The following is syndicated via The Bronx Documentary Center in response to criticism of Chris Arnade’s inclusion in their most recent exhibition, Altered Images, which explores 150 years of photographic manipulation whether by altering physical images themselves or setting up the scenes and passing it off as documentary journalism.
The images below may be disturbing and offensive to many. In fact, many people in The Bronx are offended at Arnade’s portrayal and exploitation of vulnerable women in Hunts Point and the depiction of a neighborhood that has already suffered from exploitation and outsiders controlling the narrative which is often not based on reality but often on fetishism.
Once again, WARNING: If you are offended by graphic images including that which exploits women then avoid the this post. Welcome2TheBronx is simply reposting this in solidarity with The Bronx Documentary Center and their mission to engage the community in discussions as well as equipping our residents with the tools to take control of our own narratives.
The BDC responds to criticism of Chris Arnade’s inclusion in Altered Images exhibition
The Bronx Documentary Center is a small, mostly volunteer-staffed non-profit organization in the South Bronx. We run after-school photography and writing programs for Bronx children and we work for positive social change as we carry out our mission to provide education through documentary photography and film. Our gallery displays about a dozen exhibitions per year and we screen documentary films year round.
We recently included Mr. Chris Arnade in our show, Altered Images: 150 Years of Posed and Manipulated Documentary Photography (alteredimagesbdc.org). Mr. Arnade, who frequently publishes photos of drug addicted Bronx women and prostitutes, often partially or entirely naked, is one of 40 photographers, editors, and publications whose ethics we found questionable.
As we wrote to Mr. Arnade when we notified him of inclusion in the exhibition:
“A key guideline of the National Press Photographers Assn reads: ‘Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects.’
“Your photos of sex workers, some addicted to drugs, some with mental health issues and/or severely emotionally abused, exposing their breasts or bent naked over a bed, are a breach of this standard…Briefly, people who are paid by you, under the influence of drugs or mentally impaired (and in many cases have little understanding of The Guardian or Flickr), clearly do not have the ability to give informed consent to their photos being used as you have done.”
Our inclusion of Mr. Arnade in Altered Images has triggered a rancorous discussion on the Web. Numerous BDC supporters have requested that we engage more fully in this debate.
Over a million people have seen Mr. Arnade’s Flickr page and his photos are published on newspaper and magazine websites. Mr. Arnade claims that he is not a journalist: this is his “personal project,” he says. But this does not absolve us of the responsibility as critics, editors and curators to engage and judge this work by ethical standards.
Mr. Arnade explains that he has the permission of his female subjects to publish these photos—permission that is frequently given while the women are under the influence of drugs—some of which Mr. Arnade, by his own admission, has helped procure. Every one of the health care professionals we have spoken to has told us that drug addicted women and prostitutes, sometimes high, frequently brutally abused emotionally, physically or sexually, are often not in the position to give consent for their photos to be used.
Unfortunately, these pictures pose serious and potentially harmful long-term consequences for their subjects. Among other factors, they humiliate their families and their communities and they create an online history; in the event a woman later applies for a job, her naked body and drug history is searchable by a potential employer. One Hunts Point prostitute recently passed away. Her brother searched Mr. Arnade’s Flickr page with trembling hands, terrified that he might find a demeaning photo of his sister. It is imperative to remember that these women are real people with families, not props upon which a photographer builds his career.
I myself worked for many years in the Middle East and East and West Africa covering conflicts; we sometimes encountered women who had been sexually or physically abused. In every case, before photos were taken, talks about the potential ramifications ensued with the women and their families, village elders or international aid workers. Editors in New York queried me about the women’s state of mind and especially any repercussions they might suffer. In most instances, the decision was made not to show the women’s faces, much less their naked bodies. I take no credit for the caution and sensitivity of this process; it was a result of longstanding journalistic ethics and standards carried out by professionals.
With Mr. Arnade, there is no backstop. He exerts the privilege of posting photos of abused women straight to Flickr to be viewed by hundreds of thousands of strangers, this despite the fact that he has no journalism training, no background in social work, no training in research ethics, no expertise in drug addiction treatment.
Mr. Arnade’s photographs exist in a continuum, one in which poor women of color have been represented in demeaning ways by White men for hundreds of years. From the Hottentot Venus to the bikini-clad African American dancers on today’s video channels, Mr. Arnade’s hyper-sexualized women fit neatly into a long tradition of exploitation.
This tradition emerges from and begets privilege, the privilege to come to a poor community where you do not live, where your children do not go to school, where your wife does not walk the streets, the privilege to portray that community in a one-dimensional way that brings shame to the residents and a distorted sense or reality to viewers.
We find it instructive that Mr. Arnade’s largely suburban and European supporters almost invariably laud Mr. Arnade for “showing me what addiction is really like.” That these individuals take their cues on the Bronx drug scene from a wealthy white man who lives in the country—ignoring the dozens of journalists and photographers native to the Bronx—says much about them. That major publications such as The New York Times, Mother Jones, and The Guardian have given Mr. Arnade a platform raises serious questions of representation that we will address at a later date.
In every interview I have seen, Mr. Arnade emphasizes the sacrifices he has made for his subjects: giving them $10 to buy heroin; taking them to a detox appointment; even showing prostitutes the stars through his telescope. In one interview he laments that he must sell his multimillion-dollar home in Brooklyn Heights so he can continue to photograph prostitutes and drug addicts: “I’m earning no money, and I’m about to sell my house and move upstate so I can keep doing this.” Lamenting a multi-million dollar real estate deal to continue photographing women who perform oral sex for $10 bespeaks an astonishing level of self-involvement.
Another way to look at it is this: On the backs of these women, Mr. Arnade has gone from faceless Wall Street banker to no small degree of fame; he has an army of followers; his work is published around the world; he sits on panels with respected photographers. To paraphrase JFK, it’s not what Mr. Arnade has done for poor prostitutes and drug addicts, it’s what poor prostitutes and drug addicts have done for Mr. Arnade’s renown.
Finally, and at its root, Mr. Arnade’s work is about power. His photographic “project” utilizes naked women because he has power over the women—power in the form of money to gain access, power to portray them in vulnerable and demeaning positions, power to publish these photos to further his reputation and following.
One can view the photos below, all found upon Mr. Arnade’s social media platforms, and decide for oneself what kind of ethics Mr. Arnade upholds.
We at the BDC stand by our decision to include Mr. Arnade’s work in Altered Images. And we will continue to focus our resources on the many young and talented Bronx photographers who present their community in a nuanced and balanced way.
Bronx Documentary Center
© Chris Arnade. *Face digitized by the BDC. (1/5)
© Chris Arnade. *Face digitized by the BDC. (2/5)
© Chris Arnade. *Face digitized by the BDC. (3/5)
© Chris Arnade. *Face digitized by the BDC. (4/5)
© Chris Arnade. *Face digitized by the BDC. (5/5)
– See more at: http://bronxdoc.org/post/124190567599/the-bdc-responds-to-criticism-of-chris-arnades#sthash.TQV2hc6Z.dpuf
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