Into the Rabbit Hole.
I found d.R’s commentary on the work of Jessica Dimmock to be very interesting and almost shockingly honest. He/she raises the questions of the artists’, as well as the viewers’ obligation to the artwork, when the artwork in question documents something unfortunate or tragic. Should we be able to admit that we like pictures of people strung out on heroin, people whose lives have been ravaged by drug abuse? Is it okay for us to want to view such pictures, and to feel a sort of thrill in doing so? The author of the article seems to offer a very strong “yes” to that question. D.R claims that to say that you don’t like to look at such photos is to be dishonest, and that people actually enjoy looking at devastation, from car wrecks on the side of the road, to news coverage of national disasters on television. D.R writes that, “I will call the viewing that I get in looking at her photos a pleasure even if the subject matter is beyond brutal.” He goes on to say that, “I will even go so far as to say that Jessica’s photographs are beautiful even in the midst of their bone-crunching pain” He states that the reason such pleasure and beauty can arise from such devastating photos is because it is “Art” and “only in art can such a phenomenon exist”.
While I agree with the author that the photos are incredibly hard to turn away from, and provide an almost perverted kind of lure, I’m not sure that I want to so easily credit Jessica’s work with being especially artistic or “beautiful”. I’d like to ask the author exactly why he considers these photos art. I’d like to know if it’s because they showcase pain, extreme addiction, and a way of life that even people who have never done any drugs are strangely drawn to. It is simply because they are subjects captured by a camera and photographer? It is because they seem to juxtapose tragedy in such an aesthetically pleasing way? Or is it art because it’s something people like to look at? I’m no artist and no art expert, so I don’t want to necessarily claim that Jessica’s work shouldn’t be referred to as art; However I am just a bit cautious in naming the documentation of a group’s heroin addiction as true art, just because it’s something that people like to look at. If it truly is art, which is just fine with me, I’d simply like to know what makes it art.
Reading this article also really brought to mind Martha Rosler’s essay, since it seems her opinion would be in stark contrast to this author’s. When it comes to this particular case, I would have to say my opinion falls more heavily on Rosler’s side than d.R’s. These people may be addicts who let themselves be photographed, but while seeing them, do we realize that each of them is somebody’s child, sister, brother, childhood best friend? I’m sure many of them are even someone’s parent. I have to wonder how those who love them feel about these pictures immortalizing their current awful addiction? Even if the subjects themselves do not care, what about those who can still remember the real them, what they were like before the addiction? Would you want to be the person publishing or gawking over the photo of a little girl’s mother on heroin if you knew that little girl? Would you want people to stare at and comment on a photo of someone you loved at an incredibly low point in their lives? Wouldn’t you rather that person have justice done to them as an entire person? Or perhaps, you would rather not have them immortalized in one static state at all.
Jessica Dimmock’s work seems a good example of one group consuming another through images; We can “experience” what it’s like to be a heroin addict without actually going near heroin. Jessica Dimmock has received praise for daring to enter The 9th Floor, because so many people would not actually want to go there themselves. It also is very easy to look down on these people and instantly feel better about your own self, because at least you aren’t living like they are.
All of this brings me to the question, “why document this?” The author admits that there’s nothing Jessica could do, or that we can do now, to help these people. I can’t see any other real benefit to it, other than the possibility of keeping someone else off of drugs. (Even in that case, I think the odds are slim and that there have got to be better ways.)
My main issue with Jessica Dimmock’s work here is that she is immortalizing human beings as heroin addicts, while there is nothing we can do to help them, so really, it seems like pure exploitation in the name of “art”. Yet exactly what makes it art is unclear to me.