The intention of The Fifth Corner is to advance a paradigm shift in which image-based media are utilized in more innovative, thoughtful, and helpful ways. Recognizing the transformative challenges of this digital, “post-truth” era, The Fifth Corner invites the photographer and other producers and consumers of imagery to evaluate the role of the image differently, and to consider strategies for interpreting the world that are more authentic and credible.
The Fifth Corner asks us what we want from the current media revolution. Not just where it is taking us, but where do we want to go?
Twentieth-century photographers, acting as witnesses and interpreters of issues and events, were able at times to provoke widespread discussions resulting in profound societal change. Had they not been able to do so, their coverage of wars, famines, racial injustice and environmental degradation would have verged on the voyeuristic and obscene.
It is now a different moment. The photograph no longer is perceived as automatically credible, the result of a mechanical recording process expressed as “the camera never lies.” Photographs are widely viewed now as constructs, malleable interpretations of the real that are largely subjective and easily modifiable by software. They are produced by the billions, without sufficient context provided to shape their meanings. And they are often used to illustrate preconceptions, to be shared and “liked,” rather than to explore that which may be unknown.
Furthermore, these images are now made in an era brimming with assertions of alternative facts, fake news, and post-truth, making it even more difficult for photographs to emerge that manage to redirect the societal focus. For example, despite the massive problems confronting society, very few iconic photographs exist since 2001 and the September 11 attacks. The 2015 photograph of Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned, is one of the rare exceptions…
I began writing this essay before the pandemic, when human life was more certain. I was reflecting on quantum physics in order to reframe photography as a means of delineating possibilities rather than affirming certitudes, as an attempt to choose, in a fractional second, from among many parallel universes. Put another way, instead of the old bromide that the camera never lies, the deeper truth may be that the camera always lies and that this fictive aspect of photography is what’s now most appreciated.
In the same vein, the concept that a photograph is worth a thousand words becomes both absurd and intriguing. How is it that we’ve been writing captions of only a sentence or two to explain images that are so complex as to be equivalent to a thousand words? The caption, it seems to me, represents a quantum collapse, forcing the potentialities of the photograph to resolve and the alleged cloud of a thousand words to evaporate. No longer can the cat be both alive and dead. The photograph’s rich ambiguity, seen as antithetical to its rapid consumption, is denied in large part because it questions any version of existence as definitive. Such complexity also makes the photograph difficult to quickly scan on Instagram and other social media platforms.
On January 6 Peter van Agtmael was on assignment for TIME magazine in Washington DC, photographing the pro-Trump rally that ultimately led to protesters breaching Capitol security, and invading the building itself. Here, van Agtmael speaks with Fred Ritchin about the events, historical parallels, the future of photojournalism, and the continuing fracturing of American society. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
In 2013, Matt Black began photographing isolated communities in California’s Central Valley, the rural, agricultural area where he lives. In 2015, Black expanded the project to encompass the United States and completed his first cross-country trip, a three-and-a-half-month journey visiting dozens of communities across 28 states. Since then, he has completed four additional trips, traveling over 100,000 miles and making work across 46 states.
What had begun as a story of individual, isolated communities grew into a portrait of an increasingly divided and unequal America, created during a time of rising disparity and disunion. Until now, the project has never been published showing all aspects of the work…
FOTODEMIC Town Hall #001: Re-imagining the Future of Visual Journalism responds to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the various roles of the photographer, among other issues; with Nina Berman, Brian Palmer, Bayeté Ross Smith, moderated by Fred Ritchin.
An all-day conference in 2019 on Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-75, an exhibition presenting work by 58 artists that was curated by Melissa Ho, with speakers including Harry Gamboa, Jr., Hans Haacke, Mignon Nixon, and Martha Rosler. I speak about Philip Jones Griffiths’s Vietnam Inc. at about 1 hour:26 minutes into the video.