During my first meeting with my lecturer, I was told to start with the book by Liz Wells call ‘A Critical Introduction. This consisted of many theories in regards to all aspects of photography. This was a very good starting point for me, as at first I did not know what I should be discussing within my symposium. I read nearly the entire book however there was a certain chapter that stood out to me. It was called ‘Surveyors and Surveyed’ written by Derrick Price edited by Liz Wells in which I wrote down quotes to kick-start my thought process as well as possibly gathering an idea in which I could focus on a specific topic of discussion. I also simplified and expanded on quotes to create a more solid understanding of what I was reading. I also decided to write down quotes if I felt they would help shape my essay even if I did not use them directly.



SIMPLIFIED: If people look at social documentary photographs and it is aesthetically pleasing (pretty and makes a suffering subject almost look appealing because of the beauty the photographer has been able to capture) then the viewers are not as affected by the message and the political statement, that the photographer is trying to capture through the photographs. It doesn’t leave a lasting impact on the viewer.

Aesthetic within photography defined – We are all used to our photographs being looked at by other people. We like to be told we have made a great image. However, what people consider to be beautiful or pleasing varies widely. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder we are told.

Aesthetics is the philosophy of beauty, or of art. When we refer to something as aesthetic we are saying that we appreciate its beauty or its pleasing nature. Aesthetics is all about appreciation and understanding beautiful things.

What we consider to be beautiful is often about composition. Some things have beauty that we naturally appreciate. Our eye may be trained to find them appealing or we find them appealing because that is in-built to humans. Nevertheless they are beautiful. However, we can also create ‘beautiful’. When we do create beautiful then it is ‘composition‘ that makes the difference. Composition is using the principles and techniques of art to create aesthetic outcomes.

Interestingly, while aesthetics is the study of the principles of beauty there is no opposite. We do not have a name for the philosophy or study of ugliness.

Direct copy from http://www.photokonnexion.com/definition-aesthetic-aesthetics/






PAGE: 92

‘Certainly, in recent years the relationship between photographer and suffering subject has become increasingly the subject of debate. The argument that photography gives an aesthetic gloss to anguish is a very old one, but is far from being resolved. ‘

“The idea that the more transformed or ‘ aestheticised’ an image is, the less ‘authentic’ or politically valuable it becomes, is one that needs to be seriously questioned… To represent is to aestheticise : that is, to transform. It presents a vast field of choices but it does not include the choice not to transform, not to change or alter whatever is being represented. It cannot be a pure process in practice. This goes for photography as well as for any other means of representation.” – Originally from D.L STRAUSS (2003) Between the eyes: Photography and Politics, New York: Aperture Books.

SIMPLIFIED: The more aesthetically pleasing a photograph is the less authentic is becomes this then making it less politically valuable. The photographer’s objective and meaning of the photograph can get lost in translation to the viewer due to the pleasing look of the photograph. A photographer has many choices in forms of constructing a photographer but they can’t change what it is they are representing.

PAGE 93:

‘This is how documentary works…. It defies comment; it imposes its meaning. It confronts us, the audience, with empirical evidence of such nature as to render dispute impossible and interpretation superfluous. All emphasis is on the evidence,; the facts themselves speak…since just the fact matters, it can be transmitted in any plausible medium … The heart of documentary is not form or style or medium, but always content. (Scott 1973: 14)

What is documentary? What should it do? The aim of documentary is to enforce its meaning behind the photograph. It forces realistic evidence that the viewer can not question. The content and context is the most important as this is the piece that enforces belief and realism onto the viewer. This makes me wonder whether an image can stand on its own without context? The saying goes ‘A picture is worth a 1000 words’.

This was a great starting point for me as it led me onto a book called ‘Between the Eyes: Essay on Photography and Politics by David Levi Strauss. Practically all of this book was dedicated to the idea of representing a suffering subject and how ‘beautifying’ them can cause a viewer to become desensitized to what they were witnessing thereby making the photographers intentions ‘ changing the situation they are witnessing’ void.


