Anne Maxwell Struggle With Exploitative Photography – Essay
While Anne Maxwell raises some interesting and valid points regarding the exploitative portrayal of indigenous peoples in colonial photography, it is
worthwhile focussing on what she sees as exceptions to this rule. Her assertion that studio portraits of the colonised peoples dressed in Western clothes show their ‘empowerment’ is extremely reductive and overly simplistic, especially in light of the critical nature of the rest of the article. Arguably, this type of portrait merely shows an internalisation of the subjugation they were exposed to, and Maxwell betrays her own latent imperialist tendencies when she presents the Westernisation of a colonised people as progressive and empowering.
Further, in her examination of the nature of ‘the gaze’ (arguably a romantic and sentimental idea in the first place), Maxwell dictates that ‘the gaze’ that the photographer deliberately allows is more empowering than one which is included despite their attempts at control – an idea which seems to indicate that the empowerment comes not from the sitter themselves, but from the coloniser/photographer, who ‘allows’ them to project their individuality and subjectivity in the terms of the Western eye. Essentially, her ideas of empowerment seem to hinge on the reaction of the Western viewer, as identifying with or seeing the sitter as ‘civilised’, ‘empowered’, rather than an internal feeling of control by the indigenous subject of the photo.