Fotograf Magazine

Mark Strandquist

Go Faith Go!


“The celebration of abstract humanity becomes, in any given political situation, the celebration of the dignity of the passive victim. This is the final outcome of the appropriation of the photographic image for liberal political ends; the oppressed are granted a bogus Subjecthood when such status can be secured only from within, on their own terms.”1

Choosing to introduce a profile of the young American photographer, educator, writer and activist Mark Strandquist with the conclusion of an article by Allan Sekula published in Artforum magazine in the mid-1970s may seem a bit pessimistic. The timing of Sekula’s article was by no means random. The United States at the time was battered by the war in Vietnam as well as the recent oil crisis, and as a result, similar to in the 1930s, the question of the role of the photographic image in political and social discourse was brought up once again. In the article cited, Sekula argues that photography claiming to present “simple, straightforward” evidence of the evils and suffering of our world – along the lines of the social photography genre, for example – inevitably ran the risk of being interpreted in the context of art history and traditional narratives concerning artistic genius. “Abstract humanity” is thus the result of the failure of realism, a failure of the function of photography as essentially documentary. Instead of the social reality of the lives of very concrete individuals, we ultimately see exquisite, sublime and emotionally charged images inhabited by “dignified victims” who may move us to tears, while the compassion we feel for them is hardly different from the sense of pity we feel for animals held captive in the zoo.

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#26 documentary strategies