12/12/2013

Photography is OK: or, Adam Rothstein is an Idiot

costumed participants at burning man
oh man this teacher just totally got fired for being seen wearing bunny ears
The organizers of burning man love to coddle the idiots who think they have a right to not be photographed. Who knows what made anyone think they have such a right. The fact is that no such right exists at Burning Man or in the United States. No matter how much the LLC likes to promote this bullshit they even say as much in their very own terms of attendance, i.e. the fine print. Here is a bit of that fine print:


I acknowledge that people are using film, video and photographic cameras at the Event, and that my image may be captured on film, video or photographs which may subsequently be displayed or disseminated without my consent
When one reads that it is hard to understand why the hell they put the hammer down so damned hard with this bullshit made-up issue of so-called "privacy" as it relates to people making images at Burning Man. This week they've taken to facebook and the Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter to highlight an article written by this person named Adam Rothstein. Adam Rothstein appears to be the perfect storm of anti-photography bullshit. He even seems to compare photography to rape at one point.
the technological future ... looks grim for consent. Almost as grim as the past—the entire human history of rape, exploitation, and profiteering doesn’t have many victories for the self-determination of bodies. -Adam "anti-art idiot" Rothstein
What people like Adam don't seem to give a shit about is reality. They are going for the throw the baby out with the bathwater approach to the world of a photographers radical self-expression at burning man. They, using veiled feminist bullshit, try to make photographers seem like creeps. That, frankly, is a bunch of bullshit. Just because there is some guy out there shooting pictures of tits and posting them on surburban-tits dot com doesn't mean that everyone else is. He uses some bullshit portmanteau to explain away the law as it is generally accepted in our nation because he knows his position couldn't stand on four legs:
We could argue about what an “expectation of privacy” is, even though these arguments all end up in the form of a mansplaination -Adam "the law is sexist" Rothstein
Of course our friend Adam knows that no matter what the LLC says about burning man being a so-called Private event that the law in our nation as it relates to privacy is clear. In this case, whether one consents or not, it comes to the question of whether a Reasonable Person considers standing in the open in a gigantic festival with thousands of people a place where one should expect to be private. Knowing full well that the answer to that question is a big fat fuckin' NO Adam, and people like Adam, retreat to bullshit. Such as comparing photography to rape. Such as comparing photography to exploitation. Such as digging up the idea of 'self-determination' of our bodies.

Retreating to an Appeal to Emotion when your anti-photography argument turns out to be bullshit and ends up not being too far separated from Think of the Children claptrap does not help your cause. It might get you a lot of "Likes" on Facebook but it certainly isn't the height of reasonable debate.

Of course there is other bullshit in what Adam wrote, we should look at that too. Adam seems to think that Photography is a new thing. Photography is not new. It isn't new, you asshole.
Burning Man isn’t a way of escaping the social problems that accompany new technology. On the contrary ... it is a case study for, among other things, a new media problem: that of ubiquitous cameras. -Adam "thinks cameras are new" Rothstein
Of course photography isn't a new media problem. Nor is the idea of consent as it relates to images being flashed around the globe a new problem.

None of this is new, and photography is OK

Instant cameras, ones that could easily capture an image without needing someone to sit still for a few minutes, have been around for over 100 years. One has had the ability to quickly make a photo without consent since the 19th century.

thomas eakins the swimming hole photograph
Thomas Eakins (or his student) 1883
I'm sure when Thomas Eakins (or one of his students) shot his famous Swimming Hole photographs in 1883 he used a tripod, but he needn't have, the technology at the time permitted instant photography. As to whether or not this photograph of nude students of his doing as they did in the day could have been spread about in mass media fashion, that is simply answered as well.

It could have been.

In the 1860s, some 20 years before the Eakins photograph, the technology existed to make lots of prints. In the famous photography houses such as Loescher and Petsch in Berlin and Automatic Photographs in New York their steam-driven printing machines could make 150,000 prints per day. That is a lot of prints. So what is new about this again? Nothing, of course.

kodak brownie cosmo ad
Ad from The Cosmopolitan
kodak brownie ad targeting females
don't let her exploit you
The ubiquitous hand-held camera has been with us for a long time. Kodak built its empire starting in 1900 with its easy to use roll-film camera marketed as a fun hobby to lay-people. Some even point to Kodak urging women to use their cameras as a small bullet-point that in its own small way helped the female rights movement, as their ads encouraged independence at a time when many were looking for that

Easy to use hand-held roll-film cameras continued to gain popularity over the next 20 years as ever-smaller cameras came out. With the advent of 35mm film, which we still use today, in the 1920s one could solidly argue that hand-held cameras had become ubiquitous.
 
Of note to the arguments made by Adam is the period in the mid 1920s which brought the ability to send photographs across long distances using radio and telegraph. By the mid 1920s telegraph and radio was being used to transmit photographs around the globe to report the news.

g.m. cowie portrait
G.M. Cowie, 1939, what a glasshole!
Of course the idea of consent in photography isn't new either. And ya know, photography isn't always better with consent.

Some of the most notable images of our time were made without consent. Some of the images that changed the world as we know it were made without consent.

With the throw the baby out with the bathwater mindset of people like Adam we would easily lose many great, possibly powerful, possibly important, possibly newsworthy images because a few entitled people don't want someone to photograph them in a public place.

