Photography & Racialisation

I attended this online event (9th July) hosted by the Open Eye Gallery – The background and speakers are introduced on OE’s website.

Image: Patrick Hutchinson carries the man now identified as Bryn Male to safety. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters, source:

Three images were presented and discussed by the speakers and the dialogue continued separately on another platform (I attended the presentation only).

I don’t summarise the whole discussion here, but note a couple of areas that interested me in particular.

  • The important difference between ‘looking’ and ‘seeing’ was discussed when unpicking the meaning and significance of images. In particular, not just looking at the image but seeing by looking into it and what is happening. I of course agree that this is important but it is difficult to escape our own cultural perspective when deciding upon meaning. For example, one of the speakers (person of colour) observed that the ‘white halo’ could be seen in the image above – as if the man being carried was an innocent. I remark that seemed racist in itself to me; a perspective based purely on skin colour. I saw calm black man carrying a white man with a thuggish appearance, who looked like he was injured. Even if we see, it is not easy to escape our cultural background but it is important to remain open to different perspectives and alternative meanings.
  • A different image was discussed along with the idea of ‘in making images, we make ourselves’. This of course relates to the well-trodden ideas of meaning that are part of the study of visual culture.

Aside from the subject matter itself, I’ve noticed that many people (including professionals in the field) seem to find it difficult to talk fluently about images. There often seem to be frequent ‘uums and ahhs’; perhaps it the challenge of translating the verbal into the visual, combined with a lack of rehearsal. Something to be aware of when I come to talk about my own work!