The Brexit Power Vacuum

unionjacklampThe globe is undergoing a seismic shock at the moment. As I wrote previously, the world has changed utterly. Much of the UK population seem to be exhibiting signs of collective trauma – they are angry, bewildered and fearful about the future. All the old certainties have disappeared overnight.

At the same time you have a political power vacuum as both the main British parties have gone into complete meltdown.

British politicians and parties are more concerned about protecting their careers and maximising their electoral success. They have completely lost sight of the big picture.

Events are slipping away from them. Instead, it’s business as usual for political figures who do not really appeared to have grasped that the world has shifted under their feet.

This is an extremely dangerous time.

Right now, the panic is contained. But this situation may not last for long. The continuing uncertainty about the future direction of the UK is absolutely toxic. Time is not on the UK’s side. Big decisions need to be made and policies formed immediately.

The longer this British power vacuum lasts, the greater the panic it may produce. Once it reaches a certain point then other countries and institutions will be forced into adopting positions in order to protect their own interests. All other options will have been removed from the table.

This will not only be bad for Britain but intervention like this will undermine the democratic values of the European Union. We all need those to survive intact after this crisis has passed.

For other governments and institutions, the immediate need to deal with the crisis will trump any consideration about the potential long term consequences of decisions made in haste.

In the middle of a massive crisis situation like this the horizon shrinks. Everything is devoted to surviving today. Tomorrow is an eternity away. Next year does not even exist.

Right now there is a window where there is the ability to calm things down. Cool heads need to prevail. The UK needs to produce a credible leader fast and formulate some sort of policy. Right now. It needs to strike a deal with the EU and bring a degree of certainty to the whole Brexit aftermath. If it does this soon it will retain some ability to control events and salvage something from this mess.

The longer the period of uncertainty goes on, the more corrosive it will become and the weaker the UK’s position will be.

If the UK does not act quickly then it will have no choice but to accept whatever policies are dictated to it by others.

That would be the worst possible outcome from all the bad options available.

Brexit – the EU response

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Europe changed last Thursday.

It doesn’t matter that the result was very close.

It doesn’t matter that Cameron has resigned or who gets his job next. The Machiavellian schemes of Tory politicians are no longer of any consequence. Ditto the Labour party meltdown.

It doesn’t matter if millions of British people sign petitions, if the referendum is run again, or not adopted by the British Parliament.

It doesn’t matter if the UK breaks up or if Scotland gains independence.

For the rest of the world, what happens next to Britain is now utterly irrelevant.

It is just local news.

Right now the only thing that matters is shoring up the Euro and preventing another currency crisis. Protecting the interests of the 338 million people in a very bruised and battered Eurozone area from the ripple effects of Brexit is the only priority.

That’s it.

Every other European country will have no choice but to adopt policies that will do just that. The dynamics of the situation allow for no other alternative. And if that means giving Britain a very raw deal then they will have no hesitation is doing that. Protecting their own national interests is all that matters for the rest of the world now.

Britain has long defined itself as a major power and for much of history it skilfully used divide and rule tactics, playing one country off another, in order to maximise its influence over the various European powers.

That game is done.

Every Eurozone country has an interest in stopping contagion and preventing the Brexit result from causing another currency crisis. The sense of barely suppressed panic is palpable. There is real fear throughout the rest of the EU, and beyond, about what might happen next.

In this situation, firm leadership will be demanded and expected from national leaders and the various European institutions.

Real power will be wielded with a firm hand without the slightest compunction. There is no other option.

The details can be tidied up by lawyers at some later date.

Britain can howl with protest and complain bitterly about the unfairness of its treatment. It can call for more time to sort everything out in advance of negotiations and get a new prime minister. The Daily Mail can rant all it wants about foreigners trying to destroy the UK.

Nobody’s listening. Nobody cares.

Right now, Britain has no power, no friends and no influence. Zero.

The economic, physical and psychological trauma will be immense. Over time, of course, things will settle down. The crisis will play itself out and everybody will adjust to the new reality. Trade deals will be struck and geographical proximity means that it is in no one’s best interests to prolong the pain for any longer than necessary. Britain is too big and too important to ignore in the long term.

