By Marilyn Ferdinand
I’m back at work after a 12-day break, so posting may be a bit sparse this week as I catch up on the stuff that pays the bills. But I want to remind you that The Oldest Established Really Important Film Club (TOERIFC) kicks off next Monday right here at Ferdy on Films, etc. with Jennifer Baichwal’s intriguing documentary The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia (2002). I have already written my review and hope that club members have been able to get their hands on a copy of the film. Remember, you don’t have to be a member to watch the film and participate. I encourage everyone with an interest in images (and isn’t that all of you?) to join in as we discuss the many issues this film explores. Go to the TOERIFC link for all the details.
As a warm-up, here’s a teaser from my review and a few questions to consider:
“There’s a saying that a picture’s worth 1,000 words. While this statement is a bit vague, I think I’m safe in saying that, generally, it means that a photograph can convey more information instantaneously than can be gotten from reading 1,000 words on the same subject. Photos are documents—living memories, even—of what we looked like at a certain time of life, where we’ve been, things we’ve seen, and people we knew and met. They tell us truths about ourselves that the vagaries of memory may have erased or distorted. They bear witness. But is a photograph a reliable witness?”
1. Should Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachian photographs be as controversial as they seem to be?
2. What are all the factors that make them controversial?
3. Does Adams have the right to use human subjects for his own purposes and enrichment?
4. Does Adams have a moral obligation to share his financial gains with the poor subjects of his photographs?
5. What do the consumers of these photographs think and feel about what they are viewing?
6. What other photographers have incurred the wrath of the public and their subjects? Why?
7. Does the artist create his or her own moral universe?
8. Why should we trust Shelby Lee Adams’ view that he is a respectful Appalachian insider?
9. Why should we trust the portrait of Adams and his subjects that director Jennifer Baichwal presents?
10. What is the true meaning of pictures?