Photography and Memory: An Interview with Yale Professor Laura Wexler
  Resource:people daily   2008-12-23 09:55:14  

Jiang: Do you think some of the photographers are trying to instill you with morality, the criteria of beauty, etc.?

Wexler: One of the things the photographers must have discovered is your pictures are about something out there, but as you look at the pictures, you learn something about yourselves, right? You learn: “Oh, this is the kind of thing I’m always doing”, “oh, this is something she always sees”, or “I did that again”. In other words, your pictures are as much about you as they are pictures of what’s out there.

Jiang: In this sense, it’s just like leafing through a family album, you see the pictures, and you see yourself. Mirroring.

Wexler: That’s right. What you see out there mirrors someone who sees. I once taught a seminar in which there’s a student who has been a photographer for years and she stopped taking pictures when she realized how much of herself was revealing in the pictures that she was taking.

Jiang: Self-exposure.

Wexler: That’s right. She then realized how much of herself was visible when she thought she was taking pictures of some other things. So I think people have all kinds of intentions. Some people become more and more conscious of how photography works, and these people get to say something. The more you know, the more you are able to have something that you can try to persuade. You can control, you can choose, you line up the sequence, you can display, you can shape this whole process, and you can communicate that way. Other people don’t have that fine sense of it.

Wexler: So about the question of should photography control or should it invent history. I don’t think photography has such power, I think it’s us that give photography the power. You can’t stop things from changing. What interests me is looking at what new is happening and understanding what human desires are behind the things that are happening. You can now take hundreds of digital photos and each one of them is not so precious as the old photos in the Daguerreotype in which there is just one image. It’s true that something is lost, but these hundreds of pictures are showing us our reality in a different way than just the deliberate, purposeful images. I think what’s important is not to stop that, but to understand its uses to make life more humane. If we have that capacity, what can we do with it? You can’t say “don’t do this”.

Jiang: As I remember, the printing business brought the Renaissance.

Wexler: That’s a good way of thinking about it. You weren’t going to stop the Renaissance. It brings many discoveries, including people who couldn’t afford to take the pictures can have them now. I was told that ten years ago I couldn’t come to Beijing and teach this course, because people wouldn’t have such easy access to photos, and it wouldn’t be so normal to be surrounded with pictures. And even now, some people don’t have photographs.

There’s been so much change in Beijing in the past ten years. Would we want to get back? I don’t think so. Do we want to make sure what we are doing? This kinder, fairer, and more humane society, if we can? That’s a task. So a photographer doesn’t have to be conscious of the photos as the old-fashioned way. Susan Mieselas was saying that one great difference is that now the photographers in the field now are shooting digital images and they are editing them right in the field. They are choosing and not even sending rolls of films to the editors of magazine. Then there’s no negative, so there’s no way reconstructing what happened during shooting and no way of constructing the decisions the photographer was making. That’s a huge loss for somebody like me who’s a historian. All of a sudden all the evidences are gone.

Jiang: So it’s all like perfect pictures. No process

Wexler: Exactly. Since I learn from the process, I’m gonna have a lot of trouble in the future figuring out how to learn from these these finished, perfect peeks.

Jiang: It’s just like in the old times, they ask people to pose, in a pretentious way to deliver the reality. It’s like invented reality.

Wexler: Yes, it’s invented in a sense that everything I saw was perfect. So it changes a lot. I’m interested in thinking what we gain and what we lose. I don’t think they are teaching students in Yale the old way of shooting pictures anymore.

Huang/Jiang: Thank you for your time.

Wexler: It’s been a pleasure talking with you two.

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