One has to wonder what these people are thinking. Isn't Burning Man a place of radical expression? The people who are like Adam speak of someones actual right to photograph things in public not trumping another persons fictional right to not be photographed in public. With their mindset that creates a chilling effect in which photographers are seen as creeps they discourage people from making art.

In a world where consent is king (it isn't) we wouldn't have had some of the gems of photography. Things that brought the world together. Things that changed the world. Things that defined moments and cultures.

nick ut vietnam napalm photograph
Nick Ut, 1972
Do you think that many agree with Adam, and people like him, who seem to think that the world would be better off if the photographer Nick Ut  hadn't made his Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of the aftermath of a napalm attack in Vietnam? Is Nick Ut a glasshole? I bet he didn't get consent. Is one of the most notable photographs of the 20th century akin to rape and exploitation of the subjects? I don't think so. The notable subject of the photography didn't seem to think so either.

Of course, burning man isn't a war-zone. But, with that said, photography remains what it is. As legendary documentary photographer of the human condition Sabastiao Salgado once said:
Photography is a universal language. It doesn’t need translation. Its collective memory is a mirror in which our society continually observes itself.-salgado
alfred eisenstaedt vj day nurse kissing photograph
Alfred Eisenstaedt VJ Day 1945
Sure. Photography remembers that time you were photographed in a situation you didn't want others to see you in. But that is a part of the language of photography. It allows us to observe. Some might argue, that the Vietnam example is different, its an exception. But is it really? Is the power of photography to show a moment really different? Is it any less, or more, of an art because of Burning Man? I don't think so.

Would the consent-demanders really suggest that Alfred Eisenstaedt was raping and exploiting the subjects when he photographed them in a moment of elation and celebration without consent in 1945?

Would America, the world, art, be better off had he interrupted them and got a boring-ass smiling grin and a thumbs up for the camera, as most people are wont to do when asked to pose for a photograph?

I don't think we would be any better off. I am glad he did it just as he did it. One problem some see with photography is that it allows us to do something we aren't allowed to do in public: stare. That is inherent in the medium. We can look at someone for as long as we want. It is understandable that this bothers some, but that is no reason to discourage artists from making art at an art festival.

People who are anti-photography like to bash on photographers at burning man with the bludgeon of the ten principles, one of which is Immediacy. But, what could be more immediate and radical, when it comes to art-objects, than the iconic photograph that Alfred Eisenstaedt made?! That photograph is so of-the-moment and immediate that you can feel the moment of it to this day, nearly 70 years later.

Is there a form of art that creates a better indication of what Immediacy is than photography? Perhaps interpretive dance. But as for something one can hold in your hand, no, probably not.
eddie adams vietnam execution photograph
Immediacy?  Eddie Adams 1968

Would burning man truly be better off if the anti-photography zealots had their way and created a cultural disincentive for photographers who want to make art to do so.. at an art festival?

the man burn at burning man 2011
the man surely does burn.
There is more to the world of burning man than naked breasts and butts.

With its cultural outreach that creates an environment where photographers do not feel comfortable in general the organizers of Burning Man create an environment that says that some forms of expression are more valued than others. In this case exposing oneself seems to be more highly valued than art that you can hold, touch, and display. In the case of some photographers they may rather not make images in a place they do not feel welcome.

Is burning man, an art event, really better off creating an environment where people feel discouraged from making art?
portrait of burning man participant
consent doesn't make photographs better.

Maybe the photographer who likes to sometimes make images  that are candid and made without consent just won't bring a camera and make the images where consent was asked for either. Maybe the culture of burning man loses out on both types of images from that certain photographer. Is burning man better for it? Is not having someone see you on the internet doing something that you did in public worth creating a disincentive for artists to create art?

In issue 4 of the 2013 BRC Weekly writer WONDERHUSSY spoke of her opinion on what seems to be the main concern of these anti-photography people in a piece entitled Hypocritical Tits:
If there are three words out here that I hate most, they're "Ask before pictures." ... guess what, dumbass? You're at an event with 68,000 people ... Your sacred fucking nipples are going to end up in someone's pic, ... If you're really so fucking worried about their nipply holiness being captured for all posterity, COVER THEM UP ... Do us all a favor, and get over yourself -wonderhussy
While Adam seems to think such solutions to this alleged problem (cover yourself up, don't do things you wouldn't want seen in public) are akin to a "mansplaination", which should be rejected because of, apparently, the gender of the one explaining, the female writer quoted above is apparently suggesting that there is another simple option available to the anti-photography zealots: "GET OVER IT."

And why can't these people get over it? Photography isn't new. Ubiquitous cameras aren't new. The ability for your photo which was made without consent to be sent all over the world in a short time is not new. The only thing new here seems to be the wussification of burner culture.

There are many issues that face burner culture. The one that is most laughable today is the encroachment of the PC police into an event that espouses its radical nature as a selling point. Hey anti-photography PC police: fuck yer day. There's nothing radical about trying to discourage artists from making art at burning man. Hey anti-photography PC police: yer doin' it wrong. There's nothing so radical about what you're doing at burning man that photographing it would amount to rape or exploitation.

Don't listen to Adam, he is an idiot. Photography is OK. Photography is great. And whether or not the LLC that organizes burning man likes to sneeringly talk about it as a photographers wet dream, just ready to be exploited, the truth is that if you live in the USA and make an art event, and live any time since the mid 19th century, odds are someone is going to have a camera taking pictures. This isn't new. This isn't going to change. Stop trying to turn the dial back on freedom with lame ass emotional appeals. Fuck yer day.