While I was in Art school we debated whether photographs of disturbing subjects could or should be beautiful objects. One strong example arguing for this was Brian Fesseden’s Water in the West series. In Brian’s words “A photographic essay focusing on rivers, dams, and the environmental cost of the human expansion of the West.” He opposed the building of dams due to their negative environmental impact. One image hauntingly showed a still fully leafed out tree submerged and drowning in a newly formed lake. The print was gorgeous. Richly toned, beautifully composed, aside from the drowning tree the full scene was bucolic and peaceful. Was it right, we discussed, to make such a beautiful image of such a distressing subject? Would the beauty of the print lull people into supporting the activities the photographer was intending to oppose? Shouldn’t ugly subjects have congruent ugly art depicting them? In the school a large punk population raging against society served as living counterpoint to Brian’s work.
Those questions remain. You can experience the ongoing discussion in the arts and social expressions of the world around you.
This subject comes to mind as we start watching American Gods. Jennifer was not interested. She’s seen reviews objecting to the levels of, to the reviewer, gratuitous violence. Recent viewing of Black Mirror had brought enough physical and psychic violence into our lives. I persisted. The novel by Neil Gaiman is excellent. I had vague memories that the TV series was faithful. It is.
Yes, there is violence. Some, like the reception Nordic seamen receive on the beach of a new island, is even humorous. (sorry, no spoilers from me) But, but!, the visuals of the violent acts are so stunningly beautiful that one can easily suspend revulsion at axes splitting skulls, a lynching, and so on. The producers of the series are not attempting to effect social change. They are telling a story of mythic characters fighting for survival. The beautified violence fits. And, to this eye, does not offend.