Photography and the Powerless

Repo, Marjaleena
Publisher:  Transformation
Year Published:  1971  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX8219

A critique of photographers who come to exploit "the poor."

Abstract:  According to Marjaleena Repo, "When I was working as an organizer in a working class district of Toronto, one of the regular nuisances experienced by the residents of the area was the continuous presence of assorted photographers. They came from the local newspapers, the national magazines, and they came as eager free lancers "doing their thing". In addition to them, there were the filmmakers from the National Film Board and the TV producers and cameraman. They all came uninvited, they never asked for permission to take photographs and film, and they used their products in any way they pleased, without the slightest concern for how the exposure might affect the people whose pictures were being taken.
The residents (classed as "the poor" by the visitors) found photographs of themselves and their families spread over the front pages of newspapers; they found them accompanying magazine articles; they found them in photography collections and exhibits; and they watched themselves on the TV screen -- and they never had any say in what texts were attached to their pcitures (usually the text referred to them as "slumdwellers" regardless of what their situation was and what the condition of their home was). People sitting on their front steps, children playing on the street, in the backyards and in the lanes, people looking out of their windows, women hanging laundry in their backyards -- all were easy prey to the ambitions of the photographers. It seemed that the existnce of the area residents was a public one, that in terms of their persons, their faces, their identities, they had no rights at all and photographers literally walked all over the people, children, youty and adults alike."

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