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November 15, 2010

Without agenda?

Chris Johns, editor in chief of the National Geographic, praises Stephanie Sinclair’s photographs documenting the lives of women members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints:

…Stephanie has no agenda. She does not judge. There is nothing superficial or glib about her work. Her photographs are honest. They reflect her insatiable curiosity. They also reflect her compassion and sense of responsibility… Stephanie understands that others may want to pass judgment, but that is not her role. She photographs what she sees and provides the opportunity for insight. The rest is up to the reader.

In a world full of shrill voices and agendas, we at National Geographic are committed to an unbiased presentation of facts. Yes, we will cover controversial topics like the FLDS, and yes, we will devote time and resources to get the story right. It’s what we’ve been doing for more than 120 years. Our commitment is to show the world in all its complexity—and to publish the work of photographers, like Stephanie Sinclair, who can present that complexity with compassion and fairness.

Many of the adjectives praising the photos seem deserved, but not the “unbiased presentation of facts” and “she photographs what she sees” guff. Take a look at the photo that illustrates the blog post. It’s a terrific photo because it has such a strong point of view. Chris seems to have confused Stephanie with a camera.

Then, of course, there’s the inevitable fact that the editors at NatGeo decide which of her photographs make it in, culling based on which photos tell the story they want to tell.

Photography provides the clearest, and indeed most literal, example of Jay Rosen’s argument against “the view from nowhere.” Just try taking a photograph without having your camera point somewhere.

BTW, if the photograph illustrating Chris’ blog post isn’t proof enough for you, read the comments.

(Tip of the hat to Alan Mairson for the link.)

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