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I sincerely believe that a subjective experience can be understood by others; and it would give me no pleasure to announce that the black problem is mine alone and that it is up to me to study it. But it does seem to me that M. Mannoni has not tried to feel himself into the despair of the man of color confronting the white man. In this work I have made it a point to convey the misery of the black man. Physically and affectively. I have not wished to be objective. Besides, that would be dishonest: It is not possible for me to be objective.

— Frantz Fanon, _Black Skin, White Masks_, p. 86 (My emphasis)

I think that everyone who does documentary photography (or its cousins), and anyone who views such photography, should be familiar with this passage.

Set aside the specific context (racism and colonialism) and consider the principle: _I sincerely believe that a subjective experience can be understood by others…But it does seem to me that M. Mannoni has not tried to feel himself into the despair…_

When dealing with any attempt, in any medium, of one person to authoritatively represent another person’s experience to a third party, there are always two temptations: on the one hand, to despair of the possibility of anyone having insight into experiences they do not share, and privileging primary experience and group membership above all else, and on the other hand, to avoid ever acknowledging that there may be a problem with allowing someone who is outside a problem to form our understanding of it. There is also a third temptation that should be mentioned: the temptation to retreat away from experience into the realm of “objective” facts.

These three temptations are major barriers to useful communication on subjects like race, class, gender, and sexuality, but they also rear their heads in many other areas.

The reason these temptations exist is that all of them free us from the burden of having to exercise personal judgment in evaluating the reliability of another person’s account of a given situation. Judgment is not a problem that can be referred to the realm of facts, or to automatic principles of exclusion or inclusion, and it is also not something that can be replaced with an appeal to credentials granted by some authorizing institution.

We have to actually decide whether _we_ believe in someone’s sincerity, their insight, and their eloquence — or whether we think they fall short in some or all of those areas. That judgment is inescapably subjective, but it is _not_ merely a matter of opinion, and it cannot be ignored or set aside without crippling our ability to deal with realities.

This is a terrifying realization for a lot of folks — myself included. It frightens us because we know that our judgment is not 100% reliable, _especially_ when operating on limited information, as is usually the case when we’re applying it to, say, a photo essay or a book. And given that fact, we can be absolutely certain that some of the time, we are going to be _seriously_ wrong. However, that fact is by no means adequate justification for giving in to one of the three temptations enumerated above.

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