What has Trump got to do with street photography? Good question, glad you asked.
Warning – this gets political and a little heavy. Pretty pictures at the end if you just want to skip to that bit!
I have just returned from a week spent in a small rural school outside of Beijing. While there I worked with colleagues and local teachers as part of a charity organisation linked to where I work. Not surprisingly, I took my camera and managed to get a few sneaky shots. On my return to Shanghai I found out that Trump won the election and I felt the world had shifted.
Schoolboy, Beijing, 2016
Photography – I will get there, hang in on this….
Trump getting into power is not the only shift towards the right, the UK has voted for ‘Brexit’, and to leave the European Union. Both these moves appear to stem from the intolerance of other people. Trump has made open comments against women’s rights, the LGBT community and made racist attacks on Muslims and Mexicans; the UK appears to have voted in the mistaken belief that leaving the EU will stop immigration and will lead to the marginalised groups of society to be ‘sent back home’.
I love photography because it breaks down barriers. I have written before of my guilt at photographing areas of poverty. Now I wonder, is it ‘poverty porn’, or is it an interest in these marginalised groups within society? Can there be an emancipatory aspect to what I do? I certainly hope so. Can we as photographers challenge the barriers that are advocated by Trump and the far right? Can our photography reflect that the immigrants, the poor and those that do not fit into someone’s ideas of ‘mainstream’ society, are human with the same emotions and needs as all of us?
A second issue that worries me is my freedom as a photographer. A swing to the political right will strengthen the neo-liberalist positions of power established during the Thatcher and Reagan years. The need for greater control of the population could, I fear, threaten our freedom as photographers. I enjoy the right to shoot where I like in public and to post the images I choose. It would be a devastating blow to have any of these freedoms threatened.
Throughout history, photography has been used by the far right in propaganda campaigns. Just look at the work of Hugo Jaeger, Hitler’s personal photographer and the man who introduced the swastika as an emblem for the Third Reich. More recently, right-wing press pushed the picture of Hilary Clinton slipping on a step as evidence of her poor health. Photography has power; we should not abuse it.
One last reason why the US election has affected my photography. Trump’s win indicates a rise in right wing thinking, or at least a decline in more liberal views. Yet people have the right to choose. Like many others, a good part of my life is spent with online communities. I have returned to pages and comments along the lines of ‘if you voted trump then unfriend me’. There is a creation of barriers on both sides of the fence. Let’s not let this happen in the photographic community.
So, sorry bit of a rant but I have been thinking about this for the last couple of days. Let’s use our photography to share this beautiful world. We can use the street as a medium to show the incredible diversity of life that is out there.
Last week I made some great connections with a wonderful community. As always, it can be hard to judge photos that you take when you love the people in them, but these are some of my favourites. Lastly, you are all welcome on his site, even if you did vote for Trump…
Enjoy and keep clicking. As always, feel free to share or comment.