Thursday, March 25, 2021

(Pinned Post, See Below for New Content)
  A Policy Note:

I have made a decision to keep this blog virus free from this point forward, at least until the smokes clears. This is not a judgement about other writers, other sources, there's good information that ought to be shared, there are personal stories that are interesting and compelling.

There's also room for other work, and I intend to pursue that here.

If it looks like I'm going to die, I will try to put a note here so you know to delete your bookmarks.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Extractive

It is thoroughly chic today to describe photography as extractive which is a newish word for an old idea.

The idea is, basically, that some white man (Steve McCurry) goes to a far off land, and takes some pictures of people. He pays them little or nothing, but is himself handsomely compensated for his pictures. This feels unfair. There is no question here, one of the normal human responses here is "this is unfair" and that ought not to be set aside. It's all social, after all.

Still, let us pick this apart a little. It will closely resemble my discussion of consent, from a few days ago.

Physical objects are possessed, generally, by only one of us. My dog understands that if I have the ball, she does not. She understands that if she has the ball, I do not (this is a very desirable state of affairs, according to my dog.) Dogs, crows, children, understand this concept of having something. It is symmetrical.

Photography, being obnoxious, divides it in two peculiar halves.

If you are walking down the street, and I photograph you, I now have a photograph of you. I possess an object, of sorts. You, however, have not lost anything.

If I took from you a ball, you would rightly demand compensation. This kind of quid pro quo is also something that dogs, crows, and children understand. This is not a cultural construct, although we wrap it in culture. The idea of exchanging a thing of value for another thing of value is a very, very basic idea. It is instinctive, somatic.

In these transactions, the part where you take the ball away, and the part where I no longer have the ball, are inextricably connected. When I pay you for the ball, am I paying you because I now possess a ball? Or, am I paying you because you no longer have the ball? It doesn't matter, because the two cannot be separated.

When I photograph you, however, the two are separated. I gained a photograph, but you did not lose a photograph, or indeed anything else. Is the ethical requirement to pay you rooted in my gain, or in your loss? The question suddenly becomes quite real.

Because we lack the tools to, at a visceral, emotional, level to make sense of this half-transaction, we naturally feel that when something is gained (a photo) something is lost (what?) We feel, in an attenuated way, that the subject of the photo deserves something for their trouble, for their non-existent loss. There is a very real social impression that subjects have rights, and should be compensated, in a sense not on the basis that they have lost but that that photographer has gained.

We should, obviously, respect this to a degree. We are social creatures, after all. Also, though, I think we should recognize the halfway nature of the thing. You, the subject, didn't lose anything.

The photograph has value, at least notionally. In 99.9% of cases, of course, the photo has no value whatever. In these cases, when the tourist takes the snap and hands a dollar to the picturesque brown person, the latter has arguably made out like a bandit having lost nothing, and gained a dollar. In the end the tourist ended up with an object worth nothing whatever. There is no value to be shared here.

Still, Steve McCurry's photos have value. A Marxist would tell you that the value derives from Labor, which would be pretty much all McCurry Inc. Other theories propose that the value derives from the cost of production, again, McCurry Inc. Modern theory has some complex gobble around value just being the product of how bad people want the thing, and there we might have some justification for money being shared around, right?

After all, the picturesque old dude is inherent to the desire for the photo, right? If the value is merely a measure of that desire, I guess the old dude generated a bunch of that value, so deserves a piece of the pie. It makes sense to me.

This, however, teaches firmly that if there is no desire for the photo, the old guy doesn't deserve a cent. If I go to Afghanistan and photograph some picturesque people, and make a book, and sell a few copies, losing several thousand dollars in the process, there is no economic basis for compensating any of the picturesque people.

They didn't lose anything. Let us presume I paid them market rates for modeling, for their time, whatever. No value was created, so there is nothing to share. All that happened was that I acquired some photographs which, presumably, have some personal value. Perhaps I earned a few exposure bucks.

