The Politics of Seeing

On one my office desks I have a photo book, a collection of the work of Dorothea Lange. Lange was a photojournalist and is best known for her work documenting the Great Depression for the Farm Security Administration. 

Beyond the power of Lange's photographs in the book, what I love about the volume is its title: "Politics of Seeing." 

You see that politics at work in Lange's most widely known photo from 1936 "Migrant Mother":

Worry and concern etch the mother's face as her children cling to her. You can just see how the weight of the world is sitting on her shoulders.

We like to say that the injustices in our world, the forces of oppression, are systemic in nature, requiring systemic solutions. That's undoubtedly true, but it's also extremely simplistic. For my part, I'd argue that justice begins with seeing, with vision, recognition, and perception. 

And even if problems are largely systemic, we will perpetually lack the will or interest in effecting change if we fail to see the harm etched on face of this mother. To recognize her pain is the politics of seeing.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply