man with baby by larry clark, 1971

read a most excellent essay on photography by abigail solomon-godeau. it’s called “inside/out.” she starts with susan sontag’s critique of diane arbus’s photography as being voyeuristic and touristy because it does not produce sympathy or compassion for her subjects thru engagement – her view is always from the outside. martha rosler looks at this phenomenon in more political terms: “imperialism breeds an imperialistic sensibility in all phases of cultural life.” in other words, photography colonizes experiences associated with the other.

solomon-godeau tackles this binary of inside/outside by looking at photography produced by so-called insiders – larry clark and nan goldin. both claim to be immersed in the subcultures they photograph – goldin is emotionally invested in the cross-dressers and transvestites she photographs and clark identifies with his male adolescents subjects who embody his own teenage experience of growing up in tulsa. the private moments they r privy to, the closeness of the camera and the intense collaboration between photographer and subject r obvious in their work. however, does this insider position change the way their photographs r received or consumed by the viewer?

since all photography that deals with sexuality, will inevitably intersect with the viewer’s own sexuality, isn’t such work always located on the inside? by default? i would venture to say that this argument can be made for all photography, in fact for all art – viewers will always approach art from the point of view of their own experience. from cubism to minimalism, artists have relied on the viewer’s memory images to assimilate the various parts of an artwork and achieve some cognitive unity. the essay ends with the apt conclusion that “reality is always mediated thru representational systems” and therefore maybe the inside/outside rubric is problematic to start with.

man with baby by larry clark