There are no simple answers here, any more than there is a simple answer to the question of consent. We're looking at a situation we lack the fundamental tools to make sense of. We can use our big fat brains to intellectualize some stuff, but whatever the result our emotional, and therefore social, response won't line up. Like consent, it appears to be something that admits no pat answers, and requires us instead to muddle through as best we can.

In closing, though: the use of the word extractive is, to my eye, a deliberate attempt to frame photography as essentially the same thing as mining. If I go to Afghanistan and mine a bunch of diamonds and carry them off, then Afghanistan and her people have lost some diamonds. To frame photography as extraction is to propose, without quite saying it, that when I photograph someone, that someone loses something. This is disingenuous, of course, and part of a larger program to frame photography as Super Dangerous and Problematic.

But, while I think the word itself is ridiculous, the central question remains.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Crit: "London" by Paul Halliday

A few caveats. First, the thing I'm looking at is a video presentation of a project that is, I think, not done. The film is shot, but we should take this as a preliminary edit, at best. Second, I think Paul is an awful human being, and so find myself prone to the "and your photos are shit!" fallacy.

Which this in mind, you can view this video at this link: Dekho Paul T. Halliday. The video production is not great, I think it's just a recorded Zoom session. The english text at the beginning is rough, but there's a language barrier so get over it. You can watch it sound-off at double speed if you just want to see the photos, all of which appear in the first 60 minutes. Paul's talk is, um, well it is its own thing which I will get to.

Let's start with the pictures, though.

Paul displays a strong sense of graphic design now and then, almost frequently. There's some really punchy pictures in here, and of the 60-odd photos there are 3 or 4 that I genuinely like. I dare say you'll also find a handful that make you think "wow, that's just a good photo" and that they won't be quite the same ones I like. The collection has that flavor. There's also some more photos that I think are OK, near misses, that kind of thing. There are really only a few that look like total duds. Again, you might find a few duds, but different ones than mine. The collection has that flavor.

He is not, however, consistent. Many of the frames are just a jumble of stuff, or some cheap "street tog" juxtaposition. The arrow points right, the people walk left. The giant hand in the poster appears to grab the woman's head, that sort of thing. Many of the better photos feel vaguely familiar, and one guesses that Paul picked them off the contact sheet because they reminded him of whatever it is that we're recalling. It's a little like looking at Vivian Maier's photos, but attenuated.

The framing is frequently a bit off. Paul doesn't seem to be able to handle his rangefinder and is constantly chopping people's feet off and more generally the photos either feel like they ought to be cropped, or got cropped a bit badly. Several times he's interested in some cute replication of subject or form, but frames the picture is such a way as to practically conceal the joke. He does not seem to have any sense of positioning himself, of moving, to get a good framing.

The influence of Cartier-Bresson is felt throughout. My first impression was these look like all the frames Henri did not circle. After another viewing and some noodling, that still seems right. Which, you know, isn't entirely bad, right? HCB rejected some decent pictures. It also feels a bit like some random would-be "street" tog's Instagram.

And therein lies the real trouble. This thing is incoherent. It's just a bunch of whatever Paul thought were "the good ones" in no particular order. There is no sense of place, no sense of time, and no sense of any relationship at all between the pictures. Two more or less identical pictures of amusement park rides joggle shoulders with a picture of a cat in a window, two nuns on the subway, and apparently endless photos of people milling around in streets. The closest thing we get to a theme or an idea that carries across photos is three pictures of people sleeping.

Let us now turn to Paul's commentary. We learn that he spent 20 years on this, 1986 to 2006 which to be fair are probably the least visually interesting years in human history. He has an archive of 120,000 negatives holy shit this is the best he could extract? He has been all kinds of minor-league academic and has lived all over London, all his life, etc and so forth. It becomes clear that he's in the habit of going out weekends and knocking out a few rolls of film. He tells us, mercifully briefly, about his Leicas.