The September 9, 1991 issue of New Yorker carried an article by Ingrid Sischy, titled “ Good Intentions,” on the work of Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado. Sischy upbraids Salgado for being too popular and too successful, and also for being too spiritual, and also for being ‘kitschy’ and ‘schmaltzy’. But Sischy’s real complaint about Salgado’s photographs is that they threaten the boundary between aesthetics and politics. The complaint is couched in the familiar terms of a borrowed political critique:

“Salgado is too busy with the compositional aspects of his pictures – and with finding the “grace” and beauty” in the twisted forms of his anguished subjects. And this beautification of tragedy results in pictures that ultimately reinforce our passivity towards the experience they reveal. To aestheticize tragedy is the fastest way to anaesthetize the feelings of those who are witnessing it. Beauty is a call to admiration, not to action. (AGAINST SALGADOS WORK)

Kitschy defined = Tasteless

Schmaltzy defined = sentimental

Sischy believed that Salgado only cared for creating beautiful photographs rather than the meaning behind the image. It questions whether he is actually producing documentary photographs. He also caused controversy between aesthetically pleasing images and creating a political meaning of his work.


The Principal source for the “aestheticization of tragedy” argument is Walter Benjamin’s essay “ The Author As Producer,” in which he speaks of “ the way certain modish photographers proceed in order to make human misery an object of consumption”

When Benjamin charges that “ it has succeeded in turning abject poverty itself, by handling it in a modish, technically perfect way, into an object of enjoyment,” – referring to the picture book by Albert Renger-Patzsch titled Die Welt ist schon (The world is beautiful)

“Salgado, 17 times by writer Eduardo Galeano

Salgado photographs people. Causal photographers photograph phantoms.

As an article of consumption poverty is a source of morbid pleasure and much money, Poverty is a commodity that fetches a high price on the luxury market. Consumer-society photographers approach but do not enter. In hurried visits to scenes of despair or


violence, they climb out of the plane or helicopter, press the shutter release, explode the flash: they shoot and run. The have looked without seeing and their images say nothing. Their cowardly photographs soiled with horror or blood may extract a few crocodile tears, a few coins, a pious word or two from the privileged of the Earth, none of which changes the order of their universe. At the sight of the dark-skinned wretched, forsaken by God and pissed on by dogs, anybody who is nobody confidentially congratulates himself: life hasn’t done too badly by me, in comparison. Hell serves to confirm the virtues of paradise. Charity, vertical, humiliates. Solidarity, horizontal, helps. Salgado photographs from inside, in solidarity.

The idea that some photographers are very different when photographing people that are suffering. Some photojournlists tend to get on a plane turn up, take a few shots and leave, whereas others ‘documentary photographers’ spend a lot more time in their environment. Meaning they can produce more intimate photographs.


The anti-aesthetic tendency can easily become an anesthetic one, an artificially induced unconsciousness to protect oneself from pain, and to protect the “ hypocritical frontiers” of propriety and privilege. It is unseemly to look right into the face of hunger, and then to represent it in a way that compels others to look right into it as well.

The use of aesthetics can help people to look at the ‘un-lookable’. There needs to be something that forces the viewer to really take in what they are witnessing.


The idea that the more transformed or ‘ aestheticized” an image is, the less “authentic” or politically valuable it becomes, is one that needs to be seriously questioned. Why can’t beauty be a call to action? The unsupported and careless use of “ aestheticization” to condemn artists who deal with politically charged subjects recalls Brecht’s statement that “ the right thinking’ people among us, whom Stalin in another context distinguishes from creative people, have a habit of spell-binding our minds with certain words used in an extremely arbitrary sense.”

To represent is to aestheticize: that is, to transform. It presents a vast field of choices but it does not include the choice not to transform, not to change or alter what is being represented.

Can an image lose authenticity if the image contains to many aesthetic qualities. Composition, lighting, colour.

PAGE 10:

Being politically correct doesn’t signify much unless the work is also visually and conceptually compelling, or rather that these two things are not mutually exclusive, nor even separate. To be compelling, there must be tension in the work; if everything has been decided before- hand, there will be no tension and no compulsion to the work. In the latter kind of imagery, the viewers choice is reduced to acceptance or rejection of the “message” without becoming involved in a more complex response.

Once again an image is supposed to make a political statement however in order for the viewer to look at the image it has to be visually compelling. However this could also force the viewer to ‘accept’ the situation and feel that they can’t do anything about it rather than wanting to get involved and help change the situation.

