Tuesday, July 24, 2007


I got an interesting comment on the two photos below...

"I am sorry but I think your work is exploitative-egocentric.
yours, wra"

My response was

"I find that to be an interesting comment attached to these 2 photos. Certainly all of my photos are egocentric... I'm the one making them! But I'm interested in where you see "exploitative." Could you elaborate?"

Although I completely disagree, I am grateful for Robert's comment because I think it's something that's ever present when one presents photos of people. Obviously, all of the people in my portraits are folks who I have engaged in a conversation. But the question is... following the making of the photo what right do I have to use an image of a person to put forth my vision and my interpretation of the moment of our meeting? And I assumed that he was refering to portraits, not landscapes or architectual photos...but I think it's possible to include photos that are absent of people as potentially exploitive. It's something I think about quite a bit.

salt pile camden6_1 web.jpg

thin woman camden17 web.jpg


wrobertangell@gmail.com said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ZS said...

There's no question that there's human weakness in many of my photos but that's one of many ways of reading my photos and I most certainly hope it's not the only one. When I'm making the photos I often see hope and pride alongside difficult moments and my intent is to present an image that can be read more than one way. It's you who is reading the portraits as "peoples weaknesses." There are many difficult moments that I've photographed, but I don't approach someone to make a portrait and made it without their consent.

Anonymous said...

It seems like this kind of comment comes up whenever someone photographs people who are perceived by others to be weak. Part of what I love about your photographs, Zoe, is the strength I see in so many of your subjects. Are you using them for your own advantage or profit? That's one way of looking at photography, I'm sure, but it's not the only way. I don't think you could get the images you get if you were stealing from your subjects; I think they're giving you as much as you're taking, if not more, and that comes through in your work and your approach (i.e., your attitude and gratitude).

As to the definition of egocentric, whether someone picks up a camera or not, she's seeing the world in relation to herself. The camera can be used to tell other people's stories, but it's all still from the photographer's perspective. And it's that perspective, the way that the photographer relates to "everything," that makes photographs so interesting. You and I could take a photograph of the same person, and we would get different images, not just because of differences in equipment or technique, but because we're different people, with different attitudes and approaches. For me, that's part of the magic of photography—and I do think it's magical.

wrobertangell@gmail.com said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ZS said...

No, Robert, I am not telling you what you should see when you look at my photos. You create your own narrative surrounding the images. The one image you're taking about, the man with the bloody mouth, is a very difficult image to look at and it's one that's straightforward in it's despair and brutality. But it's it exploitive to take a photo of that man's face? Do you know the circumstance surrounding that photo and what difference would it make if there was a story that accompanied it?

As I've said many times, this blog is just a forum for me to talk about whatever and show the beginnings of my working process when going through my photos. Maybe it's not clear enough that this is a forum for me to show the images that I've made and that I'm just starting to think about, and to decide if they're strong enough to show as a part of my body of work. As a matter of fact, all of my online work is just a part of my process.

And that brings me to the body and context of my work... it's generally meant to be seen as complete body of work, all the photos are made with the intent of their inclusion of I-95 or a slideshow, although I make sure each image can stand on it's own. The images I put up here are ones that I'm thinking about moving to my next level of editing ...and that includes desperate and difficult moments, some are redemptive and some are not.

So, Robert, you're saying "that's all there is" about the bloody mouth photo... but that's how you read that photo. You're free to read it however you like.

I have to be perfectly honest, this is a difficult conversation for me because I'm surprisingly sensitive, but I think it's an important conversation to have, so I'm really grateful that you brought this up, Robert.

ZS said...

And thanks, Liz! I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of egocentricity in relation to photography. When recording a moment with a still camera, it's one person who is recording the moment.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment given Robert's work:

How is your work different, Robert?

wrobertangell@gmail.com said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ZS said...


That's the key... it's subjective! It's what a viewer reads into the photos. Although I do have to say that seeing a person in one of my portraits as "surrounded by my ego" is just plain out and out preposterous. First, you don't know me and so you have no idea what my "ego" is like. You can see me and my vision in all of my portraits, just like you can in the portraits of any photographer.

