Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Getting Angry

I had the opportunity to hear Ottawa photographer Tony Fouhse speak on the weekend.

For those of you who are not familiar with his work, Tony has just won the Karsh Award for 2010.
He is well known for his series of portraits of crack addicts, USERS, taken on one street corner in Ottawa over the last four years.

Or maybe you heard about his april+erik photos, his series of a couple, having sex. Or not having sex. Or trying to have sex. Whatever you think it is, it is more. And fascinating.

There is also his work American States, which has been encapsulated in his new photo magazine STANDARD. A real magazine of photos. Like a gallery right there in your hands. Small enough to let you think you are wrapping your head around the images within...when really they are just pulling you in deeper on a journey somewhere you are not sure you want to go.

I am a big fan of Tony's work. I became a fan before I ever saw his photos, really.
I was at a panel discussion at SPAO ( School of Photographic Arts of Ottawa ) last fall, where they were discussing portrait photography. The discussion was thoughtful, challenging and animated and it continued to be so when the panel opened up the floor to questions from the audience.
I don't remember the exact question posed from a gentleman in the back, it was something about self portraiture, the future of the genre and flickr. Well, that did it. The panel photographer previously known as new-to-me-photographer-number-4  sat back, smirked and said, disdainfully, "Flickr? What, that big circle-jerk?". Or something very close to that...and then set the poseur, I mean poser of the question, absolutely no bullshit straight on whatever self indulgent tangent he had brought up. And that was my introduction to Tony Fouhse.

WHAT? Dissing my beloved flickr? This guy had better be a damn good photographer if he was raining on my parade;). So I decided to find out.

And yes, yes he is.

(And, yeah, maybe flickr is a bit of a circle-jerk)

But back to the future. Sunday.
Near the end of his talk ( which was terrific, and if you have a chance gogogogo to the show at the Karsh Masson Gallery, which runs till the end of October, and tell me the first thing you notice about the selection of photos hung downstairs ), Tony was describing his vision for his next edition of STANDARD...anger.
He wants to present a collection of images that will upset the viewer, demand an emotion, make you react.

He asked how many people in the group were angry.
Really angry...like wanting to punch someone or something angry.
There were a few hands raised, a few furtive glances, one brave dude who admitted to choosing calm over chaos in his approach to conflict.

And then Tony asked, if we were not angry, why the hell were we not?
Is there not enough going on in our world to make a person seethe with frustration and fury?
But then why are we not seeing this in more photographs? It is there in music ( his analogy ) but where is it in photography?

So this has had me thinking since Sunday. What images make me angry?
Well, that is obvious, right?
Pain inflicted on children, injustices committed against the oppressed, women being forced to be subservient...all this makes me angry. But it is all very removed. Present in newscasts, but still removed from my everyday.
But, there are things in my everyday that anger me. Even this week I had to deal with an issue that pretty well sent me into a ranting frenzy. Yet, for the life of me, I could not come up with a way to capture this emotion in a photo, to share the message of my anger.

Now I am angry because while I can be angry I can not show angry.

How do you go about creating an image that creates anger in others?  One that inspires emotion, which may in turn inspire action? This has me stymied.

One friend suggested that the approach to the photograph would likely have to be quite literal...and I felt the same. So, then to create a scenario or hope for random serendipitous circumstances to occur...I have not figured this out yet.

But I am trying.

Between diapers and dishes, I am trying.

(Oh, and the photo of Alex? This image actually made a few people on flickr angry. The emails all criticized me for taking photos when I should have been parenting. Hmmmm. I am pretty sure at this particular moment no act of parenting was going to soothe this child. So I captured the moment instead, and a year and a half later? Still break into a sweat when I remember this day)


Anonymous said...

FANTASTIC post. I am going to immediately check out Tony's work and I am now going to assign "anger" as the assignment in the photography class that I teach at school. And by the way I love that photo: it makes me cringe, and remember and cringe again and only someone who has never had an impossible crying baby would criticize you for not "parenting" your son at that exact moment. Well done for grabbing the moment and turning it into art instead of rolling up on the floor and screaming yourself!

angela auclair said...

i hope that you share some of the ideas and work that the kids come up with...what a fantastic plan! i hope you can share some of their work ( knowing the limits recently placed on you and all;)).

and as for rolling up on the floor and screaming? you have captured exactly my alternative,lol. thank god I had a camera for that year.

DaniGirl said...

Ah, I really wish I could have been at both that original panel discussion last year and the one you just attended. Both sound fascinating.

You know what, though? I have no interest in making imagery that provokes anger in the viewer. The idea of *capturing* anger, like you did with the image in this post, is intriguing to me. It makes me squirm and sympathize with the child and the parent with the camera, even though I know for a fact he was not in any way hurt or damaged by being allowed to rage. (If you'll forgive the tangent, I think you actually did right by not smothering his rage -- it had to come out, and you made a safe place for that to happen. That's good parenting, not bad parenting.)

But when I think about things that really make me angry? Those are things I don't want a photographic record of, yanno? I don't want to share or promote that emotion. I want it to go away, unexplored.

Not to say, of course, that I see anything wrong with you or Tony Fouhse or anyone else doing exactly that. Some of his work is so hard for me to look at, but so compelling. I love love love the USER series, and the April + Eric stuff, but I could never ever use my camera like that.

You've got my brain churning, and it's too early for that! ;)

angela auclair said...

i don't see what you are saying as something "against" the concept of showing anger...i think it is the natural desire to capture/photograph/remember the good stuff...especially coming from where you and i both do ( the mommy label rings loud and clear here, right or wrong ).

but it has you thinking, no? that is what i like:). i went through so many photographs to find how i express anger...and to be honest, i found very little. which is ironic considering how outspoken and not afraid of conflict i am in the real world.

i have a feeling i know why this is so...but i will save that for another day,lol. i have to pack up the happy family and get my thanksgiving on;).