In all this blather, he spend a lot of time justifying his pictures. He offers up "longitudinal study" which it's not because he never seems to return to the same location at all, let alone over years. Like all the other justifications he mentions it once and moves on. He proposes that he is a "critical urbanist" which means something, I guess. An urbanist is someone who favors gentrification, but not the lame kind, the cool kind that produces awesome cafes, a thriving art scene, and affordable rents.

As a critical urbanist Paul is "quite interested" in the ways people move through and use urban spaces, which I suppose explains all the pictures of people milling around. Surely there's more to it than milling around, though?

Paul is also "quite interested" in urban animals. For one frame. He's "quite interested" in gesture, for one frame. He's "quite interested" in sleeping people, for three pictures. Indeed, there seems to be almost nothing Paul is not "quite interested" in for a frame or two.

All this blather feels like he's trying to tell us what the point of this project is, but none of it succeeds. He dribbles off, and is on to a new thing for the next picture. It's clear that if he has a concept here, he is utterly unable to articulate it either with words, or with pictures.

And now the last bit. Paul is extremely woke. He operates a Master's program at Goldsmiths where you can spend a year learning Wokeology and Photography for a mere 10,000 pounds (18,900 if you're foreign.) For those of you in the cheap seats, Goldsmiths is evidently well-respected, so god knows how Paul wiggled in there. He's some sort of interstitial scholar type, a failed PhD presumably on-staff for his admin skills and ability to extract money from wealthy foreigners.

This makes the one theme which actually does run through his blather especially sticky. Paul talks a lot about consent. He's really into contemporary discussions of consent in "photoland" and it shows here in his blather. His problem, though, is that he has rather a lot of pictures of people glaring at him, and many more pictures of people who haven't noticed him. He spends quite a bit of effort attempting to explain why this is OK.

Nazis, fuck them anyways, their consent doesn't matter and anyways I saw that one eating a bagel later (?!) The nun probably recognized me because we'd been riding the train together for years, although we've never exchanged a word, so that makes it ok (the nun is palpably angry.) The people sleeping? I don't even know why it's ok to photograph them, but I'm "quite interested" in sleeping people. The girl canoodling made eye contact before this frame was shot, so that's OK. And on and on. He's always got a story, and the subject is always either glaring at him or oblivious.

I get it, his opinions have changed. He was shooting this shit starting 35 years ago. It's ok to say I wouldn't take this photo now.

It must have been crushing for Paul to see Butturini's book. The latter is focused, intense. It has a powerful sense of time and place. The framing is consistently good. The edit is tight. The time it was shot was visually interesting. I don't think Butturini's "London" is really all that, it's not my favorite book, but it is astronomically better than Paul's efforts, and this damned Italian knocked it out in a summer. Paul's 120,000 negative archive might as well go in the bin now, and he probably shouldn't have started.

Butturini's photos are geographically tight: Regent's Park, Picadilly Circus, The Underground. That's pretty much it. It's temporally tight: summer of 1968. It's focused: this is what I saw and felt in London that summer. Paul's photos, in contrast, are all over London, all over time, and to no particular purpose. Could something be made of Paul's project? Maybe. It would be completely different from Butturini's project, and Paul probably doesn't have the chops to do it.

Is Paul conscious of this? Probably not. But at some level I think he picked up on it. It's pretty obvious.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Fotos

Every time I make an attempt to argue that photographs are somehow different, I get a lot of pushback (thanks guys) and I have to regroup and try again. This is me trying again, because, damn it, photographs are different.

The most common complaint boils down to “what about photorealistic paintings?” so let us try to address that and see where it leads us.

A photograph (normally) takes us differently than does a painting (normally). A photograph of Margaret Bourke-White out on some art-deco eagle thing on a skyscraper induces vertigo. A painting may also induce vertigo, but it does it either through some sort of abstraction, or by being hyper-realistic and functioning the same way a photograph does. The photograph induces vertigo by directly indicating great height, and our body reacts to that.

