A truly decolonized photo?

Photographer Alice Seeley Harris is among the many white photographers who have fallen for the temptation to exoticize Africans.
Photographer Alice Seeley Harris is among the many white photographers who have fallen for the temptation to exoticize Africans.

How do we get rid of stereotypes of "the other" and create a real empathy in a picture? This question was the starting point for the British photo historian Mark sealy, who recently visited (digital) Fritt Ord seminar Decolonizing the archive in Oslo. What kind of images exist of people outside the Western Hemisphere? What kind of story is told through pictures of, for example, Africans and Africa? In the book Decolonizing the archive the photo-historian Sealy addresses precisely these questions and concludes that the seemingly "neutral" representation of the African and Africa in photo archives around the world is both Eurocentric and exotic.

During the seminar discussed sealy the book and the issues surrounding it with the photographers Jonas Bendiksen – who was also the moderator – Brian Cliff Olguin, Sofie Amalie Klougart, Javad Parsa and Nora Savosnick.

A key point in both the seminar and the book is the relationship between what we take a picture of and what is outside the frame, outside the picture. There is a great distance between the heroic intention where the photojournalist or documentary filmmaker enters, for example, a poor area in Ethiopia and has to document "the cruel truth", and the actual reality that makes situations like this possible. We need to understand why people are starving, and why these areas of the world end up with such tragedies. He asks, "Do we really have to see emaciated people on the brink of existence to understand how bad they are?"

Sealy undoubtedly has a point, for the exoticism or fascination for them or what is not "us", brings us, as he claims, rather back to a colonial mindset – where the differences between people are further deepened rather than finding a humanistic and democratic core of photography.

The white woman

Both the seminar and the book address almost dizzying questions. The photographers, who for the occasion were sitting a bit in the shadow of Sealy, were probably all a bit guilty of answering, simply because they "revealed themselves": Their projects were, if we use Sealy's ruthless lens – mirrors for themselves rather than mirrors for those they tried. . .

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