The main argument of this article described and analyzed the tension that photographers, specifically Bourdieu, face when documenting cultural and historical aspects of another society. This conflict is described as portrayal and betrayal, or self knowledge and estrangement. Les Back argued that this tension needed to be harnessed in the service of understanding. I found that this article was littered with abstract jargon, distorting content, and the argument was incredibly overextended.
The following quotes are referenced, because they illustrate the type of analysis I would try to avoid when conducting research.
“The photographs do not and cannot speak for themselves (486).”
This statement is overly critical for the sake of providing context for analysis where there was none. In general, photography gives each audience a different understanding based on that audience’s viewpoint. The meaning of each photograph will ultimately vary depending on the social class, country, ethnicity, gender, and education of the individual. This is true of any photograph. Well done.
“The images show and hide meaning. Bourdieu wanted to capture the reality of Algeria but inevitably this complex situation can not be reduced to sociological facts, his snapshots can not be the whole picture (486).”
There is a difference between facts and photographs. Photographs are visual representations of events or moments that occur in a particular time and space. Facts are based on a critique of reality through written or textual discourse. The declaration of a fact is a secondary process, whereas, photography is a primary process. Photography is a cultural formation that represents reality through a biased construction of social and environmental conditions. Each audience member interprets reality differently. Therefore, no individual human being can represent ‘the whole picture.’ Society is defined through the collective actions of a particular group of individuals, therefore it would take collective effort to represent sociological facts. Thank you, Captain Obvious. No individual photographer has the capacity to capture the ‘whole picture’.
“We might think of the betrayal of the effects of power or the ways in which our sociological endeavors betray the damaged nature of the world and its injustices (486).”
The representation of reality is not a betrayal. Every corner of every society on this entire Earth could arguably be ‘damaged’ or unjust. That is truth. Suffering, as well as happiness or joy, are the nature of the human condition. Everyone suffers to an extent. If anyone disagrees with me they are either in denial, completely delusional, or a robot.
The quotes above do not, by any means, represent the entirety of my disagreement. They are enough to represent the bias in Les Back’s critique. How could an individual make such overbroad claims, solely for the sake of creating argument where there is none, and still be taken seriously?
The primary text that was included in this article, however, does justice to the emotional struggles of Bourdieu. He writes:
“This total engagement and disregard for danger owed nothing to any sort of heroism but rather was rooted, I believe, in the extreme sadness and anxiety in which I lived and which, with the desire to decipher a conundrum of ritual, to collect a game, to see such and such an artifact or, in other cases, the simple desire to observe and witness, led me to invest myself, body, and soul, in the frantic work that would enable me to measure up to experiences of which I was the unworthy and disarmed witness, and I wanted to account for at all costs (476).”
This truly represents the spirit of Bourdieu’s photography. This spirit was rooted in a deep desire to correct the wrong doings that had been committed by his people during a time of war. How can there be a higher form of honesty than this?