A photograph can arouse us sexually (thank you for that specifically, my noble commenter). Again, it does so directly. There is little-to-no leap of imagination here, we see the object of desire, and we feel desire. Again it is a body-reaction, it is somatic. There is a brisk market, I am informed, for pornographic photographs. The market for pornographic animations and drawings is, while surprisingly robust, quite a bit smaller.

You could probably make a similar argument about the somatic experience of revulsion and a sufficiently grotesque photograph, but in the first place I don’t want to think about those photos and in the second place I think you can fill in the details yourself.

Speaking of animation, there is a well-known phenomenon called the uncanny valley. This was first observed with robots: a robot that looks completely unlike a human is fine, as is a robot that looks very much like a human. They can be likable. A robot that looks a lot like a human, but not enough like a human, is disturbing, unpleasant. The same is true for animations (and, one assumes) for drawings of people. There is a region of “similar, but not similar enough” in which we as humans find the renderings unpleasant. One might say, uncanny.

The existence of this “valley” indicates that there are two sides. One might argue that we visually understand the unlike-people drawings in one way, and the like-people drawings in another. Some theories of the uncanny valley (though not all) argue that the valley is induced by a conflict between two different ways of understanding the renderings. We cannot decide if it’s “real” or “drawn” in some sense. Again, though, this argues that there is something different about the way we understand sufficiently realistic renderings.

Allow me to stipulate then that photographs, often or usually, affect us in one way and that paintings and drawings, often or usually, affect us another way.

I am now going to do a Mathematician Trick.

Let us point at the category of stuff that affects us the first way. It’s mostly photographs, but includes hyper-realistic paintings, it includes the output of so-called AI algorithms, and for all I know it includes a few obviously not realistic drawings and so on. It’s a bunch of stuff, but mostly it’s photographs.

Let us also point at the category of everything else, the stuff that doesn’t affect us that way. This includes mostly paintings, drawings, and so on, but also a few photographs. Abstract photographs and, for all I know, a few perfectly realistic photographs that for some reason “don’t work.”

The trick is to simply declare the bunch of stuff we’re interested in to be a category in and of itself, and to name it, and then go to work studying it.

We could make up a fancy word for the first category, “pseudo-photographs” or something, but I think I might just make life simple and call them “fotos” in contrast with “photographs” because, well, that’s what they mostly are.

Maybe a better name that’s less silly sounding, but not too clumsy will occur to me.

Anyways, these creatures are the things I am mostly interested in.

What’s nice about this way to slice things is that it papers over the problem of “well, what’s AI output anyways?” conveniently. While there remain important philosophical questions here, we recognize them as roughly the same questions as “what’s a photorealistic painting anyway?” the only difference being the agent that made the thing.

To a dumb rube like me, who is interested pretty much exclusively in how humans see these things, how humans react to these things, we needn’t much worry about the philosophical details of what’s what. They’re realistic enough to induce the body-sensation of being there, and that’s enough for me.

Friday, September 18, 2020

On Consent

Start with this: when you approach a person, be they a friend, a colleague, or a stranger, there is a moment of social grease. Eye contact, a gesture, a few words, establish whether or not you are welcome in that person's presence at this moment in this place. Absent this, the situation is awkward, at best. We've all had that moment when someone just seems to appear and start talking. It's never comfortable, is it?

Next, this: when you are with someone, when you are present with them, I can somewhat arbitrarily divide your collective experience: they are present for you, you perceive them, you enjoy or detest their company; at the same time, you are likewise present for them. It seems absurd to break "presence" into symmetrical halves like this, I know, but stand by. All will be made, well, less murky.

Hold these ideas aside now for a bit.

I maintain, and have long maintained, that we react to photographs we see in a uniquely photographic way. My current notion is that we react somatically, viscerally, to sufficiently photo-realistic pictures. Part of the way we respond to a photo is not cognitive, it is not cultural. It is a reaction to perception of a kind of pseudo-reality.

