The unusually packed house for the Reagan Louie/Diane Arbus panel was bursting with Q&A. The panel had an exciting lineup: SFMOMA senior photography curator Sandra Phillips, photographer Susan Meiselas, UC Irvine California Art History Professor Sally Stein, and last but not least, ex-prostitute and PONY activist Tracy Quan. The official mission of the panel was “to discuss the elusive nature of photographic meaning and address the relationship of photographers to their subjects and audiences.”

Although billed, “Intentionality, Ambiguity, and Truth”, the event could have been called, “Can Anyone Ever Really Intentionally Sign a Release?” Sally Stein recounted the story about the famous Dorthea Lange photograph of a farm woman during the depression who was deeply upset for the rest of her life at the way she was portrayed and her perception of misrepresentation on the part of Lange about the future use of the image. The panelists discussed the work of Diane Arbus, including a hilarious admission from Sally Stein that she would never under any circumstances have wanted to be photographed by Arbus. But the most provocative dynamic in the room was that between those with questions about prostitution and victimization in the Louie photographs and Tracy Quan. When challenged about the question of unequal monetary power, she countered that sex work is not all about money. She pointed out that although everyone works for a paycheck, those involved in sex work often are interested in beauty. Read excellent articles by Glen Helfand in Salon and ">Jesse Hamlin in the Chronicle for background on the exhibition. Then go see it for yourself: you’ve only got 3 more days!

“The Photographs of Reagan Louie” at SFMOMA through Dec 7, 2003.

- Cheryl Meeker [Thursday, December 4th, 2003]


From the editors