But right now for the EU and the Eurozone, it is a matter of existential survival. The pressing issue of reform and the many, many dismal failures of the EU that contributed to this crisis are irrelevant at this point in time.

In order to stave off disaster, the EU and the Eurozone countries have no choice but to be seen to be strong, decisive and united in the face of this crisis.

Anything less would make them appear weak and vulnerable. They are not going to let that happen.

 

The Moskvich Automobile Factory (Автомоскбиц)

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Cars are powerful symbols of progress and modernity. As well as symbolising personal freedom and choice for individuals, they also conveyed an aura of industrial sophistication, national pride and power for countries that were able to produce them. In the Soviet context, the crash industrialisation of the 1930s and the demands of war production during the 1940s meant that making automobiles for ordinary people was not a priority. Cars were reserved for important officials, not mere mortals.

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That all changed after the death of Stalin in 1953. People were sick of unrelenting terror and exhausted by hard-work and violence. They wanted to see the tangible results of all the sacrifice, death and destruction that had occurred over the past two decades. The idea of scrimping, saving and making-do in order to help build some glorious communist future had lost its appeal to a new generation. People wanted the good things in life and they wanted them now. This became all the more evident as consumer culture took off in the West and began to slowly seep in through the cracks of the Iron Curtain. Thus car production served as a way to demonstrate that life was getting better and it was capable of competing with the shiny wonders being churned out in the West.

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As part of the reparations after the Second World War, much of the Opel factory and machinery was dismantled and taken back to the USSR where it was used to update the MZMA car that had been turning out copies of Ford Model A cars and vans since 1929. The new German equipment was used to update the line and the factory soon began to turn out rebranded copies of 1930s Opel Kadett’s, now called the Moskvich 400, for the Soviet market. From this a new line of models evolved during the next four decades of the USSR’s existence. Moskvich cars were small, rugged and cheap, designed for the average respectable Soviet citizen who didn’t rock the boat. In a society where money had little meaning (because the dysfunctional Soviet planned economy was incapable of producing things people actually wanted, there was nothing much to buy in the shops) the possession of consumer goods signified your importance and status in Soviet society. It showed that you were well connected and had influence. Ever since they were invented, cars have always been a very public way of showing off to the neighbours.

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The book has a traditional company photobook format: it’s designed to showcase the product, the modern, efficient factory and the good care it takes of its employees. Published by the Ministry of Automobile Production, the cover of red leatherette with the company logo stamped into it is designed to impress. As part of a corporate rebranding exercise in the late 1960s, the MZMA name was ditched and an equally awful name chosen – AZLK (Avtomobilny Zavod imeni Leninskogo Komsomola or Leninist Communist Youth League Automobile Factory). Sadly the rest of the book design does not do such a good job. Using randomly chosen bright primary colours as page borders and for text printed over the photographs doesn’t work very well. The word kitsch springs to mind. I’m tempted to suggest that these represent the different colours the car was available in but somehow I don’t think so. The cars depicted appear to be the final model produced, the Moskvich 412, which rolled out of the Moscow factory between 1967 and 1976 before production was transferred to the huge IZHMASH weapons and motor manufacturing plant. No details of the photographers or even the date of publication is given but a photo caption proudly states that the 16 of August 1974 saw the 2 millionth Moskvich produced.

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Beginning with a lineup of the different models produced over the years, the book moves into the factory itself. Here we see industrious workers and supervisors presiding over all aspects of the production within a bilious green environment. Once we move into the assembly line the colour palette lightens, helped by the addition of brightly coloured car bodies that serve the same purpose as the strategically placed figure in the red jacket used by postcard photographers of old. Like most company photobooks, the shop floor in such imagery is remarkably spotless; not a hint of clutter or rubbish that might hint at problems. The vastness of the factory is continually emphasised in the images to show the power and might of this industrial powerhouse. Everything is neat, tidy and clinically efficient and many of the images are remarkable for the absence of people in them, all adding to the hi-tech feeling the book tries to convey. Once the final cars roll off the line, a disapproving image of Lenin glowers down from above, undoubtedly dismayed at the sight of such consumerist frippery.