PAGE 45:

Most photo journalism and “social documentary” photography originating in the United States begins from the assumption. The photographer operates as a distanced, superior , “objective” witness to war, poverty, labor, and exotic cultural practices in other parts of the world. There is a big market for this kind of photography. As Galeano notes: “Poverty is a commodity that fetches a high price on the luxury market”.

Photographs taken from this position may elict pity, sorrow, or guilt in their viewers, but they will never provide information for change. They only work to reinforce the construction of the center and the periphery; north and south, rich and poor, superior and inferior. It cannot be otherwise. As Salgado says: “You photograph with all your ideology.”

PAGE 46:

What sets Salgados images apart from most social documentary work is his relation to the other. Because of his background in Brazil and his understanding as an economist, of the social and political background of the people and situations he photographs, his relation to his subjects is substantially different, and he has found a way to register this difference photographically.

SEBASTIAO SALGADO!! – DEFINITELY USE FOR MY ESSAY – There are opinions for and against his work so will formulate an interesting debate on the use of aesthetics and whether they are good or bad.

PAGE 47:

He did not set out make sacred images. He was a documentarian, to show the world what was going on so that they would pressure theirs governments to put a stop to it. This was the reason/aim for creating the Africa series in 1984/85 – NOT A QUOTE

This is rather strange in the fact that he claims he didn’t set out to make ‘sacred’ images yet much of his work consists of the empowerment these suffering subjects hold.

Salgado wanted to help and do good for people, wanted to help as a photographer than as a development economist.

First photographic assignment was a report on starvation.

Salgado saw the famine in Brazil as a world problem and needed to be approached as a world problem.

PAGE 48:

From salgado “ What I found was beyond my imagination. In the first camp I visited, there were 80,000 people. They were starving. You would see the debris of the dying- bodies of men and women and many, many children. More than 100 people were dying everyday. In the first few days at a camp like this, making photographs was impossible, because of the emotional situation. You are too stunned too shoot. But after a few days you stop crying. And after a few more days you know you have a job to do. It is a job just like the of the doctors who have to come to treat the sick or the engineers who have come to build housing.”

Last paragraph – Discusses how salgados images are very different compared to others. Others images end at pity or compassion. Salgados begins at compassion and lead to further recognitions such as how starvation does not obliterate human dignity.




PAFE 49:

Salgado desperately wanted these images to be published and widely distributed at the time they were made, to raise a cry of alarm.

Salgado in 1985 was winning prize after prize and his work was being published in all top magazines. ( His photograph of john Hickleys inept assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan was published thousands of times.

The photographs from sahel were JUDGED to be “unsaleable” in most markets.

WHY? What are the differences between the assassination photographs and sahel? WHY DID THE MARKET CLASS THEM AS UNSALEABLE? Were published in a book in france. Book called “man in distress” and spain called “ the end og the road” very few were published in the USA.

Images from Sahel:

2 3 4 5 7 8 9 10 11

“Fred Richen was salgados editor, curator and collaborator, says it was ironic that most magazines thought images were too disturbing when they were made. However 5 years later be seen in a museum retrospective exhibition of a “famous photographer”

Richen calls this evidence of “an unfortunate tendency to elevate the messanger while denying the message.”

“At a time when the “message” and even the evidential veracity of documentatary photography itself is disappearing into the pixels of digital imaging, and efficacy of social documentary is being fundamentally questioned, the photographs of Sebastiao Salgado appear almost as a new kind of documentary, with a very different address and relation to the other, and yielding quite different information about difference. Eschewing entirely the vaunted “objectivity” of photojournalism., salgado works in the realm of collective subjectivities, aspiring to that “transcendence” of self which calls for epiphany of the other.” It is an aspiration that could breathe new life into the documentary tradition.

PAGE 53:

Joel Peters images have always caused a disturbances in the viewer. These disturbances derive from the inherent properties of the medium. People believe what they see in photographs.

Witken has said he wants his photographs to be as powerful as the last thing a person sees or remembers before death.

