Picture This: Power

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This article was printed in the Power & Empowerment issue of British Journal of Photography magazine, available for purchase through the BJP Shop or delivered direct to you with an 1854 Subscription.

Al J Thompson, Elena Cremona, Cemre Yesil, Max Siedentopf, Nonzuzo Gxekwa and Hubert Crabieres ruminate on the theme of Power

Where does power come from, and what is it really? As electricity, it keeps the lights on; as money it puts food on the table; as politics it makes the world spin. Power can enable things to stay the same, just as much as it can bring about movement. Activists fighting for Black lives, women’s rights, worker’s rights and the planet have all demonstrated with force and strength over the last year. At the heart of all of these causes, there is also an investigation of the powers they rise up against – where it resides, and how it is used.

Photography is a powerful tool. It can document, expose, even rewrite history. At the very least, it can contribute to the discourse, in a way that may influence the viewer’s perception, bias and thought. When holding the camera, the power lies with the photographer. They capture a moment, making their version of events tangible. This imbalance is one that image-makers increasingly consider, and disrupt. Chinua Achebe, the prominent Nigerian novelist, once said: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

Power is responsibility, for the individual and also for others. Used well, it has the capacity to transform, support and enrich. How will you use your power in this new world, and who will you empower with you?

We asked six photographers to respond to the theme of Power with image and text. Below, Al J Thompson, Elena Cremona, Cemre Yesil, Max Siedentopf, Nonzuzo Gxekwa and Hubert Crabieres present their responses.

Max Siedentopf

Hope And Hunger

Power is the ability to move something in a particular way. 

Power is the ability to direct the behaviour of others.

Power is the ability to control. 

Power is the ability to alter the course of events. 

Hope And Hunger investigates this power – the power to move the masses.

Using pigeons as a metaphor for the public, the series shows how people in times of need turn to ideologies to give them hope and still their hunger. However at what point does the hunger outweigh the belief of the ideology they join? 

Throughout the experiment, different ideologies were depicted through their symbols. Here we see bird seed in the shape of the holy cross, the peace sign, a swastika, the Star of David, the star and crescent or hammer and sickle innocently lying on the floor. At first the scenes are quiet and abandoned, however no matter what the symbol represents, one by one we see it attracting more followers. The first followers join because they are hungry, they want to still their hunger. As they join, each new follower attracts twice as many more to the point that we can’t distinguish the symbol anymore, which is now completely buried by the overwhelming masses. 

Did the last ones join because they were hungry or because they followed what the others did? 

Power is the ability to move something in a particular way. 

Power is the ability to direct the behaviour of others.

Power is the ability to control. 

Power is the ability to alter the course of events. 

 

Maxsiedentopf.com

'Hope and Hunger', © Max Siedentopf.

Hubert Crabieres

I make the majority of my images in the house I share with my friends in Argenteuil, in the Val d’Oise. My work articulates and confronts staged scenes and living spaces, spectacular and intimate. When I create my photographs, whether they are personal initiatives or commissioned, I accumulate many accessories. To illustrate the term power, I wanted to focus on different meanings of the English term, from the most symbolic to the most concrete. I liked the idea of electric power being deployed in the Argenteuil studio, creating a powerful celebration of colours.

 

Hubertcrabieres.fr

Image © Hubert Crabieres.

Nonzuzo Gxekwa

Data is Currency 

Your smartphone can record your activities. Big corporations pay top dollar to have access to this information – the power to control and influence consumer decisions and taste. Citizens are under surveillance. 

“He who has data has the power”’ – Tim O’Reilly

 

@nonzuzogxekwa

'Data is Currency', © Nonzuzo Gxekwa.

Elena Cremona 

“Faking phone calls, crossing the street, changing routes, asking to be accompanied home, ignoring catcalls, avoiding dimly lit areas, covering up…these are all realities that shape how women are forced to police themselves in public spaces, not only in the UK but around the world. Many women asked why the narrative always seemed to focus on how victims should protect themselves better. How are men being held accountable and holding themselves accountable?” – Maela Ohana 

 

elenacremona.com

Image © Elena Cremona.

Cemre Yesil

I hold her, she carries me. 

How does a person carry the body, the posture? 

It is my mother who carries my body in this photograph. 

How does one carry the body in a photograph through holding and being held by another body 

– the maternal body?

I handle her,

she handles me.

We understand the world only after handling it. This is a process of handling;

handling a future loss.

 

cemreyesil.com

Image © Cemre Yesil.

Al J Thompson

To hold power is to instinctively assume control above any given circumstance. It is a naturally derived component of the ego that we understand is a necessity to human survival. With power comes the responsibility to act upon it without infringement.

The image titled, Looking Up, from my monograph Remnants of an Exodus, references the limitations, hope, and the nuance of the individual. To look up means to invoke power. To invoke power means the acquisition of strength relies on an abstract considered greater-than.

My photographs do not reflect that all is lost. It is a challenge of empowerment. And, I have reasons to believe that fortunes can be turned only if a fragmented community can find ways of kinship. 

 

aljthompson.com

'Looking Up', from the series Remnants of an Exodus, © Al J Thompson.
Isaac Huxtable

Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.