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Just like corporate propaganda in the capitalist world, it’s important in such photobooks to have a section showing how well the company looks after it’s loyal workers. Again, we see interior shots of bright, clean and modern dining areas, corridors, classrooms full of eager young workers ready to do their bit for the glory of socialism. A couple of pages later we get to the middle management who look a decidedly more serious bunch, shown doing serious party political work that culminates in a trip to the war memorial to lay a wreath. Images of swimming pools, sports facilities, kindergartens and toy Moskvich pedal cars rolling off the production line are all used to show that a Soviet company, unlike those in the West, really cares about it’s employees.

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The 1970s were a pretty miserable decade for design all round but Soviet products of that era are particularly crude. Everything from cameras to cars became clunky, blocky objects as if they’d been designed by a kid in a kindergarten using crayons. In fairness, the Moskvich wasn’t as ugly as the Lada which really just looked like a cavity block on wheels. But the wider point is that any attempt at making an object look aesthetically pleasing disappeared. In part this was down to the creeping malaise that took hold in the USSR during the Brezhnev era. Everybody just stopped caring during this prolonged period of economic and social stagnation. This book with its brightly coloured borders, full of images of cleanliness and order tries hard to project an aura of success at a time when the whole system was slowly rotting away from the inside.

P.S. The AZLK company went bust following the collapse of the USSR and the factory was abandoned. Some urbex photos of the site can be found here.

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Photomontage and Religion during the 1930s – the J.O.C.

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As part of the general malaise of the 1930s (a decade characterised by uncertainty, political extremism and widespread unemployment) mass political movements sprang up on both the left and right throughout Europe. During periods of social flux there is always an increased tendency for people to affiliate themselves with groups that provide mutual support and direction when confronted by an uncertain environment. But the mass political movements of the 1930s did not emerge in a vacuum; they adopted tried and tested strategies to recruit and bind a diverse range of people to their cause. Indeed, many of the outward rituals, processions and insignia of mass political movements copied the strategies successfully used by the Christian church for thousands of years. This made sense; people would have been familiar and comfortable with such religious symbolism, rituals and concepts due to the high rate of religious observance in Europe during this time. Not to mention the fact that European society is built upon countless references to Christian doctrine that has shaped its evolution. Therefore, it made sense to exploit this familiarity by creating your own versions of the symbols, rituals, processions, martyrs, mass-gatherings, saintly figures and messiahs that people were already comfortable with. All the mass political movements of the 1930s privileged concepts such as discipline, order and the collective good. Individualism was regarded as anathema to their political philosophies. In essence what you saw at this time was the emergence of politics-as-religion. But instead of putting your faith in God in heaven, you were expected to place your trust in the party and the leader who was destined to lead society to a happy future.

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But this blurring of the boundaries and the growth of politics-as-religion was also reflected in new structures emerging from within the Catholic church. Early in the twentieth century, a Belgian Catholic priest, Joseph Cardijn, had founded a movement called the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne, which translates as the Young Christian Workers (or JOC for short with members known as Jocistes). This organisation has a distinctly socialist slant to it, combining trade union and labour activism with ideas of social-justice, alongside Catholic religious teaching. As such, it was remarkably popular and received official Papal blessing in the mid 1920s, before quickly expanding to other countries and is still in existence today. In part, the growth of this organisation can be regarded as the church responding to the changing priorities of those living in a modern, industrial world. Previously, social values based on outward respectability ensured automatic compliance. Deference to authority and outward conformity to religious dogma were the norm in societies heavily influenced by Catholic doctrine. But this was all changing. Social trauma and widespread loss of faith after the horrors of the First World War, industrialisation, urban alienation, mass unemployment and political turmoil all meant that change was in the air. Young people were looking for meaning and purpose. Thus the JOC can be regarded as an attempt to recapture the dissatisfied youth of the 1930s who were slowly drifting out of the orbit of the traditional Catholic church. Here, the anxieties and concerns of the young were framed in a way that was made compatible with Catholic doctrine and an organisational structure created to give meaning and certainty to individuals during a period of uncertainty.

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The first publication, Une Date Dans l’Histoire Ouvriere, was published in 1937. This booklet celebrates the tenth anniversary of the founding of the French branch of the JOC, which saw a mass gathering of 85,000 members in Paris on 18 July of that year. Our familiarity with the mass-rallies of the left and right that occurred during that decade does resonate when looking at these photographs. Lines of uniformed Jocistes, banners and flags being carried, torchlit processions, rows of people standing to attention in stadiums immedately evokes how political ovements of the period presented themselves. Discipline and order was in the air. Individualism is bad. And fun is most definitely not part of the equation. The narrative structure of the book is fairly straightforward: photographs show members at work, then travelling to Paris from all over France, congregating for the mass rally and being addressed by their leaders. This is all designed to showcase the great strides the movement has made in just ten years. Design wise, this publication reflects the influence of this period. There are some nice design touches and the photomontage works well to provide some drama to what could otherwise be a rather static visual narrative.

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Entitled Croisade Ouvriere (The Workers Crusade) this second softcover magazine is a very interesting publication produced by the JOC two years later. This time it commemorates a mass gathering/pilgrimage they made to Rome in 1939. Obviously, that was a momentous year for Europe and the storm clouds had been gathering for some time and the date on the back cover of the book is September of that year, the same month that Germany invaded Poland and World War 2 began in Europe. As can be imagined, peace is an recurring theme of the book. As is solidarity and the unity of mankind, another hot topic of the period. Again, like the previous publication, the basic narrative is a simple story about members of the organisation, from all walks of life, coming together to celebrate their beliefs publically by travelling to Rome. Where it differs from the previous publication is the production quality and the graphic design which produces a real sense of energy and drama in a strong package.

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The book begins with a cloudy seascape which is then followed by a close-up of an apartment block, a black-framed view through a window of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, followed by a montage of male and female industrial workers over a series of train tracks, before finishing with a view of a railway station, with a waiting train belching steam, all viewed through the prison-like bars of a railing. The accompanying text is spread over the five opening pages. Translated (my own – so this is open to correction) from French it reads: “In this troubled world – through our obscured horizons – clarity – people from all industries march to Rome.” This initial image-text combination sets the tone for the rest of the book and clearly sets out the main ideological message promoted by the JOC; that in the midst of turmoil people should can rely on the spiritual guidance offered by the Catholic church.

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A page then offers us a strange cartoon of St Francis of Assisi superimposed upon a photograph of a town (presumably Assisi?). The relevance of this figure here presumably has more to do with his renunciation of his inherited nobility and his concern for the poor and downtrodden rather than animal welfare issues. On the facing page is an image designed to resemble a Roman tablet with an inscription stating that twenty thousand people young people left their factories, workshops, offices and cities to participate in this gathering. Both of these images are designed to reassure viewers that this relatively new mass movement was firmly located at the heart of the traditional, and familiar, structures of the Catholic church. This is reaffirmed by the images on the following pages which depict St Peter’s Basilica and images of a beaming Pope Pius XI engaging with an appropriately deferential and scruffy looking Parisian train engineer, complete with Charlie Chaplin moustache.

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After that we get into some of the strongest visual images in the book which serve as a link between Christian iconography and the workplace. Entitled Who Knows how the Workers Live, this section shows the factories and mills of the young workers who, thanks to adherence to the values espoused by the JOC, are helping to create a better society for all. Bordered by chains, we have a montage of male and female workers in factory settings, linking this work to the slavery of the past. These images are accompanied by quotes from various popes, showing their understanding and concern for those who work in the mechanised world, asserting that they are working to liberate the oppressed from the conditions they toil under. This is followed by a montage of an infant bordered by newspaper cuttings that catalogue the breakdown of social values (as defined by the Catholic church naturally) including such items as divorce, infidelity, suicide, infanticide. The shrill newspaper headlines contrast with the peaceful image of the baby in order to produce the message that the JOC will assist in creating a better society for our children and our children’s children (a standard claim of every social organisation that ever came into being).aJOC07

