Adj Marshall

Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

The Ethics of Photography

In Art, Communication, History on January 21, 2011 at 11:57 am

My Mother at Age 4 Procured from Aunt Joan's Collection

Life for a photographer can not be a matter of indifference, it is important to see what is invisible to others.

-Robert Frank

In the fall of 2008 at a family gathering, my great aunt Joan, simply known as aunt Joan amongst us older grandchildren, was downsizing her collection of photos to clear some of the clutter from her now smaller living space. As we began to scour through the books and boxes of photos she had come to collect in her 70+ years I became fascinated by the concept of historical reconstruction through photography. If each photo tells a story then a collection of photos tells a lifetime of stories. When we cease to exist our likeness is carried on through the visual representation of our image in the photographs left behind.

In my mind I began to gauge my life’s story as told through photography. In doing this I realized that this story although true would be quite fractured and unrepresentative of my real existence. My own early childhood photo collection was marred by a housefire that destroyed everything we owned except a small book of photos my mother was able to save.  The VCR would be the next element to influence my own photographic story, followed by a lack of funding to put toward developing photos that were taken. At one point while in high school my mother developed a roll of film that had sitting in her draw for years to find pictures of me getting on the school bus for my first day of head start. Often times our lives, represented through these images, or lack there of, come together to construct what is termed our life’s story.

Looking At Photographs

This past week I started in Introductory Class to Photography at RISD. One of the suggested readings for the class is a book titled Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art. John Szarkowski the books author uses the Modern Art Museum’s Photographic collection to tell the story of photography since its creation in 1839. ” When Daguerre announced his great invention to the public in the summer of 1839, he explained how it worked but not really what it was for.” The purpose of photography to this day is still a topic that is is debated quite heavily amongst academics and individuals alike.

In its early days photography was almost exclusively a means to visually record information. People’s portraits, and landscapes were most common and the photographer served only as an extension of the equipment. Szarkowski states Photography as an [artistic] medium has received little serious study.” and  Photographs, “although often admired have seldom been seriously collected.”

For me the purpose of photography, beyond recording ones on life story, is to bring light to the social ills of our time and to use photographs for the betterment of humanity. William Henry Jackson was one of the first people to photograph  the Yellowstone area under the US geological Survey in 1870. “It has been said that Jackson’s pictures were instrumental in persuading congress to set aside the Yellowstone area as a preserve” becoming  the nations country’s first national park in 1872. Mr. Jacksons story is one what in which photography has been influential in bettering the world around us.

As a photographer concerned with brining light to today’s social ills, I am often confronted by the ethics of photography, especially when it concerns the photographing of individuals. I have had the opportunity to travel far and wide from Cape Verde, to East Timor and Ecuador to Tanzania. Here I have taken photographs of individuals with whom I have little to no connection in attempts to convey the basic element of child creativity and resourcefulness in the face of poverty. As I begin the local portion of my project which will draw comparisons between childhood poverty in Providence and that of the “developing world” I am again faced with the question of ethics. What is my responsibility as a photographer to the people I photograph?

In my research for this article I came across the following guidelines or code of ethics written by Chitrabani, a Christian communication center in Calcutta, India. While I do not agree with all the guidelines I find them to be most sincere their attempts to balance the needs of the individual with the need to bring to light the social ill that person will come to represent.

My photographic life story will be filled with images of not only my life but that of countless others who I have photographed.

The highlighted guidelines I find particularly interesting.

What to Photograph

  • What you shoot and how you shoot is determined by why you photograph and whom you photograph for.
  • When photographing people do not treat them as if they were things.
  • Do not take people’s pictures or give images to the imageless.
  • Never depict people as useless or inadequate. It is their helplessness which has to be shown.
  • Do not invade anybody’s privacy except when it is necessary for depicting certain social situations.
  • Yet, boldly reach into personal life, bearing in mind that the photographs you take are your brothers’ and sisters.

How to Photograph

  • Never photograph for art’s sake, just try to make the best possible picture.
  • There is no need to prettify people and objects; they have their beauty, and a good photograph exudes beauty.
  • Sensationalism diverts attention from the essential.
  • Shun extra long lenses. A short lens draws you near your subject.
  • Try to establish a rapport with the person you photograph.

