Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Is making expensive art books out of adversity immoral?

'The Art of War' spread in Men's Style from Stephen Dupont's website - biography section.
Stephen Dupont is an outstanding photographer and limited edition books maker.

I just saw/heard him speak at the agideas 2011 in Melbourne.

He makes both mainstream and limited edition books based on his photography. He tends to work in third world countries, expecially if there is some danger (Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, etc).

Most of the work he showed was in black and white, and selected from self published limited editions beautifully handcrafted, and sold for thousands.

This gentle giant of a man is an engaging speaker and a lover of the hand-crafted and the lovingly made.

However, towards the end of his talk, I found myself feeling more and more uncomfortable.  Was it because I could never see myself living in a bomb ruined house in Afghanistan for months to photographically document US Marines? Or that I would never place myself at the kind of risk required to photograph 'Raskols' with their home-made weapons in Port Moreseby.

I'm still not sure where my discomfort lies. But I think it has something to do with this perceived and probably real contradiction: An artist producing high value artworks to be consumed by an elite, made possible by taking images of the dispossessed, disadvantaged, or those in peril.

I don't want this to be a criticism of Stephen's work, because we all engage in this contradiction each day with our clothes made in sweatshops, and out ipads, and iphones made in third world countries.

I suppose I just want to note it, as a reminder that art practice needs to contemplate ethics just as much as scientific research does.

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