photography

The controversy of glamorizing disappearing people with photographer Jimmy Nelson

The controversy of glamorizing disappearing people with photographer Jimmy Nelson

Way outside our cities and towns are societies of disappearing and endangered indigenous people . Some of us may think that’s natural— it’s been happening forever. Others fight to protect those cultures and have very strong opinions about what’s right and what’s wrong for those people.

One of those opinions is whether there’s a “right way” to depict people who are different than us— who are not living in urbanized or Western societies. I was surprised by just how controversial this subject really was. I guess it’s ok that we’re surrounded by spectacular images that romanticize cars, sports, and marriage. Really anything commercial— but to apply a similar heroic lens to people who are different than us, well, that could be sacrilege. It seems there are people out there who believe that the only way to photograph those folks needs to be as an anthropological documentarian— capturing people only how they’re actually living vs in their Sunday best— proud, celebrated, glamorized. 

The price of censoring nudity with Photographer Jock Sturges.

The price of censoring nudity with Photographer Jock Sturges.

We might think of our culture as progressive, but I’d argue that shame of the human body has never been higher, in part thanks to a global culture forming around Facebook’s censoring of breastfeeding Moms, nudes in classic art, and pretty much anything that even resembles a nipple or even your kid, naked under a sprinkler. As we shovel more and more of this imagery from our consciousness we’re telling a dangerous story to the world.

Before this was an issue, there have been many decades of the religious right beating down what they see as inappropriate. Either literally or monetarily burning them at the stake. In the early 90s, this happened to this week’s guest, Jock Sturges, who had been shooting controversial fine art images of naturist adolescents and their families for decades. His studio was raided by the FBI and his  photos and equipment was seized. While the grand jury declined to bring an indictment against him, and the French government flat out laughed at the charges and instead told the right that they were huge fans of his work, it was no less ruinous.