Social Concern

  • Let not your photographs drift away from context.
  • Earn the right to see what you wish to show.
  • Your social concern is to document life with empathy.
  • Be true to the image people want to have of themselves, but at the same time do show what you believe is their real image. The dignity of the poor, in particular, demands that their situation be known.
  • A documentary coverage can never be total. Complete a biased image by another biased image.
  • Be an iconoclast – a destroyer of established images.

Your Public

  • Photos should not be used to exploit the persons portrayed.
  • Refrain from showing a photograph if undesirable manipulation cannot be averted.
  • Your photos have no place in art shows.
  • Lending your photographs for “illustrating” articles that have hardly anything to do with the persons photographed is like lending your voice to somebody else’s speech.
  • Destroy the myth that photographs are duplicates of reality.
  • Ethical documentary photography is not your sole responsibility. But your photographs encourage certain responses in the viewer.



Classism

In Communication, Education on January 14, 2011 at 11:53 pm

When I was in poverty day in and day out, I often heard people say things like, “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It’s such a ridiculous image– If you actually lean down and pull on your boot straps nothing happens.”

-Ellen Smith

On Monday evening a crusader in the Classism movement lost the battle against cancer. Felice Yeskel was the co-founder of Class Action, a non profit based in Boston, which  “inspires action to end classism by providing a dynamic framework and analysis, as well as safe space, for people from across the class spectrum to explore class and to identify and begin to dismantle classism.

I first heard of Felice’s work through Class Matters, a book I assigned my students to read for a community organizing class, I co-taught at a Private Liberal Arts College.  Class Matters: cross class alliance building for middle class activists, by Betsy Leondar-Wright, was the first piece of writing I encountered that was grappling with the difficult task of class dialogue on a grassroots level. While I had spent much time studying various class theories and models for change there was little to no material available on cross-class dialogue. As I delved further into the subject I came to realize these women were at the forefront of work in this field in 2005 and still are today as little conversation has materialized on a national scale in this subject.

Felice’s short two page piece in the Class Action book chronicled the issues that arise on college campuses when class is not included in diversity training. In facilitating support groups for poor and working class students at the college level, Felice stated she came to notice “If you’re white and you come from a poor-working class background, you show up on these [elite private college] campuses and you are having your mind blown hundreds of times a day, and your reality is never noticed or validated by anyone.” The piece gave voice to my own struggles as poor white undergraduate and became the impetus for my submersion in the classism work.

Class Matters

In teaching community organizing, I pushed my students to recognize the class differences that existed amongst themselves as co-organizers, before working towards solutions to break down barriers existing between organizers and the community. All too often my students would assume that their classmates /co -organizers were of the same background as themselves, making blanket statements about “common” values they all most hold as like minded college students. What they didn’t realize was that issues of class needed to be recognized within their own ranks before they could move forward with the important work of supporting their community in organizing itself.  Felice poignantly stated in her piece that “Diversity training on college campuses is problematic without classism because education itself functions as a primary access channel for transitioning across class” As much as education acts as a bridge between class divides one never looses the class lens with which they were raised. This is an essential element that is often times overlooked in class based advocacy.

My work in the classism arena has continued over the years in various forms, first serving as a proponent of class based affinity groups at an elite prep school in MA and then in the creation of a support structure for low income first generation students of RI entering college. In 2009 I saw a posting by Class Action, the organization that Felice had founded, soliciting short pieces for an anthology speaking to the experiences of individuals across the class spectrum. With the support of a number of friends, in particular Keith, I submitted my own story for inclusion. The suspense was unbearable as I waited nearly a year before being notified this past May that my piece will be published in the Class Action Anthology entitled: Caviar, College, Coupons and Cheese. My selection for inclusion in this anthology served as validation that my experience warrant reproduction and can serve as a learning experience for others.

Class Matters

At the moment I am reading Class Matters: Correspondents of The New York Times a book that was given to me by a college a few years back. I’m not particularly sure why I haven’t set myself down to delve into this book yet, despite owning it for over 2 years now, but  I would like to think it is because I knew it was important and I wanted to give it the full attention my LEAP is currently allowing.

The opening chapter of the book entitled : The Shadowy Lines That Still Divide opens with “One difficulty in talking about class is that the word means different things to different people. Class is rank, it is tribe, it is culture and taste. It is attitudes and assumptions, a source of identity, a system of exclusion.” This comment intrigues me because it is ripe with the ambiguity that makes class the taboo subject of our times. Despite the fact that class is becoming a larger factor than ever in determining who moves ahead in the pecking order and who doesn’t, the understanding of class mobility by society is the exact opposite. A Gallup Poll conducted in 2005 by the NYT found that most Americans believe class backgrounds has less of an impact on social mobility than it did 30 years ago.