Evidence: upon seeing a vertiginous photo, we can experience vertigo. The high-wire walker, the men lunching on a steel beam suspended over New York City: we can experience that gut sensation of altitude, which we do not get from a painting. Similarly, the reaction of a child, or anyone who has never seen a photo, to a photo of themselves: "It's me!" I maintain that, in a sense, we "enter the photograph" psychologically, we feel as if we are present in the scene.

A photograph of a person, therefore, brings me into their presence, in an attenuated way.

And thus we return to the opening thoughts. A photograph of a person brings me into their presence, half-way. They are present for me, but I am not present for them. Only one half of the symmetrical relationship of an actual meeting is there, and it is there only in an attenuated way. Further, there is no social grease, there is no active permission (or rejection.) I pick up the photo, and there I am.

Furthermore, we know this at some instinctual level. We feel this as something true about photographs.

Suppose a fellow wishes me ill. Imagine him seated in his living room seething with fury, fantasizing about my violent death. His hands clench the arms of his chair. Now imagine he holds a photograph of me, while seething. It's a bit of a different vibe, isn't it, when you introduce the photograph? He is now planning my murder, but in a sense he is in my presence. What if he holds a drawing of me, rather than a photo? It's not the same as either, is it?

A photograph of a person allows the holder to conjure that person's presence at will.

There are, at least, two ways to consider this.

Since what is conjured is only half of the presence, what does it matter? I do not know about the angry man clutching my picture; it harms me not one bit that he conjures my presence so that he may rage at it. I suppose we could argue that the photo whets some appetite and then when he later crushes my skull with a hammer it was somehow the photo's fault, but let us file that under Obviously Absurd and move on.

On the other side, though, he is nevertheless conjuring my presence without my permission. I do not give him the nod, the half-smile, that acknowledges and grants permission to be present for me while I am present for him. I would be too busy running away to do that. The photo takes that choice away from me. Frankly, I would prefer that he not so conjure my presence. Whether my preference is rational or not, my preference is real and perhaps ought rightly to be respected.

Consider now a portrait shoot of some sort. Or boudoir, or whatever. A model, a subject, has granted permission to you to take some photos. They have given consent. To what, exactly, have they consented?

The photograph you take of them is an object with the power to conjure their presence, without social grease, at will. You can conjure them up. You can distribute the photo, and allow others to do the same. Forever and always, your subject can be conjured by you or anyone else.

In contrast to the interaction with a photo, the social grease of a real-world interaction simultaneously grants permission to both halves of the presence. I nod and gesture, welcoming you to be present for me and simultaneously agreeing to be present for you. As East African Plains Apes there was no need to separate these two, they were, and are, inextricably entangled. Such a moment is a singular unit of social/animal interaction whether it be on the plains of Africa or in a New York office building.

The photograph changes that, and splits it in two. You are present for me. I am not present for you.

The social grease no longer makes any sense. Explicit consent to be photographed tries to stand in for it, but we're not built for this. The idea that I agree not only to this social interaction, but all similar ones in the future for all time makes no sense to us in any kind of non-intellectual way. The East African Plains Ape has no instincts that apply here, we have no meaningful model for this.

How should we treat the photograph?

If we treat it as You are present for me then one set of social rules applies and, taken to its logical extreme, I should ask the subject of the photograph before looking at the picture at all, every time I look at it.

If we treat it as I am not present for you then it doesn't matter at all. You are in New York, I am in Bellingham. The photo is a mere object. You have no social or moral stake in whether I look at it or not. Consent to even take the photograph is meaningless, let alone consent to look at it.

Since we are just jumped-up East African Plains Apes, though, the two exist simultaneously, and in irreconcilable conflict.

Obvious solutions like consent-to-be-photographed feel hopelessly off base, a stupid compromise. There is no compromise between fight or flight. It's not as if, well, we're not sure if it's a lion of a gazelle, so let's run away but slowly and to the side. No, you either run, or you stand and fight. I have no solutions here, but it strikes me that if some satisfactory solution exists it will be something unexpected, coming out of apparently nowhere.