Reinforcing the message of peace, an image of birds in flight (presumably doves) is juxtaposed against dark images of aeroplanes in an ominous prediction of the death and destruction that would soon be visited from the air. In a family of man moment, a photomontage shows the different people of the world all united by the church while the opposite page shows a seated Pius XII presiding over a religious institution that has, according to the caption, provided 20 centuries of stability. Other images show beaming workers looking to the future superimposed over images of fields, technology and blueprints, demonstrating that the movement had fully embraced the innovations of the modern world in building a better future. The final page, the past and present are linked through pairing a Roman triumphal arch with a modern factory worker. Much of the rest of the book is devoted towards the architectural glories of Rome, including an acetate map showing the highlights. These images serve to bridge the gap between the old and new. The JOC were offering a new version of the church that the young could buy-in to while at the same time reassuring them that their message was firmly rooted in the traditions of the past. This emphasis on continuity was probably also designed to satisfy rivals within the Catholic hierarchy who in the internecine office politics played out within this organisation were undoubtedly heavily resistant to anything that even looked like change. Parallels with the present are evident. A two thousand year old institution carries a lot of baggage.

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The JOC movement of the 1930s can be regarded as an attempt by an old religious institution to come to terms with the pace of social change. Older forms of automatic deference were breaking down during a period of social and political turmoil so they needed to change the way they did business in order to maintain their relevance. The days of simply being able to awe the peasantry with the power and majesty of gold encrusted buildings whilst simultaneously preaching the benefits of passively accepting a life of squalor were over. A key part of getting their message across was the use of modernist graphic-design and photomontage techniques to engage with a younger, media savvy audience who had little time for the stuffy old ways of the past. The JOC needed to tread a fine line between emphasising their coolness and relevance whilst also ensuring that links to the past were maintained. In many ways, this movement can be regarded as a forerunner to the social activism and the ideals of Liberation Theology that emerged amongst the Catholic clergy in Latin America after the second world war. In both cases, the traditional structures and institutions of the church were regarded as remote and irrelevant to the real concerns and injustices experienced in everyday life. A new purpose had to be found that would get people to buy-in to the ideals of the Catholic church. This constant need to reinvent itself in order to remain relevant to its membership at a time of rapid change is something that the Catholic church, and other religious groups, still struggle with to this day.

Some personal thoughts about the state of art photography

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Much of what this blog does is discuss how powerful people try to manipulate and control others through the use of images and propaganda.

So lets apply this to how the art photography world works.

There is a lot of noise out there these days about the current state of photography as a whole. It feels as if there is a huge weight pressing down on us. Anybody who cares passionately about the medium can sense it. Behind the bluster and self-promotional aggrandizement there is a palpable sense of malaise eating away at the heart of photography.

This crisis goes far deeper than stale, circular debates about visual culture, changing technology, an image-saturated world or the crisis of representation.
Right now the photography scene is rightly convulsed by a sexual harassment scandal. Various institutions and bodies that only a couple of weeks ago were fawning over a self-proclaimed guru are now scurrying around trying to distance themselves from him. The issue of sexual harassment within photography has been well and truly been put on the map.

Not before time.

The basic dynamic is this: a powerful individual preys on weaker and vulnerable people. He uses his position of power and influence to intimidate, silence and manipulate others for his own selfish ends. By associating himself with influential institutions and other individuals who are capable of making or breaking careers he produces an aura of being untouchable. They effectively enable him to continue his predatory activity.

According to Brian Martin there are 5 common tactics used by perpetrators to evade responsibility for their actions:

1. Cover up what has happened
2. Use official processes and channels to give the appearance of justice
3. Outright intimidation and bribery
4. Reinterpret events through lying, blaming others, and re-framing the incident
5. Devalue the person who speaks out by undermining their character or reputation using gossip or by labelling them as being unstable

The other common tactic that a perpetrator will use once they are cornered is the pity-play. Here, they try to turn the tables and make you feel sorry for them. Think about all the apparently heartfelt Oprah-style confessions and crocodile tears you’ve seen.

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Stepping Back

But lets take a step back. Why did this individual wield so much power and influence? Is there something rotten within the structure of photography that allowed him to build a network of power and intimidation? I would argue that there is. And it has to do with the types of people that rise to the surface in an intensely competitive environment.