And I don't take any shit. So fully understand that while I'm interested in your opinion, and genuinely wanted to know what in my photos prompted such a strong response in you to cause you to comment on my blog, that kind of comment is complete bullshit.

But you haven't responded with how the people in my portraits are being exploited. That's a pretty strong statement. How am I "to make use of basely for ones own advantage or profit?"

lowenkopf said...

The one word that hasn't been mentioned in this string is the e-word, as in empathy. Zoe's images capture empathy because, duh, Zoe has empathy.

Robert may have chutzpah, but that appears to be giving too much credit. Onward, Zoe. Forget these ad hominem sorts.

Anonymous said...


Thems are Philadelphia fighting words! ("I don't take any shit")

I think Robert is just making quick remarks based off of intimidation. He must feel this way, why else would there even be a need to bring up "notoriety". Its understandable to some extent, yet very uncalled for. Lessons on internet maturity, there should be a blog textbook.

Funny though the thought of photography being egocentric, or art in general. One could look at someone such as Elliott Smith, and see how self-indulgent his work was, yet at the same time, one might look upon his work and see how many people were affected by it.

Strange how that happens.

Anonymous said...

Every photograph is exploitive in one or another but to dwell on this, I think, is to miss the point. This is a too unsophisticated a level for discussion of Zoe's work sort of like if were to grill her about use of Photoshop or something. Moreover, photographing a person is not the only way one can go about exploiting them and you'd be hard pressed to find someone who was not guilty of this outside of, say, a Buddhist monastery.

ZS said...

Thanks for the comments, friends. I was hoping for a response from Robert that would lead to a real discussion of personal responsibility in relation to image ownership and image dissemination. But, no, it was just haters hating on the "notorious" and I can not be bothered with that bullshit.

wrobertangell@gmail.com said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ZS said...

I am glad to hear that, Robert. But remember, we are having a discourse in a public forum and this is my forum about my work and about my life. You didn't email or call me, your comment was obviously written with the intent of allowing others to read it in my public forum. That makes a big difference to me...I am all for civility.

So, when you comment in my public forum and you attack my work, you really need to back yourself up. And attack is the correct word because "exploitive" is immoral and you are then calling me immoral. Not my work, but the person who has produced it. It's inseparable. And you didn't phrase it as a question, you put it out as your opinion. Not to say you can't hate my work or think it irrelevant, although of course you'd be wrong, but you intended to inflame with your comment as one can see from your responses and I let it go on too long in hopes of kindling a back and forth that would address real issues. I can't help but think that you don't know my work, unless you have been to one of the slideshows or I-95, considering that my online images are just a part of my working process... but that's a risk I take in allowing transparency of my process and a risk I think is well worth it. You are most certainly entitled to your opinion about my work but realize that where you put your words and how you phrase your words is important.

Anyway, I think it's a fair question to ask in terms of who profits from images of people once the moment is gone, and the responsibility of being the owner of the likeness of a stranger, and that's why I opted to highlight your comment.

But in your last comment you've said something that I find very revealing and important to address. You love your "building", but you believe your community to be completely separate... "but when I walk out my door, I enter the world of homelessness, preditory drugdealers, pimps, addicts, prostitutes w/ sexual identity crisis, gangbaging thugs" That's not your world when you leave your bunker? Your world stops when you leave your building? We all live with difficult choices and often we live in abhorrent situations with people who can be monsters, but can a whole community, a whole world, be described as "homelessness, preditory drugdealers, pimps, addicts, prostitutes w/ sexual identity crisis, gangbaging thugs."? That's a pretty narrow description of a world, Robert. I'd bet my life it includes more than that, even if you're living in a desperate and horrible place. But what you see when you leave your building is what you see when you look at my work..."that's all there is" as you said.

There's a lot of love in most of my photos, Robert. I'm sorry you can't see that. And no, that is no joke.

Also, I'm closing up this discussion and turning the comments off now on this post. Fuck yeah, I'm getting the last word! That's how it goes when it's your public journal! I'm about as fair and balanced as fox news. Whooooooo!

Greg, did you have a question for me about photoshop?