It is also possible that no satisfactory solution exists. There is no rule that says there must be an answer.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Portfolio Reviews

I've never had a portfolio review in my life, and find myself remarkably uninterested in having one. I am going to say some stuff anyways! What, are you new here?

It strikes me that these things come in a bunch of flavors. You can sign up for a meat-market thing where one of a panel of "experts" will be randomly selected to opinionate about your portfolio. At something like the other end, I guess you get a meeting with the perfect person to make sense of your work, and that person likewise opinionates.

In the land of inventions and business ideas, there are any number of analogs, to both ends of this. There are hundreds of organizations that are completely generic, but will absolutely help you patent your invention, evaluate your idea, and help you get funding to start your business. These generic operations are a grift, they sift through 1000s of awful ideas very quickly, taking a fee for every one, and every so often then find something viable. When they do find something viable, they arrange to screw the principal.

Never, ever, ever get involved with these people. These people have a business model in which they take as much profit as possible as early as possible. The entire point is to leave you with as little as possible.

At the other end of the spectrum there are venture capital firms, private equity firms, even (maybe?) departments in banks, that actually exist to help you succeed. Their business model is to generate a lot of success for you, and take their profit as a smaller percentage off the back end. They make a lot more money than the first gang, but they have to do a lot more work and they have a lot of expertise.

The photo portfolio review seems to me to be similar.

My photographs are maybe more idiosyncratic than most, but I think it's true of almost anyone's work that there are some people who are going to get it, who are going to be able to make some sense of it, and others who won't. It's not at all clear to me what value there is in having the former look at your work. This seems a lot like the guys who collect fees on the front end and, hey, look at that, this is precisely the model.

They take your $50 fee, flip through your pictures of whatever, and tell you about how when they were the photo editor at <Failed Magazine> they wanted pictures that were more like <whatever> but great effort we think your work is strong come back next year with your $50.

On the up side, it's easy. You spend your $50 and some geezer will actually talk to you for a few minutes about your stupid pictures. If mainly you're into paying for social interactions, great. You should take some workshops, which are much more expensive but otherwise pretty much the same deal.

The other side of the spectrum places the work on you. To get a useful portfolio review you have to figure out who the right people are. Then you have to get a meeting. Neither of these is easy. Maybe there is some royal road here, but I suspect that any fixer who promises for a modest fee to introduce you to those right people is in fact a grifter. You've got to do the work yourself.

The right people are the ones who are equipped to make sense of your work, to see what you're trying to do, obviously. They should also, ideally, be in a position to do something about it if your work isn't shit, above and beyond advising you how to un-shit your photos.

I send my pictures around to people who I think will "get it" and so far they seem to like 'em. Mission accomplished.

So have you had a portfolio review? How'd it go?! Tell me I'm all wet!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Social Media Injustice?

Note to regular readers, this is being prepared for submission to a larger audience, so you can expect less than my usual level of swearing.

Social media is always an uproar, there's no way around it. Photography social media is much the same, and mostly it's mostly harmless fun. I want to draw attention to two recent episodes which were not harmless fun, and which I worry point toward a larger trend.

A graphic designer from Italy named Gian Butterini published a photobook in 1969, called London. Some decades later Martin Parr discovered the book, found it interesting, and arranged for it to be re-issued in a kind of facsimile edition. The opening essays were translated to English, Parr added an essay, and some very small cosmetic changes were made. In 2019 a British academic stumbled across a spread in the book: a photo depicting a black woman, a ticket inspector for the London Underground, was placed across from a photo of the gorilla in the Regent's Park zoo.

The academic immediately noted that in the present era, in the western world, this reads as a racist trope. It compares a black person to an ape. The academic and his daughter took to social media as well as to the street, raising a furor. In the fullness of time the publisher pulled the book from distribution and Martin Parr stepped down from one or two roles.

More recently, under the auspices of the BredaPhoto Festival, Erik Kessels exhibited on the surface of a skate park a display of digitally generated images of facial plastic surgeries gone awry, the faces female in appearance. The exhibit, entitled "Destroy my Face" was intended to last until the photographs had been fully eroded by the action of skaters skating.

