SFMOMA, Take 2

So, I went back to see the Frank and Adams-O’keefe exhibitions again. By which I mean, I went back to see Pepper No. 30 again. (I took my sister, and we also went to the farmer’s market and were otherwise productive.) Obviously these were the same exhibitions, so I don’t have any fundamentally new material…although I’m feeling more definite about my sense that there’s something off about Frank’s photographs of black people.

For example, compare the photographs he made of a Spanish funeral to those he made of a black funeral in the American south, and think about his position in those situations. In the Spanish photographs, he’s at a distance that seems appropriate; at the black funeral, he appears to have no qualms about invading personal space, as my sister put it. Which says a lot about how he felt about those people. Reminds me somewhat of a recent thread on flickr which touched on how a lot of photographers seem to have no problem photographing homeless people when they would think twice about photographing others. It seems to have something to do with different perceptions of people’s reality as human beings.

The captions, as usual, don’t help at all. There’s a photograph (google it) of a black nurse holding a white baby, and the baby is described in the caption as looking determined, which is accurate, but the nurse is described as appearing stoic, when in fact, her main expression is actually a small smile. I don’t know whether this suggests that the captioner has a problem “reading” black faces, or whether the difficulty is that he or she presumed the nurse must be a stoic person, (and in all likelihood she was a stoic person), and stopped there, before looking to see if the actual woman as photographed matched this expectation? Whatever the case, there was a distinct failure to see.

Which is pretty significant when you consider that the person who captioned that photograph is responsible for helping thousands or hundreds of thousands of people in at least three cities understand what that photograph means.

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