Laurie Toby Edison

Photographer

Words are Powerful

Laurie says:

Deb and I consider the essays and texts that accompany my photos to be vital to our work. We spend lots of time doing outreach, lectures, workshops etc., and working with the communities of people who are photographed in order to get the right texts. We listen a lot. We never have an exhibition without texts. So when I saw this story on Muzzlewatch, the Jewish Voice for Peace news blog, I was really struck by it.

“After only 2 days, in response to complaints (which have not been made public), Stanford University removed photographs on April 9 by Lisa Nessan, a young Jewish photographer and peace activist who has spent a great deal of time in Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories…”

And then a day later -

“Actually, it was the captions and the title of the photo exhibit. The Stanford administration approved photos of Palestinians taken by photographer Lisa Nessan for an exhibit called “Hope Under Siege.” But when the sponsoring student group, Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel (SCAI), changed the title to “Life Under Israeli Apartheid” and others on campus complained, the administration pulled down the exhibit after just two days. Students say the captions all include information from human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Nonetheless, Stanford offered to reinstate the entire show without the title or captions. Student organizers wisely said NO, and held a protest instead. The campus group Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel (SCAI) writes that it was “part of their “Women Under Fire” series that highlighted Jewish resistance to Israeli apartheid.”

Four of the photos without the original captions are on Flickr.

People always say that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but sometimes words are powerful. All too often without context photographs that have strong social change aspects become depoliticized art that can be appreciated only aesthetically.

When we worked on publishing Women en Large, we turned down publication offers from two otherwise excellent feminist presses because they would only publish it if we pulled the text. We were told it was “too polemic”.

I’ve been told numerous times by people who saw Women En Large in galleries that without the text they wouldn’t have appreciated the social change meaning of the work. Words are powerful.

I really respect SCAI’s decision not to allow the exhibition with the captions censored.

Thanks to Jean Pauline from Bay Area Women in Black for sending me this.

4 Responses to “Words are Powerful”

  1. Stef Says:

    How sad that feminist presses are in the business of turning down books for being “too polemic.”

  2. laurie toby edison Says:

    It was very discouraging and infuriating at the time, but we did end up publishing exactly the book we wanted.

  3. Dragon Says:

    I respect the SCAI’s decision not to allow the exhibition to go back up without the captions, but at someone who worked at Stanford, I also respect the administration’s decision to remove it– especially after seeing the captions (they’re in the comments to the Stanford Daily article). The captions and the new title were pretty inflammatory, and if the administration wasn’t notified ahead of time, they were well within their rights to say “we don’t want to host this here. You didn’t tell us what t would really entail.”

  4. Laurie Says:

    Dragon,

    I just looked at the captions. They are what I’d expect from a group[ called Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel. Their points are legitimate and I would expect them the to get a lot of disagreement. But if Muzzlewatch is correct that a few weeks before this “another student organization put up a photo display illuminating ‘acts of intolerance’ at Stanford, then it would seem like a different standard is being applied. Notification is an other issue.

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Laurie Toby Edison by Carol Squires

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