Some things in life are definitely off limits: don’t talk politics at Thanksgiving; do not park in the disabled space. Others are a bit more subjective: I for one don’t think socks should be worn with sandals, however. Kendall jenner would disagree.
So what happens when you ask hundreds of photographers about their photographic noses? It is the object of Photo no-no, an alphabetical assortment of over 1,000 taboo subjects compiled by Jason Fulford, photographer and publisher who also designed the book. With answers and short essays on topics ranging from “abandoned buildings” to “food on my plate”, the book is a curious exploration of the photographer’s mind. More than just a list of vetoes, it celebrates the value of different perspectives on the same topic and provides a window into how creatives see the world at a time when, thanks to smartphone domination, everyone thinks they are a photographer.
“I started to think about it as a young photographer when we looked at each other’s work, criticized each other and talked about our doubts about certain photos,” says Fulford. “For this book, I was curious to ask this question of a larger group of photographers.”
So Fulford contacted more than 200 photographers and artists, including John Gossage, Lisa Barnard, Aaron Schuman and Sara Cwynar, from all over the world. And despite the geographic and cultural differences, similar themes have emerged. “Sunsets and rainbows” were broadcast widely, and more layered and poignant topics such as “images of pain and suffering” or “homeless people” were recurring themes.
Fulford started this business last year, just as the George Floyd protests hit the streets. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the issue of protests comes up often in the book. In his essay, artist and historian Olu Oguibe discusses the iOS shortcut that was designed to confuse faces following last summer’s protests as a potential “alteration of history as a whole.” Likewise, Filipino-American artist Stephanie Syjuco shares that she tries not to photograph people’s faces “because she doesn’t know if these can be turned into weapons,” says Fulford.
Beyond the protests, the reasons for no-no range from practical (“the light is flat”) to ethics (“having the impression of exploiting the subject). Others are more nuanced, like that of Coralie Kraft (photo editor at the New Yorker), which says that she sometimes grapples with the aesthetic versus the full context of a moment. “When I think of times when I censor myself,” she writes, “I wonder when I feel drawn to the most visually compelling image in a photograph that more accurately represents the current situation.”
As for the images themselves, Fulford says he asked photographers to send in some of their own photos that captured the very things they called taboo. “So these are kind of exceptions to the rule,” he says.
Ultimately, Photo no-no is a rich compilation rooted in subjectivity. Fulford remembers two photographers with radically opposed views: Photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti avoids the ‘century-old gaze’ – when the subject of a portrait gazes into the distance – while photojournalist Ed Kashi avoids direct eye contact with the camera Photo. “I didn’t want the message of the book to be: these are things we think you shouldn’t photograph,” Fulford says. “I wanted there to be so many topics that the idea of censoring yourself seems absurd and very personal.