Exercise 3.3: portrayal of marginalised groups


Write a reflection in your learning log about some of the ways in which marginalised or under-represented people or groups could be badly or unhelpfully portrayed. How might being an insider help combat this? 

Minority groups can be badly portrayed in many ways. For example:

  • As different-class citizens, of the ‘wrong’ social status or intelligence.  This works in two ways and is perhaps best demonstrated by the msinstream press: society is divided into ‘workshy hoodies’ or ‘Tory Toffs’ depending which side of the fence the editor resides on.
  • As freaks.  The victorians were noted for their freak shows including the Elephant Man, dwarfs and bearded ladies.  Instead of working to include these people within society they were exploited monetarily as objects of entertainment and ridicule
  • As dishonorable in some way.  In recent years many people have been interviewed by the police for alleged crimes against young people following the Saville affair.  Many of these would subsequently be released or acquitted as innocent, but not before being ‘judged’ as paedophiles by the press and neighbours, without any evidence, portrayed as guilty.  Of course some were.  But not all, caught in a frenzy by a pious mob.
  • As originating from a less worthy race or religion. For example muslims are often generalised as all being jihadi terrorists, based on the a tions of a small minority.
These all share a root cause of society’s desire to generalise and be judgmental.  By putting these people in a box that is ‘less worthy’, the power hungry can strengthen their hand at the expense of others.  The weak can make themselves feel more worthy by pulling others down.
While it might be stretching a point to refer to celebrities as ‘marginalised or under-represented’, paparazzi photography preys on their vulnerabilities of appearing like normal people – shattering the star’s persona by being snapped in an ill-fitting bikini or buying groceries without makeup.
Myths are told, retold and elaborated until acceped as truths.
Heres an example from the recent terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge:

Photo: Jamie Lorriman

A twitter comment, by a non-present American lambasted the muslim lady for walking on by and not helping.  This went viral in the time it took me to travel back to Derby from London.  However she was helping, making calls to assist.
A backlash ensued shortly after, triggered by the originsl photogrpher putting the record straight.  He was there as an insider, credible.  The American racist was not.  Public opinion moved in the other direction.
Photogrphy has freqnently been on the frontline of these debates. Arbus and Goldin used their personal skills to befriend, gain access to and photograph people on the fringes of sociery.  How far is this exploitation? Voyeurism of the less fortunate?  Or putting the record straight so that people see these people as…people, rather than crossing the street?
(Insert Sontag quote)
The insider photographer must gain trust – which can only be achieved through integity and having a genuine desire to portray the group positively and fairly.  He must state his position, either as sympathiser or objective independant recorder.
But when released the photograph is out of his control – potentially to be twisted as with the example above, catching the prevailing public mood.

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