Lewis Bush : Invisible Chains: Photography’s Ingrained Assumptions

Lewis Bush

For this writing commission Lewis Bush looked at the way in which Covid-19 reveals several very significant limitations in the way most photographers think about the medium and what it can and should do. One of these being the idea that proximity produces insight and also the notion that showing something goes any way towards explaining its causes and consequences.

His new writing looks at the visual tropes emerging in the converge of the pandemic and these ideas and highlights what we can and should learn from this crisis as photographers.

Invisible Chains: Photography’s Ingrained Assumptions
by Lewis Bush

In his allegory of the cave, Plato describes a group of prisoners living their entire lives chained in the darkness. Shadowy outlines play on rocky walls, providing the prisoners with their only sense of reality, and they remain entirely unaware of the world outside which created these flickering forms. For Plato, a philosopher was someone who broke their chains and departed from the cave forever.

Whenever photography has been a witness to a prolonged and major news event, it has tended to generate a set of visual motifs specific to that story. The global ‘war on terror’ for example gave us the ever-repeating tropes of the aftermaths of terrorist attacks, soldiers enshrouded in clouds of sand and dust, hooded figures kneeling in orange, flag draped coffins, and so on. The creation of these tropes was evidently the result of many factors, choices and filters,[1] but two were particularly important amongst them. One was the specific visual aspects of that conflict, for example it’s locales, belligerents and tactics, and the other one was the particular possibilities for photography in the context of the event, possibilities partly dictated by specific practices like the military system of journalistic embedding and the intentional targeting of journalists by insurgent groups. The images that define the ‘war on terror’ were, in other words, as much a representation of what was photographically possible, as they were the a matter of the best way of visually representing, much less explaining, the subject that was being recorded.

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Image Credit: Saving the World in 1944 / Saving the World in 2020

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