Week 10 reflections

The photographer Gideon Mendel created a series of images called Submerged Portraits. They show people in their own, flooded homes or communities. They make an eloquent point, flooding resulting from climate change is here and is a threat to ways of life, and life itself in many parts of the world.

Mendel does not see his images as simply art. He understands that he is witness to an unfolding but preventable catastrophe. He says of his work “I feel a personal responsibility to make this project speak as loudly as possible”.

The images and artists statement can be seen at http://gideonmendel.com/submerged-portraits/

In November 2018, Extinction Rebellion staged a protest in London. As well as the normal banners with slogans, some of the marchers carried large prints of Mendel’s Submerged Portraits series. This in itself was a powerful statement, stepping beyond the familiar slogans, confronting anyone who saw the march with the reality of the crisis.

Mendel accompanied the march and photographed the marchers carrying his images. These new images then appear on his website as part of his activism: http://gideonmendel.com/activism/

This is Rephotography, the photographing of an existing image.

Rephotography has been the source of much discussion on the course already. Much of it has been about Richard Prince’s appropriation and exploitation of other photographers work. The consensus of the discussions about Prince was that, the act of photographing existing work was a legitimate artistic strategy but that exploiting the work of others for commercial gain was probably unethical.

Many of the qualms about Rephotography disappear if the photographer rephotographs their own work. By rephotographing Submerged Portraits in a different context, Mendel is employing the strategy of Rephotography but not appropriating the work of anyone else.

I would suggest that Mendel is actually engaged in Autorephotography, something distinctly different from Rephotography. By only rephotographing one’s own work, the autorephotographer has at a stroke removed the principal ethical objection to Rephotography and thus enters a different ethical space. Different space, different description, different discussion.

So, although Autorephotography is not an acknowledged photographic genre, I suggest that perhaps it should be. Mainly to draw a distinction between practitioners like Mendel who wish to recontextualise their own work, and others like Prince whose work would not exist without the efforts of others.

(Featured image: autorephotography by Gideon Mendel)