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Thread: Foxconn Suicides

  1. #11

    Foxconn Suicides

    Ben,

    When I first viewed the images above I was bothered and annoyed...not moved to action, not nudged in looking for more info, not pushed to march against giant factories halfway across the world that exist only because we desire more and more resource-hogging crap.

    I, like others, was confused about your connection to the factory and suicides. Were the images taken at the actual location (photojournalism/documentation)? Were they shots taken from aired news footage (re-purposing)? It wasn't until I read your last entry here and looked again that I realized they're miniature human models -- the type you'd see forever stuck in mid-wave as a model train rolls by for the thousandth time. I no longer find the images annoying. Now they're mildly funny...I have this vision of a dusty diorama in a boring, out-of-the-way museum.

    The camera you created is freaking gorgeous. It truly is art to me (and gauging the response on this forum, to many others). Looking at your site, you have some amazing, beautiful, interesting pieces and series (damn nice site, too). This one, though, is a miss that appears to either piss people off or make them laugh (at you, if you're not careful).

    I wish you the best of luck with your photos and art.

    H.

  2. #12

    Foxconn Suicides

    Ben,

    Thanks for clarifying some of the issues on why you chose to recreate these scenes.

    I have to admit I thought they were grainy blow ups from actual footage and as indian101scout said the

    accompanying text didn't make it clear that this was the case - I'm glad they weren't.


    It still disturbs me though that you feel you would want to recreate such scenes as this in the pursuit of art.

    Is it because these people are Chinese and so far away that it makes it ok to do so?


    The reason I ask is that I wonder what the response from the site would be if one set about recreating the

    aftermath of the appalling scenes at Ground Zero for instance. One could even try and recreate the people

    falling to their deaths (more suicides of course, but just a lot closer to home because the bulk of those who

    jumped/slipped to their death were ordinary decent US citizens) and I wonder then would people be so

    accepting of such conceptual art or, would they indeed find it amusing?


    I could be wrong but I'll bet that such images would be removed within minutes.

    I like your other works very much Ben, but to my mind and sensitivities this project is still tasteless.

  3. #13

    Foxconn Suicides

    Quote Originally Posted by 673
    I would like to hear what is tasteless about redeploying the fact that young people choose to jump to their deaths en masse, rather than work at a manufacturing facility that provides the world with most of its consumer electronic bits?



    BEN
    great workmanship on your camera.. about your series... is the story simply the final moment of their lives or why they chose to end their lives, and the social wake of their death?? I like the challenge previously given.. tell the whole story not just recreate the most dramatic part of it..

  4. #14

    Foxconn Suicides

    I've no wish to stir the pot any more than anyone. But I pay my dues and I've got a right to an opinion, which I express right now.

    It's somewhat disingenuous (if you'll pardon me for saying) and misleading to a forum like this to lead us to believe (however subtly) that these are real. We're all adults. If you'd said straight up that these overprocessed images were simulacra of the appalling incidents, then fine. Instead we have a lot of people upset. I can sort of see a inarticulate geopolitical thing going on in your construct, but however much I agree with you about this (and I am a dissapointed Mac user), I just think it's dangerous to mess with peoples' heads.

    Just my opinion. I know what you're getting at. I like your stuff. What can I say? We all have bad days. I was convinced, if that makes you fell better.

  5. #15

    Foxconn Suicides

    I appreciate people taking the time to think and respond to the images.

    I don't think the images necessarily need to move us to action - or at least that is a question to be considered individually - and I question whether photographs actually get us to do that to begin with. If sitting with the imagery is what is on the table, though, I would hope to not turn away from a subject simply because it has political overtones, is unsettling, or blurs the line with "news." When I want to make a difference on the ground, I do try and design a camera project with some social relevance where I can get in and work with people directly. Even in those cases, I'm sometimes doubtful of the lasting significance, but maybe one person got something out of it, and that's ok with me.

    Pollard71, your connection to dioramas and frozen time is interesting. It figures largely into my questions about how I could actually ever relate to an event like a suicide in China. There are so many layers that separate me, including (but not at all limited to) my compliance with purchasing the products made in that factory, the social and political density/opaqueness of the country, the structure of a corporation that size, or the plight of rural youths disenfranchised in their attempt to get ahead. Part of the project is an admission that cheap plastic models (ironically enough, made in China) and spending a couple minutes exposing a shot is maybe as much time as I will get. I think it relates directly to some of the limitations of photographic images, and built into that is their artifice - how they lie implicitly and explicitly, covering up some connections while airing others out. For me, I'm ok with the fact that not all of them will be pleasant. I would love to go to China and do a project... a plane ticket and money for the fabrication costs to make a bunch of iPod cams would be fantastic. Finding funding for projects is difficult, though, as any of you who have tried can attest to.

