In a recent New York Times article, photographer Bruce Weber attempts to explain his interest in shooting a series of images of Haitian immigrants in Miami as opposed to the fashion he’s known for producing for Calvin Klein, Abercrombie & Fitch and other outlets. His Haiti/ Little Haiti exhibition—which is on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, until Feb. 13, 2011—hopes to shed light on a bogus immigration policy which has threatened to unfairly discriminate against Haitians, detaining them far more often than other groups. (The good folks at Colorlines break down the issue.)
But Weber, curiously, claims that he’s not making any particularly great leap from being a fashion photographer to being a lensman whose work is more overtly political. He’s an activist by default. Weber explains:
“Ansel Adams was an activist. He drew your attention to all the great national parks.
“If you photograph a woman in a dress,” he added, “it raises the question, ‘What are you saying about that woman?’ It sends a message.
“If you’re any kind of photographer, you are an activist.”
I’d sure like to hear what Sebastiao Salgado or Clarence Williams would say about that. Both photogs have done amazing work capturing life in the gold mines of Brazil and in post-Katrina New Orleans, respectively. Dare I say, their commitment to documenting social conditions of the world does not compare to any fashion photography no matter how beautifully model X is rendered.
Not to downplay the evocative images Weber features in Haiti/ Little Haiti though. He has an immense talent for capturing the special moments and the essence of a community. (See some selects below.) I just think it’s arrogant to equate documenting luxury brands with the social significance of chronicling the real-life struggles of people from any community.
What do you think? Can fashion photography be considered a form of social activism? Are all photographers inherently activists to some degree? Help me understand.