College of Charleston SCHOOL OF THE ARTS

“Difficult Imagery” – Halsey Panel Discussion

Guest writer and Art History student, Milena Berman, will periodically discuss some of the School of the Arts events she attends and share her experiences:

On Saturday, January 23, Mark Sloan, Director of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, moderated a panel discussion on the means of and issues revolving around the dissemination of difficult imagery. “Difficult imagery,” I found out, can be broadly defined—mostly it’s something so real that is not easy to look at.

I was very impressed by the makeup of the panel. Heather McClintock was the first to speak. McClintock is a photographer and has her work up for display currently at the gallery. The exhibit, entitled The Innocent: Casualties of the Civil War in Northern Uganda, documents her stay in Uganda, where she lived for almost a year in 2006 doing humanitarian work through a photography program.

Not knowing exactly what to expect, coming to the panel at 10:00 AM on a Saturday was a bit of a push for my college years. I certainly wasn’t prepared to be so profoundly moved. McClintock’s photos are amazing. They illustrate the horror as well as the beauty of suffering in a universal way and specific to the aftermath of civil war in Uganda. The photos somehow capture moments so immensely penetrating with an utter intimacy that they allow one to forget the existence of a camera. Through formal qualities of photography; enlivened colors, textures, and moving composition, paired with contact to deeply human experience, the photos locate some deep complexities.

It was very obvious to me that McClintock had a truly powerful connection with the people of Northern Uganda, and she stated that she would not have been able to give them more than they gave to her. McClintock, however unused to speaking about her work before audiences, was able to speak to her experience and name well the intent in her art.

Following the photographer, Heather Dwyer of Blue Earth Alliance spoke about her Seattle-based organization’s efforts to help artists like McClintock. The non-profit works to provide resources and finance for photo-documentarians. Very exciting to hear from, as well, was Melissa Harris, editor-in-chief of Aperture magazine. Harris was able to share many anecdotes that provided insight into the decisions of choosing art to feature, keeping in mind audience and possible offense. It was interesting to hear what offends people and what is acceptable. Lastly, we heard from Tom Rankin of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke. Rankin was also able to share anecdotes from reactions of students to art on campus.

To conclude, the audience could ask questions and there was an open discussion. Someone from the audience noted the working of documentary photography to be one of relation- being able to see oneself or a loved one in a photo and thereby connecting, however far-removed the subject may have seemed. I think this was the most important message I received from the talk.