Abigail Solomon-Godeau – Inside/Out

Abigail Solomon-Godeau was identified as an important aspect to research for my symposium, however I was struggling to find the particular essay ‘Inside/Out’ anywhere online or in a library. Anthony then suggested I look at the book Basic Critical Theory for Photographers by Ashley la Grange, who has analysed this essay and posed some interesting questions. The following text is the important parts I picked out which were relevant and could be included in my paper.

Solomon-Godeau considers Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ to be a perceptive critique of Diane Arbus’ work; in reference to colonisation and how this concept has impacted on photography. Solomon-Godeau proposes an idea relating to the approach a photographer takes in order to represent a subject, to be ‘Inside’ or ‘Outside’. Diane Arbus represents the outsider approach, the ‘objective’ nature however results in a voyeuristic, tourist-like, imperialistic representation. The viewer is not presented with an informed impression and ultimately takes an interpretation that is not accurate. Sontag speculated that the camera frees the photographer from any responsibility towards the subject because of the distance it can create; a photograph can be taken of a subject without any involvement with them or their culture at all. Solomon-Godeau refers to this Inside/Out debate as a binary couple; this wording relates to Sausseure’s theory of language semiology. Overall the impression taken is that in the case of Arbus, the outsider approach is considered bad, an insider approach would be good.

Solomon-Godeau goes on to describe Sontag as a ‘humanist’ who addresses the ethics involved in representation. She introduces photographer and writer Martha Rosler as a practitioner who deals with the politics of photography. Rosler is aware of the outsider approach, a concept she labels ‘victim photography’. The alternative introduced to objective representation is self representation; a concept explored by photographer such as Nan Goldin and Larry Clark who are so involved in their subject matter that their work features self portraits. In the case of Nan Goldin especially it was noted that her participants regarded her camera as ‘a part of her’, instead of establishing a distance between the subjects, it helped to provide ‘clarity’ and an ’emotional connection’. This mode of photographing Solomon-Godeau refers to as ‘confessional’.

However it is addressed by Solomon-Godeau that there is still a danger of the subject becoming an object or spectacle regardless of the approach from the photographer. She poses the question ‘does a photographic representation constitute an effective intervention’. Certainly in the case of sexuality there can be no objective or neutral approach because the concept is internal, photography in an art or reportage context can only depict the external appearance. The limitations of photography as a descriptor is a concept Martha Rosler explored in her work ‘The Bowery in two adequate descriptive systems’. The work consists of photographs which avoid the obvious visual representation, for example a instead of a photograph of an alcoholic, there is a photograph of the doorways they often spend time in. Along with this are a series of words that aim to describe the concept of the alcoholic through association. Rosler proposes that a photograph and text alone are not effective enough as descriptive systems however Solomon-Godeau questioned whether combining them would be sufficient enough. Solomon-Godeau identified that by avoiding the obvious mode of representation, Rosler prevented her work from being ‘mindlessly consumed’. Perhaps in the world of mass image culture, there is a need to avoid the obvious representation to encourage the viewer to spend more time investing in the work to draw an interpretation.

Solomon-Godeau states that the validity of the Inside/Out debate needs addressing as it is only relevant in some practises. Certainly the objective approach proves to be effective and necessary in the fields of science, medicine, forensics and the judiciary system. The real issue at hand Solomon-Godeau details is the concept of reality and truth in the different contexts of photography; a point that is very relevant to my paper. To photograph avoiding a sense of intrusion or expropriation (to take ownership of content for the public domain) requires the insider mode.


Solomon-Godeau’s ideology relates a lot to Martha Rosler and David Campbell, perhaps more specifically Rosler as she is directly referenced in this essay. This ‘Inside’ approach draws on Rosler and Campbell’s idea of context being the defining concept behind imagery; the photographer that immerses themselves in the environment of another cultural or social denomination is the one who stands to provide an accurate representation. Perhaps this approach is suited to photojournalism in an art context as opposed to the 24-hour information stream that demands single, easy moments for the audience to consume quickly. Or maybe there should be a portion of this information stream designated to these ‘Inside’ projects, one that avoids the obvious representation and perhaps takes longer to view but actually presents an informed impression of the subject matter. This is where the interactivity and ‘New Journalism’ techniques utilised by Time Magazine identified by Fred Ritchin in Bending The Frame.

The ‘Outside’ approach clearly references the objective stance which culminates in the photograph being used as evidence. The photograph as evidence in photojournalism has always been under debate, with most practitioners stating that early documentary photography was very subjective. David Moore for example in a recent talk for Coventry University referred to himself as a ‘conceptual documentary photographer’ as he shoots work that comments on contemporary issues in a conceptual fashion. It is apparent that the photograph as evidence works in the context of scientific or lawful practises however the notion of it in photojournalism seems fundamentally flawed. The ethics behind photojournalism have never been defined therefore it would suggests that all work made of photojournalists is subjective as it is built on their own contextual experience. The notion of ethics and misrepresentation is always more prominent in discussions surrounding photographic manipulation however this is also not a new concept.

The ‘Inside/Outside’ concept definitely needs to be referenced in my symposium in relation to representation and responsibility. I don’t necessarily want to include the visual examples used by Solomon-Godeau as these relate more to cultural notions and themes of sexuality and identity which aren’t completely relevant to photojournalism. I need to find an effective visual example from a photojournalist that I can apply this concept to, perhaps choosing an outside approach would be more effective as I can address the distance established by objectivity. I am aware I must avoid labelling either approach as right or wrong as the nature and dynamic of photojournalism is continually changing. Some of the most striking imagery has been produced using the outsider approach such as the image of the Napalm girl or the Sudanese girl being watched over by the vulture. These iconic images have certainly been effective in terms of impacting the audience, but provoking an emotional reaction is not enough to help these victims. Perhaps a comprehensive understanding of their situation would lend itself better to the idea of continuing support from the audience. Maybe a structure needs to be established with an iconic outsider image capturing the audience’s attention which then leads to the larger, more informed body of work producing using the insider approach. This is a concept that definitely needs including in my paper.


Initial notes were made from the PDF online – http://www.xiquinho.com/mybooks/file/534/PDF


(Blog Image from http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/martha-rosler/?)


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