    Seoirse, I appreciate your disturbed feelings, and I think you've raised some good questions. For me, focusing on those suicides has nothing to do with the remoteness of the Chinese people, and I do not feel entitled to address the imagery simply because they are far away and unknown to me personally. You've struck on something big, though, and that is the feeling of remote connection I get, based on the photographic/still news imagery I saw, coupled with the actual things they fabricate at the plant itself. All of that together is what led me to pursue the camera and imagery. I would not treat 9/11 suicide imagery in terms different than Chinese workers jumping to their deaths from a dormitory. One thing that troubles me a lot about myself is that I felt a similar sense of detachment from the events and images of 9/11, and I was in the country, at school, watching it on television when it happened. I think reaching beyond my country of origin is important in this situation, because such catastrophic human tragedies (terrorism, suicide, etc...) occur everywhere, all the time, and I barely even know about it/think about it. Worst of all, I feel powerless in the face of all of it. In the end, though, I think neither 9/11 jumpers, or Foxconn jumpers, are any more amusing or less acceptable as the subject of any sort of documentation purely on the basis that they touch nerves and raise emotions. In fact, I would hope that art is one way it could be self-consciously and vulnerably taken on.

    I know for certain I won't be getting that from a news station.

    Now, I also agree with you that 9/11 jumper images might be removed from a website immediately, but I would really have to wonder why that would be the case? And what does that say that about us and the depth of our national interests vs. human interests? It's natural, I suppose, to see a tragedy closer to home as more relevant or (as the case may be) less acceptable for viewing. Personally, I don't feel comfortable with that phenomenon.

    Of course there's lots of room to discuss what MAKING the images means about the photographer themselves, which is perhaps another discussion entirely. Certainly, my motivations are perhaps unique to me and would not interest or would bother others. I can accept that some people do and will find the project tasteless, and I'm not out to change any minds on that. I appreciate that I can do this project, and maybe some people like parts of it but not others, or hate the whole thing. Those same people are free to take and post pictures of a hike among rivers, bridges, or flowers, or to just geek out on low-tech photographic object making; and I believe there is distinct value in all of those endeavors, too.

    BillLamm, yes, I think there is always room to share and tell more of the story. I did focus in on the tragedy of the jump, because that is where it most immediately dovetailed with all the other issues, especially the things they made, how they made them, and how they lived while making them. I think what would be most interesting is a video documentary. I know there are undercover Chinese journalists (or were) working in the factories to investigate the conditions and lives of the workers. The news stills and some surveillance video footage were the only photos from the events I got to see, though, and so I reacted to both the visual/physical tragedy, and my own sense of disconnection, even though I wanted very much to participate emotionally in it. In my own way, I got to that point, though the process represents a big chunk of my correlative fascination/frustration with photography in general. In a way, I focused on a public admission of my own inability to be vulnerable with the events. I felt a bit lost and bewildered in response... speaks to more of a spiritual issue than anything else, I suppose. Perhaps others can relate to this sense?

    DocNelson, you are right, I was overly vague in my initial post. I certainly did not mean to imply they were actual news images or somehow not my own pinhole images. I did, however, intend to blur the line between visual fact and fiction, as I do in a lot of my work. If these photos were in a gallery, along with the camera, my didactic would not include a description of my process, or tell people outright that they were looking at toys. I respect your call for transparency, but I weigh that against the fact that I don't like it when all of the questions are answered for me when I approach somebody's work. I intend for people to question whether they are looking at reality, and all the dicey implications that term carries when we're presented with a photograph to begin with. That people are upset is fine with me, and I think it's a good thing, though not for all of the reasons that have come up, of course.

    Thanks again for all of your comments.

    BEN

  6. #16
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    Foxconn Suicides

    I am not much for political art unless it is first and foremost compelling visually. These images don't do anything for me as visual art, so they do not upset me or make me angry or anything else, for that matter.

  7. #17

    Foxconn Suicides

    First, it took a close look at the images, but it was clear to me that they were constructed scenes, so that part didn't bother me.

    Artistically, however, what are you showing? You have depicted people who are apparently dead, but you have to explain the images to make any connection to the factory, the working conditions or even to the fact that they jumped from windows as opposed to getting hit by bullets or hit by cars. Unless the images can tell the story without the words, I don't think they are successful at conveying your message.

    And that exposes the risk of this sort of work. Can you be sure you are really making the same point the people who jumped would want you to? Are you sure you understand their reasons? The reasons people commit suicide are rarely simple, and I think are often misinterpreted because we all have a tendency to look at the victim's situation through our own eyes and we want a simple, pat answer. To truly understand the mindset that prompted their action, we need to find a way to see their life through their eyes. Not an easy thing, and if we get it wrong, are we not exploiting their personal tragedy for our own purposes?

