The ethics of aesthetics . Exercise #2

Read the WeAreOCA blog post , The ethics of aesthetics (htpp:/ / http://www.weareoca.com/photography/the-ethics-of-aesthetics ) including all of the replies to it , and write a comment both on the blog page and in your blog. Make sure that you visit all of the links on the blog post.

Agencies such as Oxfam are attempting to use more subtle and aesthetically pleasing imagery to raise awareness of the importance of aid without reducing the subjects to objects of pity. Because there is always a danger of ‘compassion fatigue’ this needs to be balanced against the pressing need for immediate measures and donations. Positive images can be used to show how funds raised help alleviate suffering , which is surely the long term goal of aid agencies .

However I believe Alejandro Chaskielberg’s images for Oxfam , whilst being stunning to view , are perhaps too artistic to communicate the urgent needs of the people he photographed. Amano comments “my unease seems to be a conflict between beauty and the harsh realities of existence” , a feeling I share. Jose notes in his initial blog post “the photographer acknowledges that he likes exploring the boundaries between reality and fiction , which is evident in his images” . Whilst Gareth states “it feels almost like fashion photography and prompts the question ‘why?’ ” he additionally finds Chaskielberg’s unconventional presentation disconcerting.

The photographs are aesthetically pleasing , almost otherworldly , far removed from the more customary imagery of human suffering which can become almost unbearable to view , so can fully understand Oxfam’s rationale to commission a photographer whose approach is what might be considered unorthodox. Yet I feel because of their artistry the serious message being conveyed is lost , the context altered because of their beauty. However Marmalade makes a very valid point ” the very fact Oxfam has commissioned Chaskielberg would suggest that new tactics are indeed necessary to ‘cajole’ us in to action ”

I feel Rankin’s commissioned work for Oxfam uses this new strategy successfully. Like Chaskielberg’s the images are in colour yet Rankin portrays his subjects in a proud but unidealised way. These are neither the people of Chaskielberg’s dream-like images or hopeless victims but fellow humans, ones I feel empathy for without being overwhelmed by a sense of sheer misery. Rankin discusses his work for Oxfam here .

Tom Stoddard’s B & W images are vastly different to both Rankin’s and Chaskielberg’s . Richard rightly suggests they are ‘the kind of images to which we have become inured’ and I certainly find them shocking (especially image 18 ) . Yet some have a surreal quality ( see images 3 , 7 ) additionally Stoddard uses juxtaposition to great effect ( see images 1, 2, 15 , 17 ) that I feel makes them quite contemporary despite being so hard-hitting.

Accessed 5/12/15
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