These statistics are not surprising to me as I have repeatedly viewed the denial of class impact in numerous workshops I have led over the last 4 years. Despite the workshops varying topics including: understanding social class vs. socioeconomic class, cross class dialogue facilitation, and the impact of class on education, there is always an initial rebuff to my statement that we are all impacted by class in negative ways no matter whether we reside at the top or the bottom of the spectrum. It is this gut reaction that worries me. If we are not able to come to the table with open minds and hearts, to discuss in supportive ways the impact of class on our families, our communities and our institutions, will continue to suffer in silence.

In my research for this piece, I have found limited resources from which to draw upon for inspiration, as the conversation on this topic has advanced little in the last 5 years. When this is the case it becomes our responsibility to take action, to serve as that inspiration, becoming the change we want to see. I hope one day we will make this a topic one that is discussed openly. For without open and honest discussion there can never be change!




Musical Activism

In Communication, Education, Music on January 6, 2011 at 11:49 am

ERB at Riverz Edge Fundraiser with Big Nazo

Any note is better than no note !

– ERB motto

As a bunch of costume wearing, alien fraternizing, activists, you may call us crazy we call it love… a love of music and community.  When or where you may ask did we fall in love, well the answer is different for all of us but one thing is for sure most of us had not played music in a decade or more if ever before joining the band.  The Extraordinary Rendition Band was formed in the fall of 2008 with an activist bent in mind, this is evident in the name that was chosen to represent the band. If you don’t know what I am talking about click here: Extraordinary Rendition. The Extraordinary Rendition Band or ERB as we like to refer to ourselves in short is a local activist marching band that calls Providence its home. I have been part of the ERB for just over a year now and am so thankful to have had the opportunity to learn and grown from such an amazingly diverse and wonderful group of individuals.

New Years 2011

How did I come to be part of an activist marching band…? My musical journey began at a table in my jr. high cafeteria where entire 7th grade took an aptitude test. I remember clearly the small dual cassette boom box that played notes as we all furiously scribbled onto our blank score sheets where we thought the notes belonged. The outcomes of the test would determined whether we were invited to be part of the band or not. Despite the alienating experience of not being invited I did not hesitate petitioning to be part of the band. My time with this group would however be short-lived, lasting a mere 10-month school year.  I bowed out quietly before having to put myself through the  chair test auditions (musical ranking process) that was to come in the fall.

I would avoid instrumental performance for close to 15 years before being introduced to the ERB by a friend at Wooly Fair 2009. I fell in love at first sight and defaulted to a position of groupie, as I continued to see myself lacking any musical skill. The fear of judgment and failure from my jr. high experience still lurked within me. The leap from groupie to official member came only after 5 months of steady encouragement from various band members.

Initially when I joined I knew very little about the intentional activism the band engaged in from its open band policy and democratic structure to its support of specific causes, now these are the things that endear me most to the band … and well of course all the amazing personalities that make up our awesome group. We have played in support of labor rights, queer rights, environmental awareness, arts and community organizations.

Here is an awesome short documentary of Activist Marching Bands from the HONK Fest: No Noise is Illegal !

Last years reading

Saul Alinsky, in his book Rules for Radicals, states “The spirit of democracy is the idea of importance and worth in the individual, and faith in the kind of world where the individual can achieve as much of their potential as possible”. In the ERB, we work to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential through our democratic structure, where people are expected to contribute whether it be leading practice, managing gigs or composing music.

Band Practice !

Often times the term activist  or radical is associated with crazy. In many ways we are no different than most of you. In our professional lives we are engineering professors, art professors, college counselors, college students, music teachers, high school teachers, speech pathologists, graphic designers, toy designers, editors, and much more. Our open band policy attracts individuals of all ages spanning the gambit of early 20’s to early 60’s. In our society we so rarely find ourselves in inter-generational situations. On many levels this has alienated us from our elders and reinforced the concept of older generation as “out of touch” relegating them to a place of marginalization. For us the intergenerational element of our band’s make up is an essential piece of our musical creativity.

Our open band policy also means there are no “try outs” we accept individuals of all musical backgrounds. While a goal is to operate as one coherent group that eventually produces recognizable music our first and foremost goals is sharing the love of music with others. We work to break down the barriers between the performer and audience whether that be avoiding stages or inviting the audience to be an integral part of our band.  In many ways we attempt to break the mold of a Marching Band redefining for our selves and hopefully others who a musician is and what musicianship is while making saving the world just a little bit more fun and weird.

Websites of Interest:

The ERB

HONK Fest

Marching for Change: Street Bands in the U.S. Podcast by the National Radio Project on Activist Marching Bands:

No Noise is Illegal: Documentary on Activist Street Marching Bands




Salsa and Patriarchy

In Art, Communication, Foriegn Language, Physical Pursuits on January 5, 2011 at 10:20 pm

“Let us read and let us dance – two amusements that will never do any harm to the world.”

-Voltaire

Last evening was the initial class for Level II Salsa. I have been taking salsa lessons for about 2 months now and find the physical and mental challenges of the art form something I look forward to each week.

Growing up in my household no one danced, so when I wanted to learn, I solicited the assistance of my friend Karin. A native Puerto Rican,  Karin had grown up dancing, it was a skill passed down from parent to child the way reading might be in most American households. Karen exposed me to a plethora of dance concepts most importantly that flexibility and freedom with your body and mind is a necessary element for making your motions flow into a dance.

Me and my salsa partner in Ecuador

As we grew older our friendship grew apart and I found other venues through which to dance. Almost a decade later I would find myself again immersed in the Latino culture this time while living in Ecuador for a summer.  While in Ecuador, I met a friend who would introduce me to the the local dancing scene, something few foreigners ever get to experience. Dancing a couple evenings each week my skills improved exponentially. I became a sought after dance partner which only served to increase my confidence in my own ability and allowed me the freedom to take liberty with my own style. Again while this was an amazing experience it only lasted a short time. Upon my return to the Sates I found few people I could dance with and went on another decade hiatus, returning to salsa only this fall as part of my LEAP.

As a strong independent minded woman I often find it difficult to not be in the leadership role. In salsa dancing as in the Latino culture as a whole there are norms that one may call gendered, sexist or even patriarchal. About  a month ago while having tea with a friend who is a native of Ecuador we got into a debate about Spanish as a gendered language and how the use of gendered words reinforces the sense of masculine as strong and powerful and feminine as demure and docile. My thoughts about this concept came to rest upon the implications of gendered thinking and practices within salsa dancing and its reinforcement of strict gender roles.

In salsa class the first thing you learn is that it is the woman’s role to follow and the man’s to lead. In class comments like this are plentiful: “Gentleman your responsibility is to lead and care for the woman on the dance floor, if you look bad it’s your fault, if she looks bad its your fault”.  While the concept of being faultless as a female may be alluring it leaves little room for recognizing ones own weaknesses and creating  space for growth. In salsa dancing the one place of fault for woman lies in her attempt to hold power ” ladies if something goes wrong it is 90 % the guys fault, if you however decide to lead it is 110 % your fault”. In her book All About Love, which I just finished last week, Bell Hooks states ” sexist socialization teaches females that self-assertiveness is a threat to femininity. Accepting this faulty logic lays the groundwork for low self esteem”.

While I have set the stage here for a diatribe on the patriarchal nature of salsa dancing I will digress. Not because I have not had these thoughts, for they have been running rampant in my own head these past couple days but because as my studies have moved forward my understanding of partnership.  I have come to recognize the give and take that is inherent in the art of salsa dancing. Comments like ” ladies men only lead you 10 % and you must follow though on the other 90%” and “Ladies don’t do the work for them they wont learn from their mistakes”,  gives a a more holistic sense of the give and take of the process required to make a salsa dance work between partners.

In any partnered activity there is a trust that is required, a trust that forces you to be vulnerable in the presence of another. In that vulnerability you must trust that your partner will take up the responsibility to care for you, whether on the rock wall, in a salsa class or in life. I dont know if it is the American understanding of rugged individualism that allows us to miss the subtleties of a give and take relationship where  equity–the giving of what one needs, in the amount that one needs it in, is at the center not equality, but I do know that we must always maintain a healthy critical awareness of the ways in which our societies gendered norms influence our everyday lives.

Eddie Torres: My salsa instructor’s instructor.