Although the photographer usually stands behind the camera, they are present in every shot they make, from the choice of subject matter and the framing to the moment of release and the selection of the print from hundreds, if not thousands, of others that remain unseen in the archive. Every photo taken and shown bears the eye of the photographer, just as every painting and sculpture bears the hand of the artist. We can consider the photographer many things: provocateur, mastermind, or more “objectively,” witness to scene they are recording for posterity.
The photographer as witness is a popular conceit celebrated in Western art as it embraces the impossible ideals of detachment, neutrality, and independence from the subject and the creation of the image. It carries the noble, even heroic, connotations that elevate the photographer to a status all their own. This response was most recently seen after Associated Press photographer Burhan Ozbilici took a picture of Turkish police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas moments after he assassinated Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov. While the world lay agog at the perfectly orchestrated act of a cold-blooded killer, many in the photography and art worlds took the opportunity to disassociate, waxing rhapsodic about the aesthetics of the image and the valor of Ozbilici.
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Photo: Dawoud Bey, American, b. 1953 The Birmingham Project: Mathes Manafee and Cassandra Griffin 2012 Archival pigment prints mounted on Dibond Diptych, each sheet: 40 × 32 in. (101.6 × 81.3 cm) Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Restricted gift of Pamela J. Joyner and Alfred J. Giuffrida, and Mary and Earle Ludgin by exchange 2014.8.a-b Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago