March 12, 2006

A Million Little Fictions

Is there really such a thing as non-fiction? Reaching back into my years as a photography and film student I recall an interesting discussion that was ongoing in our courses – Point of View. Anything created inevitably has a point of view – writing, drawing, photographing – because there is a creator. That point of view, no matter how hard you may try to negate it, is inevitable.

A documentary filmmaker has to determine when and where to operate the camera, determine what will and won’t be in the image and then edits out the segments that do not best tell the story. A writer has to follow the same creative process. As a photojournalist I remember the impact I made at various protests because the camera became a tool for the protesters to use to communicate their story, through me, to the readers.

All the hoopla over James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” is lost one me. Do I care if it is fiction or non-fiction? No. It is a story, a slice of life, a perspective, a take on reality…his reality. Any documentation or presentation of “reality” is always going to be skewed -- deliberately or not. Like a trial where the defense lawyer grills you for changes in your response, memory changes, it evolves.

Hearing about James Frey’s book only makes me want to buy and read it. Does Oprah think that she’s a non-fiction TV host? Look at the new “realities” she creates by gifting people cars and TVs. See how she impacts America when she highlights a book or a cause. She creates a fictional environment in which her audience can happily and safely dwell - a place where Oprah creates the reality.

This transforms into a discussion about exploitation. Are the subjects of these creations exploited? Again, back to film school and the endless discussions about how a white female living in the U.S. has no right to photograph homeless black people. Would I have more right if I were a black American? Or, as a homeless person of any race? Can I only photograph people just like me?

This is considered exploitation because these people’s images are being taken from them, without their understanding, and publicized through the “art” by someone who is “other” and doesn't live their reality. I can’t make logic of this argument. As a viewer of the “art” I have the ability to see these people, appreciate their strength and beauty. Heck, I’m happy to have the subject use my camera to photograph me.

Putting your image on the internet – as well as other creations – is the ultimate exploitation if you follow this logic. Frankly, I find this accessibility and transparency exciting. To be able to find other people, their stories (fiction or not) and for them to find me is exhilarating. The beauty of globalization is that we are breaking down barriers. Together we are creating new fiction.