    I admire your concern about the lives of the workers, but unless you go well beyond the media stories, or the official responses by the Chinese government, I doubt that you have a clear enough picture of their reality to justify using images (real or constructed) of their tragedy to make your own statement. Artistically, you took an easy and very non-subtle approach and basically slapped everyone with images of death that were intended to attract attention, but that did nothing beyond acting as a banner headline to get people to read your words. If you have to do that, I'd call that writing, or journalism or maybe even marketing. I wouldn't call it art.

  8. #18

    Foxconn Suicides

    Ben,

    I must say I agree with much that has been said in the other posts, however given that you have set yourself an artistic brief and chosen a particular photographic route to pursue, I hope you may find these thoughts of mine constructive. From your posts I have interpreted your brief as "highlight the plight of the workers, given that we are complicit in perpetuating their situation"

    1. Colour, contrast and blur: The saturated colours and harsh lighting do seem to fit your brief, given that the conditions of work also appear to be harsh (I have not seen them myself, hence the use of 'appear'). The blurring is interesting: any sharper detail and the images would be too graphic and repulsive to serve any artistic purpose. I think your choice of blur is ok, but it maybe worth trying a little more. With a little more blur, there may be the extra element of 'am I seeing what I think I am seeing?'. Out of curiosity and given that the (fantastic) camera is 120 film, did you blur the images in photoshop (or equiv.) or are they a tiny crop from a much larger image?

    2. Composition and Context: On looking at the images, I think that here you may have missed the real artistic brief that you were aiming at "make the viewer feel empathy with the plight of the workers, then make the viewer realise that they are part of the problem". Take as an analogy driving down a lonely road and encountering a car in a hedge. If the police and ambulance are already at the scene, you look but drive on ("rubber-necking" is the common phrase here in the UK), possibly making a comment to your passenger of "looks nasty", but think no more. If however there is no-one else at the scene, you now face a dilemma: do you stop and help, or do you drive on and feel guilty for days? I believe the extra figures you have added in the scene put the pictures into the first category and make the viewer feel uncomfortable as they are an unwelcome 3rd party viewer and are "rubber-necking". If you take the other figures out of the scene and leave the victims alone, I think the images would be much more powerful and a step towards others feeling empathy for their plight; although personally, this is one area where I am with the other posters in that the choice of image needs serious consideration.

    For the context issue, although in your post you have mentioned the factory, there is still no visual connection for the viewer to the victims. One possible solution would be to use the images in say a triptych where the two outer images are victims alone and awaiting help, while the image 'central to the problem' is something like an Ipod, arranged on a similar surface and lit and blurred in a similar manner. For viewers who do not know of the issues at the factory, seeing the juxtaposition of an ipod with two victims will raise the question of "what is the association here that I am missing?".

    Have you considered how your approach to making the viewer feel about the issues compares with other 'more traditional' approaches? For example a method more familiar to most would be to have an image of one of the factory products (such as an ipod) surrounded by a list of names and dates of the victims, with a little blank space left to indicate that the situation is continuing; the classic example of the approach is seen in war memorials. A less common alternative would be where a cemetery is portrayed but where Ipods were used as grave markers, possibly with a (living) image of each victim on each screen.

    Have you also considered the political problem is far more complex than it first appears and the irony that if the factory was closed, the suicide rate may well increase as there is a significant risk of a large number of workers being plunged deeper into poverty; an issue with any large factory anywhere in the world closing.

    Best regards,

    Evan

  9. #19

    Foxconn Suicides

    You are right, the images alone would not clue you into any of the specifics of the events that inspired the project. Here is my response when I look at the images, and if I were to try and peg down any artistic intentions with the imagery it would be along these lines: When I look at the pictures, I get an uneasy sense of distance and scale. I am uncomfortable trying to tell if the figures are real or fake, or if the colors are quite right, or if that cement doesn't look more like sidewalk conglomerate. I have no idea how close I am to the events depicted, and so my proximity becomes a central concern. Clearly there has been a tragedy; there is blood, and people are bending over to help or investigate. But the perspective (birdseye) suggests surveillance, or worse yet, voyeurism. Now I'm definitely feeling unsettled. Then there is the camera, and that's another question mark, too. Before I even get to the didactic, which introduces the "news" side of things and gives me a concrete idea where the inspiration is from, I already have a lot of visual things to mull over.

    I think all of that can play into the series, without encapsulating itself into a single, easy to read message to be digested by the viewer.