There has been an increased awareness about the prevalence of sociopathy in society. This is a term that many people have heard bandied about on cop-shows (interestingly, the term psychopath is the same thing as a sociopath – it has nothing to do with actual violence or chainsaws). But what does it actually mean? Well, it’s defined as an anti-social personality disorder in which a person has no inhibitions or conscience. They do not feel guilt or remorse for anything they do or the consequences that their actions may have upon others. This means that they feel that the normal rules don’t apply to them. They actually consider themselves to be superior than the rest of us. We are looked down upon as idiots; mere pawns to be used and manipulated by them for their amusement. All for kicks. And they feel no guilt about doing this. None whatsoever.

However, they are very, very good at emulating emotions and projecting charisma. This is very useful in manipulating others. They also tend to need constant stimulation and get bored easily. Manipulating others and game playing provides endless entertainment for the constantly bored psychopath who craves excitement and the rush that controlling others provides. Because of these traits they tend to rise to positions of power and responsibility. Politicians, lawyers, surgeons, bankers, CEO’s and heads of various institutions  can all be safely be regarded as exhibiting sociopathic traits insofar as many preside over, or conceal, predatory behaviour where the powerful abuse the weak.

Indeed, as Clive Boddy has argued, the current global economic recession can be attributed to the activities of  what he terms corporate sociopaths.

For simplicity’s sake, the common traits of sociopaths/psychopaths are:
• glib and superficial charm
• grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
• constant need for stimulation
• pathological lying
• cunning and manipulativeness
• lack of remorse or guilt
• shallow affect and superficial emotions
• callousness and lack of empathy
• poor behavioral controls
• sexual promiscuity
• lack of realistic long-term goals
• impulsivity
• irresponsibility
• failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Recognise anybody you know?

Obviously, some of these features can be more pronounced than others. But as a rough guideline, if somebody exhibits a number of these features then they may be a sociopath/psychopath.

What do they get out of it? Why do they behave this way?

No reason. Simply because they can.

That’s it.

There’s nothing deeper to it than that.

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Psychopathy and Photography

It is no surprise that such psychopathic individuals would thrive in a loose, unstructured photographic world based largely on smoke and mirrors. They are able to use their charm and manipulative abilities to assume positions of power. They then may use their position to prey on weaker individuals within the photographic community. Or manipulate them as pawns in whatever scheme they have cooked up to amuse themselves today. Just because its fun.

The art photography sub-culture is actually quite similar to athletics or cycling. These are highly competitive “sports” dominated by money where ruthless individuals are rewarded for behaving badly.

For a start, photography is an intensely individual pursuit and it takes self-belief and confidence to assert your vision through the medium. Obviously if you are an individual with psychopathic characteristics then you have no self-doubt whatsoever. You utterly believe that your photographic work is the best the world has ever seen. Or that your opinion is the most important and influential ever. Psychopathic charisma works wonders for your career. That probably goes a long way to explaining some of the huge egos you encounter within photography. A generous helping of narcissism adds to the flavour.

Of course, some of it is probably learned behaviour; if successful people do it then others will emulate it.

But without a disfunctional anti-social personality it is impossible to sustain such behaviour for any length of time.

Why this works so well within photography is because there are just too many people chasing too few opportunities. Because of this, people who occupy influential positions can wield immense power over emerging photographers. This lends itself open to abuse.

Like many other jobs or professions, the photography world is pyramid shaped – there are a very few places at the top and lots and lots of people at the bottom. The problem is that the vast majority of them won’t succeed. And mostly it has nothing to do with talent, ambition or vision. It is simply because there are not enough spaces available at the top. This has huge implications for how the art photography world behaves and treats people.

But the higher you climb, the harder you fall.

Fear permeates the entire photography hierarchy.

Patronage is used as a way to control those beneath them and prevent dissent or a wider discussion of the arbitrary nature of this bizarre photography sub-culture which we inhabit.  Thus, emerging photographers are strung along and a few crumbs are strategically doled out to keep them quiet and compliant. As well as fostering a sense of dependence it also serves to confer immense power on those who claim to be able to make or break careers. The rampant industry-wide exploitation by magazine editors and newspapers who pay a pittance and expect struggling photographers to work for free in return for vague promises of raising your profile is a classic example.

