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If there are diverse kinds of knowledge and ways of knowing place, then we need to learn to value the different ways each of us sees a single place that is significant, but differently so, for each perspective.
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reading photographs « Previous | |Next »
June 7, 2008

A lot of the negative responses to the Bill Henson images of androgynous adolescents adrift in a nocturnal wilderness assumed that the way to read these images of teenage sexuality is in terms of reader response, with the reader coded as the sick paedophile desiring to prey on children.

The image is equated with the implied response of the paedophile. So we have images of sexualized teenagers as porn for the viewers (paedophile) lust.

HensonBtwofigures.jpg Bill Henson, untitled

This separation of the implied reader's emotional life from the textual codes and conventions, as well as the form of the work, is covered by an attack on contemporary art as vile, sick and depraved. The more sophisticated cultural conservatives implied that the reader/image relationship involves readers who are formed as particular social subjects (paedophiles).

This conservative aesthetic denies any space to include a category to encompass analysis and critique of this way of interpreting Henson's images; or the possibility of alternative interpretations.

The idea that a photography presupposes a reader actively involved with image may be shocking to those formalists who prioritize an objective, fixed text, and who seek to emphasize the objectivity of their interpretations by saying that it is erroneous to hold that a reader’s response is relevant to the meaning of a photographic work. However, to see a photographic work purely as an object is to describe what it is and ignore what it does, and so this misconstrues the way that a photograph signifies meaning when it is read. The reader is an active maker of meaning.

If we make the shift from reader-response criticism to reader-oriented criticism with its emphasis on interpretive communities (of paedophiles ), then we need to accept the existence of other interpretive communities (the art institution ) or feminists. There are real differences among real readers in the way they interpret images.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:15 PM |