Debate: “All Photography is Exploitative and Voyeuristic”

Our latest group task was a debate, consisting of being put into pairs to argue for or against a certain statement given to us. Me and my partner, Kinga Burakowska were given the argument “All photography is exploitive and voyeuristic”, a statement made by Walker Evans, which we were asked to argue against. This task appeared to be pretty hard at first, as the argument swayed more in favour for the against, as photography can seem to be strongly voyeuristic. However, we started to find sources and ideas that backed our argument up. First we looked at Walker Evans, and how he’s been pretty contradictory with his statements, later addressing this himself by saying “Don’t become married to your beliefs”. In the past he had accused colour of being vulgar, when further down in his career, he began to experiment with colour film. He also claimed to hate fine art, where once again, he later claimed to really enjoy his latest work, which he felt had a fine art feel. So who is to say that he will not regret this statement? Due to fear of having the weaker argument, we became rather pedantic, looking at how evens had stated “all” as well as “and” in his argument, which made his statement very broad. This meant we had strong backing against the exploitive part, and to some extent, the voyeuristic part, but this is only from looking at voyeurism in its original context of being “a perversion of which a person receives sexual satisfaction from witnessing others sexual behaviour”. At our present time the word is more loosely based, visiting a more stalker like persona, of watching someone without them knowing your presence. When looking at “all” photography being exploited, we spoke about documenting sport, landscape photography, still life, fine art and portrait; as those people are willing to have their images taken in the first place – this was to underline that there are so many aspects of photography, and not all of them are aimed at treating someone unfairly to benefit your own work, but instead have a different meaning, perhaps more personal, or perhaps even just to portray the beauty in the world. We looked at looked at cases such as Arne Svenson’s “neighbours” series, in which he was accused of invading privacy, yet he won the case, proving that his work was a piece of art, showing beauty. Another was Irina Porpova’s “controversial family album”, in which she aimed to show “honey in a barrel of tar” which was amazing, until the public began to distort its original purpose.

The debate went very well, with both arguments making strong impacting points. The other pair argued that looking at voyeurism from what it means now shows that all photographers do indeed watch people in order to create their image a how fashion is sexual. They also spoke about exploitation, and how we are aiming to sell our work from what we create, as well as how adverts deceive viewers, with cars being created through cgi, and food looks beautifully glorified compared to what you actually buy. By the end of our arguments, it was left at a truce, with both sides justifying their arguments equally. I really enjoyed the debate, as I found it challenging to argue this point of view; although I don’t believe all photography is exploitive, I do feel that the majority of photographers should consider themselves voyeurs, due to the satisfaction we get from our images we create and how we aim to take images without people realising to capture the natural moment. I also feel I have to practice my confidence in speaking in front of a crowd when creating a presentation, yet I feel it certainly chipped away some of my stage fright.

Feel free to leave a comment on your opinions on whether or not all photography is exploitative and voyeuristic.


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