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Bearing Witness is a one-day symposium hosted by SFMOMA assessing the ways in which photography matters now more than ever. Loosely, the theme is connections. I will be presenting and I’m toying with some ideas surrounding the emergent trend in video visitation. Maybe. Possibly, I’ll retread safe ground and present the ideas that informed the recent Prison Obscura exhibition.

I’m on stage in the morning, I have been told. Bearing Witness is for one day only – Sunday 16th March. Speakers include David Guttenfelder, chief photographer in Asia for the Associated Press; Susan Meiselas, photographer, Magnum Photos; Margaret Olin, senior research scholar, Yale University; Doug Rickard, artist and founder of AMERICANSUBURBX; Kathy Ryan, director of photography, The New York Times Magazine; and Zoe Strauss, artist, Magnum Photos.

Organisers Erin O’Toole, SFMOMA associate curator of photography and Dominic Willsdon, SFMOMA Curator of Education and Public Programs, have posed these questions for the symposium:

Given the power and pervasiveness of photography in both art and everyday life, what is the significance of the rapid and fundamental changes that the field is undergoing? How have social media, digital cameras, and amateur photojournalism altered the way photographs capture the everyday, define current events, and steer social and political movements? How have photographers responded to these shifting conditions, as well as to the new ways in which images are understood, shared, and consumed? How have our expectations of photography changed? 

Bearing Witness is preceded on March 14 and 15 by Visual Activism, a two-day symposium that explores relationships between visual culture and activist practices. Zanele Muholi is presenting at that, so not to be missed either.


10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Sunday, March 16, 2014
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street San Francisco, CA 94103



Admission for both events is free, but it’s wise to register. The 500 spots for Bearing Witness have gone, but that’s always the case with over-zealous free-to-register-symposium-photo-enthusiasts isn’t it? Sign up for the waitlist and you’ll probably get in. I hope.

Image source: Toledo Blade


Constitution Hill is a former prison that used to hold political prisoners during apartheid, including both Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.

Now the prison, a repurposed art space, faces a new controversy. Lulu Xingwana, a South African government minister, walked away from her official speaking engagement because she considered the images of lesbians immoral and “against nation-building”.

Zanele Muholi, an award-winning activist and artist has expressed her disappointment.

As the Guardian reports:

Xingwana’s spokeswoman, Lisa Combrinck, told the Times of South Africa, “Minister Xingwana was concerned that there were children present at the event and that children should not be exposed to some of the images on exhibit.”

This is an understandable position.

The Guardina summarises:

The incident prompted criticism in a country where, uniquely in Africa, discrimination on the basis of sexuality is specifically outlawed by the constitution. Despite this, and the legalisation of gay marriage, lesbians have been the targets of murder and co-called “corrective rape”.

It is within this context of ongoing violence toward women, that I think Muholi’s pitched her response to Xingwana perfectly,

“There is nothing pornographic. We live in a space where rape is a common thing, so there is nothing we can hide from our children. Those pictures are based on experience and issues. Where else can we express ourselves if not in our democratic country? Children need to know about these things. A lot of people have no understanding of sexual orientation, people are suffering in silence.”


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