BT Robinson

Hannah Modigh: Reading #8

In Photographic Interaction on March 23, 2011 at 3:16 am

(Original Article)

The contextual conversation continues! Hannah Modigh’s work hits a more personal space for me, if only because of my mother and the direction she took her life. No, she’s not shooting up the “hillbilly heroin” but she’s lived a lifestyle similar in appearance to this one, and has associated herself with what some *cough* the artist *cough* might call “white trash.”

The pictures are brilliant portraits, the color and context giving the characters a more complex scene in which to invite the viewer. That the artist avoids the drug to which the title refers is a nice break from what could’ve been “in-your-face” and grotesque. I think of the previous article, and the photographer’s inability to see how their picture might function as exploitation. And maybe Modigh is just as keen on exploiting this people group. She is not shy about her interest in “poor white people.”

But is she not just following in the footsteps of photo history, which has been interested in “poor white people?” for quite some time? Even Stieglitz loved the juxtaposition of the rich and poor in his photograph, “The Steerage.” Of course he wanted to associate with the lesser, to belong to a group different from his own! Just look at them! And then Great Depression photographers like Dorthea Lange found success by putting the camera right in their faces, showing them off to the world… I mean, to help them, of course… right?

Modigh seems interested in neither of these choices though. Nothing in her photos suggest, “this is where I belong!” Nor do they suggest, “these people need help… will you do your part?” No, the narrative is stitched together, familiar and uncomfortable, the way good contemporary photography should be. And how do we comment? That is where the true quality lies: in our inability to comment without revealing some prejudice we carry, whether that be in regards to the people photographed, or the photographer herself.

I say, “I’m impressed,” and risk looking like a classist, and an accomplice to exploitation. Because the exploited photos always tend to be the most conversation-worthy. But maybe that’s not saying anything at all.

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