PAGE 54:

Joel Peters photographs are more ethical or moral or religious the aesthetic. People didn’t just say “I like them” or “ I don’t like them”. They say I object to them. I think they are wrong.

People feel disturbed as his photographs are so beautiful and fascinating and repulsive.


No one read new stories, if they had read them surely they would have called for action.

The politics of images has changed and this has acted to erode their effectiveness and their power to cause action.

Roland Barthes addresses the lack of effect. “It is not enough for the photographer to signify the horror for us to experience it,” he wrote. These images intended to convey horror, fail to do so because as we look at them, we are in each case dispossessed of our judgement: someone has shuddered for us, reflected for us, judged for us; the photographer has left us nothing- except a simple right of intellectual acquiescence,”

Such images do not compel us to action, but to acceptance. The action has already been taken, and we are not implicated.

Images of suffering and misery elsewhere in the world are used as reminders of what we are free from.


Was a story of the state-sponsored genocide that took years to plan and direct, but only a hundred days to carry out, as the rest of the world looked on. Was the 3rd genocide of this century?

Other Images from Sebastiao Salgado

12 13 14 15

PAGE 85:

Some will object that the world did not know what was happening until it was too late. The record refutes that. Reading threw the New York Times coverage of the genocide in the Rwanda.

All facts were known before and during the genocide. The worlds in action were not due to ignorance of the facts, but to a prejudice against them.


“For me , what was important was to record everything I saw around me, and to do the as methodically as possible. In these circumstances a “good photograph” is a picture that comes as close as possible to reality. But the camera never manages to record what your eyes see, or what you feel at the moments. The camera always creates a new reality. I have always been concerned with the disjunction between experience and what can be recorded photographically. In the case of Rwanda, the disjunction was enormous and the tragedy unrepresentable. This is why it was so important for me to speak with people, to record their words, their ideas, their feelings. I discovered that the truth of the tragedy was in the feelings, words, and ideas of those people, and not in the pictures.”

It took Jarr 2 years to actually show the images.

Images by Alfredo Jarr:

16 17 18

PAGE 101:

The question of evil, like the question of ugliness, refers primarily to the anaesthetized heart, the heart that has no reaction to what it faces. – James Hillman – The thought of the Heart

The most political decision you make is where you direct peoples eyes. In other words, what you show people, day in and day out, is political…. And the most politically indoctrinating thing you can do to a human being is to show him, every day, that there can be no change. – Wim Wenders – The act of seeing


“For me, the photographer is a witness. His job is to record real events rather that to stage or create something in front of the camera.” – Marc Riboud

“ Someone may have been killed by the wayside and his body is rotting away and nobody cares that it was a human being and it was a person – a living person. I care, and I am going to photograph it – as horrible as it looks, im going to photograph it.” – Donald McCullin.

No day passes without someone questioning the power of photographs to cause change. As a photographer, I have my own positive opinion. However, in response, simply consider the role of written word, which has had a longer track record. Has it managed to cause change? Images at their passionate and truthful best are as powerful as words ever can be. If they alone cannot bring change, they can, at least, provide an undistorted mirror of man’s actions, thereby sharpening human awareness and awakening conscience. – Edward Steichen

What is a concerned photographer? Is he simply a social worker with cameras instead of case files? Is he nothing more than a bleeding heart with Kodachrome II? The simple answer is no, but that requires some explanation since the many who think they know what constitutes a concerned photographer are usually only half right.



“A man came down and said. ‘There’s a dead man up there,’ and I thought, ‘well, this is it. Im going to see my first dead man now.’ I always thought that if you see a dead man he’s going to sit up and embrace you or something,, you know, I was so terrified. And then I realised that this man wasn’t going to hurt me. He wasn’t going to do anything. He was dead and he could jst as well have been a tree that been felled.”


I feel this is the opposite of aesthetic, the composition is not perfect, the lighting bleaches the mans face, does the affect the viewer differently compared to an aestheticised image.

IMAGE: Biafra, 1969

“I found a woman feeding her baby from the breast and the baby was wasting his time…. The breast were old and empty.”


Aesthheticised image, use of composition lighting. Does it change the way the viewer see’s the subject?

