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Thread: Foxconn Suicides

  1. #21
    Administrator Tom Persinger's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Pittsburgh PA USA

    Foxconn Suicides

    without weighing in on the images I am enjoying the civil discussion and exchange of ideas that's going on in this thread. It's the fact that this that sort of open, honest, constructive and investigative dialogue is able to take place which makes F295 a special place.

    I do think that it would have been helpful if Ben had more elaborately and openly disclosed information about the image manufacture and concept. F295 has always maintained that it's not important HOW an image is made but that the method of production is revealed to the viewer - mainly so that it helps spur ideas and gives people behind the scenes glimpses to help in the production of their own work. This is less a gallery than a place in which to exchange ideas and generate new ones.

    To respond to the question re: Nudes - the only reason we don't allow nudes is because this forum is accessed by people of a wide age range - from elementary schoolers working on a class project to us older folks. I don't have an issue with nudes but I know some parents do, so to respect their wishes we maintain a no nudes policy. And, selfishly, I don't want to be the guy who decides the meaning and criteria around what is tasteful, what is pornography, etc etc.... that's a slipper slope that would be just too difficult to navigate!

    Thanks everyone! feel free to carry on!


  2. #22
    500+ Posts dvoracek's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA

    Foxconn Suicides

    In terms of intent and artistic validity, I don't see how this differs from Goya's "The Shootings of May 3rd in Madrid" or Picasso's "Guernica"


  3. #23

    Foxconn Suicides

    Ben, I have to compliment you for the the way you are responding to some sharp criticism.

    Your words get your point across. Your images don't. Not by themselves, at least.

    I want to make it clear that I don't believe a tragedy such as this is artistically off-limits, it just calls for extreme sensitivity out of respect lest the images appear exploitative. In my view, if you aren't making a specific statement about their situation it's not justified to make images of their deaths. They deserve to have more of their story told, if you plan to tell it at all. These images in no way inform the viewer of context, nor do they convey much of what you have written. It's as though you published only the last chapter of a book.

    As a constructive suggestion, perhaps this is not the sort of series that you should show parts of in isolation. This is a delicate and emotional story and a fragmentary presentation leaves too many questions about your intent. IMO, you are also focusing too tightly on the deaths, and not what lead to them. It makes the series simply grisly, instead of thought-provoking.

  4. #24

    Foxconn Suicides

    Thanks moot, and thank you for continuing to discuss it. I'm happy there are people interested enough to take the time to share their opinions.

    I think we just disagree on your main point, or even simply on what my intent is? I feel my images aren't exploitative, even though I am only focusing on a narrow part of the whole story. I am not making a specific statement about their situation, or what led up to them jumping. More generally, I am investigating my relationship to those images and my feelings after seeing them and viewing the aftermath. Any statement I'm making about their situation has to be general, precisely because I am not focusing too much on the backstory, except to reference the tragedy and to refer to the inspiration for making the pieces to begin with, and also to explain the camera as an object and how that object led to the imagery. The images certainly do not get people there on their own, you are right, but I would hope the images, plus the camera, plus a didactic would be enough to get them thinking. I keep going back and forth with you on this because I cringe to think there has to be a single level at which viewers have to get in on to "justify" the images?

    My feeling is that, if approached self consciously (in this case with staged versions of the suicides made from toys and with a low-high-tech camera), there is enough "off" about the images and camera to suggest that we're zooming in on the raw visual atrocity for reasons other than plain exposition or raising awareness of an event in a social-minded sense. At that point, the images aren't so much insensitive as they are revealing of some of the difficulties on the part of pictures to really convey a deep sense of connection to tragedy (for myself, at any rate). Of course it is also an admission of my own deficiencies, and some of the struggles I notice, when I am relegated to nothing more than a viewer of events.

    I certainly understand your point, that you feel the suicides are too sensitive to be handled with anything other than the utmost care, respect, and integrity, and that plastic toys and fake suicides don't say that to you. I could see a number of different ways to approach those suicides with photography, many of which would align more with your take on how the events should or should not be handled visually... I guess all I can say is that, for better or for worse, this is my particular way?

    Nick - Thank you for making the art hisotircal connections with Picasso and Goya. Obviously, without comparing their paintings and these pinhole photographs, it is important that the energy of their work came from first-hand experience. Mine comes from second-hand images... that is at once a frustration and an opportunity, and a biproduct of our digital age. That is the reason I wanted to approach the topic with the full-on slow and artificial mechanisms of photography in play, and pinhole fit the bill for me.


  5. #25

    Foxconn Suicides

    I think most of us come to fine art photography looking for an aesthetic response. We seek the beautiful, no apologies.

    Then there is documentary photography, which can convey concrete information about the real world, and (at best) can rise to the political. These photographs can be aesthetic objects as well, but also more than that.

    I think what might be confusing is that Ben doesn't seem to be seeking a conventional aesthetic response. Rather, he seems to be trying to elicit other responses, such as disembodiment, disconnection, confusion, chagrin, etc. These images offer something besides "the beautiful" for the viewer to chew on. This in itself might cause discomfort.

