Photographers, Seen and Imagined, of Photographs Seen and Unseen
This subject of vision, the focalizer, is often used to stage the position of the outsider as photographer. That position is a condition of the production of the snapshot….This position matters; it is crucial for our understanding of the mode of vision at stake. (Bal 1996b, 142)
Photographers, seen and imagined: everyone who took each of the pictures of each of the women contributed to the nhi—No Humans Involved gallery exhibition and documentation—such as friends, families, court reporters, artists, school photographers (say “cheese” or, cheekier, say “sex”). Everyone who’s not seen, who’s in front of the women and behind the camera; who’s part of these modes of vision, these technologies; who’s not seen yet can be made “relentlessly visible.”15
Focalization is the relation between the vision narrated and the object represented. The inflection the telling or showing subject brings to the perception of the object. (Bal 1996a, 71)
Photographers situate the relation between the vision narrated and the “object” represented; and the inflection that the telling (vocalizing, parrhesi – astic) or showing (focalizing) subject brings to this perception.
We may be talking about an artefact, but we are also talking about ourselves in the terms the artefact has delineated for us. (Holly 1995, 83)16
Photographers, seen and imagined, of photographs seen and unseen: we’re imagining those who took photos in genres like snapshots (caught unaware, surprised, unprepared, relaxed); portraits (staged photos taken in studios, during a court appearance, at hallmark occasions, in urban locations, at scenic viewpoints [step back]); establishing shots (at a party, in the sunshine, next to a river, on a bed); alone and with others (focalizing “I want you who’re looking at me to want me,” or, with only the edge of an arm remaining after some body’s, some memory’s, been cropped out [the place where someone used to be]). Did the women who donated their own images for the nhi exhibition put them, later, back into boxes and albums, the next time saying to their
interlocutors: “I don’t think I ever told you, but this photo—it’s a self-portrait and I lent it, I lent my face, for an art show. My photograph went with the name of a woman who’d been murdered. I didn’t expect to get it back.”
In front of the photographers (seen and imagined) of images in the nhi exhibition, the women (the subjects of vision, the focalizers) look posed, serious, happy, sexy, surprised, wholesome, enigmatic, disappointed, proud. These aren’t actual or staged “crime scene” photographs—facing their photographers, the subjects represented are very much alive, the women still alive beside the women who were killed: Jane Doe #1, Donna Marie Gentile, Tara Mia Simpson, Patricia Smith, Marsha Shirlene Funderburk, Djuna Demetris Thomas, Linda Joyce Nelson, Linda Kay Freeby, Deborah Ann Stanford, Trina Carpenter, Jane Doe #2, Cynthia Maine, Michele Riccio, JoAnn Sweets, Jodell Jenkins, Carol Jane Gushrowski, Theresa Marie Brewer, Jane Doe #3, Sophia Glover, Nancy Allison White, Jane Doe #4, Cindy Jones, Kun Yueh Yeh Hou, Melissa Gene White, Juliana A. Santillano, Volah Jane Wright, Rosemarie Ritter, Rhonda Lynn Hollis, Anna L. Varela, Sally Ann Moorman Field, Sara Finland Thornton, Diana Gayle Moffitt, Jane Doe #5, Cheri Lee Galbreath, Melissa Sandoval, Janet Moore, Sandra Cwik, Mary Wells, Diana Ampura Luna, Cynthia Lou McVey, Linda Christine Marler, Denise Marie Galloway, Hena Nico – lette Frye, Margaret Orozco Jackson, and Felix Abarca.17
About half the women whom the police referred to with the phrase “no humans involved” were “known” sex trade workers: they also worked as beauticians, waitresses, and homemakers; there was a nurse, a word processor, a stock supervisor, a grocery clerk, a hospital kitchen aid, and a writer; seven of the murdered women were African-American, seven were Latina, one was Asian-American, thirty were Caucasian, and five were unidentifiable;18 and at least eleven were mothers—yet the police and the media coverage of the nhi project overwhelmingly referred to them as “prostitute murders.”19 Grouping these different women as nhis (“‘misdemeanour murders’ of biker women and hookers” [Sacramento Bee, 7 October 1990]) contributes to the myth that good girls are safe and that bad girls get what they deserve. Linda Barker – Lawrence of the National Victims Center in Dallas, Texas, was quoted in the San Diego Union (12 February 1989) saying: “Most people think of prostitutes as someone who is hard-core, and that she asked for what she got. But the last time I looked, the sentence for prostitution is not execution.”20
In Vancouver and the Lower Mainland many of the unaccounted for and murdered women are First Nations;21 together, along with and between all of the women, they are overridingly being publicly described and pictured as prostitutes and drug users, or else they are shoehorned into various mobile stereotypes of the “bad girl” who’s in the wrong place, in the wrong company, doing the wrong work, living the wrong lifestyle, wearing the wrong clothing, doing the wrong thing at the wrong time—just being wrong, just being all or any of the above. You get the picture. The inflection.22
So, when I see a bar running across the top of the page in the newspaper, a bar that holds the beginning of a grid, another grid, of photographs of more missing and murdered women, a row of photographs cropped to look like mug shots such as appeared in the Vancouver Sun on 26 July 2002, the day that I was writing this sentence, with each woman’s full name in bold capitals followed by Last seen: on this date and Reported missing: on this date;
or when I see in the newspaper a map of the Lower Mainland with inserted photos and brief, stereotyped, effective descriptions of forty more women murdered whose “cases” are unsolved (Vancouver Sun, 23 November 2001);23 when I see this artefact delineating the terms by which we talk about ourselves, about each other, I find myself imagining the photographers who took these pictures.