IMAGE: Biafra 1970

“The very last day I was in Biafra I walked into a camp and saw eight hundred children standing on their legs, dying of starvation. I actually saw a child drop dead and carried in for an emergency operation to save its life by pumping adrenaline in his throat down to its heart. The whole things was a drama which, in a way, was pointless because the child would only be resuscitated to face the same problem again of trying to survive. Its very east to make great pictures og this kind of situation, but who needs great pictures when somebody’s dying? Who needs great pictures? We don’t need great pictures. We need something very quick to understand that we as human beings are not permitted to allow this”.




SAHEL PROJECT: In 1984 and 1985 this part of Africa underwent a drought of catastrophic magnitude, never known before. War was on in several regions, in Chad, in Ethiopia, and, because of the drought or using this natural phenomenon, war amplified the exodus and pushed the populations out of the villages in which they could have hoped to survive.
Sebastião Salgado stayed several months there to photograph the catastrophe in Mali, Chad, Ethiopia, Sudan and Erythrea. He mainly worked with the teams of Médecins sans Frontières (French Doctors without Borders). The images were seen throughout the world, published by the international press.

MALI 1985 – Woman blinded by sandstorms and eye infections – analyse this photograph

BOOK: Decoys and Disruptions – selected writings, 1975-2001 by Martha Rosler Writing: Post Documentary, Post Photography (Page 207)

PAGE 207:

“The penalty of realism is that it is about reality and has to bother for ever not about being ‘beautiful’ but about being right.” – John Grierson

Page 209:

She argued that the aesthetic power of the photographs significantly increased the likelihood of the social acceptance of the people portrayed.

Page 210:

New York Time Magazine in March 1997

“Documentary film makers have to manipulate reality in order to make their art, even if that’s means exploiting their subjects.” This implies that filmmakers are also manipulating – and exploiting – their audience; “reality” is sold out in favour of “art.”

Page 224:

At one time, reconstruction and restaging were acceptable as documentary, but now photographic believability requires a discreet distancing from ( inescapable) formal visual and dramatic tropes. More important, it requires a balance of trust in the photographers and the medium of distribution of the resultant imagery.

David Campbell – The myth of compassion fatigue 2012 :3

“At its heart is the notion that, far from changing the world, photographs work repetitively, numbing our emotional capacity and thereby diminishing the possibility of an effective response to international crises.”

Pietro Mastruzo noted “Shocking pictures do not really communicate anymore, because the audience is accustomed to looking at them”; the late Magnum photographer Eve Arnold was reported as once saying, “You know in the beginning we thought we were going to change the world. I think people live in so much visual material these days, billions of photographs annually, that they grow numb after too much exposure”; the new media artist Peggy Nelson told Nieman Storyboard that, “we can’t have all the news from everywhere and everyone all the time. There’s info overload and there’s compassion fatigue”;

Compassion Fatigue is the act of being desensitized by being so exposed to imagery by the media, however can we be desensitized by the actual images themselves by how the photographer has actually chosen to represent them.

At this point I realized that many of the quotes I found were actually from other people. So I decided to look for quotes from Salgado himself.

Spends years on one subject producing books 300- 400 images in one book images are epic and intimate.

Salgado has the ability to get inside the circle that these people have around them. and they don’t often let people in especially photographers.

Salgado in interview from youtube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TOtA01Tgak

Many times people put the question,

“How you can work with so big misery around the world? “

Because when you go to refuge camps, people die, starvation is there. No food, Nothing.

But this is not misery, it is not misery.

They live in a community of humans.

They have not many material resources, they have a lot of comfort of the others.

A lot of hope. Incredible Dignity.

When a person dies, this person will not die alone.

They die inside a group that buried them, that cry for them, that protected them.

Another Youtube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ludwToTX2T0

Documentary photographers have tended to be social activists, and use photography to tell those stories and connecting with individuals and organisations can use the work to help inform and often change the conditions in which they are witnessing.

Salgado makes his image available to organisations working for social change such as ‘Doctors without Borders’.

Salgados work is activist in nature and is why Doctors without borders used his work or the opening night.

They needed ways to engage new people into activism.

he calls him self a social photographer, not a documentary or photo journalist.

Salgado says you have to have a huge identification of what you are photographing.