A small cadre of social media residents, overlapping with the critics of London, read this as violent and misogynistic. They took up a campaign to do, well, something about it. The result was that the skate park has committed to removing the photos, while the BredaPhoto Festival has so far stood firmly by their curatorial decisions.

Well, so what?

The issue at hand is that in both cases a small cadre of social media residents read the work in a particular, singular, way, and successfully parleyed their opinion into a dominant one — with real-world consequences. Artwork was removed from view on the grounds that it "said something" the cadre found unacceptable.

When some ordinary person walks up to a piece of Art, they're likely to come up with a single way to understand the work. Opening London to the spread, they might well recoil from the evident racism. Or, they might see it as a commentary on, an indictment of, racism. Or something else. This is the point of contemporary Art after all, If a piece of Art only said one thing you could just write that one thing on an index card and skip all the painting, photographing, sculpting.

And this is where the trouble lies. The loudest voices against Butturini's book and against Kessels' installation were academics, educators, experts. They should know, if they know anything, that Art allows multiple readings, and that these multiple readings are a large part of the point.

Art which critques, let's say, racism must of course reference racism. In its richness and ambiguity, it can then be read as racist by anyone who sees only the racism being referenced. That's ok, it's unfortunate that the critiqe doesn't come across for some people, but that is virtually inevitable. If you don't want ambiguity, just write it on an index card and be done with it.

The academics arguing against London never showed a single other page from the book, only repeatedly hammering the single spread with the single idea of it being inescapably racist. They omitted mention of Buttutini's opening essay which specifically addresses the two photographs in question. They omitted other spreads which showed Butturini's methods. They insisted that their single reading was the only conceivable one and that context was unnecessary. They loudly labelled anyone who disgareed as a racist, or a racist enabler.

Again, these are academics who should know as a basic part of their job that: context matters, and multiple readings are a thing.

The voices arguing against "Destroy my Face" similarly included experts who ought to know better, and similarly hammered a single point of view. Again, any attempt to suggest that alternate readings might be available were met with name-calling and boastful blocking.

This strongly resembles the campaign against "Piss Christ", a 1987 photograph by Andres Serrano of a crucifix submerged in urine. This photo also admits multiple readings. A vocal cadre saw only blashphemy and hammered that story to the exclusion of all else, raising a national hue and cry in the USA. Copies of the photo were physically damaged, and so forth. It was an exciting time.

The difference is that the professional artist class (whatever that might be) of that era stood with "Piss Christ," rather than calling for its removal. They understood that Art is complex.

To be fair, "London" can be seen as racist, "Destory My Face" as misogynistic, and "Piss Christ" as blashpemy.

They can also be see as a critique of racism, a critique of social beauty ideals, and a critique of the commercialization of religion. That's not all, of course, but let's stop there, as these are the documented intentions of each artist. We know what the artist intended, in all cases, and those readings are clearly visible in the works.

It's not that the voices decrying these works are wrong, or should be silenced. Far from it, let them be heard loud and strong!

But let other voices also be heard. Shouting "troll!" and boasting about blocking other voices in no way resembles discourse, it is unhealthy, it is damaging. It is not a conversation. It is not how serious educators, serious thinkers-about-Art, should be reacting to Art.

One of the professional educators decrying "Destroy My Face" (referring to remarks Kessels made) went so far as to ask "Now how about that 'conversation' he promised?" to which I have to reply "many of us were having it, but it was a little difficult because your lot kept yelling TROLL! and BLOCKED!!!!" over and over.

The voices which refuse to accept dissent and which refuse to grasp the basics of how art functions should be heard, make no mistake. I listen to them. They've usually got some kind of a point to make. In a narrow way, they're even right.

They're right, but they're not completely right. I submit that they are not right enough to be dictating what hangs on the walls of galleries, museums, and our public spaces.