    Yet I think there is another dimension to the unease. These images appear to take on real subject matter, in a documentary sense. Yet they are consciously removed from reality. They are staged with figures, minimalistic, and if anything studiously avoid telling a (the) story. From this angle, the discomfort is not that these images are too political, but that they do not rise to the political. They are offered and taken as seeking an alternative aesthetic, perhaps more challenging but also perhaps even more self-absorbed. This rather than prompting a real world political response.

    The effect might be numbness, but it's more of a frustration with the goals, the values and really the limits boardering upon triteness in presentation than any thematic connection with the subject matter. There is numbness and there is numbness. A numbness is not necessarily the numbness.


  6. #26

    Foxconn Suicides

    Of course there isn't just one level at which viewers have to get in on, but consider the following comments you made:

    "...where a number of young workers were jumping to their deaths from the dormitories and buildings on the compounds. The Shenzen plant is where an unbelievable volume of computer and consumer electronics parts are fabricated (including Apple iPods, iPhones, PC motherboards etc...)."

    "...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."

    When you lead off with a discussion of the "backstory", don't be too surprised when your viewers are looking for it in your images. You say yourself that what would be most interesting is a video documentary and that there are journalists working to investigate the conditions. Then, however, you say,

    "I am not making a specific statement about their situation, or what led up to them jumping.",

    but it is clearly implicit not only in the real situation but in your thinking about it. Yet, it's nowhere to be found in the images. Perhaps the narrow focus on backstory now seems cringeworthy, but I would suggest you sent us down that road. I guess the message is that if you are going to have words and images together, they better both say the same thing. That might be another argument for keeping the wraps on something like this until every image and every word can be carefully considered.

    Thanks again for your even-tempered responses. Though I was critical, perhaps even harsh, my intent was constructive. You'll never know how your work is viewed if no one tells you. Finally, remember that death is a dangerous subject to use. We don't all feel the same "disconnectedness" to death you seem to be trying to convey and for many of us such images provoke powerful responses. If you are going to use that very large emotional hammer to make a point, it had better be a compelling point or we aren't going to cut you any slack.

  7. #27

    Foxconn Suicides

    I been thinking about this... to quote a Professor from college "Aesthetically complete is not always beautiful" several paintings by Goya come to mind as I think about this

    Some art historians believe this next painting is a metaphor for that self-defeating conflict. Duel with Cudgels shows two men beating each other with clubs while stuck to their knees in sand, unable to dodge or flee. There’s even more expression and movement than seen in The Third of May, as the very landscape itself seems to shift and turn with each thudding blow.
    for a gallery presentation I would consider displaying your images on the screens of products made at foxxconn.. maybe used, damaged items.. the images flickering in and out of view.. some how the presentation should leave the viewer with a since of crowded, high passed, pressured to complete.. (for what its worth)

  8. #28

    Foxconn Suicides

    I am appreciative of all the posts, and all of the discussion, even if some of it sounded harsh at times. That's life, and I do realize that there are strong emotions and feelings around topics of tragedy, and I am glad people are willing to pipe up and criticize constructively.

    I do want to say that my comment about the video documentary was a response to the suggestion that alternative approaches may have been more to the social point, more specifically geared towards the actual people or the entire situation as a social issue. I felt that, if I were to go after that kind of message, then a video documentary would be my choice.

    I certainly take your point on leading people with a specific backstory, then offering imagery and an object that, on their own, are at best tangentially related to that backstory in its entirety. Normally I believe this is a fine and common practice in general terms of finding inspiration in the world around us to fabricate a visual response, however, in this case perhaps there is too much story on the front end? Maybe the story needn't be laid out in front of the object and images at all? Maybe I should just let people experience the oddities and distance of the imagery and the camera, and let them work their way forward on their own if they're interested? Maybe they get to China and iPod factories, and maybe they don't. Maybe the language can simply raise questions about how and where things are made, and issues of the deficiency of photographs to connect us when they document tragedy? I don't know... you've given me another good question to chew on, regardless. That's always a hard balance to strike... if the work is too random, nobody wants to sit for a minute with it. If it's overly described, then it can be uncomfortably narrow, restraining, or even misleading (as you've pointed out).

    Bill - You raise a good point, and one I had considered but in slightly different terms. My idea was to project the images onto enlarged, machined iPod faces. I like your idea of using the real products, and keeping the imagery extremely small, much better. I still think the projection could be interesting in that case, just by using the dead screen as a projection surface?

    I would like to say that I really appreciate this thread and those of you taking the time to share thoughts and responses. I'm finding the discussion has been a fantastic opportunity to hone my thoughts, by reflecting on and responding to many of the challenges and suggestions that have been made. I know it will help inform how the final project comes together. As with good art, in my opinion, I like it when more questions are raised than answered, and this conversation has delivered that on all fronts.


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