Blinders

I don’t think that Digital Trends’ writers created a whites-only list out of malice. A combination of journalistic laziness and ideological blinders is the far more likely cause. Laziness explains itself. By “ideological blinders” I mean the tendency for those of us who are the products of western culture to see the creative and intellectual output of white men as naturally better than that of women and of people who happen to be black or brown. It’s a difficult habit to break. I wonder, for instance, how many people who saw the story noticed that the list was exclusively white and male. It’s hard to remove the blinders, but it’s an important task.

Lists like this are one of the small, insidious ways in which gender and racial inequality are normalized and reproduced.

John Edwin Mason

So yeah, this is something I’m always trying to be aware of and vocal about. When everyone was partaking in the towards the 21st century exercise, I chose to ignore this and pretty quickly regretted it—resulting in my writing an addendum.

Thinking about that exercise now, I realize that the way I chose to define what I was looking for—this is in addition to my exposure being western-dominant—effectively led me into the realm of western photographers. My interpretation of “what’s next” ended up being a very western-art approach to the question where I started to look at exploring specific components of the medium itself rather than thinking about issues of subject matter and representation. No surprise at all that I ended up with western photographers.

That exercise also produced two great posts from Tom Griggs* about diversity in photography.** In Griggs’s posts, he calls for editors to do a better job at seeking and promoting international, non-western, photography. John Edwin Mason’s list of 37 (and counting) Instagram Photographers You Might Not Know is exactly what’s being called for.***

*Who actually gave me the push to take part in the whole thing at all.

**Direct link to part 2

***And kind of makes me want to rejoin Instagram. I joined a year ago as an experiment but never really did much with it since I didn’t have a smartphone and the Instagram web interface was lousy. I then cancelled my account once Facebook purchased them.

For the rest of us who aren’t editors we have to first become aware of the blinders and blindspots and start noticing when things may not add up. This is not hard but it requires us to review any lists, etc. just to see whether there are any gaping holes.

Heck, just today this photo came across my Tumblr Dashboard.

USPS

It’s very simple to just do a quick skim and look at the selection: 3 white women, 1 black man, 16 white men. Almost all active, or at least who made their most-noteworthy work, before World War 2.

This doesn’t mean the list is inherently bad. But we have to ask the questions when it has a title like “Masters of American Photography.”

It’s worth pointing out though that, if we find any holes, we don’t have to fill them ourselves. What’s important is to recognize and acknowledge the holes and, if we’re unable to fill them, ask for help from people who can help. Or, worst case, flag our biases up front and think about better ways of framing the selection.

10 responses to “Blinders

  1. Hmmm . . . Winogrand. Surprised to find him on the list.

    Right or wrong, I suspect that if you rummaged through five or six histories of American photography these 16 are pretty much what you’d find.

    • I have a sneaking suspicion that they could only select from dead photographers (stamp collection was from 2001).

      And yeah, the critique isn’t in saying that any of the selections are bad, just that as a group, it ends up being awfully white male. And that’s troublesome.

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