So the response to White Guy Photography post was interesting. I’ve never had a post take off like this. Seriously. WordPress sent me the following backhanded compliment yesterday.
Yeah, no one reads my blog. So I’m finding it pretty flattering that so many people seem to care about what photography projects I find boring.
I’m also starting to receive some interesting comments on that post. Much more interesting than the comments on the only other post which has ever taken off. Yes. I know. Never read the comments. But I have no choice on my own blog. In any case, I’m, so far, finding myself interested in responding to them. Not in an “I’m right, you’re wrong” way but just because what was intended to be some naval-gazing into why I found myself bored by certain projects has been picked up and turned into:
- Me being an anti-white racist.
- Me criticizing HONY.
- Me bitching and moaning and whining.
- Me bitching and moaning and whining without offering any solutions to address the problem.
- Me being consumed with white guilt.
- Me being a shitty photographer trying to tear down good photographers.
- I’m somehow the judge of what is acceptable photography for a white guy to practice.
I can see where these readings come from and there’s a significant part of me just hanging my head and shaking it ruefully—partially at myself—but also at the number of people who like to parachute into a blog spouting insults and trying to mansplain why a single post is wrongheaded. This might work on some blogs but most blogs I read consist of posts which tend to build on and reference each other. Mine is no exception. My blog, especially the photography portion, involves me thinking about my reactions to art and trying to figure out why I react the way I do.
In the case of White Guy Photography, I realized there are a lot of photographic projects which I see and immediately click out of all because they trigger the same sort of reaction. My brain tosses it into the “white guy photography” pile and I move on to the next tab. Should my brain call it “white-privilege, colonial-view” photography instead? Probably. But it doesn’t. Does this make me an anti-white racist? I don’t think so.
I use “white guy” the same way I use “haole.”
If, as a white guy, the worst stereotype I have to combat is the assumption that I’m not checking my privilege, then that pretty much confirms my privilege.
If, as a white guy, you’re offended at this stereotype. Be thankful that this is the only stereotype you’re fighting.
In any case, the intent of my post was to think about why I was not interested by those photography projects. Especially because there are a lot of them—many of which are actually quite beautiful to look at.* I tried my hardest to avoid actually criticizing HONY itself since it’s the only project I specifically named. I haven’t looked at it enough to be able to offer a legitimate critique. I was only trying to figure out why my gut reaction was what it was.
*Yes, something can be both beautiful and boring.
Am I complaining about White Guy Photography? A little. I’m more tired than annoyed though. It’s not worth the effort to complain over and over again. The self-examination to find why I react the way I do was good and, as a white guy, worthwhile so I avoid trying to make work which would bore me.
Why don’t I offer any solutions? Two reasons. One is is that the solution of seeking out photographers representing themselves and their own communities were referenced in previous posts—notably Blinders. The other is that publishing the post itself is part of my proposed solution. Not by myself, but just in terms of putting it out there that I find this kind of approach to be boring may be useful in causing other people to think about how they present their work. I’ve had discussions which suggest that I’m not alone in feeling this way and so just the awareness that this kind of thing is potentially boring to a lot of people should serve as a warning to anyone starting a project.
Is this white guilt speaking? Not really. I’m mainly tired with the viewpoint because it’s old and worn out and I’d like to see different approaches or ways of framing the photos.
Am I a shitty photographer trying to tear down better ones? I try to play nice on the internet and not tear anyone down. I’d much rather write about what I like and I’d much rather spend my time and effort looking at things I enjoy looking at. Still, I find it important to explore my other feelings—good, bad, or ambivalent—just to become more self-aware about my tastes and opinions. Writing about something I dislike is harder too because it’s often a much more nuanced discussion. I try to articulate exactly what and why I react the way I do. It’s too easy to just be a troll on the internet.
One thing I can attack though is the idea that I’m unqualified to speak on photography because my own photos are crap. That’s elitist garbage. Anyone can have an opinion on art. The trick is to figure out why you have that opinion. And that’s the whole reason I have this blog.
Also, please stop asking me if your project is somehow an acceptable project for a white guy to do. Odds are that if you care at all about not falling into this category, you won’t. Being aware of your privilege is usually enough to avoid abusing it. But if you want a primer on avoiding it, it’s almost all about the framing of the project.
Present it as personal as you can and acknowledge that it’s your point of view. Collaboration is not the colonial viewpoint. And don’t treat people like animals or objects.
Also, keep in mind that this advice is related to how to create a project I don’t find boring. Other people’s taste will obviously vary.