There are many other examples.

It also works to explain the cliques and bitchiness that is rampant within the photography world. Gossip and innuendo are used to sow doubt and undermine others for the purpose of maintaining control.

These processes all work to prevent challenges. The result is toxic – it pits a small group of privileged insiders against outsiders.

A key part of this process is to ensure that the vast numbers of photographers who fail to climb the pyramid (simply because there aren’t enough places available) internalise this as a personal failure rather than as a result of the system itself. This ensures that they will not pose a challenge to what is a very flawed structure.

But it’s all just an illusion. It’s a social construct that only works if people accept it. With cutbacks and economic downturn, the competition for funding within the photography and arts scene is getting more and more cut-throat. Behind the bonhomie, people are increasingly turning on each other in a ever more desperate fight for the few crumbs left on the table.

Let’s get even more depressing – the problem is that this short-term self-interested behaviour is undermining the future of photography itself. Ruthless sociopaths/psychopaths are very good at ensuring they get what they want. But they are not so good at the big picture. And this is a massive problem. A central aspect of the psychopathic condition is that they get bored easily and need constant stimulation or excitement. Therefore they will always privilege short-term immediate games (that often serve no purpose whatsoever other than the rush of “winning”) over long-term outcomes. And if many of the people who occupy places of power within a system exhibit psychopathic characteristics then it is doomed to inevitable collapse. Superior and arrogant, occupying positions of power, surrounded by lackeys and protected by a culture of silence, poor decisions are the inevitable result. They overestimate their abilities. They push their luck with one scheme too many. And then the entire house of cards comes tumbling down around them. Think FIFA, Enron, UCI (the cycling federation) etc.

The entire system stagnates. Lip service is paid to creativity and encouraging new talent but in reality the rules of the game are structured to preserve the insider-outsider dynamic.

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What is to be done?

So lets end this on a more positive note: what is to be done? Well, these problems are nothing new under the sun. Frustrated artists have long battled against the old-regime and the vested interests of a stagnant academy who were holding them back. But the problem is that once the avant-garde take power they quickly turn into clones of the narrow and conservative people they once fought against.

So, my advice (for what it’s worth) is as follows; don’t follow the rules of the game because they are rigged against you. Talent and ability will get you so far but they’re not enough. Being a sociopath will increase your chances of success but even so there is a hell of a lot of competition for the few remaining places left on the pyramid. So don’t bet on success just because you’re a schemer and a manipulator – there will always be somebody better at it. Don’t expect a miracle to happen and be discovered by an art world which is obsessed by money and superficial shallowness. Don’t depend on kingmakers to pluck you from obscurity.

If you want to succeed in photography, do your own thing. Be smart. Don’t follow the herd because nobody really knows what they’re doing and they’re too frightened to admit that the emperor has no clothes. Besides, if you’re part of the herd then you’ll never stand out in a world where individual vision is supposed to be valued. Find a niche and go for it. Don’t be too swayed by the opinions of those in authority – many are pursuing their own agendas and relish the power and control they wield and use it for malicious purposes. Be suspicious of them. Be sceptical.

At its core, photography is about telling stories through images. If you have an interesting story then find way to tell it and stick with it. Find something different. If you’re reading this then you’re a creative person – so create! Without people who are committed and love their art the entire photography sub-culture will collapse. The dirty secret is that the people sitting at the top of the pyramid are only there because creative, passionate photographers allow them to stay there out of fear. Unless we encourage more people with fresh perspectives, passion and enthusiasm, then I fear photography is doomed to a bleak future of endless introspective navel-gazing, stagnation and slow decline.

The various institutions and the diminishing number of people they support will stagger on in a zombie-like daze, propped up by inertia and the vested interests of a few. But they will be hollow at the core because there will be no real purpose to their existence. And inevitably, they too will decline.

But by that time nobody will care because all the committed and passionate people will have left.

P.S.  Absolutely nothing I have written here is meant to distract from the very urgent need to address sexual harassment within the photographic community. 

These are all my personal views. Not everybody is a psychopath so don’t get paranoid. Just keep your eyes open.

Email: propagandaphotosblog@gmail.com