Monday, March 23, 2015

Teju Cole's "Object Lesson"

Glenna Gordon, The Blouse of Hauwa Mutah, one of nearly 300 girls who were kidnapped from a school in Chibok, Nigeria last April by Boko Haram

Teju Cole, along with Rebecca Solnit, are two of the foremost writers on photography (and surprise, my favorite authors writing today). It was with great excitement that I saw a link to Cole's new essay "Object Lesson" in The New York Times Magazine late last week. Cole references images of conflict (recent depictions of demonstrations in Kiev or the Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haram) yet it is not the political unrest, clashes with the riot police or the human victims that he deconstructs, but photographic projects devoid of people.

This passage resonates with me despite the original references to photojournalism and the subjects mentioned above. So much of why I photograph objects, rather than people, can be found in Cole's words below:

"Objects, sometimes more powerfully than faces, remind us of what was and no longer is; stillness, in photography, can be more affecting than action. This is in part because of the respectful distance that a photograph of objects can create between the one who looks, far from the place of trouble, and the one whose trouble those objects signify. But it is also because objects are reservoirs of specific personal experience, filled with the hours of some person’s life. They have been touched, or worn through use. They have frayed, or been placed just so."

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