Producing (and consuming) media critically

This week we came across a timely discussion that Savannah Dodd, founder of the Photo Ethics Centre (and podcast) hosted in conversation with Tara Pixley. They were discussing critical media production, which struck a chord with the goals of our Visual Literacy programme.

Savannah Dodd is a photographer and anthropologist based in Belfast. She earned her master's in anthropology and sociology at the Graduate Institute of International Development Studies in Geneva and is pursuing her PhD in the School of History, Anthropology, Politics, and Philosophy at Queen's University Belfast.

Tara Pixely is a visual journalist, strategic storytelling consultant and professor based in Los Angeles, with an MFA in Photography, a PhD in Communication and nearly two decades of experience as a media producer and editor for editorial, nonprofit and commercial organizations.

Their conversation focused on the importance of developing a critical approach to media production and consumption.

“Where does viewer responsibility lie?  Who has the power to shift the way that we are representing others? Where does that power lie and how do we make the shift?”, Savannah Dodd asked Tara Pixely.  (22:00)

“There is definitely no easy answer to that. The thing is, that we all want to believe that we are special unique snowflakes that are some wonderful, intangible combination of our parents’ genetic material and our environment, that we make all of our own decisions.  In reality we are all very similar cognitively. Our understanding of the world is actually based along a lot of different tropes and stereotypes, and that’s how we make meaning in the world whether or not we realise it or not, even if we are working against that.  

If we are all products of these various systems that were put in play a long, long time ago and have just been replicating themselves, then from children we are having these ideas reiterated, articulated at a subconscious level, so then we become media consumers from a very young age. We are all consuming the same media. As you mentioned, it’s very cyclical. It’s produced by people who are thinking the same,  [who are] part of those same systems.  Then we become media producers ourselves and we are doing that [producing] by that particular way of understanding the world.  And so we reproduce, reiterate those same concepts.  The only way to stop that process is to recognise that you are in it.”

-- Tara Pixely

Published 7 Oct 2020. You can listen to the entire podcast here, or wherever you get your podcasts, under “The Photo Ethics Podcast.”