Love and Ethos

Colin Pantall linked to a post about Goldin (among other things) at World Press Photo 09 that reminded me of this bit on the BBC photography series. It offered this observation:

In a bravura presentation that had many in the audience wondering if she would make it through to the end, she covered her life in pictures, in a literal sense as her autobiographical exploration of human relationships, psychologies and emotions. She echoed Mayes’ desire to see more work from communities the photographer lives in rather than the exotic, declaring ‘ I think you can only really photograph your own tribe’. Yet in a gratifying admission for the audience, she admitted that despite her early animosity to journalism, that the need to find out about the rest of the world had led her to a realization that to photograph someone else’s tribe in a far away land could have some validity in informing us of the lives of far away others.

The ethos of any photographer is their primary currency, and I feel sympathetic with Goldin. Thinking about Jim W. Corder’s hippyish pronouncement “rhetoric is love” I found myself tracing some of the path that took him there in 1985—an early essay with the twisty title “Varieties of Ethical Argument, With Some Account of the Significance of Ethos in the Teaching of Composition”

Last spring I went to a concert at our daughter’s high school. From where we sat, we could just see our daughter with her violin. Father’s being what they are, she being lovely and the music sweet, I found myself welling over. Among other things, I thought, “How can any other outside the family know her and love her so, not being joint members as we are of her whole history?” I wanted to answer, “No one can.” But then I remembered that there is such a thing as love between a young woman and a young man who did not participate in her whole history. And that let me think that it is possible for any of us—if the stars are right and we work to make ourselves human—to enfold another whose history we have not shared. In this act of enfolding, the speaker becomes through speech; the speaker’s identity is always to be saved, to emerge as an ethos to the other, whose identity is also to be cherished. Then they may speak, each holding the other wholly in mind.

Jim W. Corder, originally published in Freshmen English News 6, No. 3 (Winter 1978), Landmark Essays on Rhetorical Invention in Writing (1994).

I feel that there is a connection at the basest levels between documentary photography and documentary rhetorics.