The Spectre of Hope 2000 found on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bvjR-Y8mFI

“One of the things that is extraordinary about your work is that in a strange way in all these pictures one feels in your vision the word “ yes” not that salgado approves of that but that it exists. Of course you hope that that yes will provoke to the people who look at the pictures a “no” but this ‘no’ can only come after plant has said ‘i have to live with this’. But to live with this world is first of all to take it in, the opposite of living with this world is actually indifference, or of turning away. and this is very connected with the idea of hope. – John Berger

What I want is the world to remember the problems and the people I photograph. What I want is to create a discussion about what is happening around the world and to provoke some debate with these pictures. Nothing more than this. I don’t want people to look at them and appreciate the light and the palate of tones. I want them to look inside and see what the pictures represent, and the kind of people I photograph.” – Sebastiao Salgado – See more at: http://www.johnpaulcaponigro.com/blog/13998/36-quotes-by-photographer-sebasiao-salgado/#sthash.Y0yCnHKT.dpuf


Salgado claims that he never stages his photographs, however, the extreme formalism of some of his photos may lead people to believe otherwise. But even if some of his pictures are indeed staged, does it mean that these imagesnever really existed unless they were artificially composed?

From this point I knew I would be using Salgado as my main photographer in my symposium. However I did not want use another photographer who photographed in this style. So I started to question the difference between a ‘Documentary Photographer’ and a ‘Photojournalist’ and how that even though Salgado claims he is photographing to make a change, does the way he photograph actually enforce this change. On the other hand Photojournalists take a very different approach they are there to simply document for a news article, yes they still use aesthetics but they use these to be able to catch as much in the frame as possible. They have to capture an entire story wthin a single frame, salgados images would not be able to do this. There was a photojournalist that came to mind instantly as I knew the single photograph he took very well and I knew the image actually caused the viewers to stand up for what is right. His name is Nick Ut.

  • Wanted to follow his brother’s footsteps to become a photographer.
  • First worked in the darkroom for AP (Associated Press)
  • He then started taking on little projects in his home town.
  • It was on 1972 in Vietnam where he would shoot his iconic image that would change everything.
  • Kim Phuc an 8 year old girl was taking shelter in a building inside her village. However as planes flew over dropping bombs they began to thing that the building they were in was the target so they ran. However whilst they ran down this long road, a bomb filled with Napalm was dropped. Napalm is a gelling agent that burns through clothes and skin when it comes into contact. It is practically impossible to get off as it just ‘sticks’ to anything it comes into contact with. It was then that Nick Saw this shadow in the distance. As she ran Nick Ut took this image below. In an instant Ut knew this would be the image, the image that would stop the War.


  • As soon as he took the image he put his camera down on the road and just wanted to help this little girl. They poured water over her skin however she wanted to drink the water.
  • She kept saying “It’s too hot, too hot” “I’m dying, I’m dying”
  • Nick Ut had a choice to make; he could either leave and take his roll of film to the associated press or take the girl to the hospital. He chose to take the girl to hospital and it was this act that saved her life.
  • The AP editor was not going to publish the image as they had a strict rule of no nudity. However they knew how powerful this is would be to the public so they chose to publish the image.
  • Viewers saw pure fear within the image and questions began to surface.
  • Why are they running? Why is she naked and the other children aren’t? Why are there soldiers in the background? Why aren’t they helping her? Out of all the people to be victims, why are they children?

As I knew the background of the image it was the case of an analysing and comparing to Salgado’s, which would be written within my essay. Comparing may look slightly odd as they are completely different occupations but yet they can easily be over lapped with their intentions when creating the work and the people they are photographing. I will compare which photographs can be more effective when they are trying to make a ‘change’. I will also look at the desensitisation of the viewer and which type of photography does the more.

I watched a few videos in regards to Nick Ut’s image to gain more understanding as well as hear other people’s opinions.



Other images from the Napalm Attack 1972 by Nick Ut.

3 2 1

Even though researching was rather difficult, the fact that I had chosen a topic which I really enjoyed made it much easier to continue with. I had always had a keen interest in Documentary photography so basing my research on something that I tend to do myself ‘ admire the aesthetics of an image rather than the message’ was really interesting as it allowed me to see from both points of view.


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