    I'm certainly not trying to guess what kind of point the people who jumped would want me to make, mostly because that's impossible to do, and I'm not speaking for them. Furthermore, I don't think a photograph can humanize these people and what happened to them, unless you're the parents or a close friend and you already have a portrait in the house. This is a big part of it for me, too. My relationship to photography is not comfortable and clean. I think the media is one of distinct artifice, and that is what drives most of my work. To address your question somewhat, though, from the interviews I read with their coworkers, it was a depressed sense of isolation at the factory, and the military-grade living conditions that were common topics of frustration and depression for the people who jumped. Of course there were also a lot of rumors that the security teams inside the factories were killing workers and making them look like suicides, so you could literally go on forever coming up with different iterations and stories to account for it and maybe never know the truth.

    What happened is that the people jumped, and they died as a result. I saw pictures of the aftermath on news feeds, just the crumpled forms on the ground, and those pictures smacked me around in the middle of my stomach, and about my heart and head, in all sorts of ways that made me sit up and pay attention. If I posted this project and said my intention was to produce extreme social change, or to get justice for the families and victims, then I agree that I would be falling way short of that mark. What caught me, though, was limited by the visual information I got on the news: that was my sole connection, and that was the thing I wanted to investigate further... all of that distance: visual distance, fidelity distance, mechanical distance, socio-economic distance, geographical distance, material distance, reality distance, and the frustrated emotional distance that came from a longing for connection, but being limited by an artificial media representation. Drawing from the same visual source, but in terms of plastic toys and slow cameras, seemed one viable way to start aiming towards that.

    It was (and is) a soup for me, not a clear message I'm trying to broadcast in a tidy package. I agree with you 100% that art is a communicative tool, but there are a great many ways to communicate, and not all of them are as academic as I feel people are asking these images to be, in order that they suddenly become art, and based only on the fact that they sprouted from a tragic news story. I think that part of the challenge in dealing with the project on the whole, and even when taking in the original news imagery, is seeing if and how the visual phenomenon is separated from the human tragedy. I think that situation is never as clear cut as some people would like us to believe, including some of you who have responded to these particular images.

    Photography is artificial, and I always feel obliged to call attention to that in my work. I don't believe the altruistic battle-hymn of the medium, focusing mostly on its claims to reveal deeper connections that I otherwise miss as a workaday human being. If anything, I think photographs cut us off in very real ways, too, but nobody wants to talk much about that. I can appreciate that many (most/all?) of you do not agree with me on this, or chose not to focus on that, but then that explains why I am interested in odd miniature recreations of suicides in China as a means of getting at my own discomfort with how I take in images of tragedy, and maybe the rest of you are less inclined to do so (and I mean that uncritically).

    Based on the responses from those of you who have shared your thoughts and questions, and by way of me continuing this conversation (which I appreciate very much, by the way) there seems to be a deep seated feeling that this particular effort is at best off the mark or trivial, and at worst tasteless and irresponsible. All of that is fine, but I'm very curious as to why people seem to think the events themselves are somehow not permissible as subject matter for art making, or are only permissible as subject matter if treated in a very narrow way? Where does that sentiment come from?

    BEN

  10. #20

    Foxconn Suicides

    Hi Evan! My apologies... you wrote your post while I was responding to moot, so I didn't address any of your points in the above response.

    I take your point on the blur, and you're right, it could be done consciously for a more "realistic" effect. The images are not blurred or filtered in Photoshop; you are correct they are simply enlargements of small chunks of the 120 negative.

    Your composition observations are spot on, but I think I've misrepresented myself in terms of the project brief you've outlined as a preface. I certainly think that the enormity of the whole system, and my involvement or complicity in it, is ineherent in the subject and events, but does not comprise any actionable intentions in the work. As I replied to moot's post, above, that sense of voyeurism you speak of, and the associated discomfort, is definitely more to the visual point, and I'm happy to hear you get that from seeing the additional figures etc., in addition to those who are actually there, in frame, to "help."

    I like your idea very much about incorporating some extra imagery to further contextualize things, and I will definitely take it as an earnest possibility in terms of the final series. The arrangement of images, as you pointed out, could be very purposeful. Does it make sense if I say I'm aiming for something drawn out of a direct event but not staring it right in the eyes, too? I don't want to lose whatever artificial visual limbo and distance the images have on their own, though I realize I'm currently relying only on a textual didactic to give people the provenance of the project, then let them put the pieces together on their own (the iPod camera and the imagery).

    The idea of a kind of altar with iPods, as you suggested, is one that crossed my mind. If the project were more about the social justice, or calling attention to the situation as a political or social concern to which I had answers, or even if I was simply prepared to declare my photographs would do some overarching good in that concrete way, I think all of your ideas are spot on; especially iPod gravestones. In the wake of these suicides, people in China were burning their iProducts in trash cans outside of the factories as a form of protest, literally pointing to the deaths as a product of the factory.

    As to your last point... eek. That is a whole other can of worms, and no I had not thought of it. Again, though, my intent with this project is not to shut down the factory, or even to suggest that it be done.

    I need to get some sleep, up waay to late here!

    Thanks Evan!

    BEN

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