Death, Sex, Money: 5 Photographers On ‘Power’
IN PHOTOGRAPHY, A POINT OF VIEW is both literal and metaphorical: The photographer moves through the world with a lens and an angle. For this project, we asked photographer and curator Jason Fulford to pick four of his favorite image-makers (along with himself) to create work around a single prompt, the word “power.” The goal was to find thought-provoking and disparate ways of understanding the term. “Each of us comes from a different background, with different sensibilities, and as a group we blur the lines between art and documentary,” he says.
This is a short sequence of photographs I made with the word “power” in the back of my head. I wasn’t trying to illustrate the word as much as I was just going about my daily life and looking for signs of it. On this particular month, I found myself traveling up and down the East Coast, with a quick trip to Southern California. Along the way I remembered a trick you can do with a dollar bill. If you fold it into a tight accordion pattern, and then gently pull it open, you can tilt the bill up and down to make George Washington’s poker face smile or frown.
In a poem called “The Dead Shall Be Raised Incorruptible,” published in his 1971 collection The Book of Nightmares, Galway Kinnell takes his reader on a visceral tour of the extraordinary violence of the 20th century—a century he describes as “my trespass on earth.” His speaker is a man possessed of white power, and for him it’s a century in which:
having exterminated one billion heathens, heretics, Jews, Moslems, witches, mystical seekers, black men, Asians, and Christian brothers, every one of them for his own good, (…)
An extraordinary series of stanzas follow as a testament to his last will, but I especially love the following lines in the context of this commission—particularly in light of recent events:
In the Twentieth Century of my nightmare on earth, I swear on my chromium testicles to this testament and last will of my iron will, my fear of love, my itch for money, and my madness.
When thinking about what I wanted to photograph, I thought about these questions.
Is power opaque? Can power be broken down? If so, how can it be broken down? Is it possible to expose what exists behind power?
A quote also guided the way, from Brené Brown: "Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."
Once I started looking around me with “power” in mind, I saw it everywhere, in every interaction and in every construct, filling the air and seeping into every crevice, but still impossible to pin down. This took me back to Michel Foucault:
“Power is not something that is divided between those who have it and hold it exclusively, and those who do not have it and are subject to it. Power must be analyzed as something that circulates, or rather as something that functions only when it is part of a chain. It is never localized here or there, it is never in the hands of some, and it is never appropriated in the way that wealth or a commodity can be appropriated.”
I trust you and I listen to you, you trust me and you let me photograph you. You do it even though it may be hard for you at any given moment, and it may be hard to open yourself up to be so vulnerable, but again, you trust me and so you let me take the photograph. You let me touch your body to position you within the light, let me fumble through finding the focus and the settings and listen to the sound of the shutter. I ask you to close your eyes and take a breath, and you do. I ask so you can unclench your body from the pose that it has held for too long. Or I ask you to stay still, to move, or respond. I want you to offer yourself up to me, but it is also okay if you want to resist me. I only need you as yourself because you are already enough. I want to make a space for you to be here, I want to make a space within these photographs that can hold your desire to be seen.