Emilio Morenatti. (Stan was impassioned by Morenatti’s work recently)

An acid attack is a heinous crime, but made all the worse by lack of awareness, empathy or rehabilitative service. Of course, photography plays second-fiddle to medical intervention in the aftermath of acid attacks, but that is not to say it can’t play its part.

Or are these portraits exploitative? Personally, I don’t think they are. The recurring ‘exploitation’ argument doesn’t develop a discussion – it merely demands you accept or decline the notion of ever-unequal power relations between the operator and subject of a camera. It becomes a discussion about photography and not about the reason the photographer and subject shared a space in the first place.

Personally, again, I don’t think we understand enough about the motives or consequences of these types of brutal attack, and I think portraiture and caption have their role in informing interested parties.

Fortunately, the reports alongside these images describe accessible medical treatment for victims (one woman has had 30 surgeries). More than physical healing though, many of the women have a resolve and psychological determination beyond words. (Read Nick Kristof’s NYT article).

A victim of acid attack stays in the hospital of the Acid Survivors' Foundation. In 2002 Bangladesh introduced very tough laws to try to stop acid throwing, including the death penalty in the most serious cases. However, acid attack is still common in the country -- more than 260 cases in 2005, since "The law is just like a dead law," according to Salma Ali of the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association. Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 12 2006. © Q. Sakamaki

© Diego Ibarra. Portrait of a woman attacked by acid. The consequences of the attacks are for life. Islamabad. Pakistan, May 2009

Saira Liaquat

Both Kiviat and Morenatti photographed Saira Liaquat in the space of a year (the captions for her age must be inaccurate) but opprobrium will never be dealt Kiviat or Morenatti for their repetition.

Saira bears witness to her injustice and both photojournalists help her advocate.

Saira’s name and her story matter, the photographers names really don’t.

Saira Liaquat, 22 yrs, burn victim and survivor, holding an old photograph of herself before she was burned with acid by her husband. Photographed at Saira's parents' home in Lahore, Pakistan on February 7, 2009. Saira is presently working as beautician at the Depilex beauty salon in Lahore, Pakistan. There are presently over 300 cases of burn victims registered in Pakistan. Most victims are between the ages of 14 - 25 years old. Motives vary, but are most frequently obsession, jealousy, suspected infidelity, husband wanting to re-marry, sexual non-cooperation. The face and genitalia are the areas most generally targeted, those guaranteeing complete disfiguration